The Now/ledge

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

WSJ Social: I still don’t get it.

WSJ Social: Exciting strategy but poorly executed on Facebook

The thought of the internet as Facebook is scary.

So it’s even scarier when a major news publication like the Wall Street Journal decides to open a store front on Facebook — without linking back to the

Treating Facebook as the internet is exactly what WSJ Social is doing. I’ve been trying this out since it launched over a week ago. I get the strategy: Be everywhere your audience is. Clever, because that’s rule #1 of all social strategies. Scary, because it means that the WSJ may have opened the door to the next stage of online news content: Only on Facebook.

This model however isn’t as unique as it sounds. Cable companies have widened their engagement of users from TVs to other platforms such as PCs and mobile devices.

But strategy aside, I don’t think WSJ is going to get far with this social app.

Part of the goal, it seems, is to test a new user engagement model for WSJ by getting users to see themselves as “editors” and to customize their concept of news to other people in WSJ Social. I’ve tried it; and I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do. So what if I’m hitting “Like?” Well, there is apparently a “game-ified” layer to this where curators with the highest following appear on a leaderboard. I may be missing the point here.


Filed under: Facebook, News, Newspapers, Social Media

Facebook’s new commenting system and why it matters

Facebook’s new Comment Box plug-in for external blogs (currently under testing at TechCrunch) presents new opportunities for publishers, further disruption to social conversations, and plenty of questions surrounding privacy.

The plug-in works with major blogging platforms and combines conversations on both ends of the social line — on the blog site as well as the user’s Facebook page.

That’s a big deal. Here’s why:

First, the use of a person’s Facebook identity in comments could finally be the key in bringing civility to conversations, cutting out spamming and trolling to a large degree. That’s an important step forward in building constructive conversations.

At the same time, it further blurs the line between public and private discussions. If you were to add a comment on your favorite blog site, Facebook will publish (note: it’s an opt-out if you don’t want it) that same comment (and link back) to your Facebook profile page. Every comment it picks up through your friends at Facebook then syncs back with the main blog site. Depending on how you split private and public discussions, this could be a problem. Some of your friends may also not want to see their comments appear on a public forum that they’ve never actually visited.

Second, it’s easier to get to the best comments — the most liked ones float to the top, keeping the crap out of your view. That increases the competition for visibility, which again, should introduce some civility to online blog conversations. Comments by your friends also take pole position — which may be good or bad depending on the circle you keep.

Third — and this should keep publishers awake at night — what happens to the SEO? Since comments no longer reside on the blog, Facebook is now sitting on a rich pile of content that hasn’t yet been mined — and the search referrals are theirs to own.

These are still early days for this plug-in but it reflects the strategic importance of conversations for online media companies. Ultimately, as firms race to the bottom of the barrel for commoditized content, the only things that matter are the community and the conversations it generates. That’s why conversations are the gold mine of Content 2.0. It’s not all about the stories anymore — it’s about the conversations it triggers.

(Photo credit: practicalowl / Creative Commons)

Filed under: Facebook, Social Media,

What journalism needs in 2011

The smartest minds in the business have already put out their best predictions for 2011. So I’ll do mine differently; here’s my list of what I think journalism needs in order to thrive in 2011.

1. Tablet-only publications and redefining our metrics

Tablet devices offer the best opportunity yet for us to redefine online journalism/publishing. It’s like hitting the reset button. For one, this is our best chance yet to do away with the obsolete metric of counting page views, which in my opinion represents the worst contamination of online journalism. Story-telling is undermined by numerous “link bait,” all for the purpose of collecting more clicks. More than ever, engagement matters. It’s time we measured that in minutes and not clicks. Tablets, and their more natural way of interaction, offer the best chance to get that right.

My other hope is that tablets, with increasing competition in the apps ecosystem, will favor niche and curated stories with differentiation. The current Web ecosystem is plagued by weeds — a result of the rise of content farms. It’s time to return to considered curation. Try this analogy: instant coffee didn’t kill the barista profession; in fact, it’s taught many people about the beauty of a fabulous brew. I hope content is headed in the same direction.

2. Social news

Storify is the best example of the potential of social news. Think of it as a “news of news” platform. The Washington Post used Storify recently during the U.S. mid-term election to monitor allegations of fraud and irregularities.

I’d love to see other rivals to Storify emerge. I’d bet that the competition will come from none other than the social media networks themselves. Social updates are already the gold mine of the content age — and there’s no reason why a company like Facebook would leave this lying on the table. How long will it be before Facebook enters the social news business?

3. Data mining as a news profession

Yahoo’s country editor in Vietnam Nguyen Tran Ha often reminds me that “information only exists when it is read.” In the age of “leakification” provided by WikiLeaks and its copycats, data exists — but it needs to be interpreted and mined. Like library science, data mining is a profession in its own right and such professionals are needed to pull in and interpret the numbers.

