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August 02 2012

13:34

The responsibilities and opportunities of the platform

Technology companies and news organizations have a lot to learn from each other about the responsibilities of running platforms.

I have been arguing that news organizations should reimagine and rebuild themselves as platforms for their communities, enabling people to share what they know and adding journalistic value to that. As such, they should study technology companies.

But technology companies also need to learn lessons from news organizations about the perils of violating trust and the need to establish principles to work by. That, of course, is a topic of conversation these days thanks to Twitter’s favoring a sponsor when it killed journalist Guy Adams’ account (later reinstated under pressure) and its abandonment of the developers who made Twitter what it is today.

One question that hangs over this discussion is advertising and whether it is possible to maintain trust when taking sponsors’ dollars — see efforts to start app.net as a user-supported Twitter; see Seth Godin suggesting just that; see, also, discussion about ad-supported NBC ill-serving Olympics fans vs. the viewer-support BBC super-serving them. I have not given up on advertising support because we can’t afford do; without it, my business, news, would implode and we’d all end up with less and more expensive media and services. So we’d better hope companies getting advertiser support learn how to maintain their integrity.

In the discussion on Twitter about Twitter’s failings in the Adams affair, Anil Dash suggested drafting the policy Twitter should adapt. Even I wouldn’t be so presumptuous. But I would like to see a discussion — not just for technology companies but also for media companies and governments and universities of institutions in many shapes — of the responsibilities that come with providing a platform.

For the opportunities and benefits of building that platform are many: Your users will distribute you. Developers will build and improve you. You can reach critical mass quickly and inexpensively. As vertically integrated firms are replaced by ecosystems — platforms, entrepreneurial endeavors, and networks — huge value falls to the platforms. It’s worthwhile being a platform.

But if you lose trust, you lose users, and you lose everything. So that leads to a first principle:

Users come first. A platform without users is nothing. That is why was wrong for Twitter to put a sponsor ahead of users. That is why Twitter is right to fight efforts to hand over data about users to government. That is why newspapers built church/state walls to try to protect their integrity against accusations of sponsor influence. That is why Yahoo was wrong to hand over an email user to Chinese authorities; who in China would ever use it again? Screw your users, screw yourself.

I believe the true mark of a platform is that users take it over and use it in ways the creators never imagined. Twitter didn’t know it would become a platform for communication and news. Craigslist wasn’t designed for disaster relief. That leads to another principle:

A platform is defined by its users. In other words: Hand over control to your users. Give them power. Design in flexibility. That’s not easy for companies to do.

But, of course, it’s not just users who make a platform what it is. It’s developers and other collaborators. In the case of Twitter, developers created the applications that let us use it on our phones and desktops — until Twitter decided it would rather control that. If I were a developer [oh, if only] I’d be gun-shy about building atop such a platform now. Similarly, if a news organization becomes a platform for its community to share information and for others to build atop it, then it has to keep in sight their interests and protect them. So:

Platforms collaborate. Platforms have APIs. They reveal the keys to the kingdom so others can work with them and atop them. Are they open-source? Not necessarily. Though making its underlying platform open is what made WordPress such a success.

In the discussion about Adams and Twitter, some said that Twitter is a business and thus cannot be a platform for free speech. I disagree. It is a platform for speech. And if that speech is not free, then it’s no platform at all. Speech is its business.

When a platform is a business, it becomes all the more important for it to subscribe to principles so it can be relied upon. Of course, the platform needs to make money. It needs to control certain aspects of its product and business. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. But if it keeps shifting that business so users and collaborators feel at risk, then in the long-run, it won’t work as a business.

Platforms need principles.

All this can, of course, be summed up in a single, simple principle: Don’t be evil. That’s why Google has that principle: because it’s good business; because if it is evil, it’s users — we — can call it out quickly and loudly and desert it. As Umair Haque says, when your users can talk about you, the cost of doing evil rises.

There are other behaviors of platforms that aren’t so much principles as virtues.

A good platform is transparent. Black boxes breed distrust.

A good platform enables portability. Knowing I can take my stuff and leave reduces the risk of staying.

A good platform is reliable. Oh, that.

What else?

October 06 2011

13:21

What Would Apple Do?

Here is a snippet from What Would Google Do?
about Apple as the grand exception to every rule I put forth there:

How does Apple do it? How does it get away with operating this way even as every other company and industry is forced to redefine itself? It’s just that good. Its vision is that strong and its products even better. I left Apple once, in the 1990s, before Steve Jobs returned to the company, when I suffered through a string of bad laptops. But when I’d had it with Dell, I returned to Apple and now everyone in my family has a Mac (plus one new Dell); we have three iPhones; we have lots of iPods; I lobbied successfully to make Macs the standard in the journalism school where I teach. I’m a believer, a glassy-eyed cultist. But I didn’t write this book about Apple because I believe it is the grand exception. Frank Sinatra was allowed to violate every rule about phrasing because he was Sinatra. Apple can violate the rules of business in the next millennium because it is Apple (and more important, because Jobs is Jobs).

So then Apple is the ultimate unGoogle. Right?

Not so fast. When I put that notion to Rishad Tobaccowala, he disagreed and said that Apple and Google, at their cores, are quite alike.

“They have a very good idea of what people want,” he said. Jobs’ “taste engine” makes sure of that. Both companies create platforms that others can build upon—whether they are start-ups making iPod cases and iPhone apps or entertainment companies finding new strategies and networks for distribution in iTunes.
Apple, like Google, also knows how to attract, retain, and energize talent. “Apple people believe they are even better than Google people,” he said. “They’re cooler.”

Apple’s products, like Google’s, are designed simply, but Tobaccowala said Apple does Google one better: “They define beauty as sex,” he said.

Apple understands the power of networks. Its successful products are all about connecting. Apple, like Google, keeps its focus unrelentingly on the user, the customer—us—and not on itself and its industry. And I’ll add that, of course, both companies make the best products. They are fanatical about quality.

But Tobaccowala said that what makes these two companies most alike is that—like any great brand—they answer one strong desire: “People want to be like God.” Google search grants omniscience and Google Earth, with its heavenly perch, gives us God’s worldview. Apple packages the world inside objects of Zen beauty. Both, Tobaccowala said, “give me Godlike power.” WWGD? indeed.

May 18 2011

13:21

Why do we need a postal service?

Do we need a Post Office? That is the question I will be asking when I keynote and moderate PostalVision 2020, a one-day conference in Washington on June 15 along with Google’s Vint Cerf and other players and experts from the industry.

The answer to this question is probably yes. But I don’t think it should be answered until we reconsider the delivery industry from the ground up, seeing what is no longer needed and what the market can provide in the digital age.

My involvement with this project came through a side door. John Callan, who organized it, is a respected consultant and veteran in the industry. He read What Would Google Do? and, I’m glad to say, thought it had lessons for his industry. He came to the book because, at another conference, he heard the head of the UK’s Royal Mail ask the question, “What would Google do if it ran the Post Office?” Ruth Goldway, head of the US Postal Regulatory Commission, answered that she thought Google would give everyone a computer and printer (eliminating the cost of delivering now-obsolete correspondence). Callan thought Goldway had read my book. She hadn’t. But he did. So he contacted me; I was intrigued with the speculation, and we’ve been collaborating since.

Since then, I’ve worked with Callan and company on a project for the USPS Office of the Inspector General. And now I’m honored to be part of the event Callan has called in Washington to ask the big strategic questions about the fate of the Postal Service and the industry.

Who should attend? Obviously people in the delivery industry. So should its customers: retailers that ship directly to customers, Amazon, banks, lawyers, and media companies—including advertising agencies and their clients. Companies that are disrupting the industry should be there. That includes, for example, Facebook, which believes it is redefining and replacing the idea of mail; Google; email companies; new transactional and billing companies; telecoms whose bandwidth replaces trucks; even online media and digital agencies (who should understand what would happen if media and advertising become too expensive to deliver by mail). Entrepreneurs who find opportunity in the disruption of the industry should be there, of course. This includes companies that are rethinking such activities as paying bills and merchandising. Plus, of course, government officials and regulators will need to be there.

