Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage


Jan 12

Great Design Equation

Posted: under Design, New Marketing, new media, Online Video.
Tags: , ,

Here’s another quick hit:

Al Gore divided by Bill Gates?

Al Gore divided by Bill Gates?Does that mean that the polar icecaps will now recede as slowly as a Vista boot-up? 'Cause that'd actually be pretty cool.

I really love the playful spirit behind this ad – the way that it takes great design, which by its nature cannot be reduced to a set of integers and mathematic functions, and reconstructs the evolution of great forces in advertising and marketing into an arresting image.  Great stuff.

Maybe I’m loving this just because it’s so “meta” – an ad image that seeks to comment on, and explain forcefully & originally, what is best & most innovative about advertising design.  The Big Scary Project I’m working on right now is kinda like this – it’s a journalistic project that seeks to impress other journalists with its depth & insight.  Which is a high-wire act that borders on the reckless.

Jay Rosen did a piece today that was so good & interesting that it pissed me off.  I’ll be blogging about it, in light of the stuff I wrote about last night from David Simon.

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Oct 06

Replacing Newspapers: A Cocktail Approach

Posted: under advertising, Blogs, Design, Digital Migration, journalism, new media, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers, Online Video.
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I hate like hell to keep doing quick, off-the-cuff bites at such big topics, but maybe I should just resign myself to accepting the web ethos of not trying to do all things at once.  Yeah, yeah, I know – “Eat the elephant one bite at a time.”So here’s an interesting coinkydink: two items I bookmarked to read later – and actually got around to reading (pause here for an astonished gasp) – struck me as having a stronger relationship than was initially apparent.

First was this bit from the Economist, about how professionals are starting to really flock to online social networks:

On LinkedIn, the market leader, members have been updating their profiles in record numbers in recent weeks, apparently to position themselves in case they lose their jobs. The two most popular sites, LinkedIn and Xing, have been growing at breakneck speed and boast 29m and 6.5m members respectively. And, in contrast to mass-market social networks such as Facebook and MySpace, both firms have worked out how to make money.

The article goes on to raise two interesting points 1) if Facebook can start becoming friendlier to business users it might start actually making money, and 2) professionals are shit-scared about the economy and looking at social networks as great “Career Insurance” places to schmooze people you met once at a conference, snarfed their biz card and never had a use for.old friends.

Next to this was a piece from BusinessWeek, another in the seemingly endless series of kidney punches from the biz community about how newspapers are doomed, done for, goners, forks stuck into them and vultures already descending.

So who would profit from a disappearing newspaper? Local TV and cable, for starters. The city daily is still the biggest single media entity in virtually any market. Its main pitch to advertisers is brutally simple: We have more craniums to dent with your message than anyone else.

(snip)

Which brings me to a disquieting conclusion. The obvious venues for all this displaced journalistic energy are a gazillion new independent online endeavors, be they individual blogs or bigger efforts like MinnPost.com. They will make for fascinating media ecosystems within individual cities, and some will become hits. It is much less certain whether ad dollars will follow. Ultracheap classifieds site craigslist has simply “destroyed revenue,” [emph. mine – dlf] says Dave Morgan, a former newspaper executive who founded behavioral targeting firm Tacoda, and revenue that no longer exists won’t shift to new ventures. Others point out that key newspaper advertisers—local auto dealers and realtors, say—already have many outlets for ads online, not least of which are their own Web sites or national sites such as Cars.com that serve up targeted ads.

For those sensing untapped riches in ads from pizzerias and dry cleaners, well, good luck, says Borrell. “Local is a very unorganized and dirty business,” he says. “People look at local as this one-ton gorilla, but in fact it’s 2,000 one-pound monkeys.” And no publisher can afford to sit down with a city’s 2,000 small fry to sell each a $50 ad. The bitterest pill of all for newspaper denizens is that, while nature abhors a vacuum and all that, in this case there may not even be one left to fill.

Yowch. So newspapers will all just die, and by this point in time, they’ve become so irrelevant and useless that nobody will even really notice that they’re gone?  Sheesh.  Start passing out the pistols & hemlock in America’s newsrooms, eh?

El Tiempo's DIY interface. This is for their very profitable "Portafolio" spin-off site.

