Sips from the Firehose

Apr 08

What is “native advertising” anyway?

Posted: under advertising, Digital Migration.
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The IAB has published their view. I have my own opinion.

One of the biggest problems with “native advertising” is that it is such a new, made-up term of digital art, that it’s taken on an Alice in Wonderland-esque quality, in which the phrase means whatever the speaker thinks it means in that moment, while the listener pretty much has their own interpretation.

 “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

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Oct 17

Happy Students in Astana, Kazakhstan

Posted: under new media.
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This is the last class I taught in Astana – they were very engaged with the idea of moving from traditional media to “New Media,” particularly with blogging.  The main question on everyone’s mind was “How do I drive more traffic to my site?”

I didn't know the Russian phrase for "Group hug, people!" So I just stood in the back and spread out my arms.

I didn't know the Russian phrase for "Group hug, people!" So I just stood in the back and spread out my arms.

I showed them some of the very basic tools to promote your content – the simplest being the blast e-mail alert to people you’ve signed up on a subscription list.  A couple of people in the class were already up on Twitter, and I sang that particular gospel, as well as the advantages of setting up Facebook groups or using the same functionality in the Russian equivalent, which is a

As always, the skill level in the audience was very uneven. Some people were way out in front of the pack, others seemed to be lost. I tried to deliver a wide variety of tools to hit everyone. I got just a couple of hours to do some very basic tourism after this session.  The scale of the construction going on here is truly awe-inspiring.

It's pretty chilly here; not snowing yet, but it's thinking about it - thus the heavy clothes. Also, behind me is the new Presidential Palace.

It's pretty chilly here; not snowing yet, but it's thinking about it - thus the heavy clothes. Also, behind me is the new Presidential Palace.

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Apr 15

John Battelle – Packaged Goods and $100 CPMs

Posted: under advertising, new media, Online Video, Video.
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This is part 3 of John’s keynote at OMMA 2009.

…and yes, I know, I don’t have the excerpts and such that made the other videos interesting to watch. But I figure if you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably already pretty interested in what this guy has to say.

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Apr 14

John Battelle’s keynote at OMMA 2009 – part 2

Posted: under advertising, Digital Migration.
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“So much cash sloshing around that we forgot that the interface is going to change completely.  Again.” – John Battelle

Excerpts to come…


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Apr 13

John Battelle About the Future of Webconomics – OMMA 2009

Posted: under advertising, New Marketing, new media.
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“We’re about to get another breakthrough, another interface leap.  If I knew what it was, I would start a company there.  But I don’t know what it is yet, but I have some ideas, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today.” – John Battelle

Battelle says he stayed up late one night (visions of the mythical college dorm room & heavy inhalation) to come up with this heavy information and interface theories, and worked up this speech to try to describe where he sees the future of the web going.

If what he said above is right, then there is about to be another evolutionary stage, and the current titans of search (i.e. Google, Yahoo, etc.) are going to be replaced by The New Hot Thing.  He seems to be hanging his hat on “conversations” which sounds pretty good to me – the human urge to connect & trade information is one of the strongest forces on the web.  I’m just not entirely convinced that the Facebook/MySpace paradigm is at all viable.  We’re been waiting a while now for anything remotely resembling a business model to emerge, and the latest news is that Google’s shareholders are starting to get a bit bent out of shape about subsidizing the world’s inconsequential home videos, and that Emperor’s Missing Wardrobe-type questions are starting to get asked about the 1/2 billion a year burn rate.

Money quote:

YouTube will manage to rake in about $240 million in ad revenue in 2009, against operating costs of roughly $711 million, leading to a shortfall of just over $470 million. This half-billion dollar loss comes after more than a year of feverish experimentation in various forms of advertising, cross-product embedding, licensing and partnership deals. YouTube is adamant that ultimately they’ll find an advertising solution that will enable the ungainly behemoth to reach profitability. Looking at the math, it doesn’t seem likely.

