free html hit counter March 2009 - Page 2 of 5 - John Battelle's Search Blog

The Future of News: 14 Years Ago

By - March 20, 2009

The Neiman Journalism Lab has gotten its hands on a forum with the Publisher of the NYT and the-then Editor of Digital for Time Inc., in which they struggle with the question of how the Interwebs were going to impact their print biz.

It’s fascinating reading.

From the overview, written by Zachary Seward:

But the transcript is also notable for how little distance some of these debates have traveled in the intervening years. Time Inc. is, in fact, still experimenting with online subscription models, and The New York Times Co. is still trying to figure out how to make money on the Internet.

Many terms of the debate, meanwhile, had already been set by 1995: Sulzberger indicated awareness that online competition would force newspapers to focus on unique and and in-depth reporting over easily replicable content. And he was already calculating, albeit with highly optimistic figures, the production savings in moving away from print.

The most significant difference between this conference and so many similar summits being held today was a lack of urgency. The Times had recently struck a deal to make its content available to users of America Online and planned — with a hesitancy that seems poignant in retrospect — to post every front-page article on the Internet for free. The Times Co. and Time Inc. still had thriving business models for their print products, and no one was prepared, as Clay Shirky wrote last week, to think “the unthinkable.” Sulzberger was forthrightly uncertain about the Internet’s implications for his business but at the same time, blindly confident.

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A Model for Metro Journalism? Check Out New West

By - March 19, 2009

My former partner at the Industry Standard has been building something important out in the expanses of Montana (caveat – I am a very minor investor – the only such investment I’ve ever made – and sometimes offer my counsel to Jonathan). It’s called New West, and for the past four years he’s taken what he’s learned over more than 20 years as a journalist and entrepreneur and applied it to the same “problem” that has elicited so much hand wringing in the traditional print world. He wrote a great piece today about his experiences. From it:

We started this company in 2005 partly on the premise that the news business would be changing in profound ways, and that would create opportunities. We were also very interested in what we considered a very big story – the dramatic transformation of the Rocky Mountain West from an under-populated, resource-dependent region to a dynamic, fast-growing hub of the emerging “amenity” and technology economies. We thought the story was regional in scope, but at the same time we were very conscious of the fact that people relate most closely to what’s most local, so we established NewWest.Net as a regional online magazine with local sites in key markets.

The editorial model relies on a combination of professional journalism (currently two full-time and four part-time professionals, as well as a number of freelancers); what we think of as semi-professional journalism (talented writers or subject-matter experts who do something else for their day job); and citizen journalism (bloggers and others who contribute on specific topics, sometimes for small sums of money). We don’t have copy editors, but rather copyedit each others’ stuff. We’re direct and conversational in our style, which is actually easier and quicker once you get used to it, and more appealing to readers than old-style newspaper formulas.

We have a very active photo group on Flickr, and get great feature photography from that. We mostly use Google for fact-checking – not fool-proof, but it works. We use Twitter and Facebook and RSS to push our stories out into the world. We do great video-driven stories when we can, and happily link to others’ videos. In fact, we happily link to a lot of stuff, sometimes in combination with our own reporting and sometimes not. We have lively comment threads, which we manage with as light a hand as we can and which are often additive to the stories in addition to being entertaining. We have very active event calendars in our local markets – separate from our main sites but well-integrated, and with a dedicated editor. We’re experimenting with a new social media site in Missoula, and we’ll see where that goes.

Our coverage is far from comprehensive, and we rarely write about sports or TV or movies (except when the big documentary film festival is in town). Big investigative projects are few and far between. We’re not a “paper of record,” and we’re not (or at least not yet) a replacement for local newspapers. Still, if you ask people around here where they go for smart coverage of growth and development, land-use issues, local food, regional politics, and community culture, a lot of people would say NewWest.Net. On some big stories, such as the boom and bust of the regional real estate market and the bankruptcy of the Yellowstone Club and other high-end resorts, we have been way ahead of the pack.

