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December 10 2011

17:27

Eric Schmidt at Le Web: announces "noise control" to filter your Google+ stream

Search Engine Watch :: Google plans to add filtering mechanisms to Google+, allowing users to receive more relevant social content as the company seeks to challenge rival Facebook. "Noise control" will soon be added to the social site, and "we have a team figuring out how to do it right now," Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said at the Le Web conference in Paris.

Continue to read searchenginewatch.com

July 20 2011

15:48

June 02 2011

08:23

Biggest failure - Eric Schmidt, Google: we missed out on 'the friends thing'

The Guardian :: Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt has said that one of his biggest failures when he was chief executive of the search-engine company was underestimating the importance of friends. In a speech in California, Schmidt said he had not addressed the impact of social networking services such as Facebook and that, as a consequence, Google had missed on "the friend thing".

Continue to read Dominic Rushe, www.guardian.co.uk

November 05 2010

18:30

Google's Schmidt Talks Mobile Revolution, and How Digital Media Could Empower A 'Rogue Evil Person'

On Wednesday night, over 200 movers and shakers from the fields of finance, law, and policy crowded into a meeting room at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York to hear a talk by Google CEO Eric Schmidt and the new "director of Google Ideas" (and Council fellow), Jared Cohen. The event was part of the Council's ongoing CEO Speakers series, which has brought a steady stream of corporate moguls through the doors of the organization's elegant Park Avenue headquarters.

This, however, was a mogul evening with a difference. Schmidt and Cohen based their talk on their co-authored article, The Digital Disruption, in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, the Council's flagship publication.

Screen shot 2010-11-04 at 11.36.00 PM.pngIn both the article and the talk, Schmidt and Cohen made a strong and irrefutable argument that digital media is altering world affairs.

"I'm extraordinarily excited about the scale of the mobile revolution," Schmidt said. "... There are four to five billion mobile phones of one kind or another and we are approaching a billion smart phones."

Schmidt added that the effect of Moore's Law's_law will be to transform smart phones into the world's dominant communications platform in the near future.

The implications of the mobile revolution, he said, "are just beginning to be understood. But remember that these devices are more powerful than supercomputers were a few years ago, and we are putting them in the hands of people who've never had anything like it before."

But Schmidt's conclusion about the cultural impact of this revolution was more tentative.

"We'll run a test and discover if everyone else is as obsessed with Britney Spears as Americans are ... and the answer is probably yes," he said.

Digital Media Cut Both Ways

Schmidt acknowledged that digital media have had negative as well as positive effects in the U.S. Some American journalists cite Google News' role as an aggregator of free news content as a factor in the collapse of their profession's business model. Schmidt agreed that the new media environment has its downside. "More speech doesn't necessarily mean better speech," he admitted. The new order "is not necessarily producing a better democracy -- just a louder one."

At several points, Schmidt referred to the engineering mindset that has defined Google culture. These engineers have suddenly (and often unintentionally) found themselves at the center stage of world diplomacy. Google has been under considerable pressure to reconcile its business practices in politically restrictive markets such as China with the complexities of freedom of expression concerns.

In 2005, in the video embedded below, Google co-founder Sergey Brin told a class of Berkeley students, "Technology is an inherent democratizer."

But Schmidt's remarks at the Council suggested that things aren't quite that simple. "Technology is neutral," he said.

There is great potential for digital media to advance the cause of government transparency and human rights; but at the same time, he noted considerable potential for harm. Online media empower the individual in unprecedented ways, he said.

"The nature of the technology is to unite the citizens, but it can unite them in favor of a repressive government," he said. His worst fear, he added, was digital media's possible "empowerment of the rogue evil person."

Contrasting Impact of Digital Media

Screen shot 2010-11-04 at 11.29.32 PM.pngIt appears that Google's leadership realize that they need greater breadth in addressing foreign policy concerns. Clearly, the hiring of Jared Cohen
is a cornerstone of their strategy. Cohen was brought into the Bush Administration's State Department as a 24 year-old wunderkind to work on international media policy issues, and he made an easy transition to Hillary Clinton's team. Cohen represents the timely addition of a "wonk" to Google's "geek" culture, a bridge between the Washington policy and West Coast tech communities. He is unusual in both circles due to his extensive grassroots experience.

