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August 15 2012

15:42

13 ways of looking at Medium, the new blogging/sharing/discovery platform from @ev and Obvious

[With apologies to Wallace Stevens, the finest poet to ever serve as vice president of the Hartford Livestock Insurance Company.]

I.

Medium is a new online publishing platform from Obvious Corp. It launched yesterday. Obvious is the most recent iteration of the company that created Blogger, Odeo, and Twitter. Blogger was the outfit that, until it was bought up by Google, did the most to enable the early-2000s blogging boom. Odeo was a podcasting service that never really took off — 20 percent ahead of its time, 80 percent outflanked by Apple. Twitter — well, you’ve heard of Twitter.

Ev Williams, the key figure at every stage, tweeted about Medium yesterday in a way that slotted it right into the evolutionary personal-publishing chain he and his colleagues have enabled: Let’s try this again!

II.

Medium has been described as “a cross between Tumblr and Pinterest.” There’s some truth to that, in terms of presentation. Like Tumblr, it relies on artfully constructed templates for its structural power; like Pinterest, it’s designed to be image-heavy. But those surface issues, while interesting, are less consequential than the underlying structure of Medium, which upends much of how we think about personal publishing online.

III.

When the Internet first blossomed, its initial promise to media was the devolution of power from the institution to the individual. Before the web, reaching an audience meant owning a printing press or a broadcast tower. It was resource-intensive, and those resources tended to congeal around companies — organizations that had newsrooms, yes, but also human resource departments, advertising sales staffs, and people to man the phones when your paper was thrown into the bushes (we’re very sorry about that, Mrs. Johnson, we’ll be happy to credit your account).

The web, by reducing potential worldwide access to basic knowledge of [1996: Unix and <table> tags; 1999: how to input FTP credentials; 2005: how to come up with a unique login and password; 2010: how to stay under 140 characters], eliminated, at least in theory, the need for organizations. (Vide Shirky.)

IV.

In theory. In reality, organization still had some enormous advantages. Organizations are sustainable; they outlive the vagaries of human attention. Some individuals flourished in the newly democratic blogosphere. But over time, people got bored, got new jobs, found new interests, or otherwise reached the limits of what people-driven, individual-driven publishing could accomplish for them. The political blogosphere — the cacophony of individual voices on both left and right circa, say, 2004 — evolved toward institutions, toward Politico and TPM and The Blaze and HuffPo and the like.

Personal publishing is like voting. In theory, it’s the very definition of empowerment. In reality, it’s an excellent way for your personal shout to be cancelled out by someone else’s shout.

V.

That was when a few smart people realized that there was a balance to be found between the organization and the individual. The individual sought self-expression and an audience; the organization sought sustainability and cash money. Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

So Facebook built a way for people to express themselves (by providing free content) to an audience (through their self-defined network of friends), while selling ads around it all. It’s a pretty good business.

So Twitter (Ev, Jack, and crew) build a way for people to express themselves, in a format that was genius in its limitations and in its old-media model of subscribe-and-follow — again, transformed from institutions to individuals. It’s not as good of a business as Facebook, probably, but it’s still a pretty good business.

So Tumblr, Path, Foursquare, and a gazillion others have tried to pull off the same trick: Serve users by helping them find an outlet for personal expression, then build a business around those users’ collective outputs. It’s publishing-as-platform, and it’s the business model du jour in this unbundled, rebundled world.

VI.

What’s most radical about Medium is that it denies authorship.

Okay, maybe not denies authorship — people’s names are right next to their work, after all. But it degrades authorship, renders it secondary, knocks it off its pedestal.

The shift to blogging created a wave of new individual media stars, but in a sense it just shifted traditional media brands to a new, personal level. Instead of reading The Miami Herald or Newsweek, you read Jason Kottke or John Gruber. So long, U.S. News; hello, Anil Dash. They were brands in the sense that your attraction to their work was tied to authorship — you wanted to see what Lance Arthur or Dean Allen or Josh Marshall or Ezra Klein was going to write next. The value was tied to the work’s origin, its creator.

And while social networks allowed that value to be spread, algorithmically, much wider, the proposition was much the same. You were interested in your Facebook news feed because it was produced by your friends. You were interested in your Twitter stream because you’d clicked “Follow” next to every single person appearing in it.

VII.

Degrading authorship is something the web already does spectacularly well. Work gets chopped and sliced and repurposed. That last animated GIF you saw — do you know who made it? Probably not. That infonugget you saw on Gawker or The Atlantic — did it start there? Probably not. Sites like Buzzfeed are built largely on reshuffling the Internet, rearranging work into streams and slideshows.