I intend to set the tone by proposing some obvious but difficult trends (like these for media), starting with this rule: If it can be digital, it will be digital. Anything that can be delivered by bits will have to be because that costs essentially nothing. That will continue to kill first-class mail and as it declines, its subsidy to the rest of the system disappears, which will raise both prices for customers and losses for the USPS. That trend is already accelerating. The USPS’ loss reached $2.6 billion in the first quarter alone, up from $1.9 billion the year before and volume of first-class mail fell by more than 7%. The USPS says it will be insolvent by September.

This is urgent.

Just as I tell newspapers they need to imagine turning off their presses so they discover where their real value lies, I am saying that the delivery industry has to imagine building itself over because it can and must. Or entrepreneurs will. There are countless new efficiencies to take advantage of. We can’t afford not to.

Do we still need the Postal Service’s guarantee of universal delivery? Likely yes, but it’s worth asking whether that obligation to get deliveries to remote outposts should be carried out with offices and trucks owned by the government or through subsidies to private industry. Does the Postal Service have a role to play in and identity (could it be a guarantor?) and security (our mail is protected from warrantless spying but our email so far is not). What are the principles and rights to privacy and security that should govern even private and electronic delivery? What impact does all this have on broadband policy?

There is much to discuss. This is a starting point, to identify the issues, needs, and opportunities and start the discussion around them. I’ve found the challenge fascinating, more than I’d ever have guessed.

If you are remotely connected with delivering messages, transactions, and goods; if you are the disrupted or the disruptor; if you see the opportunity to invest in the arena, I hope you’ll come.

November 30 2010

14:30

Lock up the kids, here comes the EU

If you want a sign that Google is past its prime, you got it today: The EU is investigating it for antitrust.

Remember Microsoft: The EU took 11 years investigating it — during which time, the web was born — and by the time it finished in 2004 and brought its mighty hand down upon the mighty Microsoft, the market had already done the job, thank you. Microsoft was a has-been, a joke as a monoplist, a laggard legacy company left behind by new technology, a threat to no one but itself.

Now the EU is going after Google. No surprise. One thing that has surprised me lately is the anti-Googlism (read: anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism) I’ve seen reflected in the nasty rhetoric over Google’s Street View. In my trips to Germany and talks there, I regularly heard that Google is too big (can someone please send me to the statute that defines big and thus too big?) — not too big to fail but too big to live in Europe. I’ve also heard people say they don’t want Google making money on them (but it’s OK for the corner store or the local newspaper to?).

Now the crows come home to roost with this EU investigation. But as Danny Sullivan argues in a wonderfully smart-assed and logical post, the EU is going after this search engine for acting like a search engine. When he searches for cars, Google has the audacity not to point to other search engines. It points to car sites! Bad Google, Bad.

And what if Google does point to its own businesses: YouTube, shopping comparison, Gmail, whatever. That’s business. Yahoo points to Yahoo; I’ve sat in meeting with them back in the early days of the web when they bragged about how they could point their “firehose” at their own stuff. The New York Times points to The New York Times. Microsoft links to Microsoft. So?

Remember that it was Google that created the ethic of search results untainted by business. Its model before that was GoTo/Overture, which *sold* search position. Analysts thought they were nuts — Commies, maybe — when Google decided *not* to tell search position out of some strange sense of ethics.

So now the EU wants to take Google’s own standard and interpret it against Google? Where the hell does this?

Last night, someone said to me something I also hear a lot: that search is a utility and utilities need to be regulated. Europeans reflexively regulate.

But Google isn’t a utility. There are plenty of other, competitive search engines. The fact that Google has 90+% penetration in Europe is the choice of the market, nothing Google did through unfair advantage.

And — shades of the Microsoft case — Google is being challenged now by other means of discovery: namely us sharing links through social means. Google is no longer the all-powerful Oz of the internet. The EU’s timing is impecable.

Now there is one arena in which Google does have much power: advertising. It’s not as effective to market on Bing as it is on Google. And I’ve said before — just yesterday — that I think Google would be wise to establish a Constitution and Bill of Rights and channel of appeal of its decision on advertisers so it cannot be accused of manipulating things behind the scenes through its sole power.

In that sense, Google is not a utility. It is law. And laws require principles and means of appeal. That’s what I said yesterday and what I’ll argue again in this case. Google would be wise to be more transparent about its advertising rules and decisions (not its algorithms but its judgments) and open up that process to trusted outsiders. Google needs a court.

But now the EU is looking to take them to court. Oh, boy.

November 28 2010

15:10

What should Google do?

Twitter was abuzz last night with links to the David Segal’s amazing NYTimes yarn of a bad internet actor who says he uses — and eggs on — customer complaints to get more links and mentions online, thus more Googlejuice, thus more business.

The Times didn’t go the next step to ask what Google should do about this. And Google didn’t help itself by dispatching only an unnamed spokesperson who then, Segal complains, didn’t send a followup email. Google would have been much wiser to have hooked Segal up with Matt Cutts, the company’s wizard in the game of bad-guy whack-a-mole, to discuss the options and implications.

It’s not as simple as it seems, for Google and its algorithms are now a set of laws of the web and if you intervene in one way, you may trigger the law of unintended consequences in another.

What if Google sensed the positive or negative sentiment in links and used that to guide its placement in search, as some suggested? Makes sense in the case of bad-guy Borker and his virtual eyeglass store. But as someone pointed out on Twitter last night, if Google did let sentiment affect rank, then what would it do with the negative links regarding Barack Obama or Sarah Palin, to Islam or GM? How would you write that law, remembering that the code is the law?

What if instead Google intervened in a case such as this and, seeing all the complaints, manually downgraded the guy in search? The first problem with that is scale: how do you find and investigate all the bad guys? The bigger problem is whether we want Google to be the cop of the world. Google has been sued by companies it decreed were link-bating spammer sites, downgrading them in search, while the sites said they were legitimate directories. This is the one case in which Google holds the power of God in a market and it’s a dangerous position to be in.

I have suggested before that Google should set up a jury of peers to adjudicate such cases. I didn’t use the verb “crowdsource,” for crowds can be gamed, as Mr. Borker amply demonstrates. But a trusted (cue Craig Newmark) jury could give Google distance from the decision. I say peers — fellow business people — because in cases such as this, their interests and those of Google and us, the users, are aligned: We don’t want bad guys to game search. Google, especially, wants to — in Cutts’ words — find more signals of quality and originality so its results are of higher quality and relevance.

What I’m really saying is that as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other private players come to be the law of the land on the internet, they need to start acting like public players with Constitutions and Bills of Rights and the means of enforcement and adjudication with due process. I’ll be exploring this notion in Public Parts.

In the end, Segal’s story looks like a failure of search, Google, and the internet. The internet made it possible for a bad guy to win. Well, so does Wall Street.

But I don’t think this was Google’s failure (cue fan-boy accusations). The moral of the story should be that if you search Google for the name of Borker’s company, you see plenty of loud complaints in the results. The internet doesn’t nullify the First Law of Commerce: caveat emptor. When I had my now-legendary problems with Dell, I kicked myself for not doing a search of “dell sucks” before buying my computer. That’s my responsibility as a shopper. And, as I pointed out at the time, Google would have given me the information I needed. Ditto for the lady in Segal’s story. If I think of buying from a new vendor, I’ve learned my lesson: I search Google first because fellow customers, using Google, will help protect me.

That is the lesson The Times should have given its readers: Use Google to guard against those who would use Google.

P.S. In fairness to Dell, I should add that we made up and it became a leader in social media. I figure everybody who comes here knows how that story ended, but in case not….

August 05 2010

12:57

Evil?

The report that Google is making a devil’s pact with Verizon for tiered internet service is disturbing because I wonder whether people inside Google are still asking that vital question: “Is this evil?” I wonder whether Google is still Google.

I don’t mean to come off like a high priest of the net neutrality church. But if ISPs like Verizon can charge tiered pricing for quality (vs. unquality?) service, then it’s the consumers who’ll get screwed because costs will be passed onto us. ISPs (like newspapers) want added revenue streams but those streams always end up at our feet. But we know that.