At the Council, he gave a first-hand description of digital media's benefits during Iran's "Twitter revolution," but contrasted it with meeting a "Guatemalan family extorted by cellphone from an MS 13 gang member in prison in Los Angeles." (Cohen's 2008 appearance on the Colbert Report provides a good introduction to his approach.)

Cohen's August appointment to the directorship of Google Ideas signaled Google's intent to craft a more nuanced form of corporate foreign policy that could evolve in closer consultation with foreign policy circles in Washington and New York. At the same time, his fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations indicates that CFR may be ready to take the digital revolution more seriously. (It was telling that the Council told members such as myself that they were allowed to liveblog the meeting, while at the same time preventing us from using electronic devices into the meeting room itself.)

The Council, like the State Department, has been reenergizing its online presence and can now point to activity on Facebook and Twitter. But while America's foreign policy community and tech community may share values and goals, there's a ways to go before the wonks and the geeks speak the same language. In the meantime, digital media is disrupting the world faster than either can measure.

Anne Nelson is an educator, consultant and author in the field of international media strategy. She created and teaches New Media and Development Communications at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and teaches an international teleconference course at Bard College. She is a senior consultant on media, education and philanthropy for Anthony Knerr & Associates. She is on Twitter as @anelsona, was a 2005 Guggenheim Fellow, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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August 25 2010

13:30

Googling serendipity: How does journalism fare in a world where algorithms trump messy chance?

Twelve years ago, when I was reporting on the pending Microsoft antitrust case, I learned that what was really at stake wasn’t immediately apparent in the legal briefs. It wasn’t the browser market (remember Netscape?) or whether Windows should be able to run somebody else’s word-processing program. Rather, it was how control was exercised over the places where we learned, created, and engaged in critical thought.

One of the best thinkers on the topic was Ben Shneiderman, founding director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland. He told me at the time that the critical question for Microsoft was not whether the company encouraged innovation — it did — but rather how financial pressures dictated which innovations it adopted and which it let wither. The Microsoft software suite, he noted, wasn’t very accessible to people with learning disabilities or those with low incomes.

Fast forward to 2010, and now we hear from Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, another powerful technology company that controls the tools of creativity and expression. Schmidt recently talked to The Wall Street Journal about the potential for applying artificial intelligence to search, suggesting that the search engine of the future would figure out what we meant rather than find what we actually typed.

Schmidt seems to be pushing the idea that the future — or, more accurately, each of our individual futures, interests, and passions — all can be plotted by algorithm from now until our dying day. The role of serendipity in our lives, he said, “can be calculated now. We can actually produce it electronically.”

Really?

According to Webster’s, serendipity is “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” So if the essence of serendipity is chance or fortune or chaos, then by definition, anything that a search engine brings to you, even on spec, isn’t serendipitous.

I don’t know whether Schmidt’s comments should be chalked up to blind ambition or to quant-nerd naivete. But it’s troubling that Schmidt seems to discount the role that human nature plays in our everyday lives and, ultimately, in guiding our relationships with technology.

It might be that Schmidt’s vision for the search engine of the future would serve us well in finding a new restaurant, movie or book. But if Google really wants to take the guesswork out of our lives, we should be asking the same question that Shneiderman put to Microsoft. How might financial pressures shape Google’s “serendipity algorithm”? What content — journalism and otherwise — will it push our way that will shape our worldview? And, to Shneiderman’s point, what limits does it impose?

I think it’s safe to say that some good ideas don’t lend themselves to being monetized online — witness the rise of nonprofit startups in bringing us investigative, public affairs, and explanatory journalism. How might they fare in Schmidt’s world order?