It’s been a while since auteur theory made sense as an explanation of the web. And you know what? We’re better for it. In a world of functionally infinite content, relying on authorship doesn’t scale. We need people to mash things up, to point things out, to sample, to remix.

VIII.

Where Medium zags is in structuring its content around what it calls “collections.” Here’s Ev:

Posting on Medium (not yet open to everyone) is elegant and easy, and you can do so without the burden of becoming a blogger or worrying about developing an audience. All posts are organized into “collections,” which are defined by a theme and a template.

The burden of becoming a blogger or worrying about developing an audience. That’s a real issue, right? I’ve talked to lots of journalists who want to have some outlet for their work that doesn’t flow through an assigning editor. But when I suggest starting a blog, The Resistance begins. I don’t know how to start a blog. If I did, it’d be ugly. Or: I’d have to post all the time to keep readers coming back. I don’t want to do that. Starting a blog means, for most, committing to something — to building a media brand, to the caring and feeding of an audience, to doing lots of stuff you don’t want to do. That’s why ease of use — the promise of Facebook, the promise of Twitter, the promise of Tumblr — has been such a wonderful selling point to people who want to create media without hassle. Every single-serving Tumblr, every Twitter account updated sporadically, every Facebook account closed to only a few friends speaks the same message: You can do this, it’s simple, don’t stress, you’ll be fine.

IX.

So Medium is built around collections, not authors. When you click on an author’s byline on a Medium post, it goes to their Twitter feed (Ev synergy!), not to their author archive — which is what you’d expect on just about any other content management system on the Internet. (The fact we call them content management systems alone tells you the structural weight that comes from even the lightest personal publishing systems.) The author is there as a reference point to an identity layer — Twitter — not as an organizing principle.

As Dave Winer noted, Medium does content categorization upside down: “Instead of adding a category to a post, you add a post to a category.” He means collection in Medium-speak, but you get the idea: Topic triumphs over author. Medium doesn’t want you to read something because of who wrote it; Medium wants you to read something because of what it’s about. And because of the implicit promise that Medium = quality.

(This just happens to be promising from a business-model perspective. Who needs silly content contributors asserting authorial privilege when the money starts to flow? Demoting the author privileges the platform, which is nice if you own the platform.)

X.

At one level, Medium is just another publishing platform (join the crowd): You type in a title, some text, maybe a photo if you want, hit “Publish” and out comes a “post,” whatever that means that days, on a unique URL that you can share with your friends. (And let me just say, as a Blogger O.G. from the Class of ’99, that Medium’s posting interface brought back super-pleasant memories of Blogger’s old two-pane interface. Felt like the Clinton years again.)

XI.

Ev writes that a prime objective of Medium is increased quality: “Lots of services have successfully lowered the bar for sharing information, but there’s been less progress toward raising the quality of what’s produced.” That’s probably true: There are orders of magnitude more content published every day than was the case in 1999, when Blogger launched as a Pyra side project. The mass of quality content is much higher too, of course, but it’s surrounded by an even-faster-growing mass of not-so-great (or at least not-so-great-to-you) content.

Medium takes a significant step in that direction by violating perhaps the oldest blogging norm: that content appears in reverse-chronological order, newest stuff up top, flowing forever downward into the archives. Reverse chron has been key to blogging since Peter Merholz made up the word. (Older than that, actually — back to the original “What’s New” page at NCSA in 1993.) For the pleasure centers in the brain that respond to “New!,” reverse chron was a godsend — even if traditional news organizations were never quite comfortable with it, preferring to curate their own homepages through old-fashioned ideas like, you know, editorial judgment.

Medium believes in editorial judgment — but everyone’s an editor. Like the great social aggregators (Digg is dead, long live Digg), Medium relies on user voting to determine what floats to the top of a collection and what gets dugg down the bottom. (A reverse chron view is available, but not the default.) It’ll be interesting to see how that works once Medium is really a working site: Will a high-rated story stick to the top of a collection for weeks, months, or years, forever pushing new stuff down? Will there be any way for someone visiting a collection to see what’s new since she was last there? The tension between what’s good and what’s new is a long-standing one for online media, and privileging either comes with drawbacks — new material never reaching an audience, or good stuff being buried beneath something inconsequential posted 20 minutes later.

Considering Obvious Corp.’s heritage in Blogger and Twitter — both of which privilege reverse chron, Twitter existentially so — it’s interesting to see Ev & Co. thinking that a push for quality might entail a retreat from the valorization of newness.

