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 wsj.com.

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.

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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,

How will the news syndication model evolve?

In his piece for Nieman Journalism Lab’s predictions for 2011, Clay Shirky makes a big deal of the disruption of the syndication model in a social news environment. His prediction works like this: bloggers are ripping off and building on reporting done by news agencies like Reuters and AP, so why will newspapers even need to buy wire subscriptions anymore when they can, in turn, just get it off the blogs?

He writes:

“This kind of linking, traffic driving, and credit are natively web-like ideas, but they are also inimical to the older logic of syndication. Put simply, syndication makes little sense in a world with URLs. When news outlets were segmented by geography, having live human beings sitting around in ten thousand separate markets deciding which stories to pull off the wire was a service. Now it’s just a cost.”

Sure, journalism is not an efficient value system. As Ken Doctor described it, “journalism is essentially a manufacturing process, with as much or as little value added as we want.”

In the case of newspapers, no one called the end to wire reporting just because columnists were building opinion pieces on top of the work done by their colleagues in the field. This is the same of the blogosphere — you will always need the raw materials on which you build an opinion. In television news (where I’ve spent most of my career), much of what makes it on air comes from wire services — videos, photos, articles. The spit and polish comes from talking heads — an evolving industry trend (now largely the norm) in the past 15 years.

News agencies, in my view, will continue to evolve and in my prediction, this will be no different from any other industry that works directly with raw materials. Reuters, AP and AFP won’t go the way of the dinosaurs. Instead, their business model and more importantly, the product, needs to change. The goal is can no longer be a final piece that ends up published in a newspaper. The mandate instead, needs to be to provide columnists, editors and bloggers the raw facts — data, photos, analytics — in which they then build their own versions of the story.

Now that’s the value-add for 2011.

Filed under: Newspapers, Publishing, Social Media, Television,

Blekko scores one for human curation — and why content farms should worry

Human curation still matters. And that’s the bet that search engine startup Blekko is making.

It’s premise is simple — add a dose of “social” and what it calls “slash tags” and there you have it: a collection of hand-picked sites that focus on what people (not algorithms) look at.

The move takes aim at the rise in content farms such as Demand Media and Associated Content that focus on ways to game Google’s through clever SEO techniques. While this is a profitable, scalable way to create content (Demand is off to an IPO soon), users are led down the path of dodgy content whose source or credibility can’t be determined. Would you go to eHow.com for medical advice? (I kid you not — people do because that’s what Google serves up)

“I personally don’t like getting content aggregators like Demand Media in my results,” said Rich Skrenta, the CEO of Blekko. “They’re polluting the Web.”

Skrenta, the ex-founder of Topix, has raised $24 million in venture-capital funds. He’s also tapped famous angel investors like Marc Andreessen.

With a touch of social magic dust, Blekko has brought together in a private beta more than 3,000 collections of sites that can be found through slash tags.

It’s vertical search meets social. And score one for human curation. Sometimes there just some things that people do better.

Filed under: SEO, Social Media

Guardian releases blogging, commenting guidelines for journos

The UK’s Guardian newspaper has published its best practices for journalists blogging and responding to comments on its site.

No major surprises and most are common sense (“Don’t reward disruptive behavior with attention, but report it when you find it.”) Perhaps the most interesting reminder to journos:

#1. Participate in conversations about our content, and take responsibility for the conversations you start.

Definitely worth keeping in mind.

Filed under: Newspapers, Social Media

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?

Yes.

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,

It’s official: Asian users are more engaged with social networks

Surprise! It turns out not everyone around the world uses social media the same way (tell me you knew this!).

Analysis in the current edition of the Harvard Business Review, backed by data from the Trendstream Global Web index, mapped out how people share information of themselves online — specifically, what people are doing with blogs, social profiles, photos, videos and microblogging.

Conclusion: Asian users are more engaged than their counterparts in the West when it comes to social networks. Users in China and India are apparently three times more likely to Tweet than those in the U.S. They are also twice as likely to share videos.

Filed under: Social Media, Twitter

Year Zero: Relearning journalism, on the internet

I’m fast coming up to my first anniversary at Yahoo!. It’s been an amazing year to have been in the online industry and I’m glad I made the move from traditional media. In many ways, I’ve been forced to learn and relearn the news industry — the way content is created and distributed — and perhaps more importantly, witness the changing face of storytelling in the internet age.