I caught up with Shneiderman on Monday, and he agreed that this is one of the key questions that should be debated as we depend more and more on a “recommender system” in which companies like Google or Amazon use massive databases to anticipate our needs and wants. Public interest groups and other nonprofits that can’t afford the right keywords could be most vulnerable in these systems, Shneiderman said. “How far down the list do the concerns of civic groups get pushed?” he asked.

It’s fair to ask companies what considerations and factors might be weighted in their search formulas, Shneiderman said, but it isn’t clear what level of transparency should be expected. “What is a reasonable a request to make without exposing their algorithm and their business practices?” he said.

I can’t say either. But I do think there are some lessons that Google can take from the history that Microsoft has helped write.

One lesson is that what’s good for the bottom line doesn’t always jibe with what’s best for consumers. A dozen years ago, the Netscape browser was regarded by many as more as more functional, but Microsoft saw it as a threat. So it bundled its own Internet Explorer browser in its operating system and effectively pushed Netscape out of existence.

Another lesson is that it isn’t always possible to divine what people will want in the future based on a profile of what they (or people like them) have wanted it the past. Indeed, some of the most successful technology companies — Google included — have succeeded precisely because their vision for the future was radical, new and compelling. Microsoft once played that role to a monolithic IBM. But today, as Microsoft’s market valuation has been eclipsed by that of Apple, it has become debatable whether Microsoft remains a consumer-driven company.

None of this should be interpreted as an anti-capitalistic rant. We’re all better off for Google’s search box, and it’ll be interesting to see where Schmidt’s vision takes the company.

Rather, it is a suggestion that even the most elaborate algorithms and high-touch e-marketing can’t address every human need.

One of the best vacations I ever took was when I pulled out of my driveway in Raleigh in late August 1991 with no particular destination. Two days later, I found myself in North Dakota, discovering places I never would have appreciated based on my past interests or those of my friends and peers. The experience was so compelling to me precisely because it was serendipitous.

That trip has served as an important reminder to me ever since. When we don’t know what we want, sometimes what we really need is to figure it out for ourselves.

April 16 2010

13:20

This Week in Review: News talk and tips at ASNE, iPad’s ‘walled garden,’ and news execs look for revenue

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

Schmidt and Huffington’s advice for news execs: This week wasn’t a terribly eventful one in the future-of-journalism world, but a decent amount of the interesting stuff that was said came out of Washington D.C., site of the annual American Society of News Editors conference. The most talked-about session there was Sunday night’s keynote address by Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who told the news execs there that their industry is in trouble because it hasn’t found a way to sustain itself financially, not because its way of producing or delivering news is broken. “We have a business-model problem, we don’t have a news problem,” Schmidt said.

After buttering the crowd up a bit, Schmidt urged them to produce news for an environment that’s driven largely by mobile devices, immediacy, and personalization, and he gave them a glimpse of what those priorities look like at Google. Politico and the Lab’s Megan Garber have summaries of the talk, and paidContent has video.

There were bunches more sessions and panels (American Journalism Review’s Rem Rieder really liked them), but two I want to highlight in particular. One was a panel with New York Times media critic David Carr, new-media titan Ariana Huffington and the Orlando Sentinel’s Mark Russell on the “24/7 news cycle.” The Lab’s report on the session focused on four themes, with one emerging most prominently — the need for context to make sense out of the modern stream of news. St. Petersburg Times media critic Eric Deggans and University of Maryland student Adam Kerlin also zeroed in on the panelists’ call to develop deeper trust and participation among readers.

The second was a presentation by Allbritton’s Steve Buttry that provides a perfect fleshing-out of the mobile-centric vision Schmidt gave in his keynote. Poynter’s Damon Kiesow had a short preview, and Buttry has a longer one that includes a good list of practical suggestions for newsrooms to start a mobile transformation. (He also has slides from his talk, and he posted a comprehensive mobile strategy for news orgs back in November, if you want to dive in deep.)