What also concerns me is that creators will get screwed, too. Only the big guys will be able to afford to pay ISPs for top-tier service and so we return to the media oligarchy that — O, irony — YouTube and Google broke apart. Google, I fear, is gravitating back to the big-media side because it wants those brands on YouTube so it can get their advertisers on YouTube because those advertisers are still too stupid to see where the customers really are. And then we’re back to a world of big-media control over what we get to see. It was the millions of little guys — people who made their own videos, people who embedded videos — who made YouTube YouTube.

But that’s short-sighted strategizing, I think — I hope — because fragmentation is infinite; blockbusters will get ever-harder and ever-more-expensive to create; advertising will catch up with reality, the real world, and customers and (unless the Wall Street Journal ruins it) become far more targeted and relevant; advertising will also start to fade away; the mass market will shrink.

But this is a last-gasp attempt to hold onto mass-market economics (vs. open market scale). [Craig Roth in the comments makes the critical point that the story I linked to is supposition rather than announcement, a caveat I certainly should have delivered. As I said in response to him, I thought this was worth discussing before it was fait accompli in the hopes that it won't be.]

It’s an uncomfortable moment for a Google fan boy. This report comes at the same time that Google killed Wave. Now Wave has had its detractors who are now cackling, but it’s not the specific platform that concerns me. It’s that Google can’t figure out how to launch new platforms. Wave was a bust. Buzz was a bust. Knol was a bust. Orkut was mostly a bust. Brilliant people like Gina Trapani hung their hats on these platforms; she wrote the book on Wave and others started developing it and now the rug’s pulled out from under them because Google didn’t support their development, which is what would have made Wave a success. Evil or merely rude?

The reason these efforts were busts is because Google didn’t think them through, didn’t have the corporate discipline to find and execute on clear-eyed strategy. I’m all for beta — I learned that lesson from Google — but you can’t just spend your life throwing shit against the wall to see what sticks. Eventually, you’re knee-deep in shit. But you can do that for a long time — if you have lots of money. A poor startup uses betas to learn precious lessons because they can’t afford to fail. This rich company is using betas, I fear, rather than making hard decisions up front — because it can afford to. So Wave may have ended up dead anyway but if it were run by entrepreneurs it would have struggled long and hard before taking its last breath.

I worry that Google isn’t an entrepreneurial company anymore. It didn’t start those platforms under the hard economics of entrepreneurship. And it hasn’t nurtured some outside entrepreneurs well. If it did, Dodgeball would be Foursquare today.

My real fear then is that Google is too big. I certainly don’t mean that in the way that EU regulators do: “so big we have to rule it.” Uh-uh. No, I mean it may be too big for its own good. Too big for the right hand to find the left hand and have coherent strategies for operating systems (Android v. Chrome) and applications (Docs v. Wave). So big that it starts to identify with other big guys (ISPs and Hollywood entertainment conglomerates). Big is a fine thing when it brings critical mass and the freedom to innovate. As Eric Schmidt himself says, lack of innovation can kill a tech company. So can bad innovation — fat innovation.

I’ve never bought the arguments that Google is a one-trick pony. Honda is a one-trick pony; it makes cars. That’s not Google’s problem. Its problem is that everything it faces is new and it can’t ever afford the luxury of leaning back on old lessons and old relationships. So what does it hold onto on that rapids ride? It has to hold onto its mission — organize the world’s information, etc. — and its evolving definition of evil so it doesn’t stray. It also needs to find the organizational structure — the firm-jawed management — to force different teams with different agendas to work to shared goals and to hold them to entrepreneurial discipline.

All of these are just early warning signs — every early. It’s good — for Google and also for a fan boy like me — to see these cracks because, used properly, they are lessons that help a company get back on its track and shade its eyes from the bright glare of hubris. But only if they ask the really hard questions. Like, is that evil?

: MORE: On a different thread, I also want to note that I think the way this devils’ deal works out is that it will give the FCC and possibly even the FTC and Congress the rope they need to hang ISPs on net neutrality. Is that Google’s really evil plan? It doesn’t like regulation but wants it in this case and so it’s creating the invitation for it? Naw As I said, I’m not a conspiracy theorist. In any case, I do think that such a deal will invite regulation.

: I won’t cry for ISPs. I was at a meeting of cable ISPs some years ago when they were all cackling about their margins exceeding 40%. They ain’t hurting. The solution to all this remains competition. Remember that Google’s founders entered the big spectrum auction a few years ago to force neutrality and they want broadcast white spaces opened up to become “wi-fi on steroids” and thus competition for broadband providers.

: ALSO: I want credit for not making a WWGD? gag. I leave that to Twitter. But it may, indeed soon be time for a sequel (or update).

June 28 2010

15:52

There is no hot news. All news is hot news.

The most dangerous defensive tactic parried by legacy news organizations today is their attempt to claim ownership of “hot news” and prevent others from repeating what they gather at their expense for as long as they determine that news is still hot. It is a threat to free speech and the First Amendment and our doctrines of copyright and fair use. It is a threat to news.

The old companies — NY Times, Advance, Gannett, Belo, McClatchy, Scripps, AFP, AP, Washington Post, et al — are lining up against the new companies — Google and Twitter — on hot news as they file briefs in the TheFlyOnTheWall.com case. I’ve just read both briefs and will give you highlights in a moment.

Hot news also makes an ominous appearance in the Federal Trade Commission’s thinking about rescuing legacy news companies as it proposes a constitutionally abhorrent doctrine of “proprietary facts.” And hot news is a factor in the dissemination of Rolling Stone’s story about Gen. Stanley McChrystal, which the Times’ David Carr writes about today, scolding Time and Politico for reproducing the story because RS hadn’t (and because it was so hot).

Hot news refers to a 1918 case, INS v. AP, in which one wire service — barred from transmitting news from Britain in the war — rewrote the others’ news for its clients three time zones away. It was cited in the Fly case, in which brokers — Barclays, Merrill, Morgan Stanley, et al — complained that the web site repeated its analysts’ recommendations. Now news companies want to use hot news to restrict aggregators and others; Google and Twitter are trying to cut them off at the pass.

Hot news is ridiculously obsolete. What’s hot today? As Tom Glocer, head of Thomson Reuters, said, his news is most valuable for “miliseconds.” Hot news limitations should be repellant to journalists, even desperate ones, because every journalist builds on the facts revealed by others. It should further be repugnant to them as it constitutes a form of court-supervised prior restraint. Hot news restrictions would be suicidal to news organizations — even though they foolishly think it would protect them — because it would restrict everyone’s ability to spread the news via links and send journalists audience. Hot news should worry every citizen because the free flow of information is vital to a democracy.

The architecture of news and media — how it is gathered and shared — has changed utterly since 1918 … and 1998. That’s what makes the Rolling Stone story instructive. McChrystal’s quotes leaked and spread instantly, having significant and instant impact on news and the affairs of state. The fact of the quotes was hot news indeed. As I asked four days ago, under hot news, would the magazine have been able to prevent others from repeating these facts? Ridiculous, no? Because Rolling Stone did not publish its own story online and because it was so hot, Politico and Time published PDFs of it — even though Time is a party to the Fly brief — which Carr perhaps rightly scolds them for. But maybe he should also scold Rolling Stone for not recognizing the importance of its news and recognizing the opportunity in sharing it. Once Rolling Stone did put the story on the web, the other publications linked to it. The link economy works when given a chance. So does the First Amendment.

“Once facts are made public,” says the Google-Twitter brief, “they belong to the public.” Once McChrystal’s quotes were known, they were part of the democratic dialog. To restrict us — anyone — from repeating them is to steal from the public. (That is a key argument in my next book.) “The reporting of truthful information,” says the brief, “is one of the most protected forms of speech under the Constitution…” These parties aren’t just fighting about old and new media. They are fighting about the nature and value of the public sphere.