XII.

There’s been a lot of movement in the past few months toward alternative, “quality” platforms for content on the web. Branch is based on the idea that web comments are shit and that you have to create a separate universe where smart people can have smart conversations. App.net, the just-funded paid Twitter alternative, is attractive to at least some folks because it promises a reboot of the social web without the “cockroaches” — you know, stupid people. Svbtle, an invite-only blogging platform, is aimed only at those who “strive to produce great content. We focus on the writing, the news, and the ideas. Everything else is a distraction.”

This new class of publishing platforms, like Medium, is beautiful — they share a stripped-down aesthetic that evokes the best of the early web (post-<blink> tag, pre-MySpace) modernized with nice typography, lovely textures, and generous white space. (Medium, in particular, seems to be luxuriate in giant FF Tisa, evocative of Jeffrey Zeldman’s huge-type redesign back in May.)

This new class has also been criticized with a variation on the white flight argument — the idea that the privileged flee common spaces and platforms once they stop being solely the realm of an elite and become too popular. (Vide danah boyd. Also vide your favorite indie band, the first time you heard them on the radio.)

For (just) a moment, strip away the political implications of that critique: What each of these sites argues, implicitly, is that the web norms that we’ve evolved over the past decade err toward crassness and ugliness. That advertising — which all these sites lack, and which is proving to be less-than-sufficiently-remunerative for lots of “quality” online media — is an uninvited guest in our reading experiences. That the free-for-all of a comments thread creates broken-windows-style chaos. That the madness of the web might be tamed through better tools and better platforms. That the web’s pressure to Always Keep Posting New Stuff leads to a lot of dumb stuff being posted. It’s a critique of pageview chasing, a critique of linkbait, a critique of content farms, a critique of SEO’d headlines — a yearning for something more authentic, whatever the hell that means.

I think we’d all like to know what that means. And how to get there.

XIII.

Is Medium the route there? I’m skeptical.

I’m unclear who, beyond an initial crowd of try-anything-once types, will want to publish via Medium, as lovely as it is. Or at least I’m unclear on how many of them there are. The space Medium, er, mediates is between two poles. On one side you’ve got people who want to hang out a shingle online and own their work in every possible sense. On the other, you’ve got people who are happy in the friendly confines of Facebook and Twitter, places where they can reach their friends effortlessly and not worry about writing elegant prose. Is there an audience between those two poles that’s big enough to build something lasting? Is this Blogger or Twitter, or is it Odeo?

But even if Medium isn’t a hit, however that gets defined these days, I think Ev & Co. are onto something here. There are seeds of a backlash against the beautiful chaos the web hath wrought, the desire for a flight to quality. There will be new ways beyond ease of use to harness the creative powers of the audience. And there will be new ways to structure content discovery that go beyond branding authorship and recommendation engines. Those trends are real, and whatever happens to Medium, they’ll impact everyone who publishes online.

Blackbird photo by Duncan Brown used under a Creative Commons license.

December 19 2011

07:37

Magazine editing: managing information overload

In the second of three extracts from the 3rd edition of Magazine Editing, published by Routledge, I talk about dealing with the large amount of information that magazine editors receive. 

Managing information overload

A magazine editor now has little problem finding information on a range of topics. It is likely that you will have subscribed to email newsletters, RSS feeds, Facebook groups and pages, YouTube channels and various other sources of news and information both in your field and on journalistic or management topics.

There tend to be two fears driving journalists’ information consumption: the fear that you will miss out on something because you’re not following the right sources; and the fear that you’ll miss out on something because you’re following too many sources. This leads to two broad approaches: people who follow everything of any interest (‘follow, then filter’); and people who are very strict about the number of sources of information they follow (‘filter, then follow’).

A good analogy to use here is of streams versus ponds. A pond is manageable, but predictable. A stream is different every time you step in it, but you can miss things.

As an editor you are in the business of variety: you need to be exposed to a range of different pieces of information, and cannot afford to be caught out. A good strategy for managing your information feeds then, is to follow a wide variety of sources, but to add filters to ensure you don’t miss all the best stuff.

If you are using an RSS reader one way to do this is to have specific folders for your ‘must-read’ feeds. Andrew Dubber, a music industries academic and author of the New Music Strategies blog, recommends choosing 10 subjects in your area, and choosing five ‘must-read’ feeds for each, for example.

For email newsletters and other email updates you can adopt a similar strategy: must-reads go into your Inbox; others are filtered into subfolders to be read if you have time.