El Tiempo

I’m going to have to disagree with this nihilistic conclusion.  Yeah, I know the local online niche ad market is impossibly fragmented, and it would cost a publisher more to pay an ad sales rep than that person would produce in revenue.  Solution: don’t pay the ad rep.  Do what El Tiempo in Bogota calls “auto-pauta,” or DIY ads.  BTW, I really do recommend you click through on that link to El Tiempo.  They are one of the smartest operations out there, they are making piles of cash off internet ads, and they are constantly (ruthlessly, relentlessly) refining their approach.

Moreover. When you look at what the social networking sites are really selling their users, you start to come to the conclusion that what a local newspaper – correction: what the local newspaper of the future – offers can be a lot more compelling.

Think about what the users really want from these social net sites.  Chatting with friends, yeah sure. Blowing your own horn in a socially acceptable way, yessiree. Looking for the next step up on the ladder? Well, yeah … but the problem with a lot of the listings on the social net services is that they are from all over the place. Yeah, you can filter them. But we all know that most of the really good jobs are never spamadvertised like this.  We find them through referrals – which is where recruiters/headhunters come in. And local friends & business acquaintances.

One of the fastest-growing areas on LinkedIn is the “Question” section, where pros reach out to other pros in their groups, and ask something that’s on their mind.  They’re trying to have conversations.

That should be taking place at a newspaper site.  Sooner or later, it will.  Either the papers will replicate it and include it in their future selves, or they will do a Borg takeover.  The paper is a much more logical place for this kind of activity – it includes access to the reference materials from the past, a panel of trained experts to step in and help moderate the discussions, or kick new discussions off with provocative questions, and a huge archive of relevants facts and materials that can be used to make the conversations that much more valuable.

Example: One of the questions I’m participating in on LinkedIn is where to put your money now that the market is tanking so badly. There are some very smart market analysts chiming in here. But it would be nice to be able to have a window/panel open on the screen showing the various stock tables, and perhaps links to content locally that makes the point that some foreign markets are going to be able to ride out this storm, while others just get crushed.

The fact that biz users, those who have education & disposable income, have had to range far afield in search of information that they need to use in their careers, is an indictment of the lack of creative thinking at newspapers.   It will take time and effort to reverse the momentum … because the very users that papers covet most are abandoning papers.

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Sep 11

Yahoo’s Blueprint, PointRoll Dances on the iPhone, and Millennial Media Targets Everyone

Posted: under advertising, Design, Digital Migration, google, new media, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers, Online Video.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Packing up for the trip back down to LA, but couldn’t let these little tidbits from the CTIA pass without at least acknowledging them.

1.  Yahoo is trying to drum up some support for its Blueprint mobile platform.  They claim that it’s going to allow users to achieve the Holy Grail of mobile/web content – tying together all our virtual identities with its oneConnect application. It’s been said, over and over (AND OVER) again that the first company to figure out how to provide the one-stop platform for social media interactivity over cellphones, is going to be the next Google (if Google itself doesn’t snarf up that space as well).  The dream is that oneConnect (or whatever) becomes the way to keep up with what your friends on Facebook, Flickr, Bebo, MySpace, YouTube, etc. etc. are doing, and a way to post constant updates on where/what/why/with whom/teh awesum!1!/go away now/overload to all the places where you share your life’s experiences with the world.

Leaving aside for the moment the sneaking suspicion that aggregating all our identities through one company’s pipe may not turn out to be such a bright idea, the software is apparently generating the skepticism already.

Yahoo has been trying to hype this app since, oh, Barcelone in February, and to my knowledge, they really haven’t gotten that much traction with it, despite the best efforts of their developers.

I’d like to see Yahoo manage to pull this off; like many others, I’m starting to get more & more uneasy about Google’s unchallenged dominance, and I’d just as soon they not have complete control over what I do, see, say & hear, as well as knowing who I’m doing said communicating with/near/for/against.

Moving on.

2. Pointroll is wowing the attendees at the CTIA, offering easy(ier?) ways of taking rich media ads and porting them over to the mobile platform.  Their demo of interactive ads on the iPhone, done through and with USA Today, has publishers and advertisers pondering if the time has actually come to start migrating the TV ad spending over to the phones that the 14-24s are actually using, paying attention to, and carrying with them everywhere.