The two briefs illuminate the worldviews of the two camps all too clearly. The legacy companies’ brief argues that hot news is “necessary to protect the news industry’s incentive to gather and report news….” It complains about “free riders” who may repeat their news at lower cost. “One of the greatest concerns among news originators,” they say, “is inexpensive technology that allows easy aggregation of news.” The legacy companies nowhere even acknowledge the economic value of links to their news.

The news companies complain about newspapers going bankrupt, not acknowledging that fate came as the result of high debt and mismanagement. They even have the balls to whine that news is a “low-margin business under economic pressure” (though not long ago, it was a high-margin monopoly). They say they are not going after occasional use of others’ facts — since they all do it — but instead the “systematic” (read: computerized) gathering of their news. They do not acknowledge the tools — robots.txt — that allow them to cut off aggregators. It’s an intellectually disappointing, morally weaselly attempt to get anticompetitive aid from the courts while blithely ignoring the profound constitutional implications for news and the democracy.

The Google-Twitter brief issues many calls to the importance of free speech and news in a democracy that only a few years ago the news organizations would have been saluting. It cites a 1991 case, Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service, in which the court said that “[t]he first person to find and report a particular fact has not created the fact; he or she has merely discovered its existence.” Thus even competitors “remain free to use the facts contained in another’s publication to aid in preparing a competing work.” Says the brief: “Central to Feist is the rejection of the notion that ’sweat of the brow’ can itself create intellectual property rights. ‘The primary objective of copyright is not to reward the labor of authors but to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.”‘” Hot news, they argue, “attempts an end-run around the Copyright Clause.”

Google-Twitter remind the court that news organizations all use each others’ facts: TV stations repeat newspapers’ reporting without attribution and now newspapers do the same to TV. Indeed, the brief says Feist establishes that “the freedom to use facts — even to “free-ride” on facts gathered by others through great effort — is constitutionally protected. Friend Spencer Reiss just told me how he moved mountains to cover Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in time for a hard Newsweek deadline only to find that his editors in New York got what they needed from TV. That is our news ecosystem; it’s not new, only bigger and faster.

“In a world of modern communications technology,” the Google-Twitter brief says, “where anyone with a cell phone may disseminate news throughout the world even as it is occurring, the notion that a single media outlet should have a monopoly on time-sensitive facts is not only contrary to law, it is, as a practical matter, futile.” They worry that news organizations would pay sources not to cooperate with competitors and that judges would become “super-editors” determining the hot time period of, in their example, news about the Times Square bombing.

Worse, even the fear of litigation would “chill the lawful dissemination of important news by fostering uncertainty among news outlets as to how long they must ’sit’ on a story before they are free of a potential ‘hot news’ claim.” During last week’s damaging storms in the New York area, I saw a Long Islander complain that by keeping its news behind a wall, Newsday was ill-serving the safety of its community. Says Google-Twitter: “Breaking news may involve a threat to public health or security, but the district court’s opinion, if affirmed, would stifle the dissemination of such crucial facts — a particularly dangerous outcome in circumstances where the time-sensitive nature of the event is the precise reason why the facts should be widely disseminated as quickly as possible.” If Newsday has a better forecast than a competitor, could it keep the fact of a warning of danger to itself?

In the U.S. and Europe, news organizations are trying to extend copyright and limit fair use but the Google-Twitter brief is eloquent in objection. “Under Feist, this Court has repeatedly confirmed that facts must remain in the public domain, free from any restraint or encumbrance.” It quotes another case: “[A]ll facts — scientific, historical biographical, and news of the day … may not be copyrighted and are part of the public domain available to every person.” Another: “[R]aw facts may be copied at will. This result is neither unfair nor unfortunate. It is the means by which copyright advances the progress of science and art.” Another: “[A]llowing the first publisher to prevent others from copying such information would defeat the objectives of copyright by impeding rather than advancing the progress of knowledge.” Do news organizations truly want to oppose the progress of knowledge?

Says the Google-Twitter brief: “The modern ubiquity of multiple news platforms renders ‘hot news’ misappropriation an anachronism, aimed at muzzling all but the most powerful media companies. In a world of citizen journalists and commentators, online news organizations, and broadcasters who compete 24 hours a day, news can no longer be contained for any meaningful amount of time.” This fight sn’t just about a few huge companies. This fight is about our rights.

May 11 2010

15:45

Finally, good news for Google

James Fallows writes an important cover story for The Atlantic on how Google wants to help save the news. It doesn’t break a single new nugget of news. It’s the piece’s attitude that makes it must reading for everyone in the news business, in the U.S. and even moreso in Europe.

Google is not the enemy. But don’t take my word for it if you don’t want to. Take Fallows’.

Fallows, who has been admirably forward-thinking and curious in his coverage of technology and media (see his test of Bing v. Google, for example), comes at the question of Google’s relationship to news as neither enemy nor fanboy. He simply wants to understand what Google’s attitude is toward the news and then what the company is doing to back up its expressed sentiments about helping save (or I’d prefer to say, advance) news. He writes:

Everyone knows that Google is killing the news business. Few people know how hard Google is trying to bring it back to life, or why the company now considers journalism’s survival crucial to its own prospects…. But after talking during the past year with engineers and strategists at Google and recently interviewing some of their counterparts inside the news industry, I am convinced that there is a larger vision for news coming out of Google; that it is not simply a charity effort to buy off critics; and that it has been pushed hard enough by people at the top of the company, especially Schmidt, to become an internalized part of the culture in what is arguably the world’s most important media organization. Google’s initiatives do not constitute a complete or easy plan for the next phase of serious journalism. But they are more promising than what I’m used to seeing elsewhere, notably in the steady stream of “Crisis of the Press”–style reports.

Fallows says that the three pillars of a new online business model for news, in Google’s view, are “distribution, engagement, and monetization.” My equivalents are the conveniently alliterative engagement (for the public), effectiveness (for advertisers), and efficiency (in the operation). That is to say, Google doesn’t touch — nor should it want or need to — the fourth and vital leg to sustainable business models for news: cost. That’s what will make it easier to get Politico’s local product, TBD.com, to profitability more easily than the competitive Washington Post can stay there. That’s why I am looking more at the entrepreneurial than institutional future of news. That’s why I think this quest Google and others are on is about more than saving newspapers and more than saving news; it’s about finding new opportunities. But nevermind that.

What Fallows finds inside Google is people who care about news, who are working to try to create new forms for news and structures for the companies that produce it, who are indeed making it a priority. He finds people who want to work together. I say news companies are fools not to at least listen.

April 02 2010

12:41

Mobile=local

At the Brite conference, I talked about mobile coming to be synonymous with local. Here are a few paragraphs I wrote on the topic for an essay in a German book about the future of the net:

The biggest battlefield is local and mobile (I combine them because soon, local will mean simply wherever you are now). That’s why Google is in the phone business and the mapping business and why it is working hard to let us search by speaking or even by taking pictures so we don’t have to type while walking or driving.

The winner in local will be the one that knows more about what’s around me right now. Using my smartphone’s GPS and maps—or using Google Googles to simply take a picture of, say, a club on the corner—I can ask the web what it knows about that place. Are any of my friends there now? (Foursquare or Gowalla or soon Facebook and Twitter and Google Buzz could tell me.) Do my friends like the place? (Facebook and Yelp have the answer.) Show me pictures and video from inside (that’s just geo-tagged content from Flickr and YouTube). Show me government data on the place (any health violations or arrests? Everyblock has that). What band is playing there tonight? Let me hear them. Let me buy their music. What’s on the menu? What’s the most popular dish? Give me coupons and bargains. OK, now I’ll tell my friends (on Twitter and Facebook) that I’m there and they’ll follow. This scenario—more than a newspaper story—will define local.

To do all this, Google—or the next Google—needs two things: First, it needs more data; it needs us to annotate the world with information (if Google can’t find this data elsewhere on the web, it will create the means for us to generate it). Second, Google needs to know more about us—it needs more signals such as location, usage history, and social networks—so it can make its services more relevant to us.

March 23 2010

12:33

Post-postal

Imagine an America in which everyone has an internet connection, a device to use it, and a printer.

