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We’ve Seen This Movie Before…On Traffic of Good Intent

By - April 26, 2013

(image) Back in 2005 I whipped off a post with a title that has recently become relevant again – “Traffic of Good Intent.” That post keyed off  a major issue in the burgeoning search industry – click fraud. In the early days of search, click fraud was a huge problem (that link is from 2002!). Pundits (like me) claimed that because everyone was getting paid from fraud, it was “something of a whistling-past-the-graveyard issue for the entire (industry).” Cnet ran a story in 2004 identifying bad actors who created fake content, then ran robots over AdSense links on those pages. It blamed the open nature of the Web as fueling the fraudsters, and it noted that Google could not comment, because  it was in its quiet period before an IPO.

But once public, Google did respond, suing bad actors and posting extensive explanations of its anti-fraud practices. Conversely, a major fraud-based class action lawsuit was filed against all of the major search engines. Subsequent research suggested that as much as 30% of commercial clicks were fraudulent  - remember, this was after Google had gone public, and after the issue had been well-documented and endlessly discussed in the business and industry press. The major players in search finally banded together to fight the problem – understanding full well that without a united front and open communication, trust would never be established.

Think about that little history lesson – a massive, emerging new industry, one that was upending the entire marketing ecosystem, was operating under a constant cloud of “fraud” which may have been poisoning nearly a third of the revenues in the space. Yet billions in revenue and hundreds of billions in market value was still created. And after several years of lawsuits, negative press, and lord-knows-how-much-fraud, the clickfraud story has pretty much been forgotten.

Sound familiar?

It should. Because the same movie is once again playing, but this time the problem has migrated to the open ecosystem of programmatic display. As anyone who’s studied the LUMAscape knows, we now have a VC-fueled industry worth billions, with many players primed to go public in the coming year or so. And the original search players – Google in particular, but also Microsoft and Yahoo! – are also major actors in this new industry.

My post from January of this year - It’s Time To Call Out Fraud In The Adtech Ecosystem - summarized the new breed of fraud in our industry, and recently, many publications  have intensified their coverage of the topic. In late February, I invited a handful of adtech CEOs to a lunch where we discussed the issue, and everyone at the table – from AppNexus to Google, OpenX to MediaOcean – agreed that it was time to address the problem head on.

And that’s how we got to the news  this past week that the IAB is standing up a task force on “Traffic of Good Intent.” I’m proud to be a co-chair of the group (and yes, the name does come from that 2005 post in these pages). This time around, there are many more players, a much larger industry, and a far more complicated ecosystem. But it’s worth remembering that bad actors always take advantage of open systems. It’s up to us to unite and drive them back. We should all be trading in traffic of good intent – real human beings, engaged with real content and services across the Internet. Our customers, partners, investors, and our good company names depend on it.

I look forward to the work.

  • Content Marquee

OpenCo Is Coming To NYC, But Only If You Support It: Please Help Us!

By - April 09, 2013

A year or so ago a friend and colleague approached me with a crazy idea – what if we tried to re-invent the tech conference, expanding it to become a celebration of all innovative companies that are inspired by the values of the open Internet? And further, what if it wasn’t a conference at all, in the normal sense, but more of a festival, a combination of an artist’s open studio, a music festival, and a business event?

That’s what became OpenCo, an “inside out” conference where instead of sitting in a stuffy hotel ballroom, you go our into the modern working city, to see founders talk about their companies in their native environment.

Last Fall in San Francisco, we tested the idea with a pilot, and more than 2000 folks registered to go visit companies like Twitter, airbnb, Google, The Melt, and scores more (85 in all).

Today, we’re announcing that thanks in large part to our Tour Sponsor American Express OPEN Forum, the OpenCo platform is coming to four cities this year – starting this coming May 22-24 in New York.

But to get there we need your support too. I don’t directly ask for help from all of you, but this time I am. I believe in OpenCo as a movement – the kinds of businesses we curate into the festival are literally changing the world, and this festival lets them open their doors to the public and share their knowledge with the community. We keep at least a third of the tickets for to the public, but we also sell tickets at various levels for those who want to ensure they get access to the companies they really want to see. We’ve raised an IndieGoGo campaign to cover our hard costs. That’s all I want to do – see this idea spread.

So please go to the campaign and support OpenCo at any level you can.

