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June 28 2013

15:00

This Week in Review: The backlash against Greenwald and Snowden, and RSS’s new wave

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Greenwald, journalism, and advocacy: It’s been three weeks since the last review, and a particularly eventful three weeks at that. So this review will cover more than just the last week, but it’ll be weighted toward the most recent stuff. I’ll start with the U.S. National Security Agency spying revelations, covering first the reporter who broke them (Glenn Greenwald), then his source (Edward Snowden), and finally a few brief tech-oriented pieces of the news itself.

Nearly a month since the first stories on U.S. government data-gathering, Greenwald, who runs an opinionated and meticulously reported blog for the Guardian, continues to break news of further electronic surveillance, including widespread online metadata collection by the Obama administration that continues today, despite the official line that it ended in 2011. Greenwald’s been the object of scrutiny himself, with a thorough BuzzFeed profile on his past as an attorney and questions from reporters about old lawsuits, back taxes, and student loan debt.

The rhetoric directed toward Greenwald by other journalists was particularly fierce: The New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin said on CNBC he’s “almost arrest” Greenwald (he later apologized), and most notably, NBC’s David Gregory asked Greenwald “to the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden,” why he shouldn’t be charged with a crime. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple refuted Gregory’s line of questioning point-by-point and also examined the legal case for prosecuting Greenwald (there really isn’t one).

There were several other breakdowns of Gregory’s questions as a way of defending himself as a professional journalist by excluding Greenwald as one; of these, NYU professor Jay Rosen’s was the definitive take. The Los Angeles Times’ Benjamin Mueller seconded his point, arguing that by going after Greenwald’s journalistic credentials, “from behind the veil of impartiality, Gregory and his colleagues went to bat for those in power, hiding a dangerous case for tightening the journalistic circle.”

The Freedom of the Press Foundation’s Trevor Timm argued that Gregory is endangering himself by defining journalism based on absence of opinion, and The New York Times’ David Carr called for journalists to show some solidarity on behalf of transparency. PaidContent’s Mathew Ingram used the case to argue that the “bloggers vs. journalists” tension remains important, and Greenwald himself said it indicated the incestuous relationship between Washington journalists and those in power.

A few, like Salon’s David Sirota, turned the questions on Gregory, wondering why he shouldn’t be charged with a crime, since he too has disclosed classified information. Or why he should be considered a journalist, given his track record of subservience to politicians, as New York magazine’s Frank Rich argued.

Earlier, Rosen had attempted to mediate some of the criticism of Greenwald by arguing that there are two valid ways of approaching journalism — with or without politics — that are both necessary for a strong press. Former newspaper editor John L. Robinson added a call for passion in journalism, while CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis and Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi both went further and argued that all journalism is advocacy.

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Snowden and leaking in public: The other major figure in the aftermath of this story has been Edward Snowden, the employee of a national security contractor who leaked the NSA information to Greenwald and revealed his identity shortly after the story broke. The U.S. government charged Snowden with espionage (about which Greenwald was understandably livid), as he waited in Hong Kong, not expecting to see home again.

The first 48 hours of this week were a bit of blur: Snowden applied for asylum in Ecuador (the country that’s been harboring WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange), then reportedly left Hong Kong for Moscow. But Snowden wasn’t on a scheduled flight from Moscow to Cuba, creating confusion about where exactly he was — and whether he was ever in Moscow in the first place. He did all this with the apparent aid of WikiLeaks, whose leaders claimed that they know where Snowden is and that they could publish the rest of his NSA documents. It was a bit of a return to the spotlight for WikiLeaks, which has nonetheless remained on the FBI’s radar for the last several years, with the bureau even paying a WikiLeaks volunteer as an informant.

We got accounts from the three journalists Snowden contacted — Greenwald, The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman, and filmmaker Laura Poitras — about their interactions with him, as well as a probe by New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan into why he didn’t go to The Times. In a pair of posts, paidContent’s Mathew Ingram argued that the leak’s path showed that having a reputation as an alternative voice can be preferable to being in the mainstream when it comes to some newsgathering, and that news will flow to wherever it finds the least resistance. The Times’ David Carr similarly concluded that news stories aren’t as likely to follow established avenues of power as they used to.

As The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple described, news organizations debated whether to call Snowden a “leaker,” “source,” or “whistleblower,” Several people, including The Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta and Forbes’ Tom Watson, tried to explain why Snowden was garnering less popular support than might be expected, while The New Yorker’s John Cassidy detailed the backlash against Snowden in official circles, which, as Michael Calderone of The Huffington Post pointed out, was made largely with the aid of anonymity granted by journalists.

Numerous people, such as Kirsten Powers of The Daily Beast, also decried that backlash, with Ben Smith of BuzzFeed making a particularly salient point: Journalists have long disregarded their sources’ personal motives and backgrounds in favor of the substance of the information they provide, and now that sources have become more public, the rest of us are going to have to get used to that, too. The New York Times’ David Carr also noted that “The age of the leaker as Web-enabled public figure has arrived.”

Finally the tech angle: The Prism program that Snowden leaked relied on data from tech giants such as Google, Apple, Facebook, and Yahoo, and those companies responded first by denying their direct involvement in the program, then by competing to show off their commitment to transparency, as Time’s Sam Gustin reported. First, Google asked the U.S. government for permission to reveal all their incoming government requests for information, followed quickly by Facebook and Microsoft. Then, starting with Facebook, those companies released the total number of government requests for data they’ve received, though Google and Twitter pushed to be able to release more specific numbers. Though there were early reports of special government access to those companies’ servers, Google reported that it uses secure FTP to transfer its data to the government.

Instagram’s bet on longer (but still short) video: Facebook’s Instagram moved into video last week, announcing 15-second videos, as TechCrunch reported in its good summary of the new feature. That number drew immediate comparisons to the six-second looping videos of Twitter’s Vine. As The New York Times noted, length is the primary difference between the two video services (though TechCrunch has a pretty comprehensive comparison), and Instagram is betting that longer videos will be better.

The reason isn’t aesthetics: As Quartz’s Christopher Mims pointed out, the ad-friendly 15-second length fits perfectly with Facebook’s ongoing move into video advertising. As soon as Instagram’s video service was released, critics started asking a question that would’ve seemed absurd just a few years ago: Is 15 seconds too long? Josh Wolford of WebProNews concluded that it is indeed too much, at least for the poorly produced amateur content that will dominate the service. At CNET, Danny Sullivan tried to make peace with the TL;DR culture behind Vine and Instagram Video.

Several tech writers dismissed it on sight: John Gruber of Daring Fireball gave it a terse kiss-off, while Mathew Ingram of GigaOM explained why he won’t use it — can’t be easily scanned, and a low signal-to-noise ratio — though he said it could be useful for advertisers and kids. PandoDaily’s Nathaniel Mott argued that Instagram’s video (like Instagram itself) is more about vanity-oriented presentation than useful communication. And both John Herrman of BuzzFeed and Farhad Manjoo of Slate lamented the idea that Instagram and Facebook seem out of ideas, with Manjoo called it symptomatic of the tech world in general. “Instead of invention, many in tech have fallen into the comfortable groove of reinvention,” Manjoo wrote.

Chris Gayomali of The Week, however, saw room for both Vine and Instagram to succeed. Meanwhile, Nick Statt of ReadWrite examined the way Instagram’s filters have changed the way photography is seen, even among professional photographers and photojournalists.

google-reader-mark-all-as-readThe post-Google Reader RSS rush: As Google Reader approaches its shutdown Monday, several other companies are taking the opportunity to jump into the suddenly reinvigorated RSS market. AOL launched its own Reader this week, and old favorite NetNewsWire relaunched a new reader as well.

Based on some API code, there was speculation that Facebook could be announcing its own RSS reader soon. That hasn’t happened, though The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook is working on a Flipboard-like mobile aggregation device. GigaOM’s Eliza Kern explained why she wouldn’t want a Facebook RSS feed, while Fast Company’s Chris Dannen said a Facebook RSS reader could actually help solve the “filter bubble” like-minded information problem.

Sarah Perez of TechCrunch examined the alternatives to Google Reader, concluding disappointedly that there simply isn’t a replacement out there for it. Her colleague, Darrell Etherington, chided tech companies for their reactionary stance toward RSS development. Carol Kopp of Minyanville argued, however, that much of the rush toward RSS development is being driven just as much by a desire to crack the mobile-news nut, something she believed could be accomplished. RSS pioneer Dave Winer was also optimistic about its future, urging developers to think about “What would news do?” in order to reshape it for a new generation.

Reading roundup: A few of the other stories you might have missed over the past couple of weeks:

— Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings, who had built up a reputation as a maverick through his stellar, incisive reporting on foreign affairs, was killed in a car accident last week at age 33. Several journalists — including BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman, Slate’s David Weigel, and freelancer Corey Pein — wrote warm, inspiring remembrances of a fearless journalist and friend. Time’s James Poniewozik detected among reporters in general “maybe a little shame that more of us don’t always remember who our work is meant to serve” in their responses to Hastings’ death.

— Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism issued a study based on a survey of nonprofit news organizations that provided some valuable insights into the state of nonprofit journalism. The Lab’s Justin Ellis, Poynter’s Rick Edmonds, and J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer explained the findings. Media analyst Alan Mutter urged nonprofit news orgs to put more focus on financial sustainability, while Michele McLellan of the Knight Digital Media Center called on their funders to do the same thing.