To create a folder in Google Reader, add a new feed (or select an existing one) and under the heading click on Feed Settings… – then scroll to the bottom and click on New Folder… – this will also add the feed to that folder.

If you are following hundreds or thousands of people on Twitter, use Twitter lists to split them into manageable channels: ‘People I know’; ‘journalism’; ‘industry’; and so on. To add someone to a list on Twitter, visit their profile page and click on the list button, which will be around the same area as the ‘Follow’ button.

You can also use websites such as Paper.li to send you a daily email ‘newspaper’ of the most popular links shared by a particular list of friends every day, so you don’t miss out on the most interesting stories.

Social bookmarking: creating an archive and publishing at the same time

Social bookmarking tools like Delicious, Digg and Diigo can also be useful in managing web-based resources that you don’t have time to read or think might come in useful later. Bookmarking them essentially ‘files’ each webpage so you can access them quickly when you need them (you do this by giving each page a series of relevant tags, e.g. ‘dieting’, ‘research’, ‘UK’, ‘Jane Jones’).

They also include a raft of other useful features, such as RSS feeds (allowing you to automatically publish selected items to a website, blog, or Twitter or Facebook account), and the ability to see who else has bookmarked the same pages (and what else they have bookmarked, which is likely to be relevant to your interests).

Check the site’s Help or FAQ pages to find out how to use them effectively. Typically this will involve adding a button to your browser’s Links bar (under the web address box) by dragging a link (called ‘Bookmark on Delicious’ or similar) from the relevant page of the site (look for ‘bookmarklets’).

Then, whenever you come across a page you want to bookmark, click on that button. A new window will appear with the name and address of the webpage, and space for you to add comments (a typical tactic is to paste a key quote from the page here), and tags.

Useful things to add as tags include anything that will help you find this later, such as any organisations, locations or people that are mentioned, the author or publisher, and what sort of information is included, such as ‘report’, ‘statistics’, ‘research’, ‘casestudy’ and so on.

If installing a button on your browser is too complicated or impractical many of these services also allow you to bookmark a page by sending the URL to a specific email address. Alternatively, you can just copy the URL and log on to the bookmarking site to bookmark it.

Some bookmarking services double up as blogging sites: Tumblr and Stumbleupon are just two. The process is the same as described above, but these services are more intuitively connected with other services such as Twitter and Facebook, so that bookmarked pages are also automatically published on those services too. With one click your research not only forms a useful archive but also becomes an act of publishing and distribution.

Every so often you might want to have a clear out: try diverting mailings and feeds to a folder for a week without looking at them. After seven days, ask which ones, if any, you have missed. You might benefit from unsubscribing and cutting down some information clutter. In general, it may be useful to have background information, but it all occupies your time. Treat such things as you would anything sent to you on paper. If you need it, and it is likely to be difficult to find again, file it or bookmark it. If not, bin it. After a while, you’ll find it gets easier.

Do you have any other techniques for dealing with information overload?

 

November 09 2010

15:00

Loose ties vs. strong: Pinyadda’s platform finds that shared interests trump friendships in “social news”

There isn’t a silver bullet for monetizing digital news, but if there were, it would likely involve centralization: the creation of a single space where the frenzied aspects of our online lives — information sharing, social networking, exploration, recommendation — live together in one conveniently streamlined platform. A Boston-based startup called Pinyadda wants to be that space: to make news a pivotal element of social interaction, and vice versa. Think Facebook. Meets Twitter. Meets Foursquare. Meets Tumblr. Meets Digg.

Owned by Streetwise Media — the owner as well of BostInnovation, the Boston-based startup hub — Pinyadda launched last year with plans to be a central, social spot for gathering, customizing, and sharing news and information. The idea, at first, was to be an “ideal system of news” that would serve users in three ways:

1. it should gather information from the sites and blogs they read regularly;

2. it should mimic the experience of receiving links and comments from the people in their personal networks; and

3. it should be continually searching for information about subjects they were interested in. This pool of content could then be ranked and presented to users in a consistent, easily browsed stream.

Again, centralization. And a particular kind of centralization: a socialized version. Information doesn’t simply want to be free, the thinking went; it also wants to be social. The initial idea for Pinyadda was that leveraging the social side of the news — making it easy to share with friends; facilitating conversations with them — would also be a way to leverage the value of news. Which ties into the conventional wisdom about the distributive power of social news. In her recent NYRB review of The Social Network, Zadie Smith articulates that wisdom when it comes to Facebook’s Open Graph — a feature, she wrote, that “allows you to see everything your friends are reading, watching, eating, so that you might read and watch and eat as they do.”

