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February 08 2012

21:28

Economist debate on sharing

The Economist has just launched a debate between me and Andrew Keen — and you — on the proposition that society benefits when we share information online.” Here is my opening statement; follow the link for Andrew’s and the discussion:

* * *

We are sharing for good reason—not because we are insane, exhibitionistic, or drunk. We are sharing because, at last, we can, and we find benefit in it. Sharing is a social and generous act: it connects us, it establishes and improves relationships, it builds trust, it disarms strangers and stigmas, it fosters the wisdom of the crowd, it enables collaboration, and it empowers us to find, form and act as publics of our own making.

For individuals, sharing is a choice; that is the essence of privacy. Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, told me that before the net, we had “privacy through obscurity”. We had little chance to be public because we had little access to the tools of publicness: the press, the stage, the broadcast tower (their proprietors were last century’s 1%). Today, we have the opportunity to create, share and connect, and 845m people choose to do so on Facebook alone. Mr Zuckerberg says he is not changing their nature; he is enabling it.

I shared my prostate cancer—and, thus, my malfunctioning penis—online. Nothing bad came of this, only good: information, support from friends (who could not have known had I not been public) and the opportunity to inspire other men to be tested. Let me emphasise: that was my choice; no one should be forced to publicise their life.

But imagine if we did feel free to share our health data. Think of the correlations and possibly causes and cures we could find. Why don’t we? We fear losing insurance (though insurers already demand our data) or jobs (that is a matter of discrimination to handle legislatively).

Most of all, we fear stigma—though in this day and age why should anyone be ashamed of being sick? In the tension between secrecy and openness, these are the kinds of benefits we should be considering, balancing them with the risks as we adapt society’s norms to new realities and new opportunities.

Our institutions should share for different reasons. The wise company is opening up to build direct relationships with customers, to inoculate itself against the dreaded viral meme, and even to collaborate on the creation of products (see Local Motors’ cars, designed with customers).

Government must learn to share its work and knowledge with its citizens. It must become open by default and secret by necessity (and there are necessary secrets in relation to security, diplomacy, criminal investigations and citizens’ privacy). Today, government is instead secret by default and open by force (that of the journalist or the leaker).

If WikiLeaks has taught us nothing else, it is that no secret is safe and that too much government information has been classified as secret (consider the role of leaks in the Tunisian uprising and the subsequent Arab spring).

Openness is proving to be profoundly disruptive. When we share what we pay for goods, we ruin price opacity and retailers’ margins. When we share our frustration with government, we can start revolutions. This is why institutions—news, media, corporate, government, academic—often resist the draw of openness and fear its impact. And that is why we are seeing a sudden rise in efforts to regulate our greatest tool of publicness, the net, under the guises of piracy, privacy, security and decency.

Too much of the conversation about sharing today revolves around risks—risks to privacy (which does need protection, and it has many new protectors) and risks to intellectual property (though media companies need to learn that controlling scarcity will become an increasingly difficult business model to execute). We also need to have a discussion about the benefits of sharing and the tools that enable it, so we can protect their potential.

August 26 2011

19:47

Privacy obsession or publicness: what we miss

Fortune :: Privacy has its advocates. Jeff Jarvis has made himself an advocate for publicness. In Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way we Work and Live, the original Internet optimist argues that if we become too obsessed with guarding all personal information on the 'Net, we'll miss important opportunities that come with making information available.

Continue to read features.blogs.fortune.cnn.com

July 20 2011

04:59

Revenue strategies - Scribd creates a paid news site

New York Times :: Relatively few people are willing to pay for an online newspaper or magazine. But what if they could pay a monthly fee for a vast library of news, like Netflix’s subscription service for movies? Scribd subscribers will be able to read a variety of publications in one place, minus the bother of having to sign up for them one at a time. Scribd, a Web site that lets users share reports, personal stories and recipes, revealed plans on Tuesday to do just that. Subscribers will be able to read a variety of publications in one place, minus the bother of having to sign up for them one at a time. Float, the name of the digital newsstand, is the latest strategy for making money from online news.

Continue to read Verne G. Kopytoff, bits.blogs.nytimes.com

July 16 2011

16:46

July 06 2011

20:00

Another perk for NYT subscribers: “Share your access”

Are you a New York Times subscriber? Are you related to one? If so, today’s your lucky day: The Times, in an email just sent out to print subscribers, is announcing that subscribers will now be able to share their digital access with a family member of their choosing. Think of it as the Frank Rich Discount, bring-a-plus-one edition. (The Times is also offering the deal to digital-only types who subscribe to the most expensive, $35-every-four-weeks package.)

It’s an interesting move. For one thing, it’s another way for the Times to differentiate its price points, which for digital-only are currently $15 for web and smartphone app, $20 for web and tablet app, or $35 for web, smartphone, and tablet. That $35 top-tier item has always seemed a little high next to its peers, and bringing this sharing mechanism only to those subscribers could give another reason for some to pony up.

But, more interestingly, the move shifts the calculus of the NYT’s porous paywall, for which the locus of subscription has been a single person. In print, a family was able to share the paper among husband and wife, son and daughter — maybe even with a neighbor. Digital subscriptions, with their logic of one-subscription-per-person, reframed that community ethos: When the paper rolled out its pay meter, its core consumer became the individual, not the group.

So while today’s share-a-subscription move may be a way, of course, for the Times to collect more email addresses and other user data, and to build its user base, and to encourage Times subscribers to sync up their print and their digital accounts…it’s a move that also seems aimed at recapturing some of the communal aspects of paper subscription and consumption — just on a digital plane. (I’m sure the Times would love nothing more than to spark a few intra-family squabbles over who gets to share Mom’s digital access.)

And its language announcing the new policy bears that out. As of today, the Times stresses, digital subscribers can share digital access with a family member — not a friend, not a coworker, not an acquaintance, but an actual relative. “Now you can share your All Digital Access with a family member at no additional charge,” the email says. Click on the link included in the email, and you’re sent to a “Share All Digital Access” page that, though fairly sparse, repeats the term “family member” three times.

And in the Shared Access FAQ, the “family member” count jumps to seven.

Which is curious, since the invite page uses a text field that could be filled in with the name and email address of anyone, family or no. (Dear Colin Firth: You don’t know me, and we’re not related. But I’ve got a New York Times Digital Access invite with your name on it…)

And leaving aside the pesky philosophical questions (what is family, really?), what the move also means is that people who are already NYT subscribers, as of today, have been granted one of the more powerful perks of the early adopters: invitations to a fairly exclusive party. (You didn’t have to be on Twitter the day Google+ rolled out to appreciate the sway of the phrase “I’ve got invites.”) Which is a nice thing for the paper’s existing subscribers — and a nice incentive for more people to join their ranks.

June 30 2011

20:08

Don't wait for the native app, explore Google+ via mobile web app already

TechCrunch :: Don't wait until Apple has completed the review process for Google+ or until you get an invite. If you simply point your iOS Safari browser to plus.google.com, you’ll find a solid web app written in HTML5. You can’t do quite everything you’ll be able to with the native app, such as Huddle (group chat). All main parts of the Google+ functionality appear in the main menu: stream, photos, circles, profile, and notifications.

Continue to read MG Siegler, techcrunch.com

 

14:57

Social is for sharing, not hiding

I fear we are on the verge of fetishizing privacy. Well, we’re not — but our media and government are.

Media’s assumptions

Yesterday I got a call from a journalist about Google+ and its Circles. He was not at all hostile to Google, Facebook, or social, but even so, implicit in his questions was a presumption that privacy is our highest priority in social services.

Think about that for half a minute and the absurdity of it becomes apparent. We don’t come to social services to hide secrets; that would be idiotic. We come to share.

The journalist said that people must be afraid of being public. Think about that for the rest of a minute: Media and government have held a monopoly on publicness as they have owned the megaphone and soapbox. Now the internet gives the rest of us the ability to be public and these long-public people think we are scared of what the have? How patronizing of them.

The meme about Google+ Circles is that it beats Facebook on privacy because it gives us upfront control over whom we share with. That’s true: Every time I share something I make a decision about whether to share it with the public or some of my circles. That is better, clearer, and easier than digging into Facebook’s settings once and for all to silo my world. It is better than not bothering to change those settings and depending on Facebook’s defaults, only to find them change and become more public. Google+ got to learn from Facebook and start with Circles to enable this difference.

Except I have watched my own behavior with Google+ lo, these 36 hours and I find at when I share with less than everyone it is not out of privacy or security needs. It’s out of relevance. I may have something to tell my TWiT colleagues or my fellow journowonks that would bore everyone else who follows me. So I restrict my audience not to keep a secret but to reduce noise for them, which I can’t do on Twitter or can’t easily do on Facebook. I am still sharing; it’s better sharing.

The journalist talked about Zuckerberg and Google wanting us to share — and they do because, as I’ve said, they depend on getting us to generate more signals about our interests, needs, and desires so they can gi e us more relevant, thus valuable content, services, and advertising. But in the journalist’s phrasing I heard him implying that Zuckerberg and Page were squeezing stuff out of like toothpaste tubes, against our wills.