Ruth Goldway, the chairman of the U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission, imagined such a world when the head of the U.K.’s Royal Mail International asked at an industry conference a year ago what Google would do with the Postal Service. Goldway (who hadn’t read my book) replied, “They’d give every household a computer and a printer.” (And I’d add, of course, a broadband connection.)

Goldway was just speculating. As someone who believes in the Postal Service’s universal service obligation, it makes sense that she’d wonder about universal connectivity.

Now — as is my habit — I’ll take it farther — too far — and ask: When we all are connected, do we need a Postal Service? Or what kind of Postal Service do we need? What still needs to be delivered? What are the economics of that delivery — who’s being served and who should pay? Do we still need daily (let alone Saturday) delivery? Do we need to guarantee physical delivery to every address in America? How much could we save? Can the market take over delivery of things while the net takes over delivery of information and communication? What’s the impact on publishing and advertising, on retail, on education?

These are fascinating questions I’ve been tossing back and forth with a new friend, John Callan, a high-level consultant in the delivery industry. He did read my book (and gave Goldway a copy) and came to visit me to talk about the post office in the Google age. Callan, his colleagues, and I are thinking of holding an event to explore these questions and opportunities.

The Postal Service is forecast to lose $7.8 billion in 2010. A USPS presentation here reveals the dynamics: a 17% decline in volume from ‘06-’09; a forecast 37% drop in first class ‘09-’20. With its universal service obligation, the USPS has to deliver to 150 million addresses a day. With its post offices, it has 36,500 retail locations, more than McDonald’s, Starbucks, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart in the U.S. combined — and it’s not allowed to close offices for economic reasons. Its retiree health benefits alone cost $5 billion a year. Dropping Saturday delivery, as has been proposed, would save $3 billion a year — but that doesn’t solve the problem. Federal Times says the USPS is “officially in a panic” (not a bad thing, I’d say) because it could lose $250 billion in a decade.

The US Postal Service as we know it is, in a word, like much of the rest of the economy disrupted (or, if you prefer, doomed). I think it’s time to ask the radical question: Do we need it?

If all of us are connected, we don’t need the USPS to deliver letters; email is precisely the reason that first class mail is already plummeting. We consumers are, in my view, subsidizing the delivery of advertising because 71% of the USPS margin available to cover its costs comes from first class, only 21% from advertising. Yet in 2009, the USPS delivered an equivalent number of ads vs letters and by 2020 it will deliver far more ads (86 billion ads vs. 53 billion letters, according to the USPS projection). Should an ad-delivery service be the province of a government-anointed entity? I don’t think so.

So let’s zero-base the Postal Services’ services: Once more, information and communication can be handled electronically. Commercial delivery should be handled commercially. There will be an increase in parcel delivery as more and more retail moves online; that’s a profitable business the market should take over. Junk mail should pay full freight — if it is still delivered once mobile becomes a better, more targeted, and more efficient delivery mechanism for coupons and such (and if do-not-mail lists threaten to cut their volume). Magazines? Sorry, but I don’t really want to subsidize their businesses — and besides, tablet triumphalists insist we’ll be using iPads before you know it. Do we need six-day-a-week delivery to every one of 150 million addresses in America then? No; delivery of things is made on an as-ordered basis. What about out-of-the-way addresses (see: Sarah Palin)? Maybe that requires some subsidy, but that would be minimal.

What about the post offices? The USPS presentation shows far lower costs if these services were run through partners (e.g., other retailers), online, and self-service machines.

What about delivery of government paperwork? Well, it’s ludicrous that we’re not given the option to fill out the census online. We are shifting our taxes online.

Mind you, I have nothing against mailmen anymore than I have anything against pressmen. It’s just that they work in antiquated industrial structures and we can find not only efficiency but improvement of service thanks to digital — if we are all connected.

That is why I wish the FCC broadband plan went farther faster (as is happening elsewhere in the world), assuring everyone a high-speed connection quickly. This examination of the Postal Service is just one example of the impact universal connectivity would have on the economy. Some of that impact is painful — lost jobs, severance cost, unused real estate, mothballed trucks. But much of that impact is positive — improved service, reduced costs, reduced environmental impact, new opportunities, new entrepreneurship, new innovation. New companies would emerge to take up the opportunities this change presents, creating new jobs and value.

That’s why I was so impressed with Chairman Goldway’s answer to the WWGD? question: Rather than trying to paddle against the flood, she was at least willing to at least wonder about going with the flow.

I’ll ask: What happens if we spend capital not on money-losing, dying institutions (repeat: $250 billion losses over a decade) but on subsidies to get every American connected? If we fully examine the opportunities that presents, it could have a profound impact on policy, budgeting, and many sectors ofsociety. Let’s model that impact on the economy.

So Callan and company and I would like to get together both incumbents and entrepreneurs to imagine the near-future world of delivery after digital ubiquity. I’d like to continue the discussion with other sectors: newspapers and media, obviously, but also education (how would it change if every child were connected and equipped?); retail; real estate (what happens when all that retail leaves its brick-and-mortar stores?); financial services (why the hell are banks still building branches?); government; and on and on. That is what should inform the policy debate over broadband policy: Let’s map out all the opportunities — for entrepreneurial innovation and growth, for savings, for improvements in life, for export value — and let that inform the resources and speed we put into universal broadband.

What do you think?

March 08 2010

12:50

TEDxNYed: This is bullshit

Here are my notes for my talk to the TEDxNYed gathering this past weekend. I used the opportunity of a TED event to question the TED format, especially in relation to education, where — as in media — we must move past the one-way lecture to collaboration. I feared I’d get tomatoes — organic — thrown at me at the first line, but I got laugh and so everything we OK from there. The video won’t be up for a week or two so I’ll share my notes. It’s not word-for-word what I delivered, but it’s close….

* * *

This is bullshit.

Why should you be sitting there listening to me? To paraphrase Dan Gillmor, you know more than I do. Will Richardson should be up here instead of me. And to paraphrase Jay Rosen, you should be the people formerly known as the audience.

But right now, you’re the audience and I’m lecturing.

That’s bullshit.

What does this remind of us of? The classroom, of course, and the entire structure of an educational system built for the industrial age, turning out students all the same, convincing them that there is one right answer — and that answer springs from the lecturn. If they veer from it they’re wrong; they fail.

What else does this remind us of? Media, old media: one-way, one-size-fits-all. The public doesn’t decide what’s news and what’s right. The journalist-as-speaker does.

But we must question this very form. We must enable students to question the form.

I, too, like lots of TED talks. But having said that….

During the latest meeting of Mothership TED, I tweeted that I didn’t think I had ever seen any TEDster tweet anything negative about a talk given there, so enthralled are they all for being there, I suppose. I asked whether they were given soma in their shwag bags.

But then, blessed irony, a disparaging tweet came from none other than TED’s curator, dean, editor, boss, Chris Anderson. Sarah Silverman had said something that caused such a kerfuffle Anderson apologized and then apologized for the apology, so flummoxed was he by someone coming into the ivory tower of TED to shake things up with words.

When I tweeted about this, trying to find out what Silverman had said, and daring to question the adoration TEDsters have for TED, one of its acolytes complained about my questioning the wonders of TED. She explained that TED gave her “validation.”

Validation.

Good God, that’s the last thing we should want. We should want questions, challenges, discussion, debate, collaboration, quests for understanding and solutions. Has the internet taught us any less?

But that is what education and media do: they validate.

They also repeat. In news, I have argued that we can no longer afford to repeat the commodified news the public already knows because we want to tell the story under our byline, exuding our ego; we must, instead, add unique value.

The same can be said of the academic lecture. Does it still make sense for countless teachers to rewrite the same essential lecture about, say, capillary action? Used to be, they had to. But not now, not since open curricula and YouTube. Just as journalists must become more curator than creator, so must educators.

A few years ago, I had this conversation with Bob Kerrey at the New School. He asked what he could do to compete with brilliant lectures now online at MIT. I said don’t complete, complement. I imagined a virtual Oxford based on a system of lecturers and tutors. Maybe the New School should curate the best lectures on capillary action from MIT and Stanford or a brilliant teacher who explains it well even if not from a big-school brand; that could be anyone in YouTube U. And then the New School adds value by tutoring: explaining, answering, probing, enabling.