— Oxford’s Reuters Institute also issued a survey-based study whose findings focused on consumers’ willingness to pay for news. The Lab’s Sarah Darville and BBC News’ Leo Kelion summarized the findings, while paidContent’s Mathew Ingram gave an anti-paywall reading. The Press Gazette also highlighted a side point in the study — the popularity of live blogs.

— Texas state politics briefly grabbed a much broader spotlight this week with state Sen. Wendy Davis’ successful 13-hour filibuster of a controversial abortion bill. Many people noticed that coverage of the filibuster (and surrounding protest) was propelled by digital photo and video, rather than cable news. VentureBeat’s Meghan Kelly, Time’s James Poniewozik, and The Verge’s Carl Franzen offered explanations.

— Finally, a couple of reads from the folks at Digital First, one sobering and another inspiring: CEO John Paton made the case for the inadequacy of past-oriented models in sustaining newspapers, and digital editor Steve Buttry collected some fantastic advice for students on shaping the future of journalism.

Photos of Glenn Greenwald by Gage Skidmore and Edward Snowden stencil by Steve Rhodes used under a Creative Commons license. Instagram video by @bakerbk.

June 24 2013

00:11

GroupM’s Norman: Advertisers Must Embrace the “Stream” With Quick Content

CANNES — Advertising group GroupM’s chief digital officer thinks the top challenge for marketers is to insert themselves in new platforms like Twitter and Facebook that are all about chronologically-ordered, stream-based real-time media consumption.

“Every time the distribution channels change – and the stream is a new distribution channel -  typically the manufacturing problem changes as well,” Rob Norman told Beet.TV during this fascinating discussion at the Cannes Lions advertiser conflab

“If the … six-second commercial in Vine is going to be the short-form video … the manufacturing side of the business has to think very carefully about what does creativity look like in a light-touch way, as opposed to the heavier touch of the 60- or 30-second ad.

“There is this absolute tsunami of content about simple arresting quick-to-consume, quick-to-understand visual imagery that is running all over people’s Facebook page posts…

“If you set the bar of ‘What am I going to do that engages people in a second and persuade them to made them an engagement-related reaction to it?’, that’s a terrific creative challenge.”

We interviewed Norman on Friday at the Cannes Lions festival.

May 31 2013

14:08

This Week in Review: Debating journalists’ role in DOJ seizures, and Facebook tackles hate speech

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Blame for both the DOJ and journalists: The story of the U.S. Department of Justice’s seizure of news organizations’ phone and email records moved into “who knew what and when” stage, especially regarding the case of Fox News reporter James Rosen. Fox didn’t know Rosen’s phone records and emails had been taken until it became public last week, but The Wall Street Journal reported this week that its parent company, News Corp., was notified by the DOJ in 2010 but didn’t tell Fox.

News Corp. issued some mixed signals in response, initially saying it had no record of notification from the DOJ but eventually conceding that it didn’t dispute the DOJ’s claim that notification was sent. The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza put forward a theory as to why it’s in News Corp.’s interest to be more deferential to the Obama administration DOJ, but in Fox News’ interest to be more antagonistic. However, The Atlantic Wire’s Elspeth Reeve noted that Fox News doesn’t have a very good track record on advocating for journalists’ freedom in these cases.

The metastasizing issue — coupled with the DOJ’s seizure of what the Associated Press claims is “thousands and thousands” of its phone records — has led Attorney General Eric Holder to plan a meeting with the top representatives of several major news organizations to hash out guidelines for DOJ intrusion. Several news organizations, including The New York Times and AP, announced, however, that they wouldn’t attend the meeting because it’s set to be off the record. The Daily Beast’s Daniel Klaidman wrote a thorough piece on Holder’s regrets in these cases, saying that it’s not part of the progressive image in which he views himself, and Salon’s Alex Pareene explained why Holder’s likely to keep his job despite the outcry.

In a pair of stories, The New York Times reported on the remarkable scale of many of the Obama administration’s leak inquiries and journalists’ charges that such efforts are creating a chilling effect on investigative journalism on the federal government. Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian expressed his dismay at journalists’ lack of action against the administration’s actions: In the current climate, he said, “it’s very difficult to imagine the US press corps taking any meaningful steps to push back against these attacks. And as long as that’s true, it’s very hard to see why the Obama administration would possibly stop doing it.”

At the same time, several others argued that the press’s self-defense reaction is a bit too knee-jerk in this case. Slate’s Fred Kaplan and The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus both argued that Rosen’s source was not a whistleblower exposing corruption but someone simply breaking the law and revealing harmful information. And Reuters’ Jack Shafer contended that Obama has not declared war on the press, as his crusade against leaks has been much more on the supply side than the demand side.

Still others, including Peter Sterne of the New York Observer and Matthew Cooper of the National Journal, were concerned that the proposed shield law wouldn’t do enough to protect journalists. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones tried to find a middle way between their concern for journalists and the objections of those such as Pincus.

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Facebook, hate speech, and censorship: Yet another debate over Facebook’s control over its users’ content simmered this week, though it was a bit different from the privacy flaps of the past. A coalition of feminist groups called Women, Action, and the Media wrote an open letter to Facebook last week urging it to remove content that trivializes or glorifies violence against women, noting that Facebook already moderates what it considers hate speech and pornographic content.

The groups also campaigned to Facebook’s advertisers, succeeding in getting several of them to pull their advertising until Facebook took some action. Facebook ultimately responded by posting a statement saying it hadn’t policed gender-related hate speech as well as it should have and vowing to take several steps to more closely moderate such content. The New York Times has a good, quick summary tying together the advertiser campaign and Facebook’s response.

While Valleywag’s Sam Biddle argued that all Facebook did was try to placate those protesting rather than commit to any real action, while Forbes’ Kashmir Hill and Reuters’ Jack Shafer noted that Facebook probably didn’t do this out of any morally consistent concern over content, but simply because of advertiser pressure. Hill concluded that “the procedure appears to be that they will draw the line when advertisers start complaining to them,” and Shafer argued that Facebook has only pushed this discourse underground, further away from the voices of reason and shame.

And while everyone seemed to agree that Facebook’s well within its rights to police speech on its own platform (and that it’s clamping down on a particularly heinous form of speech in this case), they also wondered about the precedent. Mathew Ingram of GigaOM wondered about the slippery slope of what Facebook considers hate speech.

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Newsweek on the block (again): Variety reported that IAC is attempting to sell Newsweek, a month after its chairman, Barry Diller, called his purchase of the magazine a “mistake.” IAC shut down Newsweek’s print edition at the end of 2012, turning it into a web-only publication. As Variety noted, most every indicator at Newsweek — subscriptions, traffic, cash flow — is trending downward.

Newsweek confirmed the attempted sale with an internal memo, saying that Newsweek is drawing resources away from its sister site, The Daily Beast. Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici offered a more detailed explanation: Diller bought Newsweek thinking he needed a print publication to supplement its digital ad base, but since it’s failed at that, it’s become a mere distraction (and drag on the bottom line). Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan urged prospective buyers to stay away, though Mathew Ingram of paidContent offered some tips for its new owner: drop the paywall, aggregate, go deep on particular topics, develop a strong voice, and embrace mobile.

Reading roundup: Despite the quiet week overall, there were several smaller stories to watch:

— Rob Fishman of BuzzFeed wrote a thoughtful piece questioning whether the social media editor might be an endangered species at news organizations, as engagement with social media becomes a deeper part of each journalists’ work and routines. Reuters’ Anthony De Rosa (more on him in a bit) said social media editors are more important than ever, and Digital First’s Mandy Jenkins countered that many news organizations (especially smaller ones) still have a need for someone dedicated to newsroom-wide social media integration and gave some useful advice about how to do it. Elsewhere in social media, Twitter said it wants to partner with media companies rather than become one of them, and Jeswin and Jesse Koepke talked on Medium about how undo Facebook’s massification of online social interaction.

— One of the news industry’s most prominent social media editors, Anthony De Rosa, announced he’s leaving Reuters to join Circa, the startup that summarizes top news stories by breaking them down into “atomic units.” PaidContent’s Mathew Ingram explained what Circa’s up to, and Fast Company’s Anjali Mullany published a Q&A with De Rosa about his plans there.

— A few News Corp. pieces: It announced it will officially split into a publishing company (called News Corp.) and an entertainment company (21st Century Fox) on June 28. It introduced its retooled News Corp. logo, and the new News Corp.’s head, Robert Thomson, declared that it would have “relentless” cuts in store after the split.

— BuzzFeed announced a new YouTube channel featuring video through a partnership with CNN. The Wall Street Journal explained what’s behind both companies’ move deeper into online video.

— Finally, a couple of smart pieces on the native advertising phenomenon: CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis made the case against news orgs getting into native advertising, and Publish2′s Scott Karp laid out some of the difficulties of making native advertising scale.

May 30 2013

11:00

Activist Campaign Successfully Targets Facebook's Advertisers

Last week I wrote up the #FBrape campaign's strategy: to hold Facebook accountable for the misogynistic content of its users by pressuring advertisers. Only seven days after the open letter was published, Marne Levine, Facebook's VP of Global Publicy Policy, published a response agreeing to the campaign's demands to better train the company's moderators, improve reporting processes, and hold offending users more accountable for the content they publish.

