The Now/ledge

A Guide to the 'Now' Revolution in News / by Alan Soon

Google puts content farms in its sights (good luck to Demand Media’s IPO)

Demand Media’s expected IPO next week has run into a not so-unexpected problem — Google.

The Internet search engine is working on weeding out what it calls webspam — the junk that appears in search results, often courtesy of highly operational content farms like Demand Media.

Google is apparently concerned about a perception that the quality of its search results is worsening. The company’s problem with spam is also getting exploited by a small rival, Blekko, which promises better returns through user curation.

Google acknowledges that websites are trying to cheat their way up to higher position and that “people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content.”

This spells trouble for Demand Media in its move toward an IPO. But none of this should be too surprising for investors. The company, in its preliminary prospectus, warned:

“Google may from time to time change its existing, or establish new, methodologies and metrics for valuing the quality of Internet traffic and delivering cost-per-click advertisements. Any changes in these methodologies, metrics and advertising technology platforms could decrease the amount of revenue that we generate from online advertisements.”

Content farms like AOL’s Seed and Yahoo’s Associated Content need to take a closer look at the business. It’s risky and it’s quickly evolving. Keep an eye on Quora. Why should anyone go to eHow when they can get better curated answers to their questions by a community that has a healthy dose of credibility?

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Filed under: SEO,

Don’t correct tweets, delete them

At the end of every major fast-breaking news events, media junkies gather — almost like clockwork — to rip apart news organizations that were too fast in firing off the “post” button on Twitter. It’s almost as if, event after event, we’re constantly surprised that with the speed of Twitter come inaccuracies.

Craig Silverman, a freelance journo based in Montreal, runs a fascinating (and almost sad) blog on inaccuracies in media called Regret The Error. In a recent review of the coverage of the shooting of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the question of correcting tweets came up.

Should a news organization delete a tweet that was inaccurate?

Boston’s WBUR was apparently first on Twitter to report that Giffords had been killed — and they got the story wrong. The Congresswoman was shot, but she wasn’t killed.

Instead of deleting the erroneous tweet, WBUR decided instead to issue a correction. In its defense, WBUR said:

We have decided NOT to delete the erroneous tweet, because it serves as part of the narrative of this story. Facts can change fast when news is breaking, and that leads to errors. We need to own the error, not hide from it. But we also need to rectify the error and explain ourselves to people who trust us. Deleting the tweet would do more to harm trust than preserving it would do to harm truth.

Well, the goal to preserve reporting as the “first draft of history” is an honorable one. It works well in print — but fails miserably in online tools like Twitter. It’s simple: leaving an erroneous tweet out there runs the risk of someone else re-tweeting it. That’s irresponsible. The goal is accuracy, not the burial of errors. So instead, what WBUR should have done was:

1. Delete the inaccurate tweet;
2. Post a new tweet explaining the correction and set the record straight

Ultimately, for Twitter to continue serving journalists, it needs to create a way for users to issue corrections while maintaining a sequence of events. That way, as far as news coverage goes, you’ll only be able to see and re-tweet the most recent update.

Isn’t that a better way to draft history?

Filed under: News, Twitter

The Golden Voice guy and the lesson of content scarcity on the Web

YouTube's takedown notice

When the Columbus Dispatch took a stand to defend its copyright of the video of a panhandler hosted on YouTube, it provided an important reflection of the state of the newspaper industry and a reminder about the impossible business of content scarcity on the Internet.

On January 6th, the Dispatch filed a claim with YouTube to remove the viral video of Ted Williams, the homeless man with the “Golden Voice.” It alleged that an “unauthorized person” had posted the video on the popular video site, in violation of its copyright.

The paper was obviously well within its rights to defend its content. The Ted Williams video exists on the paper’s website, but let’s face it — it wasn’t going to get the viral effect that made Ted Williams a household name among 13 million users on YouTube.

The point is, Williams would not have been a story if it weren’t for YouTube. The homeless man wouldn’t have had the attention of any of the companies that have since offered him jobs.

So why did the Dispatch act in such a matter?

Sadly, the Dispatch was trying to do what most newspapers are doing in the age of the Internet: restricting access to original content. Does it work? No. Content scarcity is not a viable business model when it comes to Internet publishing. At best, it allows rivals to circumvent you by curating other commoditized content instead of yours. In its worst, it robs journalism of a great story.

The Ted Williams story is indeed a triumph of online journalism through social media. Every great story deserves to be read, watched or heard. Scarcity doesn’t exist in great online journalism.

So what could Dispatch have done?

  • Leave the video on YouTube and leverage the traffic that the video is attracting;
  • Shepherd the conversation — share ideas with the community on how to address homelessness. You now have the attention of millions. Use it for good (isn’t that the point of journalism?);
  • Provide links to similar stories or provide a follow-up story on the Dispatch website
  • Establish an easy way for the community to share similar stories on the Dispatch website

    In the end, the Dispatch — under pressure from its readers (and ironically, other people who have never heard of the newspaper) — opened its own official channel on YouTube. Here’s the Williams video, now under the appropriate copyright (sans the 13 million views and the thousands of comments that have now been lost). I hope the lesson hasn’t been lost on other newspapers.

    Filed under: Newspapers, , , , ,

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