Nonsense. As I say in Public Parts, 600 million people can’t be wrong. We are sharing a billion things a day on Facebook alone because we want to, because we find value in it. That’s where the discussion should begin, with the power of publicness, not with the presumption of privacy.

Government’s presumptions

I was delighted yesterday to see a senator — Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania — warn his colleagues against “breaking the internet.”

Some are in such a rush to regulate the net and protect what they and media think is our highest priority — privacy — that they threaten to both hamper how sites and services and operate and how they can sustain themselves.

Jay Rockefeller is pushing do-not-track. John Kerry and John McCain have a privacy bill. Al Franken has a bill to limit sharing of location data with third parties (those “third parties” are becoming the boogeymen of the digital age, though they are often just companies that serve ads, provide web services such as analytics, and sell us stuff).

I’m not suggesting that all this legislation is bad. We do need privacy protections. Sites must give us greater and clearer control over what we share to whom and why (as Google seems to have done with its Circles). Phones should not be storing information about what we do without our knowledge and without giving us control over it. Stipulated.

But I fear unintended consequences. Rockefeller’s do-not-track could pull the advertising rug out from under web sites, forcing some of them to go behind a pay wall — if they can — and killing other sites, reducing the content on the web. Franken’s location bill, I learned this week, does not have a carve out for sending data to ad-servers (they are dreaded “third parties”), which could kneecap the local-mobile content industry before it even starts.

Politicians and media companies are coming at these questions at the wrong starting line: as if we go to the internet to take a piece of private information and squirrel it away there. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re sharing.

June 03 2011

18:51

YouTube invites professional video content makers but cash comes with strings

AllThingsD :: YouTube is trying to convince professional content makers to create stuff for the video site. And it’s offering some of them millions of dollars to make it happen. But even though Google has plenty of money, it’s not giving it away.

[Peter Kafka] YouTube's payouts to channel partners comes with strings.

Interesting: YouTube hasn’t responded to Peter Kafka's request for comment on the deal point, yet.

Continue to read Peter Kafka, allthingsd.com

May 02 2011

17:30

Canadians Prefer to Get News from Friends (not Editors) on Social Media

Journalists today are expected to be active on social media, sharing observations, anecdotes and links with their audience. Facebook itself is reaching out to newsrooms, recently launching the Journalists on Facebook page as a resource for the media.

But a study from Canada suggests more people prefer to get their news via their friends and acquaintances on social media, than from a journalist or news organization. And there are mixed signals as to whether audiences think journalists should be using Twitter in their professional work.

I was the lead author of the study, "Social Networks Transforming How Canadians Get the News," from the Canadian Media Research Consortium (CMRC). It gave further evidence of the impact social media is having on how people get the news and from whom. Social media services are turning into personalized news streams for Canadians of all ages, who rely on their digital circle of friends, family and acquaintances to alert them to interesting news and information.

The CMRC study is based on an online survey of a representative national sample of 1,682 adults conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion. The margin of error -- which measures sampling variability -- is +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20.

Keeping up with the news was one of the attractions of social networks for more than two-thirds of social media users. Every day, almost half of social media users in Canada get some of their news every day via links and recommendations from friends, family and colleagues who broadened their horizons, the study found.

A study by Pew Research last year found a similar trend taking place in the U.S., as news consumers increasingly shared links and recommendations in their social networks.

Your friend as your news editor

People have always shared the news, from discussing last night's news bulletin to sending a newspaper clipping. But social media is extending the ability of audiences to influence the distribution and reach of news.

The CMRC study points to the growing influence of users to decide what is seen and read, as newsrooms jump onto social media platforms as a new way to distribute content and reach a bigger audience.

The survey showed that Canadians were twice as likely to get news from friends on social networks than from journalists or official news accounts. Only one in five said they receive news from a media outlet on social networks. For Twitter, only one in ten get their news from tweeting journalists.

cbc news alerts.jpg

The figures signal that it is more important for a newsroom to get others to share and recommend content than to do it through an official account. The study suggests that the more than 18 million Canadians on Facebook and almost 5 million on Twitter are becoming the news editors for their social circles, deciding whether a story, video or other piece of content is interesting enough to recommend.

Should Journalists Tweet?

As journalists increasing use Twitter and tap into social media for reporting, networking and storytelling, the CMRC study strikes a note of caution. Canadians were evenly divided on whether news organizations should include information gleaned from social media into their reports.

There was a similar ambivalence when it came to whether journalists should even use Twitter to report the news. While 39 percent said yes, 34 percent said no and 26 percent were unsure. The ambiguous results suggest that Twitter may just be too new for audiences to decide whether it is a good or bad thing for the media.

Journalists_Twitter.jpg

Perhaps more significantly, younger Canadians were much more comfortable with a more social type of journalism, which is not surprising given how social media has become woven into the fabric of their lives.

The CMRC study found that a majority of under-34-year-olds in Canada use social media regularly, and that younger adults tended to be heavier users. Students, in particular, were much more comfortable with the idea of journalists integrating social media content into their reporting.

Similarly, just over half of students agreed that journalists should use Twitter to help report on trends and issues. The figures suggest a generational divide in attitudes toward social media and journalism.

For example, the study found that virtually no one over 55 follows journalists on Twitter. But kids who have grown up with the social web seem far more accepting of news organizations and journalists integrating these new services into their daily routines.

The conundrum for media organizations

Social media presents tremendous possibilities for journalists to reach audiences, expand their range of sources and engage with communities. The changing consumption patterns for news also raise questions for media organizations.

younger use of social nets.jpg

Sharing the news is becoming an important part of how people experience the news. The CMRC study found that 64 percent of news consumers value being able to easily share content, rising to 83 percent for those under the age of 34. But those "share" and "like" buttons tend to point users towards Facebook or Twitter, undermining existing mass media business models based on delivering large audiences to advertisers.

While social media creates new opportunities for the news industry to reach and engage audiences, particularly younger Canadians, it also represents competition for consumer attention and revenue. It further fragments the audience and potentially could signal a shift in reader loyalty from a news brand to their social circle.

Alfred Hermida is the lead author on the CMRC report on social media. He is an online news pioneer and digital media scholar. He is an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Journalism, the University of British Columbia, where he leads the integrated journalism program. He was a founding news editor of the BBC News website. He blogs at Reportr.net.

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March 29 2011

20:30

Tweet late, email early, and don’t forget about Saturday: Using data to develop a social media strategy

Tweet more, and embrace the weekends.

That’s according to Dan Zarrella, a social media researcher (with 33,000 followers himself). Zarrella works for HubSpot, mining data on hundreds of millions of tweets, blog posts, and email newsletters to help marketers find trends. News organization should pay attention, too.

Zarrella says the right Twitter strategy depends in part on what your goals are. Want to accumulate as many followers as possible? Then tweet a lot: Twitter’s A-listers — those with the most followers — tweet an average of 22 times a day, and more tweets generally lead to more followers. But if your goal is to drive more traffic to your site, you should show a little more restraint; accounts that share two or more links an hour show a dramatically lower clickthrough rate than those who share no more than one.

It’s an inexact science, but at least it’s an attempt at science where so much social media strategy is driven by intuition. (Zarrella complains about the the “unicorns and rainbows” strategy: “Love your customers, hug your followers, engage in the conversations. It sounds like good advice, and it’s hard to disagree with,” he says. “But generally, it’s not based in anything substantial.”)

After collecting more than two years of data, Zarrella shared his findings Tuesday in a webinar called “The Science of Timing.” That science is less about when and more about when not — what he calls “contra-competitive timing.” The trick is to reach people when the noise of the crowd has died down.

It turns out that time is often the afternoons, when blogs and news sites are slower, and the weekend, when they’re all but asleep.

Retweet activity is highest late in the work day, between 2 and 5 p.m., and the sweet spot (tweet spot?) is 4 p.m., Zarrella’s analysis found. Late in the week is most retweetable, too. Zarella created TweetWhen to tell Twitter users what time days and times yield the most retweets. (Our @niemanlab tweets get the most retweets around 9 p.m. and on Saturdays. Go figure. That’s our hour-by-hour chart up top.)

On weekend mornings, when most news sites see substantial drops in pageviews, Twitter clickthroughs spike, he says. Comment activity also jumps dramatically: Users have more time and attention to devote to content on the weekend, even if the content isn’t fresh, and fewer distractions compete for attention. On Facebook, Zarrella says, the effect is even more pronounced: Facebook participation on weekdays is infinitesimal in comparison. (He thinks it might be because so many companies block Facebook at the workplace.) Facebook does not reward frequent posting in the same way Twitter does, however, and it’s much easier to flood (and annoy) Facebook fans than Twitter followers. Postings on Facebook also tend to “stick around” longer, re-emerging when people post a comment or like.