Battelle’s take on where all this is headed is pretty complex, and not all that out of line with things that you’ve probably heard before.  This is only the first part, so stick with it – it gets more rewarding as we go along.

Here’s some teaser quotes to get you to click over and watch the video – please excuse the camera movement, but Battelle kept pacing around on the stage, and I had to either go so wide that focus was a problem, or track him, making the camera movements a little jerky.

Every publisher is now a marketer … you have to engage the audience in a conversation … if you don’t know how to do that, you’ll die.  That’s it. It’s over.

I call this the conversation economy.  It’s kind of a sequel to the search.

The three-bump theory of how man interacts with technology … as Eric Schmidt is fond of saying ‘25% of GDP is fine with me.”

We all give Apple credit, but basically we know that Windows won.  I call this the “hunt and poke” interface … that’s way better than learning a foreign language like FORTRAN.  That’s also called the “I’m lost in a foreign country interface.”

We started having conversations at scale with our customers.  All of a sudden every customer could talk to every company, and nobody was ready for the conversation. But around the turn of the century, we started to develop that interface, and that interface, I argue is search.  This is the first time we have ever been able to have a conversation in our own natural language with a machine.  People don’t see search that way, but I do.

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Feb 04

Facebook & Pajamas Media: the “Site Traffic” Monetization Myth

Posted: under advertising, Digital Migration, google, journalism, New Marketing, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers.
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This is going to have to be quick – I haven’t had any spare time to blog, since I’ve been finishing up on editing the Great Big Scary Project, and I have to churn out my intros to said project, along with sprucing up my multimedia examples for my trip to Kiev.

But – two items this week converged (yeah, there’s that word) to illustrate one of the powerful, emerging lessons about New Media.  It’s one that I learned years ago, when I first rode a couple of dot-bombs all the way down into the crater.

Big site traffic numbers do not necessarily mean big money.
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Jan 30

Bailout Cash for Newspapers? A Cure That Would Only Worsen the Underlying Disease…

Posted: under Blogs, Digital Migration, New Marketing, new media, Newspaper Deathwatch, Politics & New Media.
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I posted this as a comment here, already, but it bears repeating.

While the concept of a bailout for newspapers (and allegedly for good journalism) seems attractive at first blush, I fear that in practice, the billions in bailout funds would suffer the same fate as the billions bestowed upon the banking industry.

That is, they would be swiftly pocketed in the form of “well-earned bonuses,” and only a few crumbs would make it down to the level where the money would actually do any good.  While I’m not in the “burn baby, burn” camp the way many other digital triumphalists have been (and there’s at least a faint whiff of that hereabouts), I think that dumping fat stacks on media conglomerates will not solve the underlying problems of the crumbling of business models.

Now then – a Manhattan Project (of sorts) to build solid business models to support quality journalism? That would = the hoary “teaching a man to fish” paradigm.

I know faith in The Invisible Hand is in short supply these days (and where it can be found, it’s usually being in the stocks in the town square, being pelted by posters on, but the fact is that there is a demand for something to perform the function of information dissemination that newspapers do/have done. If the Drug Wars have taught us anything, it is that where there is a demand, and money is attached to that demand, there will correspondingly be a supply.

This is all growing out an essay on the op-ed page of the NY Times and chittering in the Twiterverse, as the nervous journalists see the vultures staring downward, and big guy in the hood with the scythe striding through the newsroom.

By endowing our most valued sources of news we would free them from the strictures of an obsolete business model and offer them a permanent place in society, like that of America’s colleges and universities. Endowments would transform newspapers into unshakable fixtures of American life, with greater stability and enhanced independence that would allow them to serve the public good more effectively.

o-rly-2Well, allow me to respond to that one.

Not to get all Reagan on you, but that is complete and utter madness. Newspapers are so important, so crucial to our lives, that it is the duty & obligation of the government to preserve them?


OK, it’s a given that journalists have something of a Messiah Complex.  You have to have something else going on psychologically to get into this low-pay high-stress field. But this is really crossing the line. And making an unfortunate conflation between the newspaper industry and good journalism – yes, it gets done at newspapers, and there are some magnificent examples of this. But the industry is asphyxiating itself, and dumping wads of cash on it will not solve the underlying problems.