What Pinyadda’s designers have discovered, though, is that “social” news doesn’t necessarily mean “shared with friends.” Instead, Pinyadda has found that extra-familiar relationships fuel news consumption and sharing in its network: Social news isn’t about the people you know so much as the people with whom you share interests.

Pinyadda’s business model was based on the idea that the social approach to news — and the personalization it relied on — would allow the platform to create a new value-capture mechanism for news. The platform itself, its product design and development lead, Austin Gardner-Smith, told me — with its built-in social networks and its capacity for recommendation and conversation — bolsters news content’s value with the experiential good that is community — since a “central point of consumption” tends to give the content being consumed worth by proximity.

The idea, in other words, was to take a holistic approach to monetization. Pinyadda aimed to take advantage of the platform’s built-in capacity for personalization — via behavioral tracking, or, less nefariously, paying attention to their individual users — to sell targeted ads against its content. “Post-intent” advertising is interest-based advertising — and thus, the thinking goes, more effective/less annoying advertising. That thinking still holds; in fact, the insight that common interests, rather than familiarity, fuels news consumption could ratifies it. As Dan Kennedy put it, writing about the startup after they presented at a Hacks/Hackers meetup this summer: “Pinyadda may be groping its way toward a just-right space between Digg (too dumb) and NewsTrust (too hard).” The question will be whether news consumers, so many of them already juggling relationships with Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and Posterous and other such sites, can make room for another one. And the extent to which the relationships fostered in those networks — connections that are fundamentally personal — are the types that drive the social side of news.

September 08 2010

14:30

July 13 2010

16:00

Spotery’s relaunch: some lessons in crowd curation

This morning, the social news aggregator formerly known as Ispotastory relaunched with a new name and a modified approach to social news. The site — now rechristened and re-URLed Spotery.com — builds on Ispotastory’s basic infrastructure: crowd-curated content overseen by human editors. (Think Digg with more editorial oversight.)

The original Ispotastory launched in 2009, and the changes it’s implementing today reflect the knowledge the site’s editors have gained — about balancing crowd curation and external oversight, about balancing social sensibilities and editorial — since then. I spoke with Spotery’s CEO, Limor Elkayam, about those changes; here are some of the most instructive shifts:

Old: emphasis on the algorithm
New: emphasis on human curation

Ispotastory, in its first form, “was always going to be a user-generated site,” Elkayam told me — one complemented by human editorial oversight. But when the staff simplified the site’s UI after is launch, so that users could more easily submit stories, submissions increased — and the site’s content experienced what Digg and similar sites have: curation of the open web on the one hand, but self-promotion and clever system-gaming on the other.

The site’s editors, Elkayam says, realized that the free-for-all element of content promotion was undermining the overall experience — and, to some extent, defeating the site’s initial purpose: to filter the web in a way that’s useful, and comprehensible, to users. So the question became: “How do we please people by giving them a place to share news without it diluting the content on the site?”

The answer, Elkayam says, was a more rigorous role for Spotery’s human editors by way of mitigating the influence of the algorithm. (This is similar to the Techmeme model that combines algorithmic and editorial authority in curating stories.) While individual users’ profile pages will feature all the stories they’ve “spotted,” unfiltered and without editorial intervention…on the communal homepage, “nothing makes the site unless an editor promotes it.”

In other words: “We don’t let our users dictate the content that’s going to be on the site. We filter and monitor what’s submitted and then we decide what to promote up and down.” As a result: “There’s really no gaming the system.”

Old: lots of narrow content categories
New: a few broad content categories

Initially, Ispotastory had around 40 categories for classifying the stories it curated, Elkayam told me. Which led to…some confusion. Would the LeBron James move to Miami be a “sports” story? A “business” one? An “entertainment” one?

The relaunched site features, instead, broader, familiar verticals — “Lifestyle,” “Entertainment,” “Technology,” etc. — along with verticals appropriate to a social news site (there are sections for both “Funny” and “Offbeat”). As Elkayam explains of the shift: “We just figured that people have been used to seeing those categories for a long time. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here.”

Under the simplified categories, it’s actually difficult for editors to make a mistake in classification, Elkayam points out. With the former lots-of-categories infrastructure, the Lindsay Lohan jail-sentencing, for example, might have been filed under “movies” or “gossip” or even “law”; now, it simply gets filed under “entertainment.”

That category-broadening makes sense from a workflow perspective, as well, Elkayam notes. The site’s four editors focus on particular verticals, with everyone splitting the “Offbeat” and “Funny” oversights — encouraging “everyone to own their categories,” she says. A streamlining that’s “better than too many people working on too many categories.”