Companies in New York that will be opening their doors include Warby Parker, Etsy, Foursquare, Kickstarter, Buzzfeed, Business Insider, Lerer Ventures, General Assembly, Rebelmouse, RapGenius, and many, many more. If you have a New York business, you can apply to be an OpenCo here.

More on OpenCo can be found at the main site, by reading the coverage of our announcement here, or reading the release, pasted below.

THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING US!

———–

OpenCo Innovation Festival Expands To New York City, London, Detroit and San Francisco for 2013

 

Indiegogo Funding Campaign, Host Company Application Process and Early Attendee Registration Open Today

 

SAN FRANCISCO, April 9, 2013 – Today OpenCo, a new kind of conference-as-festival where a city’s most innovative companies open their doors to the general public, announced the expansion of the event series for 2013. On the heels of a very successful inaugural San Francisco event last Fall, OpenCo is expanding to highlight innovation on the East Coast via an event in New York City from May 22-24, 2013 as part of Internet Week New York.

To support the overall OpenCo initiative, an Indiegogo campaign launches today to help cover fixed costs related to event logistics. There are currently four pledge levels, each offering a selection of value-added benefits. Please visit the OpenCo Indiegogo page to pledge your support of innovation in New York and to get first dibs on visiting exciting companies like Buzzfeed, Etsy, Foursquare, Thrillist, Warby Parker and many more!

Additional dates and details for the OpenCo events launching in London, Detroit and San Francisco will also be available shortly via the OpenCo website.

How OpenCo Works for Attendees

  • On May 23-24, OpenCoNY participants will be able to attend hourly, citywide “open studio” sessions led by participating host companies (HostCos).
  • Just as with bands and stages at a multi-day music festival, attendees go to the OpenCo website to customize an event schedule from “tracks” that are curated according to industry and neighborhood.
  • Individuals who make a pledge to support OpenCo via Indiegogo will receive early access to the schedule picker site and will be able to build their personal schedule according to the following tiers:
    • $500 Backstage pledges gain access on Monday, April 29th.
    • $100 Reserved pledges gain access on Monday, May 6th.
    • $25 Fan pledges and the general public gains access on Monday, May 13th.
    • The event is free for anyone who wants to attend, so sign up now by visiting openco.us.
    • Space is limited and we expect the event to reach capacity very quickly. In fact, more than 2,000 people registered for the San Francisco event during the three-week window.

How OpenCo Works for HostCos

  • The HostCo application process officially opens today, but scores of companies have already expressed their support and interest in participating including: AOL, AppNexus, Betaworks, Bloomberg, Business Insider, Buzzfeed, Estee Lauder Online, Etsy, Fab.com, Foursquare, General Assembly, Kickstarter, Lerer Ventures, Local Response, Pave, PolicyMic, Rap Genius, Rebelmouse, Thrillist, Warby Parker, ZocDoc.
  • These participating host companies will share their business vision, outline their founding principles and values, and discuss what it means to be part of NY’s collaborative ecosystem.
  • Each HostCo is required to host at least 20 attendees – but the more the better.
  • The event is free for HostCos, so feel free to suggest an innovative company as a potential HostCo by visiting openco.us.

Backstage Access Kick off Event with Special Guests

OpenCoNY will launch the evening of May 22 with an invitation-only, VIP event at The Altman Building that will feature intimate discussions with Chad Dickerson, CEO at Etsy, Bob Pittman, CEO at Clear Channel Communications, Matt Seiler, Global CEO at IPG Mediabrands and Eric Hippeau, partner at Lerer Ventures. Interested attendees who submit an Indiegogo pledge for $500 or more will receive coveted back-stage access to this event in addition to other great perks.

Those Who Make OpenCo Possible

OpenCo is made possible by a list of impressive organizations that have pledged their support as partners. Founding partner is American Express OPEN. The OpenCo event series is produced by BattelleMedia.

Quotes

“Innovation is everywhere and by opening up the doors to these openly collaborative companies, OpenCo gives investors, job seekers and curious neighbors the chance to hear these inspiring stories firsthand,” said John Battelle, OpenCo co-founder and CEO at Federated Media Publishing.