I mention this because I’ve written quite about about the “death of journalism” (see here, here, for example) and have always had in mind pointing to the work Jonathan and his team has done. Now he’s written the piece for me!

Do Not Erase!

By - March 18, 2009

do not erase twitter.pngsteve j good master plan.png

I’m a student of history. OK, maybe more like, I am a getting-older journalist following a youngish history, of companies like Apple, a company I covered in the 80s, Microsoft, (late 80s to present), AOL, Yahoo (mid 90s to present), Google (late 90s to present), Facebook (early 2000s to present), and on and on (yes, Twitter is my most recent obsession as a story).

So when I saw this tweet today, well, heck, it brought me back. To this. I first saw the Google Master Plan whiteboard when I went to Google in early 2002 to meet with Eric Schmidt. Love the idea that Twitter now has a whiteboard with its revenue plans, and prominently declared is that wonderful mandate we’ve all written in the corner; DO NOT ERASE!

Yes, that’s a good idea. Don’t erase (see my previous post on why).

PS – Google’s Master plan also had a “Do Not Erase” in the top left hand corner. So did the “Don’t be evil” whiteboard moniker put up across campus in the early days.

Another Reason to be Skeptical of "Analysts"

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The Times runs a piece today citing a media analyst at Sanford Bernstein claiming:

…monetizing Twitter “would be difficult at best and likely unsuccessful.” People who sign up for free services tend to resent a company for trying to wring revenue from the business later. Subscription fees are out of the question, they said, and advertising-based revenues don’t seem to have yielded enough cash flow to make a Web 2.0 property viable.

I agree about one thing – building ad platforms like Tweetsense will be difficult. But nothing valuable is ever easy. Adwords was not easy. Overture was not easy. What Facebook is building is not easy. And TweetSense won’t be easy.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? If it was easy, everyone would do it.

To be entirely clear, Twitter has at least three major potential revenue streams.

1. Tweetsense – AdWords and AdSense like platform for Twitter. This has major scale potential.

2. Branded licensing. This is stuff like Stocktwits, where Twitter could promote and perhaps gets licensing fees.

3. SMS/carriers – deals with carriers to split revenue driven by mobile tweeting.

And there are plenty more.

Analysts who write stuff like this are clearly not thinking very hard about the potential of services like Twitter, nor do they understand the appetite for risk the venture capitalists backing such ideas have. Check this quote:

“Whoever buys Twitter, they wrote, “will likely have to operate it at a loss in perpetuity, or until the next cool Web 2.0 social networking concept comes along and Twitter tweets no more.”

Utterly ridiculous on so many fronts it’s hard for me to summon the energy to refute it. The idea of the tweet as the query, the idea of brands wanting to have a commercial “response” to searches (and tweets) on Twitter, these are not small ideas. The idea of real time search, conversational and social search, real time “AdWords” – these are not minor new wrinkles. They are here to stay. Twitter is a very promising service directly in the center of these trends, trends the “analysts” at Sanford Bernstein clearly do not grasp.

Not News, But Certainly Interesting

By - March 17, 2009

prmote twitter thenjpg.jpg (Oct. 2008)

Twitter promotion now.png (This week)

Much buzz about this, but … Twitter’s been promoting things it finds worthy since at least last Fall…what I find interesting about this is the promotion of Twitter search, which I’ve been on about for a long time as a really, really big deal.


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cloudera.png Much buzz early this week on the launch of Cloudera, for its focus (distributed platform computing), its philosophy (best described as Not Google Or Anyone Else For That Matter, based on Hadoop, a Yahoo-driven open source competitor to Google’s MapReduce), and its team (from Yahoo, Oracle, Google….).

Very worth keeping an eye on.

Cloudera’s launch post. SEL’s coverage. NYT coverage.

Previous coverage of Hadoop and Doug Cutting on Searchblog.

It's Very Sorta Twitter (Facebook, That Is)

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fbook = twitter.png

I just logged into Facebook for the first time since The Change.