The lecture does have its place to impart knowledge and get us to a shared starting point. But it’s not the be-all-and-end-all of education – or journalism. Now the shared lecture is a way to find efficiency in ending repetition, to make the best use of the precious teaching resource we have, to highlight and support the best. I’ll give the same advice to the academy that I give to news media: Do what you do best and link to the rest.

I still haven’t moved past the lecture and teacher as starting point. I also think we must make the students the starting point.

At a Carnegie event at the Paley Center a few weeks ago, I moderated a panel on teaching entrepreneurial journalism and it was only at the end of the session that I realized what I should have done: start with the room, not the stage. I asked the students in the room what they wished their schools were teaching them. It was a great list: practical yet visionary.

I tell media that they must become collaborative, because the public knows much, because people want to create, not just consume, because collaboration is a way to expand news, because it is a way to save expenses. I argue that news is a process, not a product. Indeed, I say that communities can now share information freely – the marginal cost of their news is zero. We in journalism should ask where we can add value. But note that that in this new ecosystem, the news doesn’t start with us. It starts with the community.

I’ve been telling companies that they need to move customers up the design chain. On a plane this week, I sat next to a manufacturer of briefcases last week and asked whether, say, TechCrunch could get road warriors to design the ultimate laptop bag for them, would he build it? Of course, he would.

So we need to move students up the education chain. They don’t always know what they need to know, but why don’t we start by finding out? Instead of giving tests to find out what they’ve learned, we should test to find out what they don’t know. Their wrong answers aren’t failures, they are needs and opportunities.

But the problem is that we start at the end, at what we think students should learn, prescribing and preordaining the outcome: We have the list of right answers. We tell them our answers before they’ve asked the questions. We drill them and test them and tell them they’ve failed if they don’t regurgitate back our lectures as lessons learned. That is a system built for the industrial age, for the assembly line, stamping out everything the same: students as widgets, all the same.

But we are no longer in the industrial age. We are in the Google age. Hear Jonathan Rosenberg, Google’s head of product management, who advised students in a blog post. Google, he said, is looking for “non-routine problem-solving skills.” The routine way to solve the problem of misspelling is, of course, the dictionary. The non-routine way is to listen to all the mistake and corrections we make and feed that back to us in the miraculous, “Did you mean?”

“In the real world,” he said, “the tests are all open book, and your success is inexorably determined by the lessons you glean from the free market.”

One more from him: “It’s easy to educate for the routine, and hard to educate for the novel.” Google sprung from seeing the novel. Is our educational system preparing students to work for or create Googles? Googles don’t come from lectures.

So if not the lecture hall, what’s the model? I mentioned one: the distributed Oxford: lectures here, teaching there.

Once you’re distributed, then one has to ask, why have a university? Why have a school? Why have a newspaper? Why have a place or a thing? Perhaps, like a new news organization, the tasks shift from creating and controlling content and managing scarcity to curating people and content and enabling an abundance of students and teachers and of knowledge: a world whether anyone can teach and everyone will learn. We must stop selling scarce chairs in lecture halls and thinking that is our value.

We must stop our culture of standardized testing and standardized teaching. Fuck the SATs.* In the Google age, what is the point of teaching memorization?

We must stop looking at education as a product – in which we turn out every student giving the same answer – to a process, in which every student looks for new answers. Life is a beta.

Why shouldn’t every university – every school – copy Google’s 20% rule, encouraging and enabling creation and experimentation, every student expected to make a book or an opera or an algorithm or a company. Rather than showing our diplomas, shouldn’t we show our portfolios of work as a far better expression of our thinking and capability? The school becomes not a factory but an incubator.

There’s another model for an alternative to the lecture and it’s Dave Winer’s view of the unconference. At the first Bloggercon, Dave had me running a panel on politics and when I said something about “my panel,” he jumped down my throat, as only Dave can. “There is no panel,” he decreed. “The room is the panel.” Ding. It was in the moment that I learned to moderate events, including those in my classroom, by drawing out the conversation and knowledge of the wise crowd in the room.

So you might ask why I didn’t do that here today. I could blame the form; didn’t want to break the form. But we all know there’s another reason:

Ego.

* That was an ad-lib

February 13 2010

19:30

Buzz: A beta too soon

As soon as Buzz was announced — before I could try it — I tried to intuit its goals and I found profound opportunities.

Now that I’ve tried it, reality and opportunity a fer piece apart. It’s awkward. I’d thought that I had wanted Twitter to be threaded but I was wrong; the simplest point quickly passes into an overdose of add-ons. Worse, Google didn’t think through critical issues of privacy — and it only gets worse (via danah boyd). I won’t go as far as Steve Rubel and some others, who instantly declared Buzz DOA; there is the essence of something important here (which I think will come out in mobile more than the web). But there’s no question: Buzz has kinks.

I was going to use that line in the headline — that Buzz is a beta too soon — but the irony is that Buzz is the one product Google did not release as a beta. Big mistake, I think.

In fact, even if Buzz had been released as a beta to a small audience, I’m not sure all the problems would have surfaced because it takes a lot of people using it to surface those problems: unwanted connections and too much noise.

So I wonder whether Google should have moved the users up the design chain — something I’ve been advising retailers and manufacturers to do. The sooner one can learn from one’s customers/users/public (not turning design into democracy but enabling the target to help make you smarter and make what you’re creating better), the better. What if Google had released screenshots and wireframes of Buzz? It’s not as if someone else was going to steal it; Buzz was Google catching up to Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare anyway. Very few people would have bothered to dig into the design of the product but enough might have — the 1% rule — to warn Google off the worse of Buzz’s bloopers.

Then again, isn’t that what Google did with Wave? Some — many of the same insta-critics — declared it too difficult and DOA while I reminded people that Google specifically said it released a version very early in the process so people could use it and, more importantly, develop new products atop it and through that, Google would learn what Wave really was.

So where’s the happy medium? Or as I ask in the presentation I’ve been making on Beta (likely next book): When’s the beta baked? How done is done?

I’ll be contemplating the answer to those questions and I ask your help and opinions and stories and examples.

Were I to give Google advice on Buzz — what the heck, everyone else is — I think I’d release a product plan for comment and then put out a clearly labeled beta and then invite only volunteers to try it and then make sure that at every step there’s a clear opportunity for me to opt out of a choice and tell Google why I was doing it so Google could learn. I’d listen better.

: MORE: This is a video I did for the release of What Would Google Do? summarizing the beta section in the book, which in turn inspired the thinking above:

January 30 2010

01:08

Google news

First, the news: Google told me today that they would consider giving more transparency about revenue splits in Adsense.

At a private meeting with a dozen and a half media people at Davos with CEO Eric Schmidt, President of sales Nikesh Arora, search boss Marissa Mayer, YouTube founder Chad Hurley, and counsel/”chief diplomat” (Schmidt’s joke) David Drummond in a Davos apartment dolled up with lava lamps, the execs discussed China, the company’s push into display, critics from France to News Corp., Android and its phone strategy, and news.

* * *

AdSense: At the DLD conference in Munich Monday, Burda CEO Paul-Bernhard Kallen, on a panel with Drummond, said publishers wanted transparency and their “fair share.” I asked him, a fair share of what — AdSense? Kallen said yes. And that put a fence around this debate. Drummond went on to emphasize that publishers do not deserve a share of a search for a camera that doesn’t involve their content. He also said transparency could be discussed.

At today’s briefing, Arora said that the company was considering more transparency. I confirmed with Google’s people that this was new. I suspect that they’re not going to promise the possibility and not deliver something.

I’m happy about this because, with China, this seems to strike off my two biggest complaints — both in What Would Google Do? — about Google: its prior lack of support of free speech in China and its hypocrisy on transparency and ad rates.

* * *

China: “We made a decision that was consistent with our values,” Schmidt said. “We’re not going to operate differently in China as opposed to the rest of the world,” said Drummond.

When is Gooogle going to do something? “It should happen soon,” Drummond said.