“The best way to experience and learn about the innovation economy isn’t in a stuffy conference room – it is up close and personal and on their turf,” said Brian Monahan, OpenCo co-founder and managing partner at MAGNA GLOBAL, part of IPG Mediabrands. “All participating companies share a commitment to open communication and open collaboration that is the hallmark of modern, innovative businesses. We are thrilled to bring the OpenCo philosophy to New York for Internet Week this year.”

Videos

OpenCoSF Highlights 2012

OpenCo business case

About OpenCo

OpenCo is a mix between a business conference and artist’s open studio with the vibe of a music festival. The events offer job seekers, investors, marketers and curious neighbors direct access to the leaders of the most innovative companies across the globe and in their natural habitat.

Visit openco.us for more information.

Press Contact

Clint Bagley

415-699-8280

clintbagley@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

Can We Bridge Data to Humanity? We Best Talk About It.

By - March 25, 2013

The agenda for our seventh annual CM Summit is live. And it rocks. You can read all about it here. I am really looking forward to this conversation, mainly due to the quality of the folks who are coming. Oh, and the theme, of course.

I won’t beat around the bush. I want you all to come. I’ve lowered the price, because I heard from many of you last year that the ticket was too high (it sold out anyway). But this year, the conversation is too rich for anyone to cry poor over. Come and join us.

Speakers include Pinterest founder Ben Silbermann, Yahoo CMO Kathy Savitt, USV partner Fred Wilson, Aereo CEO Chet KanojiaJacki Kelley, CEO North American of IPG Mediabrands, Amanda Richman, President of Starcom MediaVest Group, AOL Networks CEO Ned Brody, GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving, AppNexus CEO Brian O’Kelley, Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Perretti, and many, many more.

Register here! Early registration ends in two weeks.

Who Owns The Right to Filter Your Feed?

By - March 09, 2013

The old Tweetdeck interface.

(image) Last week I was in Salt Lake City for the Adobe Summit, on a stage the size of a parking lot. After some opening remarks about how the world is increasingly lit with data, I brought out Adam Bain, President of Global Revenue for Twitter. (He Vined it, natch.) Five thousand or so folks in the Internet marketing and media business were in attendance, behind us was a 7,000 square foot HD screen (I kid you not). I’ve been in front of a few big crowds, but this one was enormous. You could have parked a few 787s in the space.

My point is this: Bain knew he was in front of a lot of people, including nearly 200 journalists. As we worked our way through any number of predictable but important topics – Twitter’s revenue (growing but no numbers), the acquisition of BlueFin (TV analytics and more), etc. – I asked Bain to distinguish between Twitter and its competitive set. This was a relatively politic way of asking the inevitable “What about Facebook” question. It was then that Bain uttered what I thought was the most interesting comment of the day: “[With Twitter,] there’s no algorithm between you and your feed.”

Oh snap!

Facebook’s “Edge” rank has once again been in the news, as one writer or journalist after another discovers what most of us already knew: Facebook filters what you see in the Newsfeed, and the algorithm that determines that filter is a black box (one that you can influence with money, of course).

On Twitter, there’s no filter between you and your feed. If, like me, you follow 1,200 or more people, your feed is a hopeless firehose, and that’s just the way it is, Bub.

My Twitter feed is a blur to me, I dip in and out, but I never consistently gain value from it. I know there’s so much more I could be learning from it, but so far, no dice. (Four or so years ago I even asked our tech team at FMP to build a Twitter parser, we used it for a while…that’s another story…)

I’ve always been on the lookout for tools to surface the best stuff shared on the service – and I’m still looking. Summary services like Percolate are too high level (only five or so stories), and curation through tools like Tweetdeck work to a point, but require too much input and are not dynamic enough. I recently tweeted out a request for new filtering tools, and got back this list:

- Twitter’s daily email digest (which I’m not getting for some reason, so I’ll turn that on)

- Tweetdeck (which I have used a lot, but stopped using when Twitter bought it, more on that below)

- Cronycle (still in private beta)

- The Tweeted Times

- ManageFlitter

- Prismatic

- And of course Flipboard.

From a quick look at these services (some of which I’ve tried), I don’t think any of them do quite what I want them to. And that’s kind of my point. It’s great that Twitter doesn’t filter my feed, but it’s a bummer that third parties haven’t been able to solve for my problem. And of course, there’s a reason for this. Developers have left the consumer space mostly alone – Twitter has made it very clear that they don’t want anyone creating new interfaces for the consumption of your feed, and filtering services – in particular ones like Flipboard – come dangerously close to that line. 