Old: “friend” framework of social news
New: “follow” framework of social news

Ispotastory launched as a social news site — complete with profile pages with Facebook-like friending capabilities. Spotery, though, has updated the infrastructure of the social relationships it’s built into its site, shifting from a “friend” framework to a “follow” one. “We realized that, with news, you don’t really have to be friends with the person; you just have to be interested in the stories that they’re spotting,” Elkayam says. Now, the site operates under a Twitter-like follow functionality — prioritizing one-way relationships among users versus two-way. “I can follow you,” Elkayam says; “you don’t have to follow me back.”

In other words, the shift in site functionality is a recognition that social news isn’t just about user interaction; it’s about user curation more generally. The old conventional wisdom — that people want to interact over the news — is slowly giving way to a broader assumption: that people simply want to share the news, in whatever form the “sharing” may take.

June 03 2010

21:31

May 28 2010

17:38

Social Media Training: From Conferences to the Classroom

She sat in a chair signing an autograph, as the camera's flashes made the stones on her Ms. America crown sparkle. A man knelt about five feet in front of American royalty and drew a sketch of her on the iPad.

Caressa Cameron, Miss America 2010, was addressing the audience at the 140 Character conference in New York City last month. Cameron spoke about how she is using social media to support her duties as a social ambassador and Goodwill Ambassador for the Children's Miracle Network, which raises funds for children's hospitals nationwide.

"What I want to do this year is to keep people connected through causes; keep people connected through organizations; keep people connected through community involvement," she said. "It's my job out here to let you know that I am doing a job, and you all can be a part of it."

The 140 Character conference is just one of a long lineup of social media training programs offered by marketing professionals, celebrities, and mainstream headliners. Seminars and presentations educate thousands of people on how to use social media to reach out to their target communities. Attendees mostly learn the business applications of social media and ways to engage people using social networks to promote causes, job hunts and other initiatives.

The abundance of people and organizations offering social media training naturally means there's a wide range of quality. I recently attended different social media conferences and programs and spoke to experts to gather insights about social media training. Here's a collection of what I encountered.

140 Character Conference

jpulver.jpg

Jeff Pulver, organizer of the 140 Character conference in New York City, said the way that people and organizations communicate has dramatically changed. He was master of ceremonies to a long lineup of people who have been able to leverage Twitter and other real-time social applications to develop their businesses and professional profile.

"Here at the 140 Character conference we are looking at the effects of the real-time Internet on business and also on people," Pulver said. "Four words: listen, connect, share and engage. If you understand what that means you have a head up on everyone else who doesn't."

He said that, regardless of the different professional backgrounds at the 140 Character conference, we are all people.

"This conference celebrates life," Pulver said. "It celebrates the humanity of it, and some of the amazing business opportunities that are becoming because of it."

One speaker at the 140 Character conference is a world-renowned entrepreneur by the name of Gary Vaynerchuk. He built his family's wine business from a $4 million brick-and-mortar store to a $60 million dollar business supported by a retail website, and a vlog where Vaynerchuk reviews a wide variety of wines. He's also a bestselling author.

I caught up with Vaynerchuk when he was back at home and conducted a video interview with him about social media training and the lessons he's learned. Two people also tweeted questions for Vaynerchuk before the interview -- Eric Sornoso and Rodney J. Woodruff -- and Vaynerchuk responded to both during our discussion:

Edelman's Program

Along with Vaynerchuk, I ran into Rick Murray at the conference. He's the president of Edelman Digital. He shared some of the logistics of Edelman's social media training program. The first phase is all about defining ethical behavior on social networks.

"The second thing we talk a lot about is community management," Murray continued. "[What] you could do to help our clients out whether it's either promoting their brands or it's protecting their brands, in either shape or form; the third thing...is how you craft the kinds of content that the audience which your clients are trying to seek is compelling."

rick_murray.jpg

The Edelman training program also covers how content can be optimized for social search. The classes cater to all the regions in which Edelman operates and are culturally sensitive to help employees appropriately engage people all over the world. Each online module is self-paced. Upon completion of each training sequence, a belt is awarded to a participant, as in karate. Employees must schedule the four minutes to take each module to be awarded a belt and be able to take the next training sequence.

"Once people are underway we've actually had internal competitions to get to various belt levels in office competitions," Murray explained. "We're not against public shaming as well; we have names on walls of people who haven't taken any of the modules at all."