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The campaigners say they generated 5,000 emails to advertisers, and convinced Nissan to pull its advertising from the platform. This is great initial traction for a social media advocacy campaign, but it represents a miniscule percentage of Facebook's users and advertisers. For people interested in shaping what kinds of speech social media giants allow, the #FBrape campaign quickly confirmed the relative value of targeting companies' revenue sources rather than directly petition the corporations. The #FBrape campaign also had a clear moral high road over the terrible instances of speech it campaigned to censor. But the results are still illuminating, as we struggle to determine how much power companies like Facebook wield over our self expression, and the organizational processes and technical mechanisms of how that power is exterted.

Continued attention will be required to hold Facebook, Inc. to its promises to train its content moderators (and an entire planet of actual users) to flag and remove violent content. Facebook has also promised to establish more direct lines of communication with women's groups organizing against such content. This is the kind of personal relationship and human contact groups have clamored for (see WITNESS and YouTube's relationship).

'fair, thoughtful, scalable'

Technology companies have tended to avoid establishing such relationships, probably because they require relatively large amounts of time in a venture that's taking on an entire planet worth of communications. Facebook itself lists its preferences for solutions to governing speech that are "fair, thoughtful, and scalable." Given the crazy scale of content uploaded every minute, Facebook might look into algorithmic solutions to identify content before users are exposed to it. YouTube has conducted research to automatically categorize some of its own torrent of incoming user content to identify the higher quality material. According to their post, Facebook has "built industry leading technical and human systems to encourage people using Facebook to report violations of our terms and developed sophisticated tools to help our teams evaluate the reports we receive."

This is unlikely to be the last we hear about this. By publishing an official response, Facebook gave 130 media outlets and counting an excuse to cover the campaign, which few had done prior to the company's reply. And whether they relish the position or not, social media companies like Facebook have positioned themselves as arbiters of speech online, subject to the laws of the lands they operate within, but also comfortable codifying their own preferences into their policies. Kudos to Facebook for taking a minute to respond to some of the messy side effects of connecting over a billion human beings.

Matt Stempeck is a Research Assistant at the Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab. He has spent his career at the intersection of technology and social change, mostly in Washington, D.C. He has advised numerous non-profits, startups, and socially responsible businesses on online strategy. Matt's interested in location, games, online tools, and other fun things. He's on Twitter @mstem.

This post originally appeared on the MIT Center for Civic Media blog.

May 22 2013

14:00

Jaron Lanier wants to build a new middle class on micropayments

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jaron-lanier-who-owns-the-future“We’re used to treating information as ‘free,’” writes Jaron Lanier in his latest book Who Owns the Future?, “but the price we pay for the illusion of ‘free’ is only workable so long as most of the overall economy isn’t about information.”

Lanier argues that a free-culture mindset is dismantling the middle-class economy. In his estimation, the idea “that mankind’s information should be free is idealistic, and understandably popular, but information wouldn’t need to be free it no one were impoverished.”

Who Owns the Future?, like his 2010 book You Are Not a Gadget, is another manifesto attempting to rebuff what he sees as the contemporary ethos of the web. But the followup also refreshingly attempts to pose solutions, one where all participants in this information-based world are paid for what they do and distribute on the web. Throughout, it places particular emphasis on the ways digital technology has unsettled the so-called “creative class” — journalists, musicians, photographers, and the like. As he sees it, the tribulations of those working in such fields may be a premonition for the middle class as a whole. It’s “urgent,” he writes, “to determine if the felling of creative-class careers was an anomaly or an early warning of what is to happen to immeasurably more middle-class jobs later in this century.”

I recently spoke with Lanier and we discussed the ways he sees digital networking disrupting the media, why he thinks advertising can no longer sustain paid journalism, and why he misses the future. Lightly edited and condensed, here’s a transcript of our conversation.

Eric Allen Been: You were one of the early advocates of the notion that “information wants to be free.” An idea most media companies initially embraced when it came to the web, and one that now some seem to regret. Could you talk a little bit about why you changed your mind on this line of thinking?
Jaron Lanier: Sure. It was based on empirical results. The idea sounded wonderful 30 years ago. It sounded wonderful in the way that perfect libertarianism or perfect socialism can. It sounds right, but with all these attempts to make a perfect system, it doesn’t work out so well. Empirically, what I’ve seen is the hollowing out of middle-class opportunities and that there is an absurdity to the way it’s going. I think we’re not getting the benefits that I initially anticipated.
Been: When it came to journalism, what were some of those benefits that you originally expected? I imagine you then thought it would be a largely positive thing.
Lanier: Yeah. To use the terminology of the time, we — that is, me and others who were behind a lot of the ideas behind the Web 2.0 ethos or whatever — wanted to “supplant” or “make obsolete” the existing channels of journalism and the existing types of jobs in journalism. But what would come instead would be better — more open and all of that — and less intermediated. What happened instead was a little bit of what we anticipated. In a sense, the vision came true. Yes, anybody can blog and all that — and I still like that stuff — but the bigger problem is that an incredible inequity developed where the people with big computers who were routing what journalists did were getting all the formal benefits. Mainly the money, the power. And the people who were doing the work were so often just getting informal benefits, like reputation and the ability to promote themselves. That isn’t enough. The thing that we missed was how much power would accrue to the people with the biggest computers. That was the thing we didn’t really think through.
Been: Historically, technological advances have caused disruptions to industries, but they’ve also tended to provide new jobs to replace the wiped-out ones. There seems to be some optimism in a lot of quarters that journalism can get eventually get on the right track, economically speaking, within the digital world. But you don’t think so.
Lanier: The system is slowly destroying itself. I’ll give you an example of how this might work out. Let’s suppose you say in the future, journalists will figure out how to attach themselves to advertising more directly so they’re not left out of the loop. Right now, a lot of journalism is aggregated in various services that create aggregate feeds of one kind or another and those things sell advertising for the final-stop aggregator. And the people doing the real work only get a pittance. A few journalists do well but it’s very few — it’s a winner-take-all world where only a minority does well. Yes, there are a few people, for instance, who have blogs with their own ads and that can bring in some money. You can say, “Well, isn’t that a good model and shouldn’t that be emulated”? The problem is that they’re dependent on the health of the ad servers that place ads. Very few people can handle that directly. And the problem with that is the whole business of using advertising to fund communication on the Internet is inherently self-destructive, because the only stuff that can be advertised on Google or Facebook is stuff that Google hasn’t already forced to be free.

As an example, you might have a company that makes toys and you advertise the toys on Google, and that might show up in journalism about toy safety or something. So journalists can eek some money from people who sell toys. That’s kind of like the traditional model of advertising-supported journalism.

But every type of business that might advertise on Google is gradually being automated and turning into more of an information business. In the case of toys, there’s a 3-D printer where people print out toys. At some point, that will become better and better and more common, and whenever that happens, what happened to music with Napster will happen to toys. It’ll be all about the files and the machines that actually print out the toys. If the files that print out the toys can be made free, the only big business will be the routing of those files, which might be Google or Facebook handling that, and there will be nobody left to advertise on Google.

That’ll happen with everything else — pharmaceuticals, transportation, natural resources — every single area will be subject to more and more automation, which doesn’t have to put people out of work. The only reason automation leads to unemployment is the idea of information being free. It’s a totally artificial problem, but if journalists are counting the Google model to live on, it won’t work. Google is undermining itself, and there will be no one left to buy advertisements.

Been: Speaking of advertising, I’m interested in hearing what you think about a lot of people currently lauding BuzzFeed and its use of native advertising. There’s a lot of talk about it solving “the problems of both journalism and advertising at once”, or it being some sort of guiding light for a “future of paid journalism.”
Lanier: Advertising, in whatever form, just can’t be the only possible business plan for information. It forces everybody to ultimately compete for the same small pool of advertisers. How much of the economy can advertising really be? It can’t be the whole market. Why on earth are Google and Facebook competing for the same customers when they actually do totally different things? It’s a peculiar problem. You’re saying that there’s only one business plan, one customer set, and everybody has to dive after that. It becomes a very narrow game — there’s not enough there for everybody. It could work out locally a little bit, but it’s not an overall solution.
Been: And your solution is what you call a “humanistic information economy.” Could you talk a little bit about how such a system would work?
Lanier: There are some theoretical reasons that lead me to believe that if you monetized a deeply connected open network, the distribution of benefits to people would look like a middle class. In other words, there would be a lot of wealth in a lot of people’s hands that could outspend any elite, which is critical for democracy and a market economy to survive. So one benefit is you could get a consistent middle class even when the economy gets really automated. It becomes a real information economy.

A humanistic economy would create a middle class in a new way, instead of through unions and other ad hoc mechanisms. It would create a middle class by compensating people for their value in terms of references to the network. It would create an expanding economy instead of a static one, which is also important. It’s built around the people instead of the machines. It would be a change in paradigm.

Been: In the book, you write: “If we demand that everyone turn into a freelancer, then we will all eventually pay an untenable price in heartbreak.” But a lot of what you’re proposing strikes me, in some senses, as a freelance economy.
Lanier: That’s right. What I’m proposing is actually a freelance economy, but it’s a freelance economy where freelancing earns you not just income but also wealth. That’s an important distinction to make. What I think should happen is as you start providing information to the network, it then will become a part of other services that grow over time.