The enterprise, on the other hand, has benefitted from the unfiltered feed – that’s where Percolate is focused, as well as Salesforce, Adobe, and many others.  Gnip has a good business selling access to Twitter’s firehose, but overall, as one might expect, the use case is more aggregate and less individual in nature.
That’s a dilemma. One the one hand there’s Facebook, which has “placed an algorithm in between” us and our feed. Facebook is controlling our experience on our behalf – and it’s questionable whether that really scales. Then there’s the noisy mess of Twitter, where I could imagine any number of super-wonderful third-party apps, yet so far Twitter has kept that ecosystem at bay. 

It’s clear that Twitter will soon offer more controls to its users – giving us various ways to filter our feed. The company recently dropped support for its recently acquired Tweetdeck apps – clearly it plans on folding that kind of functionality into its core services. Once it does, I hope the company will relax a bit and give developers the go ahead to create real value on top of an individual’s raw feed. No one company can boil the ocean, but together an ecosystem can certainly simmer the sea.

 

On Coming Back to FMP

By - February 28, 2013

Starting a business is a journey, as any founder will tell you. When I started Federated Media Publishing almost eight years ago, I did my best to collect all the lessons learned from Wired, The Industry Standard, and Web 2 Summit, and apply them to my new venture. One of those lessons was that it’s OK to step away when the time is right. Several years ago, I did just that, becoming an “active Chairman” at FMP and handing the operational reigns over to an accomplished executive, Deanna Brown.

Since making that decision, FMP has grown dramatically, but it’s also had its challenges. Last year, for example, we made the difficult but important decision to rethink the company so as to lean into our two most promising lines of business – content marketing (which we lay claim to inventing as “conversational marketing” some seven years ago) and programmatic marketing (which we invested in heavily last year, after acquiring a very fast growing business in Lijit Networks in Fall of 2011). It meant stepping back from something we had been doing for some time – directly selling standard display banners  - but it proved to be the right choice. FMP is having a great first half of 2013, and I couldn’t be more excited about our roadmap and potential for the rest of the year and beyond.

The funny thing is, even as I became “just the Chairman” at FMP over the past two years, I never stopped thinking about the company. It woke me up nearly every night, tugging at my sleeve, asking me questions, demanding my best thinking. Deanna and I would meet every week to talk strategy, review numbers, or just plain chew the fat. Running a company with hundreds of employees, top notch investors, and a big top line revenue number is damn hard, and Deanna not only ran the place, she made it hum. I am in her debt.

So when Deanna told me earlier this year that she wanted – in a thoughtful and appropriate manner – to move on and do something smaller and more directly related to content creation, I immediately understood. As I said above – it’s alright to step away when the time feels right. We spent a month or more thinking about who might be best to replace her. FMP is a unique company – straddling the two fastest-growing sectors of the digital marketing world:  Native content marketing, and programmatic platforms. There aren’t many executives who are fluent in both, and who also might be a cultural fit for a company as storied as this one.

And then it hit me – quite literally in mid-sentence while on a Board call. Why the hell don’t I simply step back in? I love this company, I am passionate about the Independent Web, and to be honest, I see a huge opportunity in front of us. What am I, nuts? Why didn’t I think of it the moment Deanna told me of her decision?

I think the answer lies in how we often try to convince ourselves that the choices we’ve made in the past are the right ones. I agonized about leaving the CEO’s chair, and I’ve spent the two years since then convincing myself (and many of you) that the right path for me was writing a book , running various conferences, and ruminating on what the “next big thing” might be.

But I’ve come to realize that it’s OK to change your mind, as long as you are following your heart. I love the book I’m working on, and I don’t plan to abandon it (I’m bringing on a co-author). And I love the conferences I do, and I’ll still be doing them (though I’ll be hiring someone to run them full time). But my first love is the company I started in 2005, whose story is not only unfinished, it’s at the height of its running narrative. I am utterly convinced that the media company of tomorrow will have both a technology-driven programmatic foundation, as well as the ability to execute bespoke, beautiful ideas on behalf of the entire media ecosystem – creators, marketers, and communities. When you bring the scale and precision of data-driven platforms to the brilliance of great media executions, magic will happen. Delivering on that vision for the Independent Web is the mission of Federated Media Publishing. And I couldn’t be more excited to rejoin the company as its next CEO.