The idea for this post came from Yahoo!’s country editor for Indonesia, Budi Putra, who himself made the leap of faith a number of years back when he left the esteemed Tempo to start a blogging network. Budi insisted that a post like this would be interesting (and hopefully) useful to others seeking to make the shift.

So this is what I’ve learned in Year Zero:

Traditional media is more important than ever. Bottom line — traditional, legacy newsrooms are still the most efficient sources of news production today. Traditional news teams, thanks to a tested (although sometimes dysfunctional) mode of operations, are able to deliver quality reporting on a predictable basis. I don’t know many full online news teams who have been able to do this. Despite all the buzz about social news, there would be little to Tweet about if not for traditional media.

Crowd-sourcing is the beginning, not the end of the process. Ignore the pundits who tell you that user generated content is the new news model. It isn’t. No matter how you slice it, UGC requires strong curation and distillation. Only a great editor is able to help you filter out the noise. As Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt put it recently, “If you’re ever confused as to the value of newspaper editors, look at the blog world.”

Commoditized content. I struggle with this word. Pre-Yahoo!, my world was about articles, photos, videos, comments, shows, rundowns, soundbites. In the online news world, so much of what is produced now comes under a faceless, commoditized product called “content.” This shift toward commoditizing the online news industry will only lead to more generic volume, coming at the expense of quality. Content farms like Demand Media and Seed are a worthwhile experiment on how to create this “stuff” quickly. Unfortunately, none of this is differentiated.

Shepherding the communities. This is arguably the most crucial role that online media plays — the ability to seed and drive dialogue and conversations about stories. However, this requires an investment in resources. Moderating and growing a community doesn’t come cheap and requires a lot of time.

Journalism isn’t dead. It just needs a new business model. I feel we’re getting closer to this. Just look at the nonprofit ProPublica, which recently won a Pulitzer for its collaborative work done with The New York Times Magazine. Nonprofit online investigative journalism meets an established magazine. A viable news model? We don’t have a choice but to give it a shot.

Filed under: News, Social Media

Is Twitter really a news firehose?

There’s no doubt about what Twitter does for many of us — it’s a great, simple way to pick up on what’s happening now.

So how useful is it in driving traffic to news sites?

Data from Hitwise shows that Twitter.com (Note: this is the web service and doesn’t reflect traffic from apps like TweetDeck) ranked #39 in the amount of clicks it sends to news and media sites. Surprisingly, Facebook is #3.

Twitter.com made up a mere 0.14% of upstream visits to news and media sites last week. This compares to 3.64% from Facebook and 1.27% from Google News.

Where did all that traffic go?

Filed under: News, Social Media, Twitter

Reuters tells journos: Don’t break news on Twitter!

Reuters is in a bit of a bind.

To protect its bread-and-butter wire service, it’s telling its journalists not to “scoop the wire” by breaking news stories on Twitter. According to the latest guidelines issued to staff:

As with blogging within Reuters News, you should make sure that if you have hard news content that it is broken first via the wire. Don’t scoop the wire. NB this does not apply if you are ‘retweeting’ (re-publishing) someone else’s scoop.

“Scooping the wire” must have been a difficult discussion internally. Just a year ago, Dean Wright, the agency’s global editor for ethics and innovation (interesting to see that Reuters has paired ethics and innovation in the same position) wrote in a blog:

If I don’t beat the Reuters wire with a live tweet because I deliberately hold back, someone else will. If I don’t beat the Reuters wire because I’m slow or inattentive, someone else will. The reason my live tweeting was fast is that it was unintermediated, while the journalist covering the story went the traditional route and had a discussion with an editor about how best to position and play the story. Both methods have important roles. In this case, the editor added value.

Overall, the guidelines are constructive. Reuters wants its journalists to:

  • Get manager approval before using social networks for professional purposes
  • Have a second pair of eyes to look over the tweets before sending
  • Separate professional and private activity through different accounts
  • Think about whether they’re linking only or mainly to voices on one side of a debate
  • The concern at Reuters is understandable. But it needs to keep two things in mind:

    First, though powerful, Twitter is a very niche product that doesn’t (yet) have the same reach as TV or the wires. Breaking news will be seen by more editors, financial services analysts and investors faster on the wires. When was the last time you heard of a fund manager putting a sell or buy order on a stock because of what he/she read on Twitter?

    Second, in the long run, such a move robs Reuters and its journos of the knowledge of how to build a sustainable and effective news service through social media services. Ultimately, a modern journalist has a personal brand that matters.

    Filed under: News, Social Media, Twitter

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