And I have to say, it’s totally a Twitter experience. Except…that’s not why I am going to Facebook. I find myself wanting all the simplicity and tools of Twitter, and they are not there. (Except I like the threaded conversations, which are nice, however, I wonder if and how folks know you’ve “replied?”). As a heavy Twitter user, I find the experience a bit…lacking.

However, I have said this over and over and will say it again – I am NOT a typical Facebook (or even Twitter) user, so I cannot judge. What do you all think?

Three Peer-Reviewed Takes On Armstrong and AOL

By - March 13, 2009

tim_armstrong.jpg I’ve had the chance to poll a few folks in the industry – all of them very senior executives who are now, have recently, and/or will again run very large Internet companies. Their reactions, in no particular order:

1. This showed how badly Time Warner needed to shake up AOL’s management, both because “Rondy” (the term used, derisively, to describe the top two departing AOL execs) was not working, and because TW needed to show a big shift in order to convince investors it’s worth backing a spin out of AOL.

2. Armstrong was not going to get any bigger job inside Google, they’re all taken. And he really wanted to do something bigger.

3. This was an “upgrade” for sure, but unwinding AOL and then finding its footing is very hard, so there were doubts remaining as to whether Armstrong is up to it.

4. Related – major doubts as to whether AOL has a path back to relevance and real growth.

5. Armstrong is getting “an undermanaged company with great assets at a low price.”

Tim Armstrong To Lead AOL – Further Thoughts

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This I find quite worthy of comment. More after breakfast…

AOL is getting new leadership again, just two years after the outgoing executives were chosen to turn around the struggling dial-up and content company.

Google Senior Vice President Tim Armstrong will take over as chairman and chief executive, replacing Randy Falco, said Time Warner, AOL’s parent company. Ron Grant, AOL’s president and chief operating officer, will leave with Falco after a transitional period of a few weeks.

Kara has an interview here. In it, Tim says:

“For me, it is a great opportunity to go to what I consider a top-five Internet brand…I am looking forward to taking what I have learned at Google and seeing what I can bring to really help AOL.”

One of the things Armstrong might bring is a spin out, Kara writes, and that is certainly something I’d welcome. (Type “set AOL free” into Google, and see why. I wrote that FIVE years ago).

But Tim’s leaving Google strikes me as yet another signal of how much Google as a company has changed. Good people, whether engineers or top executives, are leaving the company to do other things, regardless of how wonderful the place is, how wealthy it made them, or how hard the company strives to create a culture that encourages retention.

I’ve had several discussions with folks who’ve left Google lately. Here’s a direct quote from one of them, who is starting a new search related company: “It’s very hard to take risks at Google.”

I bolded that statement because it strikes me as poignant, and telling. I pressed as to why that is, and the founder told me that Google is probably “the best large company in the world to work for” but that it is driven by its current search and Adwords businesses.

Does that sound familiar? It should, if you are a watcher of the IT industry. Replace “search and Adwords” with “Windows and Office.”

Around ten years into Microsoft’s existence, good people starting leaving the company (and, not surprisingly, about five years after its IPO…). Not because Microsoft was a bad place to work, quite the contrary was true in fact. But because the company was too big, or too slow, or too indifferent to the ideas they had. It’s not a rap on large companies, it’s a fact of being a large company – you can’t run in every direction your employees might want to go.

It’s been five years since Google’s IPO. The company is big, and despite all of its efforts, it’s getting slow. It has to, in order to protect that which brought it to greatness. (For background, read my piece from 2005 about the worm turning. In it I write: Can the company shift its culture and avoid the fate which ultimately hobbled Microsoft? That, more than anything else, will define the next chapter in the company’s fascinating story.)

Instead of trying to retain great talent, perhaps Google should encourage them to leave. Start a different kind of founder’s award – one that seeds new startups. Given all the talent and all the interesting new companies springing up from the fertile soil of ex-Google land, I’d wager that fund would do damn well.