Social Media Skills With Sree

Sree Sreenivasan, dean of student affairs and digital media professor at Columbia Journalism School, started the institution's first public Social Media Skills course. The class is four weeks long and, as it states in the syllabus, aims to teach journalists how to "find new story ideas, trends, and sources; connect with reader and viewers in new ways; bring attention and traffic to their work; and help them create, craft and enhance their personal brand."

I took Sreenivasan's workshop called "Smarter Internet Surfing Tips" while in my broadcast journalism class in New York University. He has been teaching Internet Surfing Tips through his online directory since 1998. He helps journalists learn to use the social media tools that will help them do their job more efficiently. Sreenivasan carefully chooses which platforms his students should be using as journalists and media professionals.

"I'm not on MySpace but in certain industries MySpace is absolutely critical, like the music industry, entertainment, but it doesn't make sense for me at the moment," Sreenivasan stated. "I say that for technology to be useful it has to fit into our workflow and our life flow; when it does both, then its ready for use around the country, around the world."

sree.jpgSreenivasan said that training is necessary for everyone. "I know somebody who has 25,000 followers on Twitter but still wants help," he said.

Sreenivasan instructs his students to be active on digital communities before big events happen. He stresses that students should be in "listening mode" and participating in the digital communities they are engaging. "I tell people that when the plane lands in the Hudson, it's too late," he said.

Moreover, Sreenivasan teaches that social media is simply there to support your professional endeavors. Your skills and background should still be proficient.

Although Sreenivasan's class is designed primarily for journalists, people of all professional backgrounds have attended his class, such as marketers, publicists, and librarians. Sreenivasan said he has instructed people under the age of 15 and over the age of 80.

Tamar Weinberg

I first met Tamar Weinberg as a power user of the social news channel, Digg.com. Tamar has been working online as a social media consultant for 17 years and is also the author of "The New Community Rules," which teaches readers how to raise awareness for their brands using blogging, micro-blogging, and other social platforms.

tamarweinbergweirdness.jpgShe has spoken at numerous conferences and has delivered lectures for groups ranging from 30 to 2,000 people. Weinberg teaches people to participate by contributing to social platforms before trying to have them bear value. She discusses best practices and tactics, which attendees could use to expand their business presence online. Weinberg also discloses some tactics that she employs to continually learn how to engage target communities on digital networks.

"I would recommend finding influencers who are of interest to you; find out who influences them," Weinberg said. "It's very easy to do because if they have a Facebook fan page, if they have a Twitter page, they're often sharing links and tweeting about these individuals. Find out what they're sharing and use that as a guideline as to what to follow."

Weinberg said that she works with people in organizations large and small, who fill a variety of roles. Working with multiple-levels of hierarchy can sometimes pose a challenge in training. She notes that lower-level personnel usually adopt digital platforms, which can often lead to internal challenges in terms of pushing ahead new initiatives.

"Things don't happen quickly because of the need to go through legal red tape," Tamar said. "If you get the CEO on onboard things will happen a lot quicker."

ViperChill

Most social media training programs focus on managing and building communities on major social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Digg etc. Glen Allsop runs ViperChill, where he teaches his readers how to build social communities on blogging platforms.In six months Allsop has built ViperChill to reach 1,500 unique visitors daily and 70,000 pageviews monthly; the site has over 6,000 subscribers.

"As I make money online on other sites, I don't need to monetize it," Allsop said. "I do have a blog that makes over $10,000 per month which received 800,000 pageviews in March, with most of its traffic coming from Google."

Allsop built his first website at the age of 15 after he saw a friend build a site using Lycos Tripod Sitebuilder. Allsop built websites about his passions such as DJing and optimized them to receive more exposure from search engines by guest posting on other blogs and using other social media engagement tactics he teaches on ViperChill.

"Find blogs relevant to your industry by searching Google for phrases like "top [insert topic here] blog" or "best [insert topic here] blogs" to find relevant sites to engage with," Allsop said. "Once you've found popular blogs in your target market, start interacting with the author on multiple platforms like Facebook and Twitter to build up a relationship."

Allsop is among the few people teaching how to use social news aggregation channels, like Digg, but with a niche focus.

"For example, there is a social voting website for the IM [Internet marketing] industry, called Sphinn," Allsop said. "There are also ones for technology, sports like basketball, and even country specific sites like IndianPad."

Allsop's biggest challenge in teaching the use of social media channels to connect with their target communities lies in keeping people from always wanting to manipulate the digital networks. He also notes that convincing heads of management in large companies is harder because it is difficult to track results than when using search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising campaigns.