There was plenty of other food for thought, too: Joel Kramer of the Twin Cities nonprofit news org MinnPost shared his experiences with building community, and one “where do we go from here?” panel seemed to capture news execs’ ambivalence about the future of their industry. Students from local universities also put together a blog on the conference with a Twitter stream and short recaps of just about every session, and it’s worth a look-through. Two panels of particular interest: One on government subsidies for news and another with Kelly McBride of Poynter’s thoughts on the “fifth estate” of citizen journalists, bloggers, nonprofits and others.

Is a closed iPad bad for news?: In the second week after the iPad’s release, much of the commentary centered once again on Apple’s control over the device. In a long, thoughtful post, Media watcher Dan Gillmor focused on Apple’s close relationship with The New York Times, posing a couple of arresting questions for news orgs creating iPad apps: Does Apple have the unilateral right to remove your app for any reason it wants, and why are you OK with that kind of control?

On Thursday he got a perfect example, when the Lab’s Laura McGann reported that Pulitzer-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore’s iPhone app was rejected in December because it “contains content that ridicules public figures.” Several other folks echoed Gillmor’s alarm, with pomo blogger Terry Heaton asserting that the iPad is a move by the status quo to retake what it believes is its rightful place in the culture. O’Reilly Radar’s Jim Stogdill says that if you bought an iPad, you aren’t really getting a computer so much as “a 16GB Walmart store shelf that fits on your lap … and Apple got you to pay for the building.” And blogging/RSS/podcasting pioneer Dave Winer says the iPad doesn’t change much for news because it’s so difficult to create media with.

But in a column for The New York Times, web thinker Steven Johnson adds an important caveat: While he’s long been an advocate of open systems, he notes that the iPhone software platform has been the most innovative in the history in computing, despite being closed. He attributes that to simpler use for its consumers, as well as simpler tasks for developers. While Johnson still has serious misgivings about the Apple’s closed policy from a control standpoint, he concludes that “sometimes, if you get the conditions right, a walled garden can turn into a rain forest.”

In related iPad issues, DigitalBeat’s Subrahmanyam KVJ takes a step back and looks at control issues with Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Google. Florida j-prof Mindy McAdams has a detailed examination of the future of HTML5 and Flash in light of Adobe’s battle with Adobe over the iPad. Oh yeah, and to the surprise of no one, a bunch of companies, including Google, are developing iPad competitors.

News editors’ pessimism: A survey released Monday by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism presented a striking glimpse into the minds of America’s news executives. Perhaps most arresting (and depressing) was the finding that nearly half of the editors surveyed said that without a significant new revenue stream, their news orgs would go under within a decade, and nearly a third gave their org five years or less.

While some editors are looking at putting up paywalls online as that new revenue source, the nation’s news execs aren’t exactly overwhelmed at that prospect: 10 percent are actively working on building paywalls, and 32 percent are considering it. Much higher percentages of execs are working on online advertising, non-news products, local search and niche products as revenue sources.

One form of revenue that most news heads are definitely not crazy about is government subsidy: Three quarters of them, including nearly 90 percent of newspaper editors, had “serious reservations” about that kind of funding (the highest level of concern they could choose). The numbers were lower for tax subsidies, but even then, only 19 percent said they’d be open to it.

The report itself makes for a pretty fascinating read, and The New York Times has a good summary, too. The St. Pete Times’ Eric Deggans wonders how bad things would have to get before execs would be willing to accept government subsidies (pretty bad), and the Knight Digital Media Center’s Amy Gahran highlights the statistics on editors’ thoughts on what went wrong in their industry.

Twitter rolls out paid search: This week was a big one for Twitter: We finally found out some of the key stats about the microblogging service, including how many users it has (105,779,710), and the U.S. Library of Congress announced it’s archiving all of everyone’s tweets, ever.

But the biggest news was Twitter’s announcement that it will implement what it calls Promoted Tweets — its first major step toward its long-anticipated sustainable revenue plan. As The New York Times explains, Promoted Tweets are paid advertisements that will show up first when you search on Twitter and, down the road, as part of your regular stream if they’re contextually relevant. Or, in Search Engine Land’s words, it’s paid search, at least initially.