Not only does Zarrella recommend tweeting more — he recommends tweeting the same links two or three times a day. Don’t bother calling it a “rerun” or apologizing to people who might have it before. Simply wait a few hours and change up the language. Only a fraction of your followers will see it the first time. Even an organization with thousands of followers won’t reach most of its audience most of the time. (As an experiment, social media star Guy Kawasaki once repeated the same tweet every day for nine days, and found the clickthrough rate remained high each time.)

Zarrella recently performed a similar deep dive into data for email newsletters, working with MailChimp to analyze 9.5 billion e-mail newsletters. A lot of the same lessons in apply, he says: Email more, and embrace the weekends.

Most people who unsubscribe do so after receiving their first email. Send 30 emails a month or send five — it makes little difference, he found. (“Unsubscribers are doing you a favor,” he says — they don’t want to hear from you anyway.) The most important time to reach subscribers is right away, especially in the first couple of days after signup. The average click rate for the average user drops to almost nothing after four months. Like with blogs and social media, readers are more likely to open an email newsletter and click links on weekends. For all days of the week, early-morning hours (between 4 and 7 a.m.) are the best times to reach readers — before they get caught up in their to-do list for the day.

March 12 2011

01:30

Japan: When public broadcasting meets limited access

On the long list of things I know nothing about are (a) the Japanese language, (b) the state of fair use in Japanese media law, and (c) the legal structure of Japanese public broadcaster NHK. But this article seems to hit on a lot of the same issues we see in the American future-of-journalism world: How far can (and should) a news organization go to protect the products of its journalists? How do the duties of a publicly funded news organization differ from those of a private one? And how does the mission of serving the public match up with the mission to sustain a news organization?

The brief story, in the Japanese business newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun, is in Japanese, so I asked our Twitter followers if someone was willing to translate.

(Huge thanks to Chris Salzberg, Annamaria Sasagawa, Carlos Martinez de la Serna, Tana Oshima, and Ally Millar for volunteering to help. Our readers are awesome.)

Here’s how one of our readers, Takaaki Okada, translated the text:

NHK disallows the transmission of earthquake footage over the web

On the 11th of March, NHK disallowed the online transmission of earthquake footage by other news media outlets. “We are sending our correspondents to the ground so we can broadcast the footage ourselves, so it makes sense that the public watches it on NHK’s TV channel or website,” said NHK’s Public Relations Department.

NHK is allowing newspapers to publish images of their footage as long as they are credited, but they are not allowing other media outlets to transmit their footage online. Because of this unprecedented emergency, Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei Newspaper) has requested the NHK — a public broadcasting organization — to offer their important video footage, so it can reach a wide audience, but NHK has declined this request.

Again, I have no idea what Japanese law around fair use is, or how NHK as a public broadcaster views (or should view) its role in a moment of national crisis. And NHK is no doubt spending a ton of money covering the earthquake and tsunami, and it makes sense that it should reap the rewards of that work in terms of audience. But it’s an interesting place to draw the line to say that no NHK footage should be allowed on the website of a leading national newspaper. It’s particularly interesting given that, as I type this, there are over 1,000 videos uploaded to YouTube in the past 24 hours with “NHK” in the description or title — and from scanning them over, most seem to be straight copies of NHK disaster footage.

In any event, NHK World is streaming free on its website for anyone looking for it. Our best to all our readers in Japan and everyone else affected by today’s disaster.

March 08 2011

23:00

Something to “Like”? Facebook offers real-time analytics

Facebook just launched a round of updates to Insights, its analytics tool for sites that feature its social networking plugins. The updates include a bunch of useful improvements — you can now measure impressions, Comments Box analytics, and Like button clickthrough rates (yep, that’s a thing now!) — but the most significant (and potentially quite awesome) of the updates is the addition of real-time analytics capabilities when it comes to measuring Facebook interaction. Think Chartbeat for social engagement.

Think also, though, Google Analytics for social engagement. Facebook has been expanding its role when it comes to its relationship with publishers — not only through its broad Facebook + Media efforts, but also through an array of new plugins designed to help news sites better understand (and, then, interact with) their readership. And the Insights updates, via aggregate (and anonymized) usage stats, provide data not just about traffic, but also about user demographics. It’s not just about how many people are liking (and, you know, Liking) your stuff; it’s about who’s liking it — according to age range, gender, location, and language. Knowing all those demographics — some of which Google Analytics can’t provide — gives publishers the option of targeting their content (and with it, perhaps, their advertising) to specific user groups. And, given the real-time data, during specific times of the day.

The revamped Insights tool is, essentially, an invitation to publishers to experiment with how they present their content and, with it, their Facebook-integrated features. Is a Like button more effective at the top of stories, or below them? Or both? Do the majority of shares come organically — through cut-and-pasted links — or via plugins? (Yep, the updated Insights tool measures that, too.) Those small data points can make a big difference as far as traffic — and, obviously, user engagement — is concerned. Same deal from the Share/Like/Recommend perspective: Are your readers more inclined to distribute your content when it’s framed with a “Like” button, or a “Recommend”? Once you know, you can design accordingly. We use Insights to track Facebook engagement here at the Lab; it’ll be interesting to see what it will reveal.

March 02 2011

17:20

Facebook Pushes Comments Upgrade, But Will Publishers Bite?

Bit by bit, feature by feature, Facebook is making inroads into sites that live outside of Facebook.com. Major publishers now sprinkle their sites with Facebook plug-ins, from fan page widgets to friend recommendations to the ubiquitous "Like" thumbs-up. And hey, why not? It's a win-win, with publishers getting more engagement and increased traffic from Facebook News Feeds, and Facebook getting more embedded in more of the web.

So it is not a bit surprising that along comes a Facebook Comments plug-in upgrade, offering added moderation for comments on publishers' sites with these very nifty features:

> Simple upgrade: Publishers only need to add one line of code to their site for the new comments box.

> Enhanced moderation: Publishers get control to make specific comments private (only seen by the commenter and their friends); or publishers can delete comments and blacklist users.

> Commenting in the News Feed: Users can now share the comments they've made on publishers' sites in their Facebook News Feed; their friends' comments on the News Feed update are automatically posted back to the publishers' sites.

The last feature is perhaps the most important viral/social element of the Comments system -- the chance to get comments to reach beyond a website and into the Facebook social stream and bounce back to the website itself. That kind of easy sharing was missing from comments previously.

So, for instance, when I posted a comment on the Facebook blog, I made sure to share it with my News Feed on Facebook, as you can see here:

comment on news feed.jpg

And then, when Jen Lee Reeves and I commented on that comment on my News Feed, our comments were posted both on the News Feed, as seen above, and on the original Facebook blog post, as seen here:

comment on facebook blog.jpg

Plus, there's the much vaunted advantage of making people comment with their real names and affiliations showing, cutting down on trolls and ne'erdowells. (At least, that's the hope -- until they figure out a way to create fake Facebook accounts and return with their invective flowing.)

The new Comments upgrade was announced yesterday, with publishers such as Sporting News, Examiner.com and Discovery jumping on board (and TechCrunch is trying a test as well). According to a discussion summary at Quora, the pros of Facebook Comments on TechCrunch so far are real identities, while the cons are loss of anonymous comments by people who are uncomfortable saying who they are. And more troubling is that you can't log in to Facebook Comments with Twitter or Google.

I spoke to Facebook media guy Justin Osofsky yesterday to do a quick interview about the release of the upgraded Comments. Below is the full audio interview, and the edited transcript of that call, including one interjection by Facebook spokesperson Jillian Carroll.

osofskyfull.mp3

Q&A

What was your overarching goal with the update of Comments?

Justin Osofsky: We're always working to iterate on our products, and this update is a natural evolution of our existing plug-in, which we first launched in February 2009. Over the past couple years, we worked really closely with partners, and listen to their feedback all the time. One of the consistent themes we heard related to Comments was that partners wanted a system with great moderation, which led to a quality discussion on their site and provided great distribution. That was the spirit behind the product we released today as an upgrade.

My team works with media partners, and listens to their feedback and helps them understand how to use Facebook's tools to derive value for their business. In regards to Comments, we heard two themes from [publishers] outside of moderation. One is they use Facebook as a distribution platform. Comments offer a great opportunity to get distribution. Users can easily share their comments back to Facebook; the average user on Facebook has 130 friends, so they can extend the conversation around the web.

The other theme we heard from partners is that they really wanted a quality conversation around their content. They cared more about quality than quantity. And as the number of blogs and content sites we visit every day grows, it should be easy to see the highest quality comments first -- based on feedback from your friends and the rankings from other readers.

Many people have said, including social media power user Robert Scoble, that they like the new Comments feature because it will lead to more civilized discourse because people have their names associated with comments. But I've seen the opposite on well trafficked Facebook pages because people can punch in their comments so easily without having to register first. Sometimes they will throw things out quicker than they should.

Osofsky: We think we can facilitate a higher quality conversation. The Comments plug-in makes commenting online more like having a conversation in the real world by leveraging authentic and persistent identities to create more quality and meaningful dialogue across the web. We think that will lead to a higher quality conversation when it's your real identity and you're representing your real self in the comments you're making.

How have you seen publishers adopting the new Comments plug-in? Are they using just Facebook Comments on stories, or using other types of commenting systems as well?