So that’s the news I have for you today. I ask for your support as I embark on this new journey – I know I’m going to need it. I promise I won’t ever stop writing here, nor will I stop asking for your feedback and your insights. And because this is probably the only time I’ll have the chance to say it in a post, I want to say thank you to Deanna Brown for what she’s done not only for Federated, but for me personally. I can’t wait to see what she does next, and, if I’m lucky, to be a partner to her next chapter. Onwards!

An Apology To My RSS Readers – But I Had To Do It. (Updated)

By - February 22, 2013

Some random site running my last post without asking.

If you’re a fan of this site, you’re also probably a fan of RSS – a once-ascendant technology that has been on most everyone’s deathwatch for five or so years. According to Google’s (almost totally outdated) Feedburner service, nearly 450,000 people subscribe to this blog via RSS – although the number of you who actually read my posts is far smaller (according to Feedburner statistics, which I’ve never fully understood).

In any case, from time to time I’ve poked at you poor RSS readers, just to find out if you’re alive. Remember this piece – Is RSS Really Dead? Or this one - Once Again, RSS Is Dead. But ONLY YOU Can Save It!?

In those posts, I asked if my beloved RSS readers were really out there. Turns out, I got tons of comments back – a very high number given the work involved in declaring fealty to the creaky old standard. (It kind of felt like a reshoot of that wonderful final scene in Horton Hears a Who – “Everybody yell real loud, and maybe Google will hear, and not deprecate Feedburner…”  But I digress.)

I’ve always kept my RSS feed “full text” – which means the entire post, pictures, words and all, goes out over RSS, and can be picked up by any RSS reader anywhere on the planet. I always have held the belief that it’s more important that my work get distributed than monetized. But not everyone can afford such high minded principles. Many publishers cut their feed short, teasing folks with headlines and a snippet of the story in the hopes that people will click through to the site, where their visit can be properly “monetized” via advertising.

My new feed (sadface).

After much thought, I’m going to do the same. But not for the extra clicks and ads. It’s due to the fraud that’s taken over the content space in the Indpendent Web. Untold legions of bad actors use RSS to scrape “real” sites like this one, then wrap them with ads from exchanges to make a quick buck. The rise of programmatic fraud has made this even worse (see It’s Time To Call Out Fraud In The Adtech Ecosystem for more on this). And no, I’m not going to link to examples – but you can Google “Content Scraping” if you want to learn more.

So, consider this an apology. I am very sorry that you have to click a link to get to the content I make here every day. But also consider this a plea – as in, please do click that link at the top. I very much want you to be part of this conversation.

(And if enough of you complain, you know I’ll listen, and figure out some way around this).

 

UPDATE: I turned full feed back on. Thanks for all the input.

The iWatch: What I Hope Apple Actually Does (But Probably Won’t)

By - February 21, 2013

(image AppleInsider) Back in April of last year, I pondered Pebble, the then-wildly successful darling of Kickstarter fame. Pebble is a wristwatch device that connects to iPhones and displays various smart things. In the piece, Does the Pebble Cause a Ripple In Apple’s Waters?, I asked whether Apple would allow such third-party hardware to play in their backyard. It struck me Apple’s entire business was about hardware. Pebble, I figured, was in for a tough road. No wonder it went to Kickstarter, I mused. VCs would never back something so clearly in Apple’s target zone. From the post:

If you watch the video explaining Pebble, it become pretty clear that the watch is, in essence, a new form factor for the iPhone. It’s smaller, it’s more use-case defined, but that’s what it is: A smaller mirror of your iPhone, strapped to you wrist. Pebble uses bluetooth connectivity to access the iPhone’s native capabilities, and then displays data, apps, and services on its high-resolution e-paper screen. It even has its own “app store” and (upcoming) SDK/API so people can write native apps to the device.

In short, Pebble is an iPhone for your wrist. And Apple doesn’t own it.

If we’ve learned anything about Apple over the years, it’s that Apple is driven by its hardware business. It makes its profits by selling hardware – and it’s built a beautiful closed software ecosystem to insure those hardware sales. Pebble forces an interesting question: Does Apple care about new form factors for hardware? Or is it content to build out just the “core” hardware platform, and allow anyone to innovate in new hardware instances? Would Apple be cool with someone building, say, a larger form factor of the iPhone, perhaps tablet-sized, driven by your iPhone?