Search blogger John Battelle has some initial thoughts on the move: He thinks Twitter seems to be going about things the right way, but the key shift is that this “will mark the first time, ever, that users of the service will see a tweet from someone they have not explicitly decided to follow.Alex Wilhelm of The Next Web gives us a helpful roadmap of where Twitter’s heading with all of its developments.

Anonymity and comments: A quick addendum to last month’s discussion about anonymous comments on news sites (which really has been ongoing since then, just very slowly): The New York Times’ Richard Perez-Pena wrote about many news organizations’ debates over whether to allow anonymous comments, and The Guardian’s Nigel Willmott explained why his paper’s site will still include anonymous commenting.

Meanwhile, former Salon-er Scott Rosenberg told media companies that they’d better treat it like a valuable conversation if they want it to be one (that means managing and directing it), rather than wondering what the heck’s the problem with those crazy commenters. And here at The Lab, Joshua Benton found that when the blogging empire Gawker made its comments a tiered system, their quality and quantity improved.

Reading roundup: This week I have three handy resources, three ideas worth pondering, and one final thought.

Three resources: If you’re looking for a zoomed-out perspective on the last year or two in journalism in transition, Daniel Bachhuber’s “canonical” reading list is a fine place to start. PaidContent has a nifty list of local newspapers that charge for news online, and Twitter went public with Twitter Media, a new blog to help media folks use Twitter to its fullest.

Three ideas worth pondering: Scott Lewis of the nonprofit news org Voice of San Diego talks to the Lab about how “explainers” for concepts and big news stories could be part of their business model, analysts Frederic Filloux and Alan Mutter take a close look at online news audiences and advertising, and Journal Register Co. head John Paton details his company’s plan to have one newspaper produce one day’s paper with only free web tools. (Jeff Jarvis, an adviser, shows how it might work and why he’s excited.)

One final thought: British j-prof Paul Bradshaw decries the “zero-sum game” attitude by professional journalists toward user-generated content that views any gain for UGC as a loss for the pros. He concludes with a wonderful piece of advice: “If you think the web is useless, make it useful. … Along the way, you might just find that there are hundreds of thousands of people doing exactly the same thing.”

April 12 2010

12:28

The future is mobile, and other thoughts from Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s speech at ASNE

Yes, he got the inevitable “shouldn’t you pay content providers?” question from an audience member. And, yes, he gave the inevitable “most news organizations actually want the traffic we provide” answer. But for the most part, though it tread familiar territory, Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s speech last night — delivered to a packed half-ballroom at the American Society of News Editors conference in DC — was an impressive feat of rhetorical tight-rope-walking. (Text: You, news editors, are guardians of democracy. Subtext: You, news editors, should probably rethink your patrol systems.)

So was the speech well-received? My read: the crowd reception to the uber-exec and his thoughts was cordial, but — despite the many, many compliments Schmidt paid to journalism and journalists during the course of the talk — not overly friendly. (Usually, at a speech like this, there’d be a vibrant back-channel conversation, via Twitter, that would allow a more nuanced assessment. Last night’s speech didn’t have that back-talk; relatively few people were tweeting it, though many were taking notes on reporters’ pads.)

Below, I’ve excerpted the sections of the talk that I found most interesting; they’re listed in chronological order to give you an idea of the arc of the speech.

On newspapers and discovery:
I love newspapers. I love of reading them — that when you’re finished, you’re done, and you know what’s going on. I love the notion of discovery that newspapers represent…. Newspapers are fundamental, not just in America, but around the world.

On information and democracy:
We have goals in common. Google believes in the power of information. We believe that it’s better to have more information than less. We also understand that information can annoy governments and annoy people…but that ultimately the world is a better place with more information available to more and more people. And the flow of accurate information, of the diverse views and debate that we’re so used to, is really, really fundamental to a functioning democracy.

On criticism (and sympathy):
You all get criticized all the time. On the left, you get criticized for being too liberal. On the right, you get criticized for being too conservative. In our case, we just get kicked out of China. Same thought.