Was Google’s original stance on China — making it an exception to its own rules — a mistake? “We said consistently we would evaluate the position,” said Schmidt, “and people didn’t believe us.”

On the attacks, Schmidt said the company had a moral need to “make sure our systems are safe from attack anywhere.”

They wouldn’t discuss any details about any discussions with China. One editor asked whether Google was upset that other companies — especially those that also suffered attacks — have not come forward to openly support Google. I went farther and said that Microsoft had thrown Google under the bus and backed up over it. Schmidt repeatedly said that he manages Google, not other companies. “We speak for ourselves.”

Drummond said the problem of censorship is not in China alone. Hurley said YouTube is blocked in China, Turkey, and Iran “because of freedom of speech.”

“I believe this is an evergreen story for Google and other online companies,” Schmidt said. “As the world goes online, every country is going to have a discussion about what’s appropriate and what’s not. And a lot of these organizations [that is, governments] have not really thought through what they’re doing. We have a strong view about transparency.” [It's about to get a little stronger, it seems.]

Though Schmidt joked about Drummond as Google’s diplomat and apolgized for mixing metaphors, he emphasized that Google is not a country, does not set laws, and does not have a police force — or diplomats This is a government-to-government issue, he said.

* * *

Google’s reputation: I asked whether it was lonely at the top, getting grief from France to Germany to News Corp to China. Is it because Google is so big? Is it because it is putting itself on the ledge? Is it a PR problem? Schmidt said no.

“Google is fundamentally disruptive because of our innovation,” Schmidt said. “Google, because of our architecture, does things at a larger scale than others can. We are in the information space, which everyone has an opinion on. … You asked me how does it feel from a Google perspective? It feels as if we’re in the right place.” These aren’t crises, Schmidt said. He treated them as a factor in doing business. “It’s constnat. It’s because it’s information that maters.”

* * *

Innovation: Schmidt later talked about the difficulty we all know companies such as this can have: growing big and killing innovation. He talked about the canonical Silicon Valley story: a company starts, it innovates, it grows to middle age, it grows bored, it is sold to another company. Schmidt et al are clearly aware of that threat. Apple, he said, has “proven the model of innovation at scale.”

* * *

Phones: Will they have a tablet? “You might want to tell me what the difference is between a large phone and a tablet,” Schmidt said.

How will they make money on phones? “Not to worry,” Schmidt said. “We do not charge for Android because we can make money in other contexts.”

The strategy, he said, is to establish volume for application development to follow. “The phone is defined by the apps,” he said.

Schmidt took my Nexus One and demonstrated Google Sky. Mayer said the guy in charge of mobile uses Google Goggles to take pictures of wine labels and search on them so he can sound smart: “It tastes of apricot blossoms.” Mayer told Schmidt about Layar (a very neat agumented reality program I wrote about here earlier); he didn’t even know about it yet.

* * *

The economy: “The recession is very much behind us,” Schmidt said. “We see growth and successful businesses I think pretty much everywhere in the world.”"

* * *

Display ads: Schmidt said the company is “trying to apply the science of Google to the display space. Display is likely to be our next really big business globally.”

Arora said that today marketers buy sites when they want to buy audiences. He said Google will “bring measurability to the process of display” and it is “trying to find a way for the industry to bring the entire inventory together.” That is, “most agencies and buyers don’t have the tools to aggregate across publishers.” Schmidt added: “Before the google question was applied to this, you couldn’t have scale.”

Isn’t this just an ad network? Arora said it would be a collection of networks, an exchange that would “allow you to separate the best owners of inventory from the best sellers of inventory.” I don’t understand what that means and will ask.

Aren’t publishers going to see Google as again disintermediating them and hurting their brands? I asked. Google said the platform will bring greater transparency, more inventory, faster, with scale and speed and that publishers who participate will gain more revenue from the inventory they have (and don’t sell). Indeed, I was talking with one newspaper editor before the meeting as he lamented the small size of the percentage that is sold.

* * *

Relations with newspapers: “We depend on high-quality content,” Schmidt said.

Mayer said Google will help publishers make more money. It will create better advertising products for them, improving display. It will provide ads that are more relevant. It will support pay efforts.

She also said Google is working on making news as compelling as possible. “The issue is one of engagement online: if they spent more time online it would be much easier to make money with it,” she said and then added that publsihers must “bring the news to users’ digital doorsteps.” Amen. I’ve written often here about the challenges of engagement and the need to think distributed. Those are ripe areas for Google to help news.

* * *

YouTube: Schmidt said he was very pleased with YouTube and that it was making money but he and Hurley wouldn’t get in the slightest bit specific about the definition of making money (profit? cash flow?) let alone numbers. “In the last year, Chad managed to figure out a way to make money using partners and their video content on YouTube,” Schmidt said. Hurley said it took longer than expected to get their because of delays in bringing in Doubleclick. He said they have a sales force selling video in 20 countries. They also recently made a deal with channels 4 and 5 in the UK to distribute content and they’re going to live-stream cricket.

* * *

Pay: Will Lewis of the Telegraph asked “what’s it like being so brutally attacked by News Corp. What side of genius to you think their pay wall idea is?” Of course, Google’s execs didn’t take the bait.

They talked about hybrid business models and said they’d support them and pretty much left it at that.

* * *

Globalization: Schmidt said a majority of Google users are outside the U.S. and he expects that soon most revenue will come from outside the U.S.

* * *

: The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger on the briefing: Google as a country.

January 13 2010

16:28

The rise of the interest-state

In the post below, on Google standing up to China over its spying on dissidents and censorship, I note how Zeit Online calls Google a quasi-state — in a post under the headline “The Google Republic” — and Fallows says Google “broke diplomatic relations with China” as if Google were a nation.

What this says, of course, is that the internet is the New World and Google is its biggest colonizer: the sun never sets on Google.

It also says that on the internet, new states form across interests, ignoring borders. Those interests can be business — and we’ve seen what look like business-states before — but also causes, principles, and dangers (e.g., Al Qaeda). Interest-states will gain more power and that power will come from nations.

Just as what we’re seeing in the economy is more than a mere crisis — it is the shift from the industrial economy to what follows — similarly, in political structure, we are beginning to witness the emergence of new and competitive interest-states. In What Would Google Do?, I said this:

Whatever causes they take up, Generation G will be able to organize without organizations, as Shirky wrote in Here Comes Everybody. That ability to coalesce will have a profound destabilizing impact on institutions. We can organize bypassing governments, borders, political parties, companies, academic institutions, religious groups, and ethnic groups, inevitably reducing their power and hold on our lives. In an essay in Foreign Affairs in 2008, Richard Haass argued that the world structure is moving from bi- and unipolarity (i.e., the Cold War and its aftermath) to nonpolarity (i.e., no one’s in charge). We now operate in an open marketplace of influence. Google makes it possible to broadcast our interests and find, organize, and act in concert with others. One need no longer control institutions to control agendas. Haass chronicles the dilution of governments. Bloggers Umair Haque and Fred Wilson have written about the fall of the firm, and earlier I examined the idea that networks are becoming more efficient than corporations. In my blog, I follow the crumbling of the fourth estate, the press. One could debate the stature and power of the first estate, the church. What’s left? The internet is fueling the rise of the third estate—the rise of the people. That might bode anarchy except that the internet also brings the power to organize.

Our organization is ad hoc. We can find and take action with people of like interest, need, opinion, taste, background, and worldview anywhere in the world. I hope this could lead to a new growth in individual leadership: Online, you can accomplish what you want alone and you can gather a group to collaborate. Being out of power need not be an excuse or a bar from seeking power. That may encourage more involvement in communities and nations—witness the youth armies that gathered in Facebook around Barack Obama, a powerful lesson for a generation to have learned.

: MORE: Siva Vaidhyanathan responds (as part of a conversation between us in both this post and the one below):

My book plays this in a slightly different way: The Internet has enough diverse interests and players that it demands governance. No traditional state is in the position or willing to assume that role. So Google governs the Internet.

One could read this showdown (as I do) as a classic international power conflict between a major traditional state and a new, virtual state: the Googlenet.