Fast forward to now. The month’s Apple rumors have all been about the “iWatch” – the company’s next big innovation.  Apparently reliable sources – most likely now muted thanks to Apple’s exceptional PR machine – have said that 100 people are working on the device inside Apple’s HQ. And this week came news that Apple has even filed for a patent around the concept. 

If I’m Pebble, I’m not sleeping well at night.

I have no idea if Apple will actually create such a device – though I’m certain it must be testing one.

However, if Apple really wants the device to take off, the company should incorporate more than just iPhone connectivity. Here’s my wish list:

- Open platform for connectivity. Any device can connect to the device, not just iOS. I know this is wishful thinking, but…for example, Google has opted for glasses as its next big thing in wearable computing. I certainly would like the two to work together. (And how cool would it be if it worked with Android? OK, sorry. Just had to ask.)

- Sensors and software that make the device the equivalent of the Fitbit or the Jawbone Up.

- Integration with those apps, so that users don’t lose their data if they want to move to Apple’s hardware platform.

- As with Pebble, an open app ecosystem for the device, not one locked down into iOS. (I know…)

- A warranty on breakage. It’s one thing to ignore the criminal cracking that happens with nearly every iPhone in existence, because you can blame the consumer for dropping the damn thing. But if this thing is on somebody’s wrist, it’s going to get smacked around. And if Apple takes the same approach to breakage as it has for the iPhone, the device will be a failure.

That’s my major wish list. What would you want from the device?

That Guilty Pile of Outdated Technology

By - February 20, 2013

(image Wired) Way back in the day when I was making magazines, I was buried in print. I subscribed to at least twenty periodicals, easily twice that many came my way without my asking. It made for a huge pile of printed material on the end of my desk (stuff I really should read), and it creeped into the horizontal spaces behind me (stuff I think I should read, in case I get the time), or on my shelves (stuff I can’t throw out yet), and the damn things even spilled onto my floor (stuff I probably will never read, but feel too guilty to toss out).

I dubbed this mountain of print The Guilt Pile. Every so often, usually when it was time to move offices, I’d take inventory of the pile, and toss most of it. It always felt so good – a fresh start, a new day, this time, I promise, I’ll not let that pile accumulate again!

Then digital took over my print life, and the pile vanished.

At least, the pile of print vanished. But a new scourge of guilt-inducing matter has now taken over my desks, shelves, and storage spaces, and I’m finding it damn near impossible to toss it out. Devices: phones, tablets, webcams, gee-gaws and dongles, power cords and hard drives – I’ve got drawers full of the stuff. And every time my eye rests upon them, I feel terribly. The device stares back at me, baleful. I somehow owe it my attention, my time and energy – I feel I’m failing at some implicit contract. It’d be simply irresponsible to toss the stuff – it’s probably full of hazardous materials, and most of it is worth something, and at the very least, I should give it to someone who can make use of it. But who? And how? Much of it is…shudder…outdated! Not to mention, many of the devices have my digital fingerprints inside – I couldn’t toss them, recycle them, or sell them without first firing them up and figuring out what’s on there, and how to transfer or erase that data before sending the item to its next phase of life.

And for a significant portion of these technological devices, I’m not even sure I could find the power cords, dongles, and accessories that would make the damn things useful in the first place. The idea of getting all this sh*t ready for sale on eBay feels like Way Too Much Work.

A quick inventory around my home office turns up a couple iPhone 4s, one with a broken home button and the other with a cracked screen, a brand new Sony Internet TV, a BlackBerry Playbook (also never used), five digital cameras of various capacities and ages, four years worth of external storage devices, each smaller and higher capacity than the one before and all obviated by the one sitting next to my Mac as I write this, three old MacBook pros, two of which I’m not sure will ever boot again due to age or infirmities of one kind or another, an old webcam, two Android tablets (the old ones, not the new one), two cracked Kindles, scores of power cords and dongles, a couple of outdated Fitbits, some older Sonos gear, two ancient Airport routers, at least six old iPods, a few feature phones from the pre smartphone era, and ten or so other gadgets (GPS, digital recorders, etc).