Government intervention here would create more problems than it would solve. Allison Fine is onto this issue:

So, the fundamental premise of the need to endow newspapers and preserve them at public expense is that false information exists on the Internet? Of course it does, as it does on TV, on the radio (should we also consider endowing Rush?) in magazines, and in many, many newspapers. Which media would the authors like to choose as being least likely to contain false information? And which medium do they think did the best job of  bringing the lies and corruption of the Bush Administration to light — hint, don’t look at newspapers, Josh Micah Marshall and his Talking Points Memo website would be a much better bet.

So, the fundamental premise that only newspapers can hold government accountable is specious. But that isn’t my biggest issue with the article. It is the naive assumption from those outside of the nonprofit sphere that 1) nonprofit status is intended for companies that don’t have a viable business model, and 2) raising billions of dollars in endowment funds is doable, particularly in today’s economy.

If anything, the effect of billions spent on preserving the newspaper format as it is, without any changes, will mean that we’ll all be getting print products dumped on our doors that are increasingly ad-free.  Yeah, there will be a number of advertisers who will still be there because the eyeballs are there.  But the trends of readership of mass print products are not heading up (niche and community newspapers are another story).

Worst of all, the preservation of a business model that is clearly no longer functional will suck the oxygen out of the room for the products that should (and are, in some cases) being developed to do the job that newspapers have done.  Artificially propping up newspapers in their current form will stifle the innovation in the marketplace, and long-term, only make the inevitable collapse worse.

We’re kinda seeing that take place in the real estate and credit markets right now. The government artificially propped up the economy for eight years with crazy spending and stupid low interest rates.  Instead of hard work & ingenuity to produce real growth, it was Free Money Day Every Day, as real-estate speculation in areas like Scottsdale, Las Vegas, Miami & L.A. led to the “$30,000-a-year millionaire” who made $10,000 in arcane mortgage kickbacks every time he/she signed his/her name to a loan document.  The results of that are the global economic meltdown we see occurring right now.

Meanwhile, driven by the market economics, ESPN is starting to experiment with setting up a disaggregated local blog network to cover sports at a granular level.

ESPN sees the writing on the wall. In their industry they need strong stories to promote sports and strong sports to drive interest to their stories.  A fan that is underserved by his newspaper is less interested in following his team on ESPN.  Additionally, there is big advertising money for ESPN if it can become the resource for local sports.

This is a long term proposition, however. Even the mighty ESPN cannot yet afford to hire 30 beat writers to cover each NBA team. Instead it is working towards its goal by teaming with independend bloggers in a win/win/win proposition.  The bloggers have a chance at monetizing their efforts, ESPN can become the central resource it wants to become and fans can get the information they want as a new, viable local sports media business model starts to thrive.

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Oct 24

Sarah Palin and “Colors”: A Lesson in Image Control

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs, journalism, New Marketing, new media, Online Video.
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One of the key moments in “Colors” came when “Pacman,” the young hothead cop (Sean Penn) was incorrectly identified as the guy that mistakenly shot an innocent black kid during a raid gone wrong.  The word came down that the gangs, in retaliation, had “green-lit” Pacman for a retaliation payback assassination.

The other gang strike force cops protested that it wasn’t Pacman that had done the bad, stupid shooting – it was actually a cop who was Pacman’s enemy, and that they should tell the gangs the truth.

Bob Hodges (Robert Duvall), the grizzled old cop, says basically, “What difference does it make? If they think he did it – he did it.”

What does this 20-year-old gang movie have to do with the much-maligned Republican vice-presidential candidate?  Well, stick with me here. 

After watching Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, and in the interviews airing this week on NBC, it’s becoming increasingly clear that she’s not a complete and total doofus. Yeah, maybe she’s not a total policy wonk, able to spout off the import-export stats on Burkina Faso off the top of her head, but she’s clearly not as bad as her public image would lead you to believe. 