Google is taking a risky stand to defend the Internet generally. This is what a weaker, threatened state would do.

December 23 2009

14:10

Page & Brin: Icons of the decade

The Guardian commissioned me to write a piece on Google founder Larry Page and Sergey Brin as icons of the decade. My kicker:

To understand the power of Brin’s and Page’s focus, go to Google’s home page now and type “weather in Ed” and stop there. Google will not only understand you want weather in Edinburgh but will give you the forecast right there in the search box; it will answer your question before you’ve even asked it. Google’s true holy grail is understanding, anticipating, and serving our intent.

When we’re using Google devices with Google operating systems and Google browsers and Google software to ask Google questions in text or voice or even pictures and Google gives us each the personal answers we need from any source – no, the best source – in the world, in the context of the moment and our needs, that will be the culmination of the Google age. Google’s next frontier is not to organise the world’s information, but our lives.

December 18 2009

18:34
03:46

Google goes local

TechCrunch reports that Google is in negotiations to buy Yelp. Makes perfect sense. Google is ready to make an assault on local with its Place Pages and QR codes on local establishments and augmented maps and directions and mobile…. This turf was newspapers’ and phone companies’ to lose and lose it, they will.

Or as I put it in a tweet: “Yelp + GoogleMaps + StreetView + PlacePages + GOOG411 + Google Goggles + Android + AdSense = Google synchronicity”

December 14 2009

15:05

November 27 2009

13:38

Worthless readers

Tweet: Worthless readers. And what to do about Murdoch et al’s whining about them.

One response publishers make to my argument that Google drives value to them and their content in the link economy is that the readers Google sends are worthless.

Worthless readers. WIliam Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer, Joseph Medill, Katherine Graham, and C.P. Scott are rolling (with pained laughter) in their graves. Since when did readers become worthless? Since when did a newspaper have enough readers?

“We can’t monetize those readers,” the hapless publishers whine. What’s the problem with these readers? “They read just one article and then leave,” is one complaint. “We can’t sell enough ads,” is another. And how is that Google’s fault?

No, this is the publishers’ failure and fault, not Google’s. Only the publishers can fix it. That they would rather complain than try is only evidence that they have given up on growth, on optimism, on the future. Rupert Murdoch and his son, James, have said they would rather shrink to more valuable (read: paying) customers, but then James has also said that News Corp. is no longer a news company but a TV company. It’s one matter to get rid of readers who cost too much because your trucks drive too far to deliver newspapers to them or you bribe them too often with bingo/wingo or sneakerphones to get them to subscribe. But online, more readers costs you nothing but bandwidth, which keeps on costing less. So Murdoch pere et fils have surrendered.

I choose not to. I say there is plenty they could do:

1. Relevance. Publishers should provide more relevant links and content to satisfy and serve these readers. I learned at About.com, where I consulted, that the most effective means of driving more traffic into the site, rather than away, was relevant links. Readers may come via search but may not find what they are looking for, so offer them more. If someone came to your restaurant for the crab cakes, wouldn’t you also offer slaw?

2. Context. I want to suggest abandoning the article for the constantly updated topic page (a la Wave). The problem with an article online is that it has a short half life and gathers few links and little ongoing attention and thus Googlejuice. It’s for this reason that Google’s Marissa Mayer has been advising publishers to move past the article to the topic. Abandoning the article for some living, breathing news beast yet to be defined may be a bit too radical for today’s publishers. So instead, I suggest, at least place the article into a space with broader context – archives, quotes, photos, links, discussion, wikified knowledge about the topic, feeds of updates; make the article a gateway to anything more you’d want on its subjects. Daylife (where I’m a partner) is working on something like that.

3. Sell. When someone comes in from search without a cookie attached, you know this person is not a regular reader. Yet you give her the same page you give to your constant readers. What you should do, instead, is sell the wonders of your site. Show off your best and most popular stuff. I’ve heard and used the phrase “every page a home page” for years, but I’ve never seen a publisher mean it, except for Stockholm’s Aftonbladet. Go to the site, click on most any store, and scroll down and you will find the entire home page replicated. Insane? Like a Swede.

4. Sell ads. OK, so this search-driven reader may not be local and so you can’t serve an ad for the hospital up the street. What sites do instead is place remnant network ads there at terribly low CPMs; that is why they complain about the value of readers who come from Google, Drudge, et al. But Dave Morgan’s Tacoda solved – at least until it was swallowed up by AOL [pardon me, Aol.] – by using data points across sites to maximize the value of ads served (e.g., someone who visits a travel site is served a high-CPM travel ad even after leaving and going to a harder-to-target local site). I’ve been arguing for reverse syndication as a means of maximizing ad value and even suggested that papers should link together to sell their national inventory (oh, that’s right, they tried to in the New Century Network but couldn’t get their act together … surprise!).

5. Kill commodity news and cost. Focus. Part of the problem is that papers carry commodity content that draws audience – via search – that is hard to target with local advertising. That commodity content also costs money to produce. A key imperative of the link economy is that one must specialize – to draw the “right” audience and to find the efficiency that comes from doing what you do best and linking to the rest. The better job a paper does focusing, the more it can create appropriate content to attract appropriate audience and advertising and the more economically it can operate.

6. Stop whining. It’s unbecoming. It makes you look weak and wimpy as if you have no strategy and no control over your vision and have just given up on adapting to new realities and growing by finding new audience and building a future but only plan to milk the last drops out of your dying business. Or maybe that’s all true.

: See Danny Sulllivan, who beat me to writing this post.

This is round two against Google. In round one, some publishers said Google steals our content. Google’s response was that it sends them millions of visitors for free. So in round two, it’s time to make out like those visitors aren’t worth much. That’s especially important if you’re an executive who, after floating the idea of dropping Google, comes under attack as stupidly cutting your own throat.

Me, I see visitors as opportunities. This is the internet, where you can tell far more about a visitor to your web site than you can in print. . . .

Do something. Anything. Please. Survive. But there’s one thing you shouldn’t do. Blame others for sending you visitors and not figuring out how to make money off of them.

See also Umair Haque: “Blocking Google is about as smart as eating a pound of plutonium.”

November 23 2009

21:26

Murdoch madness

I’ve had a fair number of press calls on the Murdoch/Bing sillliness and here are the points I’ve been making:

Were Bing to pay News Corp. to drop Google, it would be a double-play in Google’s favor: Microsoft would lose money and gain little. News Corp. would lose traffic, shifting away from the search engine with more than 60% penetration in the U.S. and more than 80% in the U.K. to one that has 10 percent here – and that’s just the search engine; it doesn’t account for the disparate popularity of Google and Bing News.

See this post: WSJ.com would lose 25% of its inbound web traffic, according to Hitwise, which also says that 15% of the people who come to WSJ.com on the web come from Google immediately prior and 12% come from Google News.

Would Google be hurt? Note in that same post the German consultancy’s calculation that all the top publishers in Germany, representing more than 1,000 brands, account for only 4.1% of top search results vs. 13.6% for Wikipedia. Let me repeat that: Wikipedia comes up in the most valuable position in search three times more than all the top publishers of Germany combined.

News Corp. leaving Google would be a mosquito bite on an elephant’s ass. It won’t affect Google or the audience. For there will always be – as Murdoch laments – free competitors: the BBC and Australian Broadcasting Corp, which he and his son complain about, not to mention the Guardian, the Telegraph, NPR, CBC, and any sensible news organization worldwide.

This silliness is emblematic of the end of the Guttenberg age, the industrial age, the age of control, the age of centralization, Murdoch’s age. The problem here is that Google-virgin Murdoch simply does not understand the dynamics of the link economy. He roars against them.

But let’s not forget that this all may be so much macho strategizing: business chest-thumping. News Corp. must renegotiate its reported $300 million guarantee for MySpace from Google, in which MySpace reportedly underperformed badly. Much of media is falling for the spectator delight of watching Murdoch, Microsoft, and Google in Tokyo Bay. But I think it’s bullshit. If it does happen, few will notice or care…. except media reporters forced to write this up.

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