On journalism as an art form:
We’re not in the news business, and I’m not here to tell you how to run a newspaper. We are computer scientists. And trust me, if we were in charge of the news, it would be incredibly accurate, incredibly organized, and incredibly boring. There is an art to what you do. And if you’re ever confused as to the value of newspaper editors, look at the blog world. That’s all you need to see. So we understand how fundamental tradition and the things you care about are.

On the best of times, the worst of times:
You have more readers than ever; you have more sources than ever, for sure; you have more ways to report. And new forms of making money will develop. And they’re underway now…. So we have a business model problem. We don’t have a news problem. That’s ultimately my view.

On our new emphasis on now-ness:
What do our children know now that our parents did not know when they were the age of our children? They know about now. They know about precisely now, in a way that our parents’ generation did not. That this now-ness drives everything…and what happens is, you experience the reality of the moment in a way that’s much, much more intense.

On the implications of now-ness:
It’s creating a problem which I’m going to call “the ersatz experience problem.” On the one hand, you have a sense of connectedness to everything — literally, every event globally…but you also have a false sense of actual experience, since you’re not really there. So the trade-off is that you know everything, but you’re not physically in any one place. And that shift is actually a pretty profound one in the way society’s going to consume media and news and so forth. And all of us are part of it. And Google is obviously moving it forward.

On Google’s “mobile-first” focus:
It’s important to understand that three things are coming together: the powerful mobile devices that …are paired with the tremendous performance that we can now get on computers…it is the sum of that, and the capabilities and the technologies that will exploit the sum of that, that will define the next ten or twenty years for all of us. So when I say “Internet first,” I mean “mobile first.”

Now, some of the most clever engineers are working on mobile applications ahead of personal computer applications. People are literally moving to that because that’s where the action is, that’s where the growth is, there’s a completely unwashed landscape, you have no idea where folks are going to go.

On news’ mobile/personal/multi-platform future:
Google is making the Android phone, we have the Kindle, of course, and we have the iPad. Each of these form factors with the tablet represent in many ways your future….: they’re personal. They’re personal in a really fundamental way. They know who you are. So imagine that the next version of a news reader will not only know who you are, but it’ll know what you’ve read…and it’ll be more interactive. And it’ll have more video. And it’ll be more real-time. Because of this principle of “now.”

When I go to a news site, I want that site to know me, to know about me: what I care about, and so forth. I don’t want to be treated as a stranger, which is what happens today. So, remember me. Show me what I like. But I also want you to challenge me. I want you to say, “Here’s something new. Here’s something you didn’t know.”

On the sheer volume of information out there today:
The Internet is about scale. I was studying this, because I was trying to figure out how big this thing is. Between the dawn of humanity and 2003, roughly 5 Exabytes of information were created. (An Exabyte is roughly a million gigabytes.) We generate that amount in every two days now…. So there is a data explosion. And the data explosion is overwhelming all of us. Of course, this is good business for Google and others who try to sort all this out.

On the future of display ads:
If you think about it in this context — you have this explosion of mobile devices, you have this connection, and so forth — what does this mean for the business world? Well, it’s obvious that advertising, which is the business Google is in, is going to do very well in this space. Because advertising works well when it’s very targeted. Well, these devices are very targeted. So we can give a personalized ad.

Furthermore, Google — and others — are busy building vertical display ads that look an awful lot like the ads that look an awful lot like the ads that are in traditional newspapers…. In the next few years, you should be able to do very, very successful display advertising against this kind of content. You may not be able to do it against murders, because it’s very difficult to get the right targeted ad in that case — what, are you going to advertise a knife? It’s obviously terrible. I’m not trying to make a joke about it; it’s a real business problem.

On the future of subscriptions:
We and others are working on ubiquitous ways in which subscriptions can be bundled, packaged, and delivered. We’re seeing this today with both the Kindle and the iPad. Both of which have this subscription model which you can test. You can actually find out, “What will people pay for this?” And eventually that model should have higher profitability. Because it has a low cost of goods, right, because you don’t have the newspaper and the printing and distribution costs. So there’s every reason to believe that eventually we’ll solve this and ultimately bring some significant money into this thing.