The bad news for Yahoo is that PointRoll is hyping that using their platform will allow ads to run across the entire Google content network. Viz:

The Google content network encompasses hundreds of thousands of
websites, including premium publishers and long-tail niche sites.
Google and PointRoll worked together to ensure that the ads served to
the Google content network meet Google’s policies and specifications.
After completing Google’s certification process, PointRoll’s
sophisticated targeting technologies can now optimize the breadth of
Google’s sites and categories, matching advertisers’ messages to the
users who find them most relevant.

Again, nice hype.  But in light of the struggles that Google has had with Android, I remain skeptical that they have managed to so quickly solve all the problems with serving mobile ads in anything like a timely manner.  I just think that there’s still too much market fragmentation to be able to claim that this One Size Fits All app will reach a mass audience.

To backup my point, allow me to quote a piece in the paper today: one of the problems many sites are running into is that about 25% of web users are still limping along with Internet Explorer 6.0.

(Pause to allow veteran web developers to spit, vomit, scream, make the two-fingered “sign of the devil’s horns” to ward off evil.)

IE 6.0 is widely recognized as the shittiest web browser ever inflicted on the public. It was launched in 2001.  Since then, Microsoft has bugged users to upgrade, remove, kill, quash, forget, shred, this browser.  The fact that a quarter of users in the U.S. still view the web through its Funhouse Mirror interface shows that 1) A large proportion of the public continues to employ legacy technology no matter how Christawful it is, 2) these folks ignore new technology, no matter how much better it is, for fear that upgrading will somehow cause them a problem, and 3) any tech solution based on the assumption that people will be running the latest&greatest hardware and software is doomed to die like like a possum wandering onto the Indy 500 speedway.

3.  Millennial Media is competing with PointRoll to serve multimedia ads to the mobile market.  And we’re going to have to stop here, because it’s time to load up the Conestoga wagon and head back to LA.

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Jul 12

Incentivizing Participation: Online Communities and Newspaper Survival

Posted: under Design, new media, Online Video.
Tags: , , , , ,

The exact numbers are somewhat fluid, but most analysts agree that only 1-5 people out of every thousand that visit a UGC site will actually contribute something. That works out to between 0.1 and 0.5%

That is a very small group to base the success of your community site on. Small, fragile, fickle and easily discouraged by trolling and flaming.

The Guardian had this take:

you shouldn’t expect too much online. Certainly, to echo Field of
Dreams, if you build it, they will come. The trouble, as in real life,
is finding the builders.

I come to this question because of a recent screed by Paul Gillin on Newspaper Death Watch, micturating on the idea that newspapers should be concerned with building a community. Gillin is skeptical about communities (H/T to Amy Gahran at Poynter for bringing this to my attention) because, he says, “the question came up about what publications can do to build community.
I responded that they can’t do much and they shouldn’t even try
because, with few exceptions, readers aren’t a community.”

Apparently, Yelvington has beaten me to the punch here, with this post “Bzzzzzt! Wrong! Community should be job #1”

This is just thoroughly, thoroughly wrong, utterly self-defeating.

Failure to build community is one of the many reasons so many
newspapers are in so much trouble right now. Yeah, the Internet this
and the economy that and television blah blah blah, but don’t overlook
“failure to lead.” Far too many newspapers have either intentionally
abandoned or simply lost interest and wandered away from the mission.

[snip]

Community doesn’t scale. I’ve previously written about the Dunbar Number.
Each of us has hard-wired limits, so don’t go looking for nationwide
“USA Today” community around general news. That’s clearly the wrong
place to look.

Because of the scale issue, community flourishes in the niches, and
geography happens to be one. But as I’ve said before, this whole notion
of “hyperlocal” seems to be sailing over most journalists’ heads. Or
beneath their noses.

Oh yeah. Yelvington says that when you do research, you find that newspaper readers are seeking some kind of connection. Since, to my knowledge, newspaper readers are, in fact human beings, rather than thin-sliceable demographically segmented consumerbots, yeah, that would follow.

So here’s my research. It was my first story for OJR, and still the foundation of a lot of my thinking about what newspapers + New Media are capable of, and why the old-school values that we’ve lost along the way are the keys to survival.

The nut grafs from the interview I did with Bob Cauthorn are as relevant today as they were three years ago, when I first did them:

Looping back to Point Reyes, what you see there, and I do think
there is a metaphysical story in there – not metaphysical as in magical
– but deeply emotionally compelling. And that’s why I’m delighted that
you’re bringing this story to light. Because what this tells you in no
uncertain terms, with a kind of heat and passion that I wish existed in
the normal newsroom, that our public wants us to succeed.