And that’s just what I can see. I have boxes of even older stuff in my garage.

Now, I’m probably an edge case, because I buy a lot of this stuff,  and I also go to a lot of swell conferences where they give a lot of this stuff away in the goody bags. Plus, companies sometimes send me things to evaluate (which I rarely get around to doing). But such is not the case for my son, who has a similar, if smaller, cache of technology guilt sitting up in his room right now, all of it collected over ten years of Christmases, birthdays, and allowances.

It all seems like so much work. So I ignore the growing pile of tech, hoping that at some point, someone or something will come along that will solve for my Guilt Pile. I’m not sure it ever will.

But wouldn’t it be grand if you could just sweep all of it into a big box, and send it to a service where they categorized it, valued it, listed it on eBay or gave it to charity, all the while wiping your data (but sending it back to you via some cloud storage link)? They’d then ask what you wanted to do with the money – Send it to charity, buy some groceries, pick up the tab at dinner next time or….get some new devices, perhaps?

Fantasy? Or does this business already exist?

Please, someone, start it up! There’s gotta be a business model in there somewhere….

Reporters Need to Understand Advertising. But Should They Be Making It?

By - February 17, 2013

(image) I know that when I do write here, I tend to go on, and on – and those of you who read me seem to be OK with that. But sometimes the best posts are short and clear.

That was my thought when I read Journalists Need Advertising 101 by Brian Morrissey, writing in Digiday last week. In fewer than 500 words, Morrissey issues a wake up call to those in journalism who believe in the old school notion of a Chinese wall between editorial and advertising:

What’s crazy is journalists seems almost proudly ignorant of the business of advertising. …it’s time journalists take a real interest in how advertising works. I’d go even further. It’s time they get involved in making it. Hope is not a strategy, as they say, and it’s better to deal with the world you live in rather than the world you wish you lived in.

Morrissey goes on to state that the banner ad – the staple of content-based business models for the past 20 years – is “going to zero,” and that the future of the business is in native, integrated content marketing. Journalists, he reasons, need to understand this and get with the program – which means helping to create the content for advertising.

Now, if you’re read me closely, you probably can imagine me nodding my head enthusiastically (though I think display is here to stay, in a renewed model). After all, I’m the one who wrote On Thneeds and the “Death of Display”  and The Evolution of Display: Change Is Here, For Good last year. I’ve been on about “native” for more than six years. The company I started in 2005 has been executing native programs since 2005. FMP has a “CM” practice that works with nearly half of the Fortune 100 doing content marketing and native advertising placements. Scores of our top publishers regularly make content for brands. And now that I think about it, it was a decade ago that I taught courses on the business of journalism to graduate students at Berkeley – because I believed that ignorance of business models spells doom for the fourth estate.

So I generally agree with Morrissey’s points – but with one possible caveat. I fully believe that great creators of content should be, well, creating great content on behalf of brands. The best filmmakers are also the best creators of 30-second spots, after all. But I wonder whether journalists – if defined as reporters who cover beats on a full time basis – should be making branded content if it conflicts with what they cover. A reporter’s contract with their audience is this: I will give you straight information about my beat, and I will not be unduly influenced by those I cover. It’s very hard make that promise if you are also being paid to make content for the brands you cover. Of course the truth is that anyone being covered by a reporter will try to influence them in any number of ways. But money complicates everything. The conflicts are deep – and it puts your audience’s trust at risk.

So should a reporter who covers, say, the auto industry full time, be creating marketing content for auto industry brands? I think we can debate this question. We used to live in a world of hard and fast, hierarchical rules. Now, we live in a world of communities who can and do attempt to understand each other. This is a good thing – a reporter can make his or her own decisions, explain them to an audience, and if the community accepts the result, all is well.

Whether or not you think it’s OK for reporters to create branded content about the industry they cover, I absolutely believe that reporters (and their editors, if they have them) certainly should be reviewing content created for that industry, and providing input on whether the content will resonate with the audiences and markets those reporters know best. And any media company that employs reporters should certainly have a content marketing function (if you don’t, why, give me a ring). Without input from publishers, branded content can fall flat, and fail to truly connect with an audience.