On the need for experimentation:
A Ralph Waldo Emerson quote is, “Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions; life is an experiment.” On the Internet, there is never a single solution…. The fact of the matter is there are no simple solutions to these complex problems. And in order to really find them, we’re going to have to run lots of experiments.

December 07 2009

19:00

November 19 2009

21:15

What I was told when I asked about blogs joining the PCC

Following recent coverage of the PCC’s Baroness Buscombe’s Independent interview where she possibly mooted the idea of the PCC regulating blogs, I thought I would share some correspondence I had with the PCC recently over the same issue. In a nutshell: blogs can already choose to operate under the PCC anyway.

I asked Simon Yip of the PCC whether a hyperlocal blog could opt in to the PCC Code and self-regulation. These are his replies:

“They can decide to adhere to the PCC Code if they choose. To fall formally within the system overseen by the PCC, they would have to subscribe to the body responsible for funding the Commission.

“I am afraid I am unable to answer the question of cost, as it depends on the circulation of the newspaper [sic]. As you can imagine, it would vary from publication to publication.

“For any publication to subscribe to the Code of Practice, the publication would contact Pressbof.”

So there you go. If you can afford to pay for a shiny PCC badge, then you’re welcome.

And of course, that’s the main hurdle to the idea of PCC regulation of blogs: few blogs could afford to pay, and even fewer would want to. Meanwhile, there is no financial incentive for the PCC to recruit blogs (nor is there any incentive for bloggers – yet – in joining an organisation whose 2 main purposes appear to be to stave off statutory regulation and to mediate disputes to avoid legal costs).

Whether there is financial incentive in trying to attract public funding to do so, or to use blogs as a common foe to do the same is, of course, a separate matter.

What is much more worrying than this blogging regulation sideshow is the apparent ignorance demonstrated by Baroness Buscombe in talking about Google and the news industry’s business plans, described earlier on this blog by Matt Wardman.

The most curious quote for me from her SoE speech is this one, following on from a paragraph which attempts to conjure up the now almost pantomime-like Monster Of Google.

“I urge you to recall the recent words of Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO: “We use as our primary goal the benefit to end users. That’s who we serve.” So there you have it: the end user matters, not those who create content in the first place.”

Is she saying that serving users above content creators is a Bad Thing? Weren’t newspapers supposed to serve their readerships as well? Or did that change while I wasn’t looking?

November 06 2009

00:18

Google News embraces self-identification of content

Some online-only news organizations were upset when Google News began attaching a “(blog)” label to their content two months ago. Others, like me, complained the label was outdated and inconsistently applied.

Now Google News is asking publishers to label themselves. In an update to its sitemap standards announced today, Google News is requesting that sites explicitly tag content that’s published on a blog. Same goes for press releases, satire, opinion, user-generated content, and any articles that require registration or payment to read. The technical details are here.

Most of those labels will be visible to users of Google News, as they are now. Opinion and user-generated content won’t get a label but will presumably affect search results. And while tagging is voluntary, Google reserves the right to “add such designations to certain articles as necessary.”

I still don’t see why it matters if news is published on a blog or some other platform. (Google CEO Eric Schmidt ventured a distinction yesterday.) But allowing publishers to self-identify their content is a big improvement that should resolve most of the complaints Google News has been hearing — and which have been voiced to me in private. It’s a small issue with much bigger implications for how we consume, sort, and, yes, identify news in the future.

November 05 2009

00:27

Google CEO Eric Schmidt envisions the news consumer of the future

For all the bluster about Google as an enemy of the news industry, you might be surprised to learn that Eric Schmidt, the company’s CEO, is kind of a triumphalist for mainstream media, big newspapers, and print.

He took questions from reporters this afternoon at Google’s offices in Cambridge, and I asked him, among other things, why Google News had recently begun attaching a “(blog)” label to some news sources — a move I criticized last month. Schmidt ended up bringing up bloggers’ moms:

Me: A very small question. Google News very recently added a label for blogs, to differentiate from non-blogs. It seemed weird in 2009 to make that distinction. I wondered, did you have any input on that or —?