ProPublica demonstrated with great success this year what some have called “computational journalism” — the marriage of algorithms, computing and investigation. Here’s an example of data they put together detailing which banks received the largest bailouts from the Fed.

Data is after all, the raw material for investigative journalism. It’s time to see this reflected in a profession created around it. Would someone like to attempt a job description for such a role?

Filed under: Facebook, General, Jobs, News, , , , , , ,

Why Facebook needs its own phone

TechCrunch’s report on Facebook’s secret plans to build its own phone is thin on details. The idea is wild and it sounds somewhat insane. But according to TechCrunch, Joe Hewitt and Matthew Papakipos (who seem suitably qualified) are working on a secret project. It provokes the question: Does Facebook even need a phone?


It’s not so much about the phone in a hardware sense. It’s about building a platform and ecosystem to guarantee that Facebook continues to own its social footprint on the PC and mobile phones.

Facebook already has a number of APIs, SDKs and plug-ins available to developers. The goal is simple — to get as close as possible to an operating (eco)system on the web.

So why wouldn’t it try to do the same thing on mobile phones?

Facebook’s size and reach put it in the cross hairs of rivals Google and Apple. Much of its survival on phones hinges on Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. I just don’t see either rival providing deep Facebook deep access into their mobile operating system. Just look at how Apple’s Ping and Google’s Buzz are turning out. Facebook’s reliance on its rivals in the mobile space is downright risky.

Also keep in mind the line between a traditional address book and a social one has blurred. Arguably, the people who matter to you are probably already on Facebook, along with all their contact details. It’s really up to Facebook to define what a “social contact book” looks like. This is the best way to do that.


Update: Facebook issued a denial to Mashable the very next day:

“The bottom line is that whenever we work on a deep integration, people want to call it a ‘Facebook Phone’ because that’s such an attractive soundbite, but building phones is just not what we do.”

Filed under: Facebook, Social Media,

Hot Potato to be shut down as team moves to Facebook

I’m sad to see Hot Potato go — but it looks like their acquisition by Facebook is now confirmed. Hot Potato was a great service that still had plenty of room to grow. It will now be shut down under its new owners. It was definitely ahead of its time.

The announcement can be found here.

Filed under: Facebook

Social media and the TV connection

A new post by Hitwise analyst Heather Hopkins is highlighting an interesting (but perhaps not too surprising) trend regarding news consumption on Facebook vs Google News.

Facebook sends news traffic to:

  • The Weather Channel
  • Yahoo! News
  • People Magazine
  • Google News, on the other hand, sends news traffic to:

  • The New York Times
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • The Washington Post
  • Reuters
  • Note the difference and possible conclusion: Facebook is great at directing news to broadcast sites, presumably for breaking news and live events; Google, by contrast, sends traffic to high reputation newspaper sites, presumably for the broader picture.

    This data coincides with what the TV industry already knows: social media is helping to create an online water-cooler conversation, encouraging people to spend time online and on TV at the same time.

    Case in point: NBC showed the Golden Globes on both coasts in the U.S. for the first time this year, in a nod to the symbiotic relationship between TV and social media; ultimately, people witnessing a live event want to be attached to each other.

    Filed under: Facebook, Social Media, Twitter,

    Worrying: Facebook patents the Newsfeed

    Patents are nothing new in the tech industry; giants like Intel and Apple have played this card for years to deliver the goods that we’re now so familiar with.

    But what happens when your activity online suddenly becomes a patent fight?

    Facebook this week was granted a patent on — guess what — its Newsfeed.

    According to the patent filing, the Newsfeed is:

    A method for displaying a news feed in a social network environment is described. The method includes generating news items regarding activities associated with a user of a social network environment and attaching an informational link associated with at least one of the activities, to at least one of the news items, as well as limiting access to the news items to a predetermined set of viewers and assigning an order to the news items.

    Can you imagine a social web experience in 2010 without a news feed?

    This is a massive game changer as it take the fight straight into what everyone else is trying to do right now: help users discover relevant and interesting stories flagged through their primary filter — their friends.

    As I wrote previously, status updates will be the most valuable consumer content in the next two years as a gold mine of insights into user behavior and preference. Facebook’s move to create a moat around this is troubling.

    So is this the end of the line for other companies? Probably not. In fact, this could be a good thing. Since many of us hate the way Newsfeeds are presented, this is a fabulous opportunity for innovators to present social news in new ways.

    How would you like to see your social news feed?

    (Illustration: Geek and Poke/Creative Commons)

    Filed under: Facebook, Social Media

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