Justin Osofsky.JPG

Osofsky: We're seeing a lot of publishers who adopted Facebook's commenting system as the exclusive commenting system on their site. Sites like SportingNews.com and Discovery Communication and SBNation launched with Facebook Comments today.

You allow either Facebook or Yahoo log-ins now to comment on these sites. Where are you at with allowing people to use Google or Twitter log-ins?

Osofsky: As part of the update, we added Yahoo as a third-party log-in and we hope to add additional major providers in the future. We're always looking for ways to improve the product and add more flexibility for partners, but we have nothing further to announce today.

Who do you see as the main competition for your Comments plug-in? Do you think there's a way for you to co-exist with established players like Disqus (used on MediaShift), Echo, and others?

Osofsky: When we develop products, we focus on meeting the needs of our users and developers in creating really good solutions. Basically, this release is based on feedback from users and developers and partners. We plan on continuing to iterate on it, but we think that the greater moderation that's built into this product, the distribution of reaching Facebook's more than 500 million users, the higher engagement through the conversations -- threading on both the publisher's site and on Facebook itself -- and the quality makes us a really compelling product for publishers.

One of the features that's interesting is that when you see someone's comment, a friend of yours, on your News Feed on Facebook, you can respond to it, with the comment going back on the third party site. Do you think that might take people a little while to get used to?

Osofsky: I think users will understand the natural conversation. What's cool about this product is the most interesting content on Facebook is the stuff I discover through my friends. Over 30 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook each month. It's a way to find content through friends and other people.

What the commenting system enables now is -- when I am commenting on an article on, say, MediaShift -- I immediately have social context and the opinion of my friend that is being delivered on whatever the article is on your site. From that, I think there's a very natural discussion that takes place that's unified on both sites. So users will see that lead to a richer, authentic dialogue on publishers' sites and on Facebook.

One thing I'd like to see is all the conversations happening about an article all over the web in one place. And Facebook has FriendFeed, which does that a little bit. Can you see sometime down the road that this might be a unified comment system that brings together comments from other sites too? So you'd see them all in your Facebook News Feed?

Osofsky: We see the News Feed as a way of discovering content from your friends. So if I comment on an article on the Sporting News and Discover and the Examiner, my friends can now see it on their News Feed. So it's a great way to discover the conversations that are happening among the friends you are most interested in.

But as far as being an aggregator of comments from other systems, you don't see that happening at some point?

Osofsky: No. The News Feed will always be a good way to make social discovery of content, but that's the way we view it. You go to Facebook to find out what your friends like. When you show up to Facebook.com and I show up to Facebook.com -- even though we typed in an identical URL -- we're having fundamentally different experiences because we have different friends and different interests, and they are sharing different things about their lives and from publisher sites. That's the experience that will continue on Facebook.

When I look in my Facebook News Feed I can see when people connect their tweets to their status updates. So I am seeing things from other services outside of Facebook. That's why I'm wondering whether other comments could be brought into the News Feed like that.

Osofsky: When we launched the platform in 2007, we basically opened it up for developers to allow people to connect with the things they care most about, and the entities they care most about -- whether it's a sports team, whether it's a celebrity. And because of that, I think that Facebook is a great way to find things in your life, and that's the way that Facebook works, and that's the way it's going to continue to work going forward.

When you talk about comment moderation, you said comments from friends and top-rated comments would rise to the top. Some comment systems have a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down." Will you continue to have just the thumbs up or would you consider a thumbs down as well?

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Osofsky: We will listen to feedback on how to best surface the best and most relevant comments. We have no immediate plans to change what we launched today. But essentially we want users to see a really quality conversation, and we think the way you do it is you first see the comments from your friends and then the comments ranked highly from other readers on a publisher's site.

There is a way to block comments that you don't like, or report them?

Osofsky: As you're reading, you can mark comments as spam or report them as being abusive.

And it's up to the publisher to decide what to do with those reports?

Osofsky: We will naturally surface the most highly ranked comments, those will be the ones you'll see more than other comments. And we also give moderation controls to publishers. Based on their feedback, we added a lot of moderation controls as well as "blacklist" controls so website administrators can control the visibility of a comment from making it private [i.e., only shown to the commenter and their friends] to hiding it completely. Or they they can block content or specific words -- such as foul language and spam -- all from their own moderation dashboard.

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Will a reader see a highly rated comment above their friends' comments or which one comes first? And can the publisher adjust that?

Osofsky: Each individual reader that goes to a publisher's site, on the site, they would see a different view. Just like you or I have different friends, from that, what you see in a comments box and I see would be different. The publisher has an administrative dashboard that also shows the comments that are being made on their site.

So which would be ranked higher, the friends' comments or the ones ranked high by readers?

Osofsky: The product seeks to surface the highest quality comments first, and the way in which we built it, we'll continue to evolve our approach to this to make sure there's really quality conversation.

Part of what you see with the comments is the person's affiliation or where they went to college. Is there a way to adjust what shows there alongside a person's name next to a comment?

Jillian Carroll (Facebook Communications): It's an interesting situation. If you made your school network public but not your work, then your school would show up even if it's more relevant where you work. Part of this will be addressed by privacy controls and people adjusting those.

Osofsky: When we release products, we respect people's privacy settings. And if they want to change their privacy settings, we give them the control to do that.

One other piece of feedback I heard was that TechCrunch had implemented Facebook Comments and they're not seeing a number on the number of comments for each article, that there are "48 comments" or whatever. Is that something you will be adding?

Osofsky: We believe our product encourages quality instead of quantity of comments. What I think you're seeing today on publisher sites is a very real and interesting dialogue in the comments section. One of the consistent things we heard from publishers, who we've been talking to the past couple years, is you often get so many comments, one can't surface the relevant and interesting comments. That's what this product is trying to address.

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What about people who aren't on Facebook? Would they still be able to comment on a story?

Osofsky: You can log in on Facebook or you can log in on Yahoo, and we'll be looking to add additional flexibility going forward in terms of log-in providers.

So at the moment if you don't have Yahoo and you don't have Facebook, then you're not able to make comments in the system.

Osofsky: The two ways to comment in the system is through Yahoo and Facebook, correct.

*****

What do you think about the upgraded Facebook Comments plug-in? If you run a site, would you use it? What do you see as its strong points and drawbacks? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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February 28 2011

15:00

“Like,” “share,” and “recommend”: How the warring verbs of social media will influence the news’ future

It appears that Facebook has settled on a central metaphor for the behavior of its 600 million users.

See an interesting article? Want your friends to see it too? Facebook’s offered up two primary verbs to bring action to that formless desire: “Share” and “Like.”

But the writing’s been on the wall for “Share” for some time. Facebook seemed to abandon development on “Share” in the fall. And on Sunday, Mashable reported that the remaining functionality of “Share” is being moved over to the much more popular “Like” button. (Clicking “Like” on a webpage will now post a thumbnail and excerpt of it on your Facebook wall, just as “Share” used to do. The old “Like” behavior made the links less prominent. It’s actually a pretty big deal that will likely lead to stories spreading more readily through Facebook.)

But I’m less interested in the details of the implementation than the verbs: sharing (tonally neutral, but explicitly social) has clearly lost to liking (with its ring of a personal endorsement).

There’s actually a third verb, “Recommend.” Unlike “Share,” it’s not its own separate action within FacebookWorld; it’s just “Like” renamed, with a less forceful endorsement. But it lives deep in the shadow of “Like” everywhere — except on traditional news sites, which have tended to stay far away from “Like.” I just did a quick scan of some of the web’s most popular news sites to see what metaphor they use to integrate with Facebook on their story pages.

“Share”: Los Angeles Times, ProPublica, Talking Points Memo, Reuters, ESPN, The Guardian.

“Recommend”: MSNBC, CNN, New York Times, New Yorker, Washington Post, Globe and Mail, Le Monde, El Pais, Newsweek, Telegraph, CBC.

“Like”: Gawker, Politico, Slate, Wired, Time, Wall Street Journal.

Both “Like” and “Share”: Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune.

Now, that’s an unscientific sampling. And, among those who use “Share,” some might have preferred the different functionality (although that difference has now disappeared). But looking at those names, it seems to me that many more traditional news organizations are uncomfortable with the “Like” metaphor that has become the lingua franca of online sharing. The “Likers” are more likely to be Internet-era creations; news orgs that existed 30 years ago tend toward the more neutral choices. (With a few exceptions.)

And that’s understandable: Newsroom culture has long been allergic to explicitly connecting the production of journalism and the expression of a reader’s endorsement. (Just the facts, ma’am!) And “Like” is awkward. When I click a button next to a story, does that mean I like the fact that “Tunisian Prime Minister Resigns,” or that I like the storyTunisian Prime Minister Resigns“? But there’s no doubting the appeal of “Like,” which feels like a vote when “Share” mostly feels like work.