So, for instance, let’s suppose you translate between languages, and some of your translations provide example phrase translations that are used in automatic translators. You would keep getting dribbles of royalties from having done that, and you start accumulating a lot of little ways that you’re getting royalties — not in the sense of contractual royalties, just little payments from people that are doing things that benefited from information you provided. If you look at people’s interest in social networking, you see a middle-class distribution of interest. A lot of people would get a lot of little dribs and drabs, and it would accumulate over a lifetime so you’d start to have more and more established information that had been referenced by you that people are using. What should happen is you should start accumulating wealth, some money that shows up because of your past as well as your present moment.

Been: So if I simply shared a link to a New York Times article on Twitter, for instance, would there be a payment exchange? If so, who would it go to?
Lanier: It would be person-to-person payments. Right now, we’re used to a system where you earn money in blocks, like a salary check, and you’re spending on little things like coffee of something. And in this system, you’d be earning lots of little micropayments all the time. But you would be spending less often. That terrifies people, but it’s a macroeconomic thing. I believe the economy would actually grow if information was monetized, and overall your chances will get a lot better than they are now.
Been: You say in the book that this person-to-person payment system is partly inspired by the early work of the sociologist and information technology pioneer, Ted Nelson. Particular, his thoughts about two-way linking over a network. Could you talk a little bit about why you think this is a better way to exchange information?
Lanier: The original concept of digital networking that predated the actual existence of digital networking is Ted Nelson’s work from the 1960s. It was different from the networks we know today in a few key ways. All the links were two-way, for one. You would always know who was linking at your website — there would always be backlinks. If you have universal backlinks, you have a basis for micropayments from somebody’s information that’s useful to somebody else. If the government camera on a corner catches you walking by, and it matches against you, you’d be owed some money because you contributed information. Every backlink would be monetized. Monetizing actually decentralizes power rather than centralizing it. Demonetizing a network actually concentrates power around anyone who has the biggest computer analyzing it.
Been: Let’s talk about that last point. This is an example of what you call in the book a “Siren Server.” That is, computers on a network that gather data without conceding that money is owed to those individuals mined for the information.
Lanier: That’s right. It’s my name for one of the biggest, best, most effective, connected computers on the network. A Siren Server is a big server farm — a remote unmarked building somewhere in the countryside near a river so it can get cooled. It has tons of computers that run as one. It gathers data from the world for free and does more processing of that data that normal computers can do. What it does with the processing is it calculates several moves that the owners can make that put them in an advantage based on a global perspective.

If you’re Amazon, it means you keep track of everybody else’s prices in the world, including little local independent stores, so you can never be outsold. If a store wants to give a book away, Amazon will also do that, so nobody gets a local advantage. If you’re Google, it gives advertisers a way to use a behavioral model of the world to predict which options in front of you are most likely to steer you. If you’re a finance company, it’s a way of bundling derivatives in such a way that somebody else is holding the risk. It’s almost a cryptographic effort. If you’re an insurance company, it’s a way of calculating how to divide populations so you insure the people who least need to be insured. In all these cases, a giant computer calculates an advantage for yourself and you get a global perspective that overwhelms the local advantage that participants in the market might have had before.

Been: In the book, you call Craigslist a Siren Server, one that “created a service that has greatly increased convenience for ordinary people, while causing a crisis in local journalism that once relied on paid classified adds.” You write that it “has a tragic quality, since it is as modest and ethical as it can be, eschewing available spying opportunities, and yet it still functions as a Siren Server despite that.” So a Siren Server, in your mind, isn’t necessarily always a malevolent construction.
Lanier: That’s true. I don’t think there’s much in the way of evil or competitive intent. It’s the power of having one of the biggest computers. When you suddenly get power by surprise, it’s a seduction. You don’t realize that other people are being hurt. But if it wasn’t Craigslist, it would have been something else. Some computer gets a global perspective on everything and the local advantage goes away. Craigslist calculated away the local advantage that newspapers used to have.
Been: So far, the reviews of Who Owns the Future? have been largely positive. But in The Washington Post, Evgeny Morozov criticized it by saying “Lanier’s proposal raises two questions that he never fully confronts.” One being whether a nanopayment system would actually help the middle class once automation hits its tipping point. He cites cab drivers being replaced by self-driving cars and says: “Unless cabdrivers have directly contributed to the making of maps used by self-driving cars, it’s hard to see how a royalty-like system can be justified.”
Lanier: This has to do with the value of information. In the book I ask this very question — in the future, in the case of self-driving cars, it’s certainly true that once you’ve been through the streets once, why do it again? The reason is that they’re changing. There might be potholes, or there might be changes to local traffic laws and traffic patterns. The world is dynamic. So over time, maps of streets that need cars to drive on them will need to be updated. The way self-driving cars work is big data. It’s not some brilliant artificial brain that knows how to drive a car. It’s that the streets are digitized in great detail.

So where does the data come from? To a degree, from automated cameras. But no matter where it comes from, at the bottom of the chain there will be someone operating it. It’s not really automated. Whoever that is — maybe somebody wearing Google Glass on their head that sees a new pothole, or somebody on their bike that sees it — only a few people will pick up that data. At that point, when the data becomes rarified, the value should go up. The updating of the input that is needed is more valuable, per bit, than we imagine it would be today. Cabbies themselves, that’s irrelevant. There won’t be cabbies. They’ll have to be doing other things.

Been: His other question is “how many [online] services would survive his proposed reforms?” Morozov brings up Wikipedia and says the “introduction of monetary incentives would probably affect authors’ motivation. Wikipedia the nonprofit attracts far more of them than would Wikipedia the startup.”
Lanier: But in what I’m proposing, Wikipedia would not pay you — it would be a person-to-person thing. I’m proposing that there’s no shop and people are paying each other when they create things like Wikipedia. Which is very different. If it’s going through a central hub, it creates a very narrow range of winners. If it’s not, it’s a whole different story.

The online services that would survive would be the ones that can add value to the data that people are providing anyway. Instagram could perhaps charge to do cool effects on your pictures, but the mere connections between you and other people would not be billable, it would just be normal. People would pay each other for that. The services would have to do more now than they are. A lot of services are just gatekeepers and would not survive and they shouldn’t. It would force people to up their game.

Been: Speaking of upping one’s game, you get a strong sense throughout the book that you think society is no longer future-minded. Towards the end, you write that you “miss the future.” What do you mean by that statement?
Lanier: It seems that there’s a loss of ambition or a lowering of standards for what we should expect from the future. We hyped up things like being able to network — and we understood it was a step on a path — but these days I call the open-source idea the MSG of journalism.

An example would be this: Take some story that would be totally boring, like garbage bags are being left on the street. But if you say, “open-source software is being used to track garbage bags on the street,” there’s something about it that it makes it seem interesting. And that makes it a low bar for what seems interesting. A very unambitious idea of what innovation can be.

Photo of Jaron Lanier by Dan Farber used under a Creative Commons license.

May 21 2013

10:36

Former Facebook ME Dan Fletcher: 'It's a Great Time to Launch a New Publication'

This post was written by Ryan Graff of the Knight News Innovation Lab and originally appeared on the Lab's blog as part of a series of Q&As with highly impressive makers and strategists from media and its fringes, each with unique perspectives on journalism, publishing and communications technology. Catch up and/or follow the series here.

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Dan Fletcher, the recently departed managing editor at Facebook, seems to be always ahead of the curve. In 2010, at age 22, Fletcher became the youngest person ever to write a cover story for Time magazine. He also created and launched Time.com's NewsFeed feature and Time's social media feeds. At Bloomberg a few years later he created and staffed the editorial social media teams for Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Businessweek, picking up a Forbes 30 Under 30 distinction in the process. Now, at a time when journalists are headed to the Twitters and LinkedIns of the world to help shape editorial content, he's already completed his time at a tech giant and is looking for his next project. Below is an edited version of our Q&A.

Q&A

Q: Can you give us a quick rundown of what you do, who you are, and all the latest since resigning from Facebook?

Dan Fletcher: I’ve really dug into the intersection of social media and editorial. At Time and Bloomberg, that meant helping news organizations figure out how to use these new platforms and reporting on the companies building them out. At Facebook, it meant trying to bring an editorial angle to a technology company. In each role, I've been lucky to be allowed to experiment, and now I’m eager to continue experimenting on my own.

What excites you most about journalism/media in 2013?

Fletcher: It seems like there’s a greater appetite for experimentation. Places like Circa and NowThisNews are rethinking how journalism’s packaged and distributed in a mobile world. Projects like Matter, Atavist, and The Magazine are seeing if people will pay for a great story, given to them in a way that honors the reading experience. And "traditional" publishers like The New York Times are recognizing the importance of good design and investing in tools and people that let them package stories in better ways. Not all of these will be successful, but it’s progress beyond the impetus to just rack up page views.

What are the big differences you found between the traditional news shops and Facebook?