Our
public wants us to survive. Our public wants us to thrive. Our public
wants newspapers that matter. Our public is leaving us because we are
chasing them away with a stick.

Folks, the core purpose of a newspaper is to allow a community to have a discussion with itself.

The Light survived because it was such a part of its community that the whole town banded together and refused to let it die. The ongoing saga up in Point Reyes only proves this point – since Mitchell sold the paper, it has strayed from its purpose of providing the community with a place to have a conversation with itself. The community has reacted like an organism, stricken with a particularly noxious infection; it has isolated the Light and formed antibodies (the West Marin Citizen) to combat the toxic intruder. Feel free to chime in the comment section with your own similes involving raw sewage, surgical waste, etc.

So here’s how I tie this together. The reason that so many newspapers are getting things wrong is that they seem to expect to just set up a “Community” section and have every reader show up and eagerly start shoveling stories, photos, videos, etc. into their CMS. Oh, if only. Newspapers, as Yelvington noted, have been bought up by “giant, faceless corporate chains” which has cost them their connection to the community, and thus their position of leadership in the community’s conversation with itself. Which is why our civic sense of decency has become necrotic & foul.

The problem, as I see it, is that newspapers haven’t quite gotten that even on the most successful UGC site, the percentage of people actually contributing content is miniscule. The commenters (latter-day letters to the editor) run about 10%. And to even get that, you have to:

  1. Actually reach out to the readers – make them aware your community site exists.
  2. Care about them – as more than just stats that allow you to gouge advertisers for more money.
  3. Know what they care about, and what they want to see.
  4. Give them a good reason to respond and reward them when they do something right.
  5. Have provocative content – rather than he-said she-said stories that make the corporate lawyers happy.
  6. Have sysops, board leaders and wizops that monitor the conversations and spice things up when they get moribund.
  7. And … aw hell, just read the goddam Cluetrain Manifesto again. It tells you how to do this far more eloquently and effectively than I ever could.

It’s not time to dismiss “Community Building” as yet another Web 2.0 consultant meaningless buzzword. Community is the frickin’ core mission of the newspaper – or indeed any local media. It’s just that to do so, newspapers are going to have to disaggregate, along the lines of what Bakotopia has done; split into niche groups that allow people to actually talk to their neighbors about things that are geographically significant/interesting/infuriating/delightful. You know – the way that newspapers used to do, before they got so self-important, pretentious and serious…

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Jul 12

Second Life: Living in “Starry Night”

Posted: under Design, new media, Online Video.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Ran across this on Andrew Sullivan’s blog, where he had it intriguingly titled as “Mental Health Break.”

I found this very affecting; the creativity and dedication displayed here are humbling. A preview: Robbie Dingo, an alias for a resident of Second Life was a fan of Vincent Van Gogh’s famous “Starry Night” painting, and decided to do a homage to it in 3-D using the Second Life world-building tools. Watching the video, the process is speeded up; you see all the CAD architecture, lighting/shading, texture mapping, etc. tools employed to make that vision a reality, all set to Don McLean’s touching song.

I often say when I run across something that stands out, that shows that the creator was after something more than just satisfying a client or chasing a buck, that “Someone loved that [fill in the blank].” That love shows through here, and I encourage you to take a few minutes out of the day, lean back in the chair and just experience this. Also, the higher-res version is available here, if you have the bandwidth.

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Jul 09

Many Eyes Word Tree: What Went Wrong in Iraq

Posted: under Design, Digital Migration, infographic, journalism, new media, Newspapers.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

A brief respite from the yammering about curmudgeons, interns, naivete vs. nihilism and all the rest of the debate over whether or not newspapers will be considered a curiosity in less than 2 years’ time…

I got to this thru a post on the Poynter site, and man, is this ever addicting.

I’m a big fan of any tool that helps the user filter, organize and digest data according to his/her needs, and this one definitely shows promise. It’s an IBM tool called “many eyes” and what it does is form graphic representations of complex data in ways that allow you to click through and follow from a central starting point thread, where it leads… The visualization of the salmonella outbreak does what a great infographic should do – it presents complex data in an easily grasped visual way, and shows the relationships between various data streams.