She can talk coherently, when she’s not so over-coached and micro-managed – it’s the panicking handlers’ fault that she comes off as a malfunctioning robot, spouting nonsensical phrases.  She’s never going to be one of our leading governmental minds, never going to have a memorial dedicated to her next to Jefferson or Lincoln … but she’s also not quite the drooling, babbling dimwit she appears to be.

It’s also clear that that doesn’t matter.

Palin arrived on the scene, basically a blank slate, tabula rasa.  The rollout of this new product at the GOP convention was greeted with a lot of fanfare – and initial euphoria.

In product marketing terms, the packaging was great.

The problem was that McCain’s handlers had nothing prepared beyond the initial product rollout.  Big initial marketing push, lots of glitz & glamor, the American people take the product into their homes …

…and that’s when the troubles began.

See, they really hadn’t thought this whole thing through.  They hadn’t prepared for what was going to come next.  In much the same way that the invasion of Iraq was botched because nobody who was (allegedly) in charge stopped to ask, “And then what? After we destroy the Iraqi army and take over the country … then what?  What’s going to happen next?”

In retrospect, this all becomes sickeningly clear.

Again, in product terms – the American people took this into their homes and tried to figure out what made it tick. The media, doing their jobs, tried to figure out what this newcomer to the scene was all about.  And, in response, the Republican party had prepared … nothing.

You’d think they’d have the equivalent of what NBC does for the Olympics for the athletes – little pre-shot segments of the athlete at home, in training, interviews with family and coaches talking about the dedication that was needed for this underdog athlete to brave the odds and pursue her dreams… c’mon, you can see this in your mind’s eye already, right? All leading to a flatteringly lit scene with the athlete sitting in a loveseat with her adoring husband in front of a cozy fireplace, talking about the day she almost succumbed to her self-doubts, but (choking up a bit here), her faith in herself and the support of her family (stifled sob) carried her through…

If that had happened in the three weeks after Palin was introduced to us, we’d be having a completely different conversation about this election right now.

Instead, there were the disastrous interviews with Katie Couric, which led to the skits on Saturday Night Live.  After the first skit, there was still a chance that Palin might be able to turn things around.

And then came this little gem from last night:

This pretty much sealed it.

Palin’s image is now cemented.  She’s a doofus who, along with her fellow odious doofus, George W. Bush, is costing McCain his shot at the presidency.

It doesn’t matter anymore if she’s not what we think she is. In much the same way that it no longer matters whether or not Al Gore invented the internet, or Dick Cheney personally subjects prisoners to torture. 

We think they do, so they do.

A lot of this damage was caused by the ham-handed way the McCain campaign dealt with the New Media. They’ve been late to that party this entire campaign. I don’t know if that’s because McCain doesn’t understand this medium, doesn’t care, or if the handlers that were so adept at playing the media back in ’04 have gotten fat & lazy with their successes.

And yeah – the selection of Palin without having a plan to deal with What Comes Next is indeed an indictment of McCain and his decision-making process (one of the key objections that just won’t go away). Snap decisions that later wind up being disastrous? I think we’ve had just about enough of them these last eight years…

In the movie Colors, Pacman is saved only because a prisoner rats out the plot to kill him, and the gangs attention then turns to silencing the rat.  I don’t see any possible equivalent on the horizon that can save Palin, particularly in light of the recent revelations about her shopping habits, the cost of her makeup person, the fact that she and her husband are having to testify under oath today in “Troopergate,” and damn, just about everything else.  Her image has been set, the die is cast, and from this point forward, all information that comes out that affirms our collective perception of Palin as a moron will get accepted and spread around, while contrary information is buried under the weight of all the “Can you believe what just came out of her mouth this time?”

Oh yeah – for safety’s sake – here’s the segment from Colors that I linked to above – damn YouTube links have been kinda sketchy lately.  Enjoy the cheesy party scene.  I can’t figure out if the redheaded kid is Carrot Top, or the villain from “Children of the Corn.” Both?

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