Fletcher: Facebook has incredible focus on their goal of connecting the world. Everything exists in service of that mission, and Facebook Stories was our small way of showing some of the cool things that happens when people connect. Newsrooms generally can’t focus on examining one idea with that level of intensity -- there are other stories to tell and themes to explore. It was refreshing to spend a year really honed in on a single idea, but part of me really missed the broader purview of traditional news.

What has changed since you started working?

Fletcher: The pace. And things were pretty fast when I got started. But so many publishers are producing more stories and turning them around faster, so as to compete for traffic from search and social media. On the whole, I’m not sure this is a good thing. Or at least it shouldn’t be the only way that stories are produced.

When did you decide to become a media person?

Fletcher: I wish I had a better story for this -- I didn’t get into the pottery class in high school, and a girl I liked was in the newspaper class. So it goes. But I’ve loved it ever since.

C'mon, fess up, what's next?

Fletcher: It’s a great time to launch a new publication.

What is the biggest tech challenge that media companies will face over the next five years?

Fletcher: Monetizing. I wish there were another answer, but that’s still the case. Journalists are producing great work, maybe more great work than at any point in history. And therein lies the problem -- what makes this a great moment to be a reader makes it a tough moment to be a producer. There’s going to be a great deal of creativity in how companies approach these challenges, though -- I think we’ll see a variety of successful models, some of which will include new forms of advertising and some of which will require reader support.

What makes good content?

Fletcher: Authenticity. It doesn’t matter who’s making it -- the Times or a company doing content marketing like Facebook or Coca-Cola. If it feels fake, forced or false, people won’t trust it.

What excites you about technology and media?

Fletcher: The barriers to entry continue to fall. What WordPress did for blogging, someone's about to do for publishing on iOS and Android while companies like Scrollkit are making it easier to build immersive experiences around stories on the web. This frees journalists, photographers and art directors from technical costs that may have inhibited them in the past, and ultimately will result in more great projects being launched.

What applications do you have open while working?

Fletcher: MOG for music, Tweetdeck (although I’m much more of a follower than an active participant), Adobe Lightroom, and a really nifty and simple text editor called iA Writer. I find fewer options are better when it comes to writing.

What could the world use a little more of?

Fletcher: Originality.

What could the world use a little less of?

Fletcher: Top 10 lists.

Follow Dan Fletcher on Twitter, @danielfletcher. Find weekly updates from the Knight News Innovation Lab's profiles series on Fridays.

Ryan Graff joined the Knight News Innovation Lab in October 2011. He previously held a variety of newsroom positions -- from arts and entertainment editor to business reporter -- at newspapers around Colorado before moving to magazines and the web. In 2008 he won a News21 Fellowship from the Carnegie and Knight foundations to come up with innovative ways to report on and communicate the economic impact of energy development in the West. He holds an MSJ from the Medill School of Journalism and a certificate in media management from Northwestern's Media Management Center. Immediately prior to joining the Lab, Graff led marketing and public relations efforts in the Middle East.

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The Knight Lab is a team of technologists, journalists, designers and educators working to advance news media innovation through exploration and experimentation. Straddling the sciences and the humanities the Lab develops projects, prototypes and innovative bits of code that help make information meaningful, and promote quality journalism, storytelling and content on the internet. The Knight Lab is a joint initiative of Northwestern University's Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Medill School of Journalism. The Lab was launched and is sustained by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, with additional support from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

April 02 2013

14:58

Tuesday Q&A: Storify’s Burt Herman on entrepreneurial journalism, advertising, and finding the right business model

burthermanWhen you run a startup that leans on journalism, the hunt for a stable business model is top of mind. Burt Herman, cofounder of Storify, said he feels an urgency to find ways to monetize the service, which helps individuals and publishers collect and curates social media into stories. That’s in part because Storify is now three years old, but also because Herman has more than a decade of experience as a journalist working for the Associated Press — meaning he’s seen the disruption of the media business up close.

Last week, his company took its first step towards a business model: Storify announced the creation of Storify VIP, a new paid version of the service that offers a new tier of features and customization for users. The VIP program is designed with big publishers — who have an army of journalists and money to spend — in mind. The BBC has already signed up.

I spoke with Herman about the decision to create a premium version of Storify, how the company might explore advertising, and where he sees entrepreneurial journalism going this year. Here’s a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Justin Ellis: When you were looking at ways to monetize, were there other models or options you looked at before deciding on the premium tier?
Burt Herman: We are looking at all potential business models. There basically are two models we see as ones we could use. There’s some kind of subscription or a freemium/pro/VIP plan where we ask some of our users what they would like and offer these premium features. We’re quite fortunate in that we have users who are large publishers and brands and PR agencies, political organizations, NGOs, and all kinds of people like that. They’re interested in these features and have come to us asking for some of these things. That’s a clear way we can now give them something better that they want, and also make sure this is something sustainable.

On the other side, there’s definitely an advertising model we’ve talked about. And it’s still something we kind of have out there for the future. The idea there is to come up with a native form of ad that goes in a Storify story — that is a social ad, like other things in Storify stories. It could be a promoted quote, or a promoted video, or a promoted photo from a brand that is trying to get a certain message out there.

That’s still something we’re talking about. But that requires a larger scale, and being able to sell a specific new form of advertising. But if we do that, we’d also want to do it in a way that works together with our users, and share revenue back with the people creating the stories. That’s really the most valuable thing, and we’re really lucky we’ve gathered this community of amazing people who, everyday, find the best of what’s out there.

Ellis: One of the questions with advertising would be who controls what ads are served — if companies or brands go through Storify, or if they go through publishers directly.
Herman: Yeah, and we could do it both ways. The thing we look at is YouTube — how they have embeds all over the web, and sometimes have advertising in those as well. We would want to work, obviously, with our users on that, who are their advertisers, does it conflict with other ads on the page, and other issues.

We do think there is room for this new form of advertising. We’ve talked about different ways of doing this: It could be more like we promote content to the user creating a story, and whether they want to put that in the story is their own decision. But it’s very clear that’s promoted in some way — that someone is paying to get in front of the eyes of our valuable user base. That is something we have experimented with a little bit, and it is quite an interesting model to look at — not advertising to the masses but advertising to this more elite user base.

Ellis: You’ve said you have more than 600,000 people using Storify now. How did you think about what types of features you would bring up to the premium level? Ideally, you want to create added value in the service but not take away from the things other non-paying users want.
Herman: Well, a lot of these things are things people have asked for, like customization. We’ve offered some things and see what people do with it, and had some people use it for different events, including The New York Times, Yahoo, the BBC. They’re already doing these things, so we’re responding to what they say.

We didn’t intend to be a live-blogging platform, but people have been using us in that way, which is great. So we want to serve that need too. That’s something that can be quite expensive, to service live updates on embeds that are being viewed hundreds of thousands or billions of times around the web. That’s a pretty technically intensive thing, so just to make it sustainable to us, that’s why we’re putting that in the premium tier of features.

Ellis: What’s been most surprising to you about the ways people have found to use Storify? That idea of using Storify for live-blogging seems like a MacGyvering in a way.
Herman: We did think about live stories, in a way, from the start. I worked at the AP for 12 years and that’s what I did all the time — take stories, update them whenever news comes in, move things around, take out quotes, add new quotes. That’s always what we’ve done.

But it’s the story in place that gets changed, which I still would be interested in seeing people thinking about more. Newspapers do that, but they just don’t show you that they’re doing it. Or the next day, they’ll just post a new story, because they’re still in this daily cycle. But what if the story itself was just in one place and kept changing over time as developments occur? I think that’s the idea we had originally.

I thought, initially, journalists will use this and see, “Oh, the Supreme Court is hearing the gay marriage case,” and just see what people are saying in general and mine the best — look for who’s reacting, and kind of pull things in. The thing I did not expect to see, which people have used Storify for, is to say, “Hey, we’re just starting this story, send us what you think about it and use this hashtag on Instagram, on Twitter, respond to us on Facebook, we’ll take the best thing you do and put them in a story and publish it.” It’s much more of an engaging way of creating a story — where it’s not just gathering reaction, but tell us what we should put in the story, we’re going to include what our audience is doing.

The New York Times has done some really interesting things with Instagram — like during storms, the big winter storm in February, or Fashion Week in New York, asking their readers, “Hey, send photos on Instagram, tag them #NYTfashionweek and we’ll put the best ones on The New York Times.” I think it’s really cool to see journalists getting this idea that yes, this is not just a one-way thing anymore — we don’t just decide what we write and call the people we want and put it out there. Now it’s really working collaboratively with the audience to create something bigger.

Ellis: As a journalist, what’s it been like for you to watch news organizations embrace new ways to create stories?

Herman: When I talk about this, I say it’s really like what journalists have always done. We’ve always taken bits of information, whether it’s a press release, or a federal budget, or your notes, or your audio, and pieced it together to tell a story. Now we just have so many more sources potentially to mine for our stories. So many more voices of people that you can include, that you might not have otherwise heard from. I think this is something more news organizations are realizing, and I think it’s a great way to be relevant with your audience again — “Hey, we hear you, we are listening to what you say.”

How can you not want to do this? As a journalist, I was always wanting to know what are people talking about, what are the stories that I’m missing that are out there. Now you can see what people are talking about, at least a segment of people, using social media. That’s a large group of people, and growing all the time. I just think: How could you not embrace that and look at that if you’re a journalist who wants to get the stories that are out there?