Facebook hasn’t announced that “Share” buttons will stop working any time soon, and there’s always “Recommend” sitting there as a milquetoast alternative for the emotion-squeamish. (Although technically “Recommend” presents most the same problems as “Like” — it can still be read as a fuzzy endorsement.) But there’s a bigger issue here, as news organizations — many of them traditional bringers of bad news — have to adjust to an online ecosystem that privileges emotion, particularly positive emotion.

Emotion = distribution

I can tell you, anecdotally, that for our Twitter feed, @niemanlab, one of the best predictors of how much a tweet will get retweeted is the degree to which it expresses positive emotion. If we tweet with wonderment and excitement (“Wow, this new WordPress levitation plugin is amazing!”), it’ll get more clicks and more retweets than it we play it straight (“New WordPress plugin allows user levitation”).

For harder data, check out some work done by Anatoliy Gruzd and colleagues at Dalhousie University, presented at a conference last month. Their study looked at a sample of 46,000 tweets during the Vancouver Winter Olympics and judged them on whether they expressed a positive, negative, or neutral emotion. They found that positive tweets were retweeted an average of 6.6 times, versus 2.6 times for negative tweets and 2.2 times for neutral ones. That’s two and a half times as many acts of sharing for positive tweets. (Slide deck here.)

Facebook’s own internal data, looking at major news sites’ presence within Facebook, found that “provocative” or “passionate” stories generated two to three times the engagement of other stories.

Or take the Penn study by Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman of The New York Times’ most emailed list. It found that “positive content is more viral than negative content,” but noted that it’s actually as much about arousal (speaking emotionally, not sexually) as anything. Content that you can imagine someone emailing with either “Awesome!” or “WTF?” in the subject line gets spread.

Social media as the new SEO

Here’s the thing: The way that news gets reported and presented is influenced by economic incentives. When publishers realized that Google search traffic was a big driver of traffic, you saw punny headlines swapped for clots of “keyword-dense” verbiage and silly repetitive tag clouds — all trying to capture a little bit more attention from Google’s algorithm and, with it, a little more ad revenue.

But I believe we’ll soon be at a point where social media is a more important driver of traffic than search for many news organizations. (It certainly already is for us.) And those social media visitors are already, I’d argue, more useful than search visitors because they’re less likely to be one-time fly-by readers. As people continue to spend outrageous amounts of time on Facebook (49 billion minutes in December), as Twitter continues to grow, as new tools come along, we’ll see more and more people get comfortable with the idea that their primary filter for news will be what gets shared by their friends or networks.

And that means a phrase like social media optimization will mean more than just slapping sharing buttons on your stories and telling your reporters to check in on Twitter twice a day. It’ll also mean changing, in subtle ways, the kinds of content being produced to encourage sharing. I’m not saying that’s a good thing or a bad thing — just that it’s the natural outcome of the economic incentives at play.

Does that just mean more listicles? Maybe. But I’d argue that, on the whole, figuring out how to make people want to share your work with their friends generates a healthier set of incentives than figuring out how to manipulate Google’s algorithm. Providing pleasure — pleasure that someone wants to share — is not an inappropriate goal. And when you broaden out beyond “positive emotions” to the idea of driving arousal or stimulation — positive or negative — the idea starts to fall a little more neatly into what news organizations consider their job to be.

Let’s be clear: I’m not saying that news orgs should become engines of happy stories or only focus on the most outrageous or enticing news. Their mission can’t be channeled exclusively in that direction. I don’t know what it will look like for a quality news organization to focus on making more sharable journalism; it’ll be up to the very smart people who work at them to figure out how to do that while defending their brand identities. But I do know that the role of social media is going to keep increasing, and with it will come increased economic pressures to maximize for it. They may not “Like” or “Recommend” it, but I suspect it’s a fate they’ll all, er, “Share.”

November 23 2010

17:00

Why spreadable doesn’t equal viral: A conversation with Henry Jenkins

For years, academic Henry Jenkins has been talking about the connections between mainstream content and user-produced content. From his post as the founder and former co-director of the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT, Jenkins published Convergence Culture, which is about what happens when, as the book puts it, “old and new media collide.” It’s a tale of fan mashups and corporate reactions.

And now he’s back with a new catchphrase. If convergence culture was 2006, spreadable media is now. The argument: If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead. For things to live online, people have to share it socially. They also have to make it their own — which can be as participatory as just passing a YouTube clip on as a link or making a copycat video themselves.

But what does this mean for news? If news is growing more social, how does Jenkins’ notion of spreadability work for traditional media? And how can traditional media harness user energy to make content not just meaningful but also profitable?

These were some of the questions I had when I first heard the concept, which Jenkins and his collaborators first put out in a white paper in 2009. But I’ve had a chance to read the first few chapters of the book, due out in late 2011. Spreadable Media (coauthored with Sam Ford and Joshua Green) doesn’t mention traditional journalism. But as I’ve had a chance to work with Jenkins, who’s now a professor at USC, I wanted to see what spreadable media might mean for news. Here’s how Jenkins explained the idea’s implications for journalism in an email interview. Among the topics: why all journalists are citizen journalists, journalists and their possible conversations with audiences, paywalls, and most-emailed lists.

NU: What is spreadable media?

HJ: The concept of spreadable media rests on the distinction between distribution (the top-down spread of media content as captured in the broadcast paradigm) and circulation (a hybrid system where content spreads as a result of a series of informal transactions between commercial and noncommercial participants.) Spreadable media is media which travels across media platforms at least in part because the people take it in their own hands and share it with their social networks.

This kind of informal circulation may be solicited or at least accepted by media producers as part of the normal way of doing business or it may take forms which get labeled piracy. Either way, the widespread circulation of media content through the conscious actions of dispersed networks of consumer/participants tends to create greater visibility and awareness as the content travels in unpredicted directions and encounters people who are potentially interested in further engagements with the people who produced it.

So, at its heart, our book is interested in the value being generated through this grassroots circulation and how various sectors of the media industry are being reconfigured in order to accept the help of grassroots intermediaries who help expand their reach to the public. Along the way, we dissect many of the myths about how media circulates and how value gets generated in the digital era.

NU: How does spreadable media relate to your term convergence culture?

HJ: Convergence culture starts by rejection of the technologically focused definition of convergence as the integration of media functions within a single media device — the magic black box — in favor of one which stresses the flow of media content across multiple media channels. Certainly the rise of the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad, have made the magical black box much closer to reality now than it was when I wrote Convergence Culture, but I would say we’ve had much more experiencing living in a convergence culture than living with convergence devices. We live at a moment where every story, image, or bit of information will travel across every available media platform either through decisions made in corporate bedrooms or decisions made in consumers’ living rooms.

The book outlined what this means for entertainment, branding, education, politics, and religion, placing a strong emphasis on what I call participatory culture. Citizen journalism is the application of participatory culture to the news sector but similar kinds of trends are impacting each of these other spaces where media gets produced and distributed. The emphasis in that book though is on participation in the form of cultural production — people creating videos, writing fan fiction, and otherwise generating their own media.

Spreadable Media takes the convergence culture context as given. We are now half a decade deeper into the trends the first book describes. Since the book was published, we’ve seen the expansion of mobile communication, social network sites, Web 2.0, and the rise and fall of Second Life, all extending our understanding of participatory culture and transmedia communication. So, what are the consequences of those shifts to how information, brands, and media content circulates? We certainly are still interested in participatory models of cultural production but we are now much more interested in acts of curration and circulation, which on both an individual and aggregated level, are impacting the communication environment.

NU: Let’s talk specifically about what spreadable media might mean for news. What are your thoughts on the way the news industry might make sense of this concept?

HJ: A central idea animating the book is “if it doesn’t spread, it’s dead.” There is a constant tension at this moment of media transition between wanting to lock down content and meter access on the one hand (a model based on “stickiness”) and wanting to empower consumers to help spread the word (a model based on “spreadability.”) We can see that tension in terms of the desire to gate access to news content and the mechanisms of spreading which characterize Twitter and blogs. Journalists have long embraced a central idea in this book — that content represents a resource which community use to talk amongst themselves. Journalists need to know how they fit into those circuits.

In the book’s opening chapter, I reflect on the role of Twitter in the aftermath of the Iranian elections. I argue that its central role was not in helping to organize the protests but rather in getting information about what was happening to the outside world and to increase people’s emotional engagement with it. Twitter stepped in to bring what was happening in the streets of Tehran closer to people in the west — with key roles played by the Iranian diaspora in the United States and Europe who helped to facilitate the circulation of this information. The general American public felt greater closeness to the people in Iran because they were learning about these events through the same tools as they used to share cute cat pictures with their friends. And they felt a greater investment in what was happening because they were actively helping to alert others about the events.

As this unfiltered information was flowing through Twitter, those on the social networks started putting pressure on news agencies to provide more cover. You could imagine Twitter as a self-contained news system, but the opposite happened: they used #cnnfail because they wanted the skills and resources that professional journalists could bring to the process. They were signaling how much they still relied on legacy media to sort through the pieces and help provide a context for the information being circulated. While it was framed as a critique of journalism, it was actually a call for help. News organizations need to be more alert in registering these signs of public interests and more nimble in responding to them.