Eric Schmidt: I was not directly involved in that. There seems to be a difference between blogs and traditional news. It’s sometimes hard to distinguish because many people in the traditional news are also bloggers.

Me: Or they use a blog platform.

Schmidt: Or they use a blog platform. So we’re trying to find that line. And it’s hard to articulate what that difference is.

Me: How would describe that line if it’s not based on the tech behind the publishing platform?

Schmidt: No, it’s not the technology. My guess is — again, I’m speculating, which is always a mistake — it has a lot to do with the infrastructure around the writer. So a blog that’s associated with a major, legitimate organization — of which, I think, the majority, if not everyone, in the room is associated with — would be, I think, treated differently than an individual blogger who’s using his or her right of free expression to say whatever he thinks. So the presence of an editor, as an example. You know, an editor that’s not your mom.

That is, for what it’s worth, not the distinction Google News is making: The “(blog)” label is supposed to be attached to any news published with blogging software. At the time, I thought Google might be throwing a bone to newspaper companies that don’t like being lumped with amateur news sources. And while I’m sure the new label was not important enough to reach Schmidt’s desk, his framing of that distinction — “the infrastructure around the writer” — is an interesting one.

I also asked Schmidt about the concept of a “hyperpersonalized news stream,” coined by Google VP Marissa Mayer to describe a customized flow of information from a broad range of news sources. Does Google have aspirations to build on that concept?

Schmidt: We have about ten news stream ideas, of which hyperpersonalization is one. And, again, I’d rather not talk about specific products or even prioritize them, but I would make the following observation: In five or ten years, what will the primary news reader look like?

Well, that person will be probably on a tablet or a mobile phone, probably the majority of the reading will presumably be online not offline, just because of the scale of it. It’ll be highly personalized, right? So you’ll know who the person is. There’ll be a lot of integration of media — so video, voice, what have you. It’ll be advertising-supported and subscription-supported, so you’ll probably have a mixture. Think of the Kindle as an example. The Kindle is a proto of what this thing could look like. People will carry these things around.

So if you start thinking about that, it becomes pretty obvious what the products need to be: more personalized, much deeper, capable of deeper navigation into a subject. Also, show me the differential. Since you know what you told me yesterday, just tell me what changed today. Don’t repeat everything.

As some news organizations begin charging for digital content, I wondered, how is Google positioned to aid or take advantage of those moves? I mentioned the company’s proposal to power micropayments for news sites with Google Checkout.

Schmidt: The first question: What percentage of news organizations will charge for content? And it’s entirely their decision. If they do so, then we want to make sure that we have products that they can use to help them charge. Right? Because we’re in the infrastructure business. We respond. But, to me, that’s a relatively straightforward infrastructure decision. Could we get them to use Google Checkout, other payment systems, and so forth? But I think it’s early to talk about that.

We also, for newspapers that are trying to solve the revenue gap problem, we’re working hard on stronger advertising products for newspapers. And we’ll see how well they do, but it remains an unsolved problem. That’s probably all I — everything else is tied up in discussions with specific —

David Beard, editor of Boston.com, asked about a remark Schmidt made last month regarding Google’s “moral responsibility” to aid the news industry. Schmidt’s reply:

Schmidt: We have a responsibility. We have not yet figured out how to exercise that responsibility…We’re looking for new ideas. It’s a hard problem because, as everybody knows, printed circulation has declined, and the online use of newspapers has exploded positively. So you’ve got a bridge problem between one and the other, and we want to help. We really do.

A few other tidbits outside our purview:

— Schmidt said invite-only Google Wave is “getting ready for a much broader distribution…very soon,” which he clarified to mean within weeks.

— Surveying the laptops of reporters in the room, he said, “We’ve got a couple Macs — always my favorite.”

— And asked about something Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said, Schmidt replied, “I’ve learned not to respond to quotes by Steve Ballmer.”

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