Neal Rodriguez features some of the brightest minds in cyberspace including thought-leaders in social media marketing and search engine optimization on nealrodriguez.com, where he offers his own social media and blog training program.

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April 02 2010

20:02

The Curator's Dilemma: Individuals and Institutions in News

I like to listen before I talk. Which means that during my morning routine I read before I write. But where to turn and what to read?

One of the most oft-repeated statements I heard at conferences last year: "our problem isn't information overload, it's crappy filters." In other words, we shouldn't complain about all that amazing, free information out there. We just need to get better at finding what we care about and ignoring the rest.

The podium speakers suggested that this would happen in two ways. First, through a variety of crowd recommendation sites like StumbleUpon, Digg, Reddit, NewsTrust, and Delicious.

These algorithm-based, automated services would then be supplemented by a new wave of mega-content sites that are curated by human (often volunteer) editors: True/Slant, The Daily Beast, Global Voices, Huffington Post, Global Post.

But increasingly I'm finding that neither the crowd recommendation sites nor the human edited sites are my first stop for news. I still read quite a few blogs and I still check in at NYTimes.com, but at least half of what I read these days comes from links on Twitter. To everyone's surprise, Twitter has turned out to be less an inane lifelog of what we ate for lunch and much more a streaming list of cleverly editorialized headlines with links to the main article. For many of us, Twitter is becoming the front page of our morning newspaper. Either in perception or in practice, our reporters are becoming our friends and our friends are becoming the editors of our Twitter-based newspaper.

As a curation of news and interest, Twitter has its pros and cons. The re-tweet function spreads news across networks of followers. Cultural rituals like "Follow Friday" introduce new individuals into like-minded networks. Hashtags allow discussions to take place around certain topics or events.

But perhaps no form of communication - other than arguments between couples - has a more frustrating permanent archive than Twitter. What you post today is just about gone forever tomorrow. (You can only search for a message that has been posted on Twitter in the past 10 days. After that it disappears into the deep sea of the forgotten.)

Twitter as a tool for curation has helped a few special twitterers become practically professional curators. Maria Popova is a native of Sofia, Bulgaria now based in Los Angeles who describes herself as "a cultural curator and curious mind at large." Which is to say that she graduated from college in 2007, started a blog ("curating eclectic interestingness from culture's collective brain"), and then began posting interesting links on Twitter as if it were a way to earn income. In a way it was. Maria was featured in a New York Times blog post by Nick Bilton which drew the conclusion that "we are all human aggregators now", and which also drew a lot more attention to Miss Popova. In addition to her day job at TBWA\Chiat\Day, she has also taken her curatorial skills to TED, Good Magazine, and Wired UK.

Last year we thought that the problem of crappy information filters would be solved either by fancy algorithms on crowd recommendation sites like Digg and StumpleUpon, or with the help of new, human-edited portals like the Huffington Post and Global Voices. Instead it seems that many of us are increasingly depending on individuals; talented curators of the web like Popova, Gina Trapani, and Andrew Sullivan.

In 2005 the rise of the weblog was supposed to turn us all into pundits, voicing our opinions on this matter and that. Five years later, notes Marisa Meltzer in The American Prospect, and everyone seems more interested in curation than opinion: "With blogs, everyone became a critic. With Tumblr, everyone's a curator."

content_curation_why_is_the_content_curator_the_key_emerging_online_editorial_role_of_the_future_id54287021_size485.jpg

If "crappy filters" was one of the big conference talking points last year, then "online curation" is quickly making a name for itself this year. Robert Scoble - a conference careerist - says it is the word he hears the most these days, especially at last month's SXSW. (Though Andrew Lih said that 'curation' was also the word of the day at the 2009 SXSW.)

All of this talk about the individual curator has me wondering about the future of news organizations. When someone visits Global Voices or the Daily Beast are they coming for a view of the world through the eyes of the entire organization, or do they come specifically for particular writers and editors who they've come to trust?

Personally I visit The Atlantic for Jeffrey Goldberg and Graeme Wood. When I go to Foreign Policy it's specifically to read the latest from Joshua Keating, Evgeny Morozov, and Marc Lynch. I have absolutely no interest in TechCrunch, but I do try to keep up on the latest from Paul Carr, who happens to write there.

Maybe I am the outlier here, the one who spends too much time reading news and too much time following the evolution of thought and interests of certain individuals. But I also feel like this is a general trend for everyone - that we all are increasingly depending on individuals and not organizations to curate the day's news for us.

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January 14 2010

07:32
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