I typed in my own search string to the tool – check out the results:

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Jun 11

Tiny Sips: The 60-Second Steve Jobs and On-Demand Jon Stewart

Posted: under Design, Digital Migration, Online Video.
Tags: , , ,

Still struggling with assessing, organizing and condensing all the information I’ve been taking in, so my posts here and at Hard News have been sporadic, at best. This situation looks like it will persist for at least another week, so in the meantime, I’m resorting to the old faithful “aggregate and snark” model of blogging.

First, over at Mahalo, here’s a really neat condensation of Steve Jobs’ iPhone 2.0 speech into 60 seconds containing the most relevant bits of information. I know that for the walleyed Apple “f@nb01s” this may be heresy … but I kinda dig the way this was edited.  The quick hits at the end of the vid were definitely a hoot – they really show how much of a “hurry hurry hurry step right up” carnival barker Jobs is…

And now, here’s the link to Hulu having The Daily Show and Colbert streaming from their site.

The article describes what they see as a possible conflict between cable operators and Comedy Central – that having content providers putting their best stuff online is generating that “giant sucking sound” of viewers abandoning the increasingly less-broad “broadcast” offerings.  Viz:

Eventually, if this is not already the case in a small number of instances, it may lead to what’s known as “cable bypass”–individuals may opt to cancel their cable subscriptions.

Nonetheless, it is remarkable just how many TV shows’ full episodes are available on the Internet (with a relatively low commercial load), including most of the top network scripted series and many in cable. Arguably, the only premium broadcast content not available in full online are certain sports events and “American Idol.”

The background image for the Hulu internal page on The Daily Show.

The Daily Show’s page on Hulu looks spectacular. Someone really paid attention to not only eye-pleasingdesign, but to quick & painless navigability.  In fact, the whole front page and user experience of Hulu is worlds better than when I first encountered it back in January.

Man, I love, love LOVE the controls that Hulu has built into its video player.  The pop-out control especially comes in handy for a multi-monitor, multi-tasker like me.  Also, the 5-second pre-roll and associated ad from Honda are absolutely perfect … non-instrusive, not annoying, and I dig the way that they respect me. Can’t believe how much better this is than before.  So far there’s only 76 episodes up of this, but I can see where this is headed.  I wonder if the ad presence there is enough to capitalize all this development right now (I’m guessing NOT at the moment), but if they’re operating under the theory of aggregating the audience/eyeballs right now so that things pay off down the road, this is certainly a strong step in the right direction.

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May 26

Welcome to the Artesian Media blog

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs, Design, Digital Migration, journalism, Newspapers, Online Video.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve been blogging for more than three years now on the Typepad platform, and have finally taken the leap to WordPress.  It’s not because Typepad was bad – although it was a little clunky at first, and I haven’t ever really been happy with their recommendations on how to deal with video – but more a case of me wanting to start exerting more control over the design of the blog, and its location.  Basically, I’ve outgrown Hard News, Inc. So, rather than try to make the old “brand” learn some new dance steps, I’ve decided to start afresh over here at Artesian Media.

I feel a little sad at leaving the Hard News blog behind – it was my first foray into blogging on my own, although by that point, I had been a web editor and publisher for 10 years.  I remember feeling euphoric at first – I was able to publish on my own, any time I wanted, about anything I felt like, without having to spend hours on the phone to coders in Bangalore!  When I wanted to move items in a list around, add or change photos, change the number, size and location of the text columns, I just clicked on a few radio buttons, and zammo! Hit F5 and everything’s changed.

Since that time, I’ve seen the blogosphere really start to codify and fall into predictable patterns.  Flame wars have their own cartoon graphics explaining their life cycle. Everyone gripes the same about trackback spam and script kiddies haxxoring your database and putting “U R Pwned” up in place of all your precious bits of Joycean stream-of-consciousness wisdom.

I kinda want to take the best bits of Hard News and migrate them over here – not only because some of them are (at least in my opinion) damn good, but also to multitask. I’ve always adopted the Army ethos of “Never ask your men to do something you wouldn’t or couldn’t do yourself.”  Well, now that a great deal of my professional life revolves around taking traditional print journalists (as I was for the greater part of my career) and guiding them on their first steps on the multimedia path, one of the things that I try to do is to look at the technologies and knowledge that content producers are going to have to master, and then to force myself into their shoes for a stroll.

So yeah, part of what I’m doing here is using myself as a guinea pig, to see how difficult it’s going to be to try to migrate over about 3 years’ worth of content from Typepad.

Stay tuned, watch this space, and thanks for checking in.

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