Branded content has to match its audience, and it must add value to the conversation. And most importantly, sponsor relationships must be clearly communicated. So how to do it? Branded content needs an understanding of the market, the talent to create content in that market and the ability to place its content in front of the market. If you want to be in a fast moving conversation, it’s damn hard to do all that without editors and reporters. As Morrissey points out, the flat-footed Scientology mess shows what happens when the Chinese wall between advertisers and publishers is overly imposed.

But let’s address the elephant in the room: should brands be asking reporters to make content for brands they directly cover? It’s debatable, but I’d argue it’s probably not a good idea.

Of course, this may be a question of degree. Is it OK for a reporter to write branded content if it’s not about the brand, but merely underwritten by the brand? That happens a lot already, to the point where it seems almost uncontroversial (although many “traditional” journalists decry the practice). What if the reporter writes content for a brand they don’t cover directly, but is in the industry they cover? Can auto industry reporters, for example, create content for other areas not on their specific beat, like say, for an auto insurance brand?  Is it only OK if they write whatever they wish to, editorially, but not alright if they are told what topics to cover?  I could go on for quite a while…

I’ve given a ton of thought to these issues, but it strikes me our industry hasn’t really codified a clear set of principles on the matter. And for content marketing to really thrive, we certainly should.

Perhaps a start to this conversation is the distinction between a reporter who covers a beat full time with a promise to an audience of unbiased point of view, and a strong voice in the industry who lives or dies based on their individual point of view, but isn’t a full time reporter working for someone else.  This has been a long standing point of contention since the rise of bloggers – what is a journalist, anyway? Is a blogger who regularly expresses a strong point of view on a particular industry a journalist?

Lord knows tons of folks have weighed in on this topic, but here’s my shorthand: I think everyone and anyone can be a journalist, especially bloggers. But not all journalists are reporters. There’s an important distinction here, and it’s one worth maintaining. I write a journal – this site. It has my opinion, my point of view, my voice and analysis, and every so often, a piece of reporting. But I am not a full time reporter. I believe readers are smart: They understand when someone (like me) is a voice in a particular industry. They also understand that someone with a passion who writes a site on food, or style, or entertainment, isn’t a beat reporter covering those issues full time, but rather a smart voice saying whatever they care to say, whenever they care to say it. If that person decides to take on sponsored work, that’s fine. If  the content they create is disclosed, of high quality, adds value to their community, and puts food on the table, everyone wins.

This is naunced stuff, and worth airing out. As content marketing becomes a standard in our industry, we need to open up this dialog and be willing to learn from each other. I look forward to the ongoing conversation.

An Embarrassment of Pitches

By - February 07, 2013

Man, sometimes you have to venture out onto the real web to realize how far much of the “professional sites” have to travel before they have a viable model.

Case in point: The San Jose Mercury News. Today the paper (yeah, I’m calling it that) published an interesting-sounding piece entitled Silicon Valley job growth has reached dot-com boom levels, report says.  It was widely retweeted and otherwise socially circulated. It’s been a while since the Merc has mattered in my world, and I was pleasantly suprised to see the story pop up in my feeds. So I clicked through to the Actual Web Site to Actually Read The Story.

LordInHeaven I wish I hadn’t. Look at what I saw:

 

Now, it’s going take some work to break down this hot holy mess. So stay with me.

First off, believe it or not the belly flab ad isn’t the worst part of this experience (it’s close, believe me). The worst part is the layout, which looks like – well, something you’d wrap a fish in.

There there are the ads. As the Grinch might say…the ads ads ads ads. Six or more of them in this screenshot, and three more below the fold. There’s a Verizon site wrapper (on either side of the page), an expandable top banner, and three medium rectangle units crammed in there. Not one of them is what you might call a “quality” ad – at least by most standards. (Do you think Verizon is happy that their site takeover is overrun by social media buttons and competing with belly flab, diabetes, Frys’ Electronics and travel pitches?) If you bother to scroll down (who would?) there are three more pitches waiting for you there.

And check out the number of beacons and trackers on the right, in purple. That’s Ghostery, which I run on my browser to see who’s laying down data traps. Man, Merc, that’s a lot o’ data. Are you doing anything with it? (I’m guilty of the same, as a commentator points out below.)

It’s late, I’ll stop. But before I go, one more thing: I just don’t believe that’s the same person Before and After in that belly fat ad. Oh, and what was I reading again? Ah, never mind.