NU: Are bloggers an example of people experimenting with media spreadability? What do we do for news organizations who want to bring all of that user engagement and monetize it?

HJ: We’ve long known that news stories generate conversations that people cut out news articles to put on bulletin boards and refrigerators, that we clip news stories and send them to friends. This happened in a pre-digital world and it happens now with more speed and scope thanks to the affordances of digital networking tools.

Blogs originated as a tool for sharing links; Twitter is now used extensively to share links with other consumers. News sites which prevent the sharing of such content amongst readers may look like ways to protect the commercial interest of that content, but in fact, they kill it, destroying its value as a cultural resource within networked communities, and insuring that the public will look elsewhere for news that can be spread.

In the book, we use the example of how the Susan Boyle video moved through the blog community, being situated into a range of different ongoing conversations wherever she was relevant — with science blogs talking about her vocal cords, church blogs organizing prayer groups, mommy blogs dealing with her role as a caretaker for her elderly mother, music blogs discussing her song choices, and fashion blogs talking about her make-over for the show. Every news story today spreads through these grassroots intermediaries and gets inserted into various conversations across a range of different communities. The better journalists understand how value gets created through this process, the more effective they will be both at serving their ever more diverse constituencies and at developing a business model which allows them to capture value through circulation.

NU: You say in your white paper and current drafts of the book that content that users can’t manipulate and whose intellectual property is controlled by organizations will be the least likely to spread. That seems to describe a typical news article, and maybe a typical news organization. How can news organizations make their content more spreadable?

HJ: Spreadability is partially about technical affordances. YouTube videos spread well because they allow users to embed them on their blogs and Facebook profiles. At the same time, the embedded video’s interface makes it easy for us to follow it back to its original context on YouTube. It is content which is designed to be spread.

Spreadability is also about social relations with consumers. Many of those who create spreadable content actively encourage readers to spread their materials, often directly courting them as participants in the process of distribution. We are certainly seeing news sites right now — Slashdot comes to mind — which encourage readers to gather and appraise content, but far fewer are encouraging us to help create awareness through actively circulating their content.

It is interesting to think about groups which have a strong investment in seeing content spread and a lower investment in controlling its distribution. Think about political campaigns with low budgets who want to maximize their reach to voters. Think about religious media who place a higher value on spreading the gospel than monetizing the circulation of information. Think of activist groups who want to reach beyond their core group of supporters. In each case, they build in direct appeals to their fans to help them spread the content rather than constructing prohibitions on grassroots circulation.

Right now, news organizations are caught between their civic mission — to meet the information needs of their communities and their economic needs — to stay in business long enough to serve their publics.

NU: What does spreadable media mean to the conversations journalists need to have with their audiences?

HJ: As information spreads, it gets inserted into a range of conversations which help people to process the information and understand its value for them as members of a community. In the book, Sam Ford, my co-author, draws on his experience in the PR world to talk about companies who actively listen to and respond to what their consumers say about them. He argues that the conversations seeded by spreadable media are much richer ways to monitor public response than narrowly structured focus groups. And he cites some examples of companies which identified problems in their customer relations and rectified them as a result of listening closely to what consumers said about them.

Newspapers have historically relied on letters to the editor to perform some of these functions, but this focuses only on those groups who seek to influence directly their editorial decisions, while there are other things a news organization might learn by actively listening to conversation people are having around and through the circulation of their content.

NU: Spreadable media seems to be a reaction to the idea that things are viral and that people have no agency. But doesn’t the whole idea of viral mean that people are actually taking action to share something? Don’t we want our news stories to be most-emailed and our videos to be viral?

HJ: Very much so. Viral media asks some of the same questions we are asking, having to do with how media content circulates through grassroots communities outside the direct control of the people who originates it. But the language of viral media mystifies how this process works. Many talk as if things just happened to “go viral” when they have no way to explain how or why the content has grabbed the public imagination. Other framings of “viral media” strip away the agency of the very communities whose circulation of the content they want to explain. It is a kind of smallpox-soaked blanket theory of media circulation, in which people become unknowing carriers of powerful and contagious ideas which they bring back to their homes and work place, infecting their friends and family.

Our work starts from the idea that people are making conscious decisions to aid the circulation of certain content because they see it as a meaningful contribution to their ongoing conversations, a gift which they can share with people they care about. As they circulate this content, they first are playing key roles in appraising its value at a time of exploding media options; they also help to frame the content, helping it to fit better into the ongoing social interactions; they may also build upon, appropriate, transform, and remix the content further extending its shelf life and enabling its broader circulation.

NU: One of the things I found most fascinating about your current exploration was your distinction between ordinary Internet users, who operate according to the gift economy, and media companies that operate according to market logic. Can you explain?

HJ: Basically, spreadable media moves between commercial and noncommercial economies. For the producer, the content may be a commodity or a promotion; for the consumer, it is a resource or a gift. The producer is appraising the transaction based on its economic value. While the consumer makes a decision about whether the price is too high for the value of the content, they are also making decisions based on the social or sentimental value of the content. When they pass that content along to their friends, they do so because they value their friends far more than because they want to promote the economic interests of producers. When they consume media, they often do so so that they have currency they need in the social interactions we have around media.

Media producers need to understand the set of values and transactions which shape how their media flows in order to understand when and how it is appropriate to monetize the activities of their consumers. We are used to transforming commodities into gifts. We do it every time we go to a store to buy a bottle of wine to a dinner party. We bought it as a commodity, we give it as a gift, and the moment of transformation comes when we remove the price tag. We need to better understand the same transformation as consumers take content from commercial sites and circulate it via Twitter or Facebook to their communities.

NU: If you had to project, what might this mean for user-generated content? And what happens when we start putting paywalls up on sites?

HJ: In the case of news, we might think about many different types of user-generated content. Often, we are talking about the citizen as reporter (especially in the case of hyperlocal news), producing content which can be uploaded to news sites. We might also think about the citizen as editor, determining which news matters to their community and passing it along in a more targeted way to their friends. We might think about the citizen as commentator, who responds to the news through what they write on their blogs or updates. We might think of these media as amplifying their role as consumers, allowing them to more fully express demands for what should get more coverage, as occurred in the #cnnfail debates after the Iranian elections.

Right now, we dump all of this into a box called “citizen journalism,” which is in its own way as misleading as categories like “viral media.” We might start from the fact that journalists are themselves citizens, or that these groups are doing many things through their sharing of news, only some of which should be understood as producing journalism. Focusing on citizen journalism results in an oppositional framing of blogging as competing with professional news production. Spreadable media would push us to think about journalists and bloggers as each making a range of contributions through their participation in a larger civic ecology.

NU: And finally: How many people do you expect to actually engage in making media mashups? I see more people watching Auto-Tune the News mashup videos on YouTube than making their own media out of existing media.

HJ: Our book makes the point that there are many different forms of participation, some requiring more skills, more technical access, more community engagement than others. Spectacular forms of grassroots cultural production rest on one end of a continuum of different forms of community participation. So some people certainly will be mashing up the news, just as they are remixing songs, films, and television shows. And we can point to many exciting examples of political remix videos which emerge from people’s engagement with news and commentary — think about the recent mashup of Donald Duck and Glenn Beck.

But many more people will help to shape their news by appraising its value and passing it along to specific people or groups who they think will be interested in it. We all probably have friends or relatives who mostly communicate through forwarding things. They may or may not be exerting great selectivity in their curatorial roles, but they are helping to insure the circulation of that information. More people in the future will be engaging with news on that level and their acts of circulation will play a larger role in shaping the flow of information across the culture.

Photo by Joi Ito used under a Creative Commons license.

October 14 2010

19:48

June 17 2010

17:02

4 things you need to know about Google this week

1. Google encrypted search

In a move which could have enormous implications for online publishers, Google announced that it is experimenting with encrypted search.

In plainer language, this means that – if someone is using the service – you won’t know what they have been searching for when they arrive at your website. This is great for privacy, but clearly scuppers any plans publishers might have to sell advertising based on what people are searching for when they arrive at the site – or, indeed, plans to adapt editorial based on what users are most interested in.

The service was initially available at https://google.com (note the https), but Google have since said that the service will be moved to a separate domain after schools complained that it would allow students to bypass their filtering systems.

That setback aside, the development of secure search and consumers’ increasing desire to protect their privacy is a significant move that publishers should prepare for, not least because it would ringfence Google’s monopoly on search-based advertising (for all their respect for users’ privacy, Google will still know what users are searching for).

2. Google News tests sharing function

Meanwhile, on Google News, some users have reported seeing a ’sharing’ option next to news stories.

The significance of this? Until now there has been a clear divide between search engine optimisation (SEO) and social media optimisation (SMO). The option to ’share’ news items turns Google News into a more social platform – akin to Digg, Facebook or Twitter – that has implications for distribution and, presumably, SEO as well (assuming that sharing data contributes to a story’s placement on the site).

3. Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI)

No new announcement here, just 2 very informative posts on the technology that search engines use to check how relevant your content is to a particular keyword search. The first is an introductory post from Search Engine Journal, but the second is a more technical, myth-busting piece which ultimately says ‘This is not an SEO technique’. What both demonstrate is that, while there are many tricks and tips, you cannot avoid the fact that genuine rich editorial content is crucial to SEO.

4. Google Caffeine (Real-time search)

Bringing us bang up to date is the announcement that Google is finally implementing Caffeine, producing search results from a real-time index of websites rather than relying on one that is a few weeks old. I suspect the reality will be rather more patchy than that (I’ve just had a conversation with someone whose website hasn’t been indexed for over 4 weeks), but that aside, this article has some notable quotes on where search is heading:

““When it comes to human language understanding we are still at the toddler stage,” says Singhal. “But over the next ten years we will attain the level of an eight or nine year old. We’ll be able to perfect experiences we don’t fully trust today”.

““A search, say, for chocolate milk on your internet-enabled phone,” he says, “would produce directions to the nearest store that had it in stock �" any information, anywhere you are, comes to you before you need it. The world is not web pages �" it is entities and things.”

May 28 2010

20:00

Publish2’s Ryan Sholin: “We did not set out to kill the Associated Press”

This week, with much fanfare, Publish2 announced its new News Exchange service. Using the new platform, CEO Scott Karp wrote, “newspapers can replace the AP’s obsolete cooperative with direct content sharing and replace the AP’s commodity content with both free, high-quality content from the Web and content from any paid source.” With the result being “a new efficient supply and distribution chain for high quality content brands.”

The “obsolete cooperative.” (Also: “The Associated Press monopoly over content distribution to newspapers.” And also: “The New AP.”) Fighting words, to be sure — and, all in all, a remarkably effective approach for a new initiative coming from a nearly-three-year-old, ten-staffer startup that needs to fight above its weight class: The announcement drew tons of attention from media new and traditional, much of it framed in journo-irresistible terms of “Scrappy Startup Takes on the Associated Press.” And some of it framed in terms even more irresistable than that: “Scrappy Startup Wants to Kill the Associated Press.” Hooboy: David v. Goliath goes digital!

But now that we’re moving beyond the initial flurry of announcements and analysis of the News Exchange, it’s worth noting the nuances beyond Karp’s publicitytastic “New Associated Press for the 21st Century.” “Disrupt” doesn’t mean “destroy”; it simply means to “throw into disorder.” And, for all its fight-focused framing, Publish2 (at the moment, at least) seems much more intent on shaking things up than on shaking things down. As Karp himself noted as he introduced P2X, it’s “a platform aimed at disrupting the Associated Press monopoly over content distribution to newspapers.”

And there’s another word worth noting: distribution. The Associated Press, after all, has two core functions: There’s the AP, content producer; and then there’s the AP, content distributor. The “blazing guns” Publish2 has aimed at the cooperative, to borrow Mark Coddington’s phrase, seem to be directed much more toward the latter. To my mind, that’s a crucial distinction: I’m all about shaking up the structures of distribution, of broadening the marketplace when it comes to wire content available to news organizations; I’m much less enthused about the idea of killing off a valuable — and even, I’d say, valuably institutionalized — source of reporting and information.

And — whew! — as Publish 2’s Ryan Sholin explained to me today, “We did not set out to kill the Associated Press. That’s not the goal. I don’t think that’s a logical thing to even want to do.” What the News Exchange and its creators do want, Sholin said, is to broaden the ecosystem of access when it comes to the wire content available to newspapers.

And that content includes…the AP’s. “If the AP wants to sell content through our system and distribute it to their subscribers,” Sholin said, “that seems like a win for everybody. So we’d welcome that.”

Chutzpah! So, though the battle-of-the-news-co-ops won’t (necessarily) be a death match: game on.

During our conversation, Sholin also provided some background info on the structure and goals of the — indeed, quite fascinating — News Exchange. Here’s what he told me, in a lightly edited transcript:

The general mechanics:

There’s two big pieces to the News Exchange. The first piece is that it allows news organizations to share content with each other. And that’s something that they’re already doing — but they’re not doing it in a way that’s efficient or scalable. Most of those content-sharing networks that you see popping up are emailing stories and budgets back and forth. And that’s far from the most efficient way to do the job. And it’s also not scalable.

So what we’ve done is build an efficient, scalable system that ties directly into print publishing systems. So instead of sending copy editors off on email and copy/paste errands on deadline, they’re just going to be able to open a folder in their print publishing system, the place where they’re already getting all of their stories to flow into the papers, it’s going to be right there for them in the format they need it.

[Megan: How do the News Exchanges relationships with newspapers work right now? is there an existing network?]

Right now, we’ve got about two dozen newspapers that are beta-testing. For the most part right now they’re kind of jumping in and putting up their newswire. I don’t know exactly what’s going on behind the scenes. But if I were a newspaper and I were checking this out, and I liked it, I’d be turning around and going to the people that I share content with, and telling them, “Jump in.”

The financial mechanics:

Today, everything is free. If you want to come and share your free content, or your content for free, with your partners, you’re more than welcome to. If you want to take your online-only content and put it out there for print publication, you’re more than welcome to. At the same time, if you want to sell your content — for example, if you’re a nonprofit that wants to sell your content to newspapers — you can use our system to manage subscription, distribution, and promotion of those newswires, and be off on your own selling it and dealing with your own contracts and purchase orders off in your own systems right now.

We are going to add on a marketplace layer. And what that’s going to do is allow, number one, the newspapers to set a price for their newswires. I’ve talked to editors who say, “Hey, we want to sell our college football coverage. The team in our town is a popular team across the state and across the region, we want to sell this newswire to other newspapers.” And then we also have paid content providers. Even people who are looking to put photos and other content in the system who are interested in selling it. And we’re going to make it easy either to pay for either a subscription to a newswire — or, if the content provider allows it, à la carte pricing, as well. The pricing structure is definitely going to be up to the individual content providers.

[Megan: So, essentially, you provide a space for the market interactions, and charge organizations for the convenience cost of the facilitation.]

Yes. When we build on the marketplace layer, we’ll charge a transaction fee, but it’s going to be based on the volume of use. So if you’re a nonprofit organization trying to sell your stories to six papers, we’re not terribly interested in taking your money. But if you’re a major, international news provider who is using our system to sell and deliver subscriptions on a large scale to American newspapers, that’s a case where I’m sure we’ll be taking a transaction fee — based on volume of use, circulation of the papers you’re selling to. Forty-five minutes into every call with each editor, when they ask me, “What’s the business model?” that’s one half of it — that’s one side of it.

[Megan: So the fee will be determined on a case-by-case basis?]

I don’t know if I’d say case-by-case, exactly. But it’s definitely going to be based on volume of use and circulation. It’s not just going to be a blanket fee. We’re exploring all our options and it’s something that we’re going to talk in great depth with newspaper editors and content providers about. The goal here, in the long term, is to save newspapers money. So we’re not looking to add on anything to what they’re already paying for newswire content.

So the other side of the question of how are we going to make money is definitely that we’re looking to help newspapers reduce their dependence on other newswire sources like the AP. So if we make it possible for a newspaper to drop from an “AP complete” to “AP limited” — or to cancel the AP altogether (and obviously there’s a longer timeline involved with that) — we’ll be looking to assess something like a license fee for the software. And it’ll be a fraction of the difference.

The goal here is that if we can cut newspapers’ newswire bill in half, that would be a big win for them. For the major metros, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars. We talk to editors about this all the time, and they do the math in their head, and say, “Oh, that’s four FTEs.” So I personally like the sound of that: newspaper editors saying, “Oh, if you saved me that much money, I could hire this many reporters.” That seems like a good thing.

Providing content vs. facilitating its exchange:

[Megan: What about the criticisms that the News Exchange won't provide original content, as the AP does?]

The original content is out there. There are freelancers on the streets of Bangkok right now who are tweeting and filing photos and providing reports to people like The Economist and the BBC and the Financial Times. Over the past three years, Publish2’s been building up a user base of about 10,000 journalists, and we’ve done that by approving them all by hand, in large part. If someone has an @newspaper.com email address, they’re automatically shepherded into the system. But for all of our other users, we’ve spent a lot of time and resources and energy in making sure that we’ve got a user base that is journalists-only. And the end result is that there’s a ton of top-shelf freelancers already in the system.

So connecting the kind of top-shelf freelancers — content providers that we don’t normally think of as somebody that we can easily connect with to write a story — that are out there with editors in the U.S. is one big step. That’s a big piece of this. And the other big thing is just to say, “Let’s take all the international news providers that are out there and put them in one bucket.” The newspapers that are out there, picking their stories for the day: Let them decide who’s got the highest-quality content. Let them vote by slotting the stories on the pages.

One thing that we’re going to try and do in the coming days is try and get the word out a little bit and probably put up some blog posts about what the system — how the system can help a freelancer, a newspaper, a blogger, a media company — just to give an idea of the different value propositions that we’re offering to everybody in the ecosystem. Because there’s a lot of moving parts, and only so much that Scott could say onstage for six minutes. It was very much about getting the big idea out.