Ellis: Storify also gives tweets and other social media a little more permanence. If I’m following a hashtag on the vice presidential debate, I could theoretically go back and read through it, but it’s happening so fast. You guys capture that.
Herman: We picked the name Storify because it was this word used at the AP when editors would tell you to write a story about something, to “storify” it. It really is a word that means “to make a story.” But also, sometimes people see it more here in Silicon Valley and they think “Storify, oh, you’re like a storage company.” Which, in some ways that is true too. That is a lot of what people actually use Storify for in a way we didn’t foresee: simply being able to stop time and save some stuff from this never-ending deluge of tweets and photos and videos from all these social networks. Just being able to pause, take those out, and organize them in one place is kind of valuable.

There’s not a simple way to do that and just make it look nice, or to keep it for yourself or a smaller group. That’s another reason why we’re planning to launch things now like this private story feature. We noticed people simply saving stuff without adding any text in a story, or just saving drafts and never publishing stories because they wanted to keep it somewhere and refer to something, or show it to somebody.

We’re just inundated by all this media now. Everybody has the power to create things and publish easily, instantly, all around the world. It’s great, but it’s getting harder and harder to figure out where the valuable stuff is in all of that.

Ellis: What trends do you see in Storify usage? In terms of people gearing up for big events or big stories?
Herman: We are very aligned with what you would think of as peaks on Twitter or social media, of people talking about things. Definitely the election, the Supreme Court hearing the same sex marriage cases. Certain topics are very resonant on social media and obviously for us too, those are peak things, and that seems to be when people think to use us.

We hope that people also think to use us in other cases when it isn’t just mining what’s out there when it’s a huge event — a smaller, local scale, or asking the audience to help find stories. We’re seeing more of that. That’s also why we wanted to move in this direction we’re launching, to work more closely with people and be more embedded in their organizations too, so it’s not just the social media editor who says, “Hey, there’s this Supreme Court thing — can you get a reaction thing on the blog?”

Ellis: The premium service represents a focus on establishing a business model. For some startups, finding a business model is a “further down the road” idea. How pressing has it been for you to monetize Storify?

Herman: I think there’s been a shift out here in Silicon Valley in terms of thinking about startups and business models. They just had the recent class of Y Combinator, and The Wall Street Journal wrote a post saying none of the companies are doing social media, they’re businesses, which have a built-in business model where you pay somebody for something.

I think it’s definitely kind of shifted here, people are wanting to see the business model in what you’re doing. Unless you have massive, massive scale, you have to have a business model. We are lucky the users we have, more than 600,000 people, are amazing, high-level users. That’s why, as we look at that, we say, “Okay, let’s figure out how we can make this more sustainable and work with them and hopefully help give them some of the things they want. But also make sure we can survive into the future. “

People seem to understand that now. People have grown a little skeptical of companies that don’t seem to have a business model and you wonder when they’re going to do something. So far, the reaction has been hugely positive — I think people understand why we’re doing this.

Ellis: Do you think there needs to be more support for startups that are in this kind of journalism or journalism-adjacent area like Storify? I’m thinking about something like Matter, which is sort of a combination of the Knight News Challenge and Y Combinator.
Herman: I was just at Matter earlier this week talking to the companies there. They’re doing it in a smart way. They are saying yes, it should be related to media, but you can do something that has broader relevance. It can be for-profit, it doesn’t have to be nonprofit just because it’s sort of connected with public radio. I think if you make it too narrow — just for journalism — then you might have a problem in terms of thinking really big. When you’re doing a startup, you should be thinking as big as possible. I guess it would be difficult to limit things — it’s better not to impose that on startups from the start.

We do need things related to media, but I think people will go there. It is still a huge business — billions of dollars are spent on advertising on the web, and even in print still. Startups will go there. I think there are a lot of incubators, Matter and other people, who are focusing on that.

I guess I’m worried that when you support things and force them to be nonprofit or open source, which some of the Knight News Challenge grants did earlier, that it limits the potential of some of these organizations. I love Spot.us, and Dave Cohn is a great guy, and I always think of it as he had the idea for Kickstarter before it existed. But it was limited because it had to be open source and nonprofit and only in a local area. There were all these constrictions on how he was supposed to operate. He had some success, but what could have been if he wasn’t limited in that way? I just think any of these new things should not limit people and Matter is definitely not doing that.

Ellis: Now that you’ve reached this point with Storify, is there something you know now you wish you knew when you were launching?
Herman: I guess I would say it’s different than being a journalist. Things take much longer than you would think, even though people say startups are very fast-paced — often times technology is slow and has debugging issues. Getting a process for people to work together is not an easy thing because you’re not really sure how to do things, because you’re inventing them for the first time. Be patient and realize that this is a longer journey and not a sprint. You get fooled sometimes reading these supposed overnight success stories. But when you look into them, often times it’s somebody who’s been going back for years trying to work their way through different products and pivots, and finally figuring out something that people notice. Really, if it was an overnight success, it was built over years.
14:28

Dan Gillmor says journalists are uninformed about who controls the platforms they publish on

Dan Gillmor is writing a book (maybe), and he has a lot of questions. The project, which will probably be self published, will probably be called Permission Taken. Gillmor already owns that domain, so why not, he said in a talk at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society last week. (Also, his agent likes the title.)

Gillmor says he’s been thinking about the project for about a year, and he’s come up with a list of questions that he wants academics and practitioners around the country to help him answer. When Gillmor looks at the technologies, services, and platforms most of us use everyday and take for granted, he asks, in slide lingo,

KVESTIONS

The answers are not always clear.

Gillmor’s goal with the new book is a pedagogical one — he said he considers his students (at Arizona State University) to be his primary audience. He intends for the first few chapters to be a primer for the digitally barely literate on how to protect privacy and shore up digital security in day-to-day life. Some of the later chapters, however, will delve deeper into the nitty gritty.

Some of the ideas that will become a part of the new book Gillmor shared back in October at a symposium on digital ethics hosted by Poynter. Gillmor and other presenters also contributed essays to a book, The New Ethics of Journalism: A Guide for the 21st Century, to be published in July.

Generally, Gillmor doesn’t think anyone is fully aware of how vulnerable they are, technologically speaking. Build a back door into every new technology so the FBI can keep an eye on things, he says, “and I promise you it’s going to be used by criminals. The more you unharden the fences, the more room there is for really bad actors.”

Gillmor is especially concerned about how little he says journalists know about security and the extent to which they retain control over their content once it’s published online. “I ask, why are you pouring your journalism into Facebook where you don’t control it anymore? Why are you putting it on other people’s platforms?” In his slide deck, Gillmor gives the example of a New Yorker cartoon that caused Facebook to temporarily ban the magazine from their site — thereby claiming an unprecedented level of control over what is and isn’t acceptable in publishing.

Facebook is a particular concern of Gillmor’s, and he points to a tweet in his slideshow in which Loic le Meur quotes a friend employed by Facebook as saying “we’re like electricity.” “Is Facebook a utility?” asks Gillmor. “What do we do with utilities? We regulate them. Monopolies need regulation. I’m not a fan of regulation, but we have to think about that.”

Gillmor expressed similar concerns in his October talk about the level of control held by payment processors. Whether because of pressure from the government or an internal decision, Gillmor says, if the processor deems your content unacceptable, “then you won’t get paid.” But what journalists really don’t like, Gillmor told me, is when he asks them why they insist on building iOS apps that cede control of what is and isn’t journalism to Apple. In terms of distribution, they say they have no other option — and even journalists who have considered other options say the risk is worth it.

But some risks are never worth it. “Journalists need to learn more about security right away,” says Gillmor. “They are threatening the lives of their sources if they don’t.” In a recent column about the Harvard cheating scandal, in which the university admitted to scanning portions of employee emails, Gillmor showed exactly what can happen when a news outlet doesn’t know enough about how to protect their sources.

It’s not just employees and others who want to blow whistles who need to be more careful — such as using external accounts, encryption and a lot of other tools to be safer. (Note: I didn’t say “safe”, because absolute safety is exceedingly hard to achieve, if it’s even possible.)

Journalists, too, need better tradecraft when it comes to their dealings with sources. My impression of the typical newsroom’s precautions is that there aren’t many.

For six years as a columnist, Gillmor used a PGP at the bottom of each page — a safe, encrypted method by which sources could contact him. He said in six years, it was used twice — once by someone just checking to see if it worked.

For journalists, Gillmor recommends Tor, “a network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet.” (Committee to Protect Journalists when it comes to educating journalists about the dangers of using certain technologies.

But ultimately, Gillmor says, “It’s a crucial issue — and one that has not gotten enough attention inside the craft.” These issues fall very low on the priority list for an industry that Gillmor described as being in a constant state of desperation. But the dangers are real, Gillmor says, and with his new project, he hopes to find ways of bringing the convenience of private platforms to services that are both free and secure.

For now, though, “increasingly, journalists who really are appropriately paranoid in the right situations are learning not to use technology,” says Gillmor.

If you have a better idea, Gillmor is taking questions — and hopefully, answers.

Photo by f1uffster (Jeanie) used under a Creative Commons license.

April 01 2013

11:59

March 29 2013

12:50

March 28 2013

14:00

At The Wall Street Journal, a smartphone app has reporters on board for shooting video

The text-based web is dead, says Michael Downing. When AOL CEO Tim Armstrong announced his intention this month to transform the company into a platform for video, Downing heard a death knell — one he’s been expecting for some time. We are, after all, as he says, on the precipice of “the rise of the visual web.”

Downing has a dog in this fight; he’s the founder of Tout, a video sharing website and app that makes it easy for users to upload and share short — under 15 seconds — videos in real-time. Although originally designed as a consumer device, it also appealed to publishers: The Wall Street Journal approached Downing with the idea for a proprietary app that reporters could use as a news gathering tool. With the addition of some analytics tools and a centralized management function that allows editors to quickly vet clips before they’re published, that became WorldStream, which we wrote about in August.

“Consumer behavior has become much more accustomed to consuming the news they want as it happens,” says Downing. “The WSJ was trying to be much more in line with real-time news and real-time publishing.”

More than half a year later, how’s WorldStream working out? The Journal seems pretty happy. On the business side, WorldStream point man and WSJ deputy editor of video Mark Scheffler describes the project as a “destination but also a clearinghouse.” While all of the WSJ’s mobile videos are first published to the feed, many go on to live second lives across a wide variety of platforms. Some clips follow reporters to live broadcast appearances, while others are embedded into article pages and blogs. Andy Regal, the Journal’s head of video production, said that they don’t break out WorldStream views from the newspaper’s overall video numbers, which he said total between 30 and 35 million streams per month.

That kind of traffic across platforms draws the attention of advertisers. The WSJ says video ads generate “premium” rates, meaning somewhere around $40 to $60 CPM. Says Tim Ware, WSJ director of mobile sales, of the Journal’s broader video strategy: “We’re very bullish on the growth of WSJ Live this fiscal year, and thus the growth in video ad revenue. We’re also starting to contemplate some one-off sponsorships within our overarching video coverage of select events and stories.” (After spending about a total of about an hour on WorldStream, however, I only saw one ad — for a “smart document solutions” company — repeated about a half dozen times.)

But the surprise, both for Downing and WSJ management, is how readily — and ably — the WSJ’s reporters have taken to the new medium; getting reporter buy-in has been a struggle for many newspaper video initiatives. “It started out as an internal tool because we didn’t know how many people would be able to accommodate this kind of approach with the technology and the software,” Regal says, “but they think about it as part of their daily work now.” Armed with iPhones, iPods, iPads, and Android devices, hundreds of WSJ staffers have filed video clips via Tout; in the 229 days since launch, that’s 2,815 videos. In many cases, Downing said, the reporters didn’t even need training: “They just jumped right in and started using it.”

Charles Levinson has been reporting for the Journal from places like Syria “What are the assets that give us an advantage over the competitor? We have 2,000 reporters around the world,” he said. “How do you parlay 2,000 reporters into good video?” Levinson says the Tout app is helping the WSJ avoid print media’s tendency toward “mediocre” video production.

Christina Binkley is a style columnist at the WSJ who first experimented with the app while reporting on New York’s 2012 Fashion Week. She says there’s a lot of pressure on reporters to be producing a huge variety of content — articles, columns, blogs, Instagrams, tweets. She said, unlike some other apps, WorldStream has really stuck with her: “I can add a lot of value to my column very quickly without having to mic somebody up.”

Scheffler says some of the reporters have gained basic video shooting skills so quickly that the footage they file can be edited together into longer clips that could pass for more traditionally produced video. Going forward, Scheffler hopes to put better mobile editing tools in their hands: “Being able to be full-fledged creators on a mobile platform is something that we’re just going to continue being at the frontier of,” he said.

Regal’s focus, meanwhile, will be to make sure none of that prime footage is being lost in the ever quickening deluge that is the WorldStream feed. He’s considering a “Best of WorldStream” weekly digest, and a variety of other news packages that make that valuable content more findable, and more shareable.

News organizations have been chasing the promise of video advertising for years now, and the rise of apps like Vine illustrate the rise of social video sharing. But Downing says he isn’t worried about the competition. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the existing video sharing apps have to do with self-expression,” he says, comparing Vine to something like Instagram. Tout’s enterprise apps skip the idea of sharing with friends and focuses on fast, concise updates from outlets that users follow based on broader personal interest.

“It’s a real-time, reverse chronological vertical feed of updates,” says Downing, “Whether it’s Twitter or LinkedIn, that is becoming the standard form factor for being able to track that information that you curate yourself.”

Since partnering with The Wall Street Journal last year, a number of publishers have pursued similar agreements with Tout — CBS, Fox, NBC Universal, WWE, La Gardere and Conde Nast are among them. By the end of 2013, Downing expects to host around 200 media outlets, including some of News Corp.’s other brands. Downing says these publisher agreements are now the company’s “primary mode of business,” not the consumer product.

What does Downing see coming in video? He confidently points to Google’s spring 2012 earnings report, when for the first time, its cost-per-click rate fell. “That was the sounding bell. That was the beacon. That was the one clear signal to the world that the era of the print metaphor defining the web experience…was over.”

12:52

September 05 2012

17:30

Infographics: The Daily Social Media Buzz at the DNC

Editor's note: The folks at BuzzMgr, a social media listening tool, have been putting together a daily infographic from the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., to help distill the daily buzz there. Last week, they provided daily infographics for the Republican National Convention. Below is the first infographic for the DNC. We'll update this post with the most recent infographics as they come in.

(Click on the image for a larger version.)

DNC, Day 1

DCNBuzz-Infographic(Day1).jpg

The ConventionBuzz daily infographics are a snapshot of social media conversations surrounding the key people, issues and events associated with the national political conventions.

convention digital small.jpg

Throughout the day, members of our analyst team recommend highly retweeted and most-discussed posts for inclusion in the Tweet Buzz section. To be included in the "What's An Expert Think?" section, the post either is chosen because of the prominence or expertise of the author or the creativity of the post. Typically, it will refer to one of the key themes of the day.

Kathleen Hessert is a former TV journalist who now runs BuzzManager, Inc and the sports reputation management firm, Sports Media Challenge. Lauded for launching NBA great Shaquille O'Neal on Twitter which helped take the platform to the masses, BuzzManager now provides a range of social media services for a wide range of clients including strategy, execution, education and monitoring via her proprietary BuzzMgr™ listening tool.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

September 03 2012

18:33

Everywhere: The Democratic National Convention on Facebook, Twitter, Google+

CBSNews :: The 2012 Democratic National Convention kicks off Monday with CarolinaFest 2012 in Charlotte, N.C. Convention proceedings are scheduled to start Tuesday. All of the traditional media outlets will be on the ground covering the event, but this election year the political parties are also ramping up their social media presence.

A report by Chenda Ngak, www.cbsnews.com

September 01 2012

13:43

Instagram's had a good run in China, but will Facebook ruin things?

The Next Web :: Considering that Facebook has been inaccessible in China for several years, mainland Instagram users have voiced concern that the service will be disrupted after Facebook takes over the reins.

A report by Josh Ong, thenextweb.com

August 31 2012

11:07

Wolfram|Alpha: Integrated personal analytics with Facebook data

Wolfram|Alpha Blog :: And today I’m excited to announce that we’ve developed a first round of capabilities in Wolfram|Alpha to let anyone do personal analytics with Facebook data. Wolfram|Alpha knows about all kinds of knowledge domains; now it can know about you, and apply its powers of analysis to give you all sorts of personal analytics.

Announcement here Stephen Wolfram, blog.wolframalpha.com

Click here to start "Facebook Report" on Wolfram|Alpha

Tags: Facebook

August 30 2012

19:19

Reduced estimate for Facebook revenues: Will break the $5b mark 2012

eMarketer :: Ad revenues at the social networking giant will continue to rise this year, though at a significantly lower rate than in the past. Revenues will reach $4.23 billion, up 34.1% over 2011, and eMarketer predicts revenue increases in the double digits to continue through 2014, when Facebook’s worldwide ad revenues will reach $6.81 billion.

A report by www.emarketer.com

Tags: Facebook
15:02

The newsonomics of leapfrog news video

Our political conventions reminds us that this is not the summer of love. But it may be the season we’ll remember as the summer of video.

Certainly, video’s — news video’s — growth has been noteworthy for awhile. But now there’s a bursting of new news video forms, a hothouse of experimentation that is both refreshing and intriguing. The blossoming has implications far and wide, not just for “news,” but for tech companies like Facebook and television brands from Ellen to Piers to The View. Within it, we see the capability of non-TV companies to leapfrog the TV people.

Just Monday, both The Wall Street Journal (“The Wall Street Journal wants its reporters filing microvideo updates for its new WorldStream”) and The New York Times made video announcements. A couple of weeks ago, the ambitious Huffington Post Live launched, hiring the almost unbelievable number of 104 staffers. In these three forays, and in the thinking in and around them, we see the boundaries of old media being slowly broken. We’re on the edge, finally, of new ways to both create and present news — and how to talk about the news.

It’s funny: “Video,” as a term, as a category, barely defines what we’re seeing. All video means is moving pictures, and we’ve had those since George Méliès (as Martin Scorcese reinterpreted in Hugo). We’ve known broadcast news and then cable news, witnessed their triumphs and now the declines of both. Because of twin technologies — all the iGadgets reintroducing us to the world as we know it and the behind-the-scenes digital pipes making content creation and distribution increasingly seamless — we’re seeing what creative people can do with moving pictures.

While this week’s Journal’s announcement focused on WorldStream, that semi-raw feed (all staff contributions are okayed one-by-one for public view) is but one of the full handful of Journal experiments with video.

Watch video now better embedded into stories (as the Times also has done with QuickLinks). Get appointment programs on WSJ Live (“The newsonomics of WSJ Live”). Watch on demand, in a variety of formats. Go directly to a video page, where all of the video output is categorized. And now, WorldStream, that rawish feed the Journal is doing, because it can — and because such video becomes great bait for the social web. Pick up the url, tweet it, and the Journal has happened on a social video strategy that is curiously akin to Upworthy’s.

It’s a multi-point access world for video producers. The Times will tell you that its viewing is roughly divided in thirds among its video center, its homepage video player and embedded-within-stories video. The Journal says more than half its views are now coming from embedded videos, with less than five percent of its views come from its video page. It makes sense that “video center” usage will decrease over time; these are transitional pages. Convergence is now becoming real, and we expect to see the content, text, voice, and pictures delivered in context. Finally. We don’t go to a place on sites called “Words.”

What’s most important about we’re seeing flickering before our eyes? Try these, as we look at the newsonomics of leapfrog news video.

  • It’s about money. Video advertising rates are holding up far better than display-around-text rates. “Give me inventory” is a cry heard from the salespeople, who find agencies and top advertisers’ pre-roll appetites nowhere near satiated. For top premium brands, $45-60 CPM (cost per thousand views) are still available, as display rates fetch as little as a tenth and as much as one-half of those numbers. In addition, companies are selling video packages and sponsored tile ads in addition to pre-rolls to sweeten their take. So production of video makes financial sense — even as news companies cut back, lay off, and pinch, pinch, pinch. The smarter companies are investing in video — staffers, training, technologies — even as they make those cuts, while other companies find themselves just stuck. Video is the second-fastest growing ad category in the U.S., according to IAB, up 29 percent year-over-year. It will be worth about $2 billion this year.
  • It’s about platforms. The Journal’s Alan Murray, who heads digital news efforts, says the company’s video traffic has doubled in six months. Why? It’s not mainly because of more use on Journal platforms, even though it’s been an innovator on the tablet. Most of that growth comes from the deals the Journal has done with an astonishing 26 “platforms.” They range from the ubiquitous iPad and Kindle to lesser known 5Min and LiveStation.1 By way of comparison, The New York Times is currently using three (Hulu, Google TV, YouTube).
  • It’s about technologies. The Times and the Washington Post have been using Google + Hangout, to facilitate conversation, and we’ve seen the fruits this week at the Republican Convention. As well-described by The Daily Beast’s Lauren Ashburn, Google Hangouts are a major, disruptive force; “no longer needed are satellite trucks or underground cables to beam talking heads to people’s living rooms. A simple Internet connection and a camera are rendering expensive gadgets obsolete.” The Journal is touting Tout, a Silicon Valley start-up that has taken much of the “friction” out of the business of video production. “Make it drop dead simple,” CEO Michael Downing says is his goal. That means taking the background tasks of uploading smartphone video from the field, “transcoding” it and then translating it to work in all the various formats (devices, screen sizes, operating sizes). That removes the work from media companies, and lets them focus on content and audience. In addition to the Journal, broadcasters including CNN, CBS, and ESPN have become customers.
  • It’s apparently not about appointment TV. HuffPo’s Live is the most interesting here. While it has 10 telegenic anchor/producer/hosts, those hosts don’t have standard daily program times. Segments will last between 12 and 35 minutes (most average 20-25), HuffPost Live president Roy Sekoff told me this week. Yet, they are fluid, with segment length adjustable on the fly. Readers pick topics — before, during, and after “Live” — from a reader-activated conveyor belt at the top of the page. “It’s the Internet,” says Sekoff pointedly, meaning it’s a flow, not a TV Guide-like grid in how readers/viewers use it. The Journal agrees. Even with on-the-hour blocks of News Hub programs, the majority of its viewing is on demand. Even for HuffPo, all of that live programming is then chunked into segments, and Sekoff estimates that he’ll have about 10,000 of them archived and ready for long-tail viewing by year’s end. We want what we want when we want it — and expect it to be there. Thus, findability becomes the issue, and the multiple points of access now being offered are very much a live test of consumer behavior and want.
  • It’s about simplicity. The Times’ announcement basically said this: You’ve proven you like video. Now we’re cleaning it up and making it more pleasurable to watch and easier to find. In the cleanup, the Times moved to 11 “navigation items” from 25, says Peter Anderson, director of video product. We see that translation in more uniform positioning of video panels on NYTimes.com pages, and a more elegant 16 × 9 video player format, replacing the oh-so-20th century 4 × 3.
  • It’s about the news — and talk about the news. In the approaches of the Times and the Journal on the one hand, and of HuffPo on the other, we see two quite different philosophies and strategies, but ones that may find meeting points. Both the Journal and the Times see their reporters as the foundation of the video process; Murray calls Dow Jones’ 2,000 journalists “the core asset.” So both are putting cameras into the hands of journalists, or enabling them to better use smartphones, thereby creating more impactful, multi-dimensional, multi-platform journalism. HuffPo, from its early days of being mainly a curator/aggregator, has had its pulse on what its progressive audience is wondering and talking about. Those topics, mostly off the news (Marissa Mayer’s pregnancy, veterans and poverty), are the ones front and center in its Live pages. Some, of course, derive from its journalists’ work, and now staffers like Howard Fineman are suggesting video segments as they prepare stories. By and large, though, the talk-about-news drives the 12-hours-a-day site (5 days a week), with actual news supplementing. Sekoff says some 1,300 HuffPo community members have “raised their hands” and been featured as talking contributors on its segments. They’re unpolished and a far more diverse (for all the good and bad that implies) lot than we see among the too familiar faces of cable TV. For the Journal and the Times, traditional stories drive the video, and then, as Peter Anderson describes it, “The New York Times starts the conversation.” (Here, the Times brings civilians more prominently into its Opinion pages.) How these somewhat opposite approaches come together will be something to watch.

Maybe, most intriguingly, this video revolution may be morphing into a social revolution.

Watch a few of the HuffPo Live segments. Call them semi-slick. The technology works. The production values are okay, even if blogger/contributors faces seem a bit low-def, as TV itself moves moves from HD to Ultra. Some raise interesting, unorthodox issues and views; some are deadly boring. They are not, though, the lookalike programming of traditional news outlets. In their socialness, they cross lines.

Here’s what I find fascinating as I watch those, and smaller steps toward engagement taken by the Times, Journal, and others. As we all watch more video, where will the minutes come from? They may come from other news, text news. They may also come from Facebook. Compare HuffPo Live to Facebook and we see lots of social/sharing commonalities — but in picture form. Discussions — less in linear words than with in-motion video. They may come from morning talk shows like “Ellen” or “The View,” or compete with The Young Turks.The minutes will come from somewhere, as these technologies are more universally adopted and the world of competition only gets more complicated. This is the world in which news companies now compete.

For the news industry specifically, we see that legacy lines are written in disappearing ink, as the Journal, for instance, out-innovates ABC. One dirty little secret of broadcasting is being revealed, as technologies like Google+ Hangouts even the playing field for the print guys: it’s a game of numbers. The number of journalists in newspaper newsrooms still far outnumber those in broadcast ones. In addition, traditional TV has demanded many staffers to do the technical work of creating the broadcast. So, newspapers — if they can rapidly connect their workforces with the new technologies — have a chance to do what seems illogical: leapfrog broadcast and outflank them in the move to fully available, multi-platform news video.

Notes
  1. The full list: YouTube, iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, Google TV, Boxee, Roku, Hulu, Ustream, DailyMotion, Panasonic Internet-connected TVs, Samsung Internet-connected TVs, Sony Internet-connected TVs, Vizio Internet-connect TVs, Yahoo Internet-connected TVs, Windows Phone, Xbox (announced, not yet launched), Kindle Fire, Google Nexus 7, Pulse, 5Min, TouchTV, Flud, WatchUp, LiveStation, Tout, Etisalat.

August 29 2012

05:07

Amazon Researchers: Pinterest doesn't generate a lot of sales. Facebook? Twitter?

Business Insider :: A post on Twitter generated far more revenue—$33.66 an order—than Facebook, at $2.08 an order, or Pinterest, at 75 cents an order.

Zappos' study - A summary of a Bloomberg article Owen Thomas, www.businessinsider.com

HT: Sam Decker, here:

Wow...Amazon Researchers Say a Twitter post drives 16x More Revenue vs Facebook.read.bi/OI055m via @sai

— Sam Decker (@samdecker) August 29, 2012

August 28 2012

19:47

MTV's Colin Helms: I WANT MY ANIMATED GIF!

As part of its ambitious digital plans around the September 6 Video Music Awards VMA's, MTV is introducing Facebook Tracker, big efforts around Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and a competition for the best Animated GIF -- a graphics format created in 1987, which has become decidedly hip these days.

For an update on the plans, we spoke with Colin Helms, SVP of Digital at MTV.

Andy Plesser

 

Tags: Facebook
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