Saturday, May 12, 2007

Leave Journalism alone

Responding to Kevin Farnham's idea that 'Blogs are a medium for journalism; twitter, MySpace comments, etc., are not journalism’, Fred Wilson argues that 'I think journalism itself is a dated concept. We are now in the world of conversation. We are talking to ourselves.'

I suppose we are getting too much caught up with semantics and labels, from Web 2.0 and two-way conversation to News 2.0 and User communities, going around in circles, ever trying to do a Tim O'Reilly and put our own spin to the bewildering pace of change.

To most journalists, bloggers are not journalists.
Bloggers rarely go out, ferret out new stuff, rather, we dig new stuff from our RSS readers, or talk to people, check and counter check facts.

This is a very important aspect of the news reporting job, which is not going to change much in future.

Students at the Virginia Tech might talk up the incident in Facebook forums, and bloggers opine about it, but someone still has to go there, sniff around and… you know the drill.

Kent puts it right when he says that blogs and Twitter are plain tools.

We must not make the medium the message.

The last time something changed journalism was when Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson had a hearty stab at it, and later by the likes of Ryszard Kapuscinski.

Hunter's Gonzo ethos is thriving well among the good bloggers,

That said, we are bloggers.
Talk is talk and journalism is journalism.

As it is, journalists have enough on mind.
In the words of Pink Floyd, Leave the kid alone.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

7 simple steps to a successful Social News Site like Digg

Creating social news is not for the faint hearted. Digg, and to some extent Reddit were a one-off phenomenon.

The tools for making a social news site are as easily available (Pligg, Phpdugg, etc) as tools for creating a blog or opening a Myspace type site. However, social news is about a community and creating a community is time and money consuming task which takes dedication to your topic.

I have tried to point out some steps that IMHO will help you create a ‘viable’ Social News site.

1. Find a unique topic
Digg does what successful blogs have been doing for quite a while – it focuses on the magic quartet of gossip, gaming, gadgets (the 3Gs) and entertainment.

Politics is also covered well on Digg.

You might want to do a research of all Digg clones and look for any missing niche there.

This list of Digg Clones is a great place to start researching.

2. Build a site with personality (voice)
Do it all by yourself. Create multiple user IDs, submit interesting stories, rate them, and comment on them yourself.

This is what the founders of Reddit did for a few months, until a constant flow of quality stories got a bigger user base.

3. Find like minded people
If you can find a way to address people who love your chosen niche, you are in.