And I can tell you, as the guy who’s been here all week fielding calls and emails and tweets and registrations, that we got the word out. The big idea is out there. So it’s been a very exciting week here.

March 19 2010

15:00

This Week in Review: Loads of SXSW ideas, Pew’s state of the news, and a dire picture of local TV news

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

A raft of ideas at SXSW: The center of the journalism-and-tech world this week has been Austin, Texas, site of the annual conference South by Southwest. The part we’re most concerned about — SXSW Interactive — ran from last Friday to Tuesday. The New York Times’ David Carr gives us a good feel for the atmosphere, and Poynter’s Steve Myers asked 15 journalists what they took away from SXSW, and it makes for a good roundup. A handful of sessions there grabbed the attention of a lot of the journalism thinkers on the web, and I’ll try to take you on a semi-quick tour:

— We saw some conversation last week leading up to Matt Thompson’s panel on “The Future of Context,” and that discussion continued throughout this week. We had some great description of the session, between Steve Myers’ live blog and Elise Hu’s more narrative summary. As Hu explains, Thompson and his fellow panelists, NYU prof Jay Rosen and Apture founder Tristan Harris, looked at why much of our news lacks context, why our way of producing news doesn’t make sense (we’re still working with old values in a new ecosystem), and how we go about adding context to a largely episodic news system.

Michele McLellan of the Knight Digital Media Center echoes the panelists’ concerns, and Lehigh prof Jeremy Littau pushes the concept further, connecting it with social gaming. Littau doesn’t buy the idea that Americans don’t have time for news, since they obviously have plenty of time for games that center on collecting things, like Facebook’s Farmville. He’d like to see news organizations try to provide that missing context in a game environment, with the gamer’s choices informed by “blasts of information, ideally pulled from well reported news stories, that the user can actually apply to the situation in a way that increases both recall and understanding.”

— NYU’s web culture guru, Clay Shirky, gave a lecture on the value that can be squeezed out of public sharing. Matt Thompson has a wonderful live blog of the hourlong session, and Liz Gannes of GigaOM has a solid summary, complete with a few of the made-for-Twitter soundbites Shirky has a knack for, like “Abundance breaks more things than scarcity does,” and “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”

Once again, Jeremy Littau pulls Shirky’s ideas together and hones in on their implications for journalism in a thoughtful post, concluding that while the future of journalism is bright, its traditional players are clueless. “I just don’t see a future for them when they’re trying to protect information as a scarce commodity,” he writes. “The scarcity, in truth, is in media companies trying to create civic goods via user sharing.”

danah boyd, who studies social media and youth culture for Microsoft Research, gave a well-received talk on privacy and publicity online. It doesn’t have much to do directly with journalism, but it’s a brilliant, insightful glimpse into how web culture works. Here’s a rough crib of the talk from boyd, and a summary from TechCrunch. There’s a bunch of cool nuggets in there, like boyd’s description of the “inversion of defaults” in privacy and publicity online. Historically, conversations were private by default and public by effort, but conversations online have become public by default and private by effort.

— One of the big journalism-related stories from SXSW has been AOL and Seed’s efforts to employ a not-so-small army of freelancers to cover each of the 2,000 or so bands at the festival. The Daily Beast has the best summary of the project and its goals, and TechCrunch talks about it with former New York Times writer Saul Hansell, who’s directing the effort. Silicon Alley Insider noted midweek that they wouldn’t reach the goal of 2,000 interviews.

One of the big questions about AOL and Seed’s effort is whether they’re simply creating another kind of “content mill” that many corners of the web have been decrying over the past few months. Music writer Leor Galil criticized it as crass, complaining of the poor quality of some of the interviews: “AOL is shelling out cash and providing great space for potentially terrible content.” David Cohn of Spot.Us compared AOL to the most notorious content farm, Demand Media, concluding that journalists shouldn’t be worried about them exploiting writers, but should be worried about their threat to the journalism industry as a whole.

— One other session worth noting: “Cult of the Amateur” author and digital dystopian Andrew Keen gave a sobering talk called “Is Innovation Fair?” As Fast Company’s Francine Hardaway aptly summarized, he pointed to the downsides of our technological advances and argued that if SXSW is a gathering of the winners in the cultural shift, we have to remember that there are losers, too.

Pew’s paywall findings: The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released its annual “State of the News Media” study, and it’s a smorgasbord of statistics about every major area of journalism, from print to TV to the web. A summary of summaries: The study’s six major emerging trends (expanded on by Poynter’s Bill Mitchell), some of its key statistical findings, and the Columbia Journalism Review’s seven eye-popping statistics from the study.

The biggest headline for most people was the study’s finding that only seven percent of the Americans who get their news online say they’d spring for a favorite news source’s content if it went behind a paywall. (The AP writeup has a few more statistics and some analysis about online loyalty and advertising.) Jeff Jarvis, a longtime paywall opponent, wondered why newspapers are spending so much time on the paywall issue instead of their “dreadful” engagement and loyalty online. Former WSJer Jason Fry breaks down the study to conclude that the basic unit of online journalism is not the site but the article — thus undermining the primary mindset behind the paywall.

Poynter’s Rick Edmonds, who writes the study’s section on newspapers each year, said he’s done with dead-and-dying as an industry theme. Instead, he said, the problem with most newspapers is that they are becoming insubstantial, shells of their former selves. “They lack the heft to be thrown up the front porch or to satisfy those readers still willing to pay for a good print newspaper.” Editor & Publisher pulled some of the more depressing statistics from Edmonds’ chapter. Yet Lee Rainie, who co-authored the study’s section on online economics, said he was still optimistic about journalism’s future.

A bleak look at local TV news: Another fascinating journalism study was released late last week by USC researchers that found disappointing, though not necessarily surprising, trends in Los Angeles local TV news: Crime, sports, weather and teasers dominate, with very little time for business and government. USC’s press release has some highlights, and co-author Martin Kaplan offers a quick, pointed video overview of the report, concluding with a barb about wants and needs: “I want ice cream. I need a well-balanced meal. Apparently the people of Los Angeles want 22 seconds about their local government. Maybe if they got more than that, they’d want more than that.”

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps was “flat-out alarmed” by the study and vowed some vague form of action. Jay Rosen was ruthless in his criticism on Twitter, and Los Angeles Times critic James Rainey used the study as the basis for a particularly well-written evisceration of local TV news. Rainey had the most promising suggestion, proposing that a cash-strapped TV station find a newspaper, nonprofit or j-school interested in partnering with it to build an audience around more substantive, in-depth TV news.

The iPad, magazines and advertising: As we expected, lots and lots of people have been ordering iPads since they went on sale — 50,000 in the first two hours and 152,000 in three days, according to estimates. We’re also continuing to get word of news organizations’ and publishers’ plans for apps; this week we heard that the AP will have an app when the iPad rolls out next month, and saw a nifty interactive feature for the digital Viv Mag. (The Guardian has a roundup of other video iPad demos that have come out so far.)

SXSW also had at least three sessions focusing on media companies and the iPad: 1) One on the iPad and the magazine industry focused largely on advertising — here’s a DigitalBeat summary and deeper thoughts by Reuters’ Felix Salmon on why advertising on the iPad could be more immersive and valuable than in print; 2) Another focusing on the iPad and Wired magazine, with Salmon opining on why the iPad is a step backwards in the open-web world; 3) And a third on iPad consumption habits and their effects on various industries.

Reading roundup: One ongoing discussion, two pieces of news and one smart analysis:

The conversation sparked by Netscape co-founder Marc Andreesen’s advice for newspapers to forget the printed paper and go all-in with online news continued this week, with Frederic Filloux noting that “there are alternatives to envisioning the transformation of the print media as only a choice between euthanizing the paper product or putting it on life support.” Steve Yelvington looked at setting up separate print and online divisions (been there, done that, he says), Tim Kastelle spun Andreesen and Google’s Hal Varian off into more thoughtful suggestions for newspapers, and Dorian Benkoil took the opportunity to marvel at how much things have changed for the better.

The first piece of news was Twitter’s launch at SXSW of @anywhere, a simple program that allows other sites to implement some of Twitter’s features. TechCrunch gave a quick overview of what it could do, CNET’s Caroline McCarthy looked at its targeting of Facebook Connect, and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram was unimpressed.

Second, ABC News execs revealed that they’re planning on putting up an online paywall by this summer. The Guardian and paidContent have detailed interviews with ABC News digital chief Paul Slavin.

And finally, newspaper vet Alan Mutter examines the often-heard assertion that small newspapers are weathering the industry’s storm better than their larger counterparts. He nails all the major issues at play for small papers, both the pluses (lack of competition and broadband access, loyal readership) and the minuses (rapidly aging population, some local economies lacking diversity). He ultimately advises small papers to ensure their future success by innovating in order to become indispensable to their communities: “To the degree publishers emphasize short-term profits over long-term engagement, they will damage their franchises — and open the way to low-cost online competitors.”

January 29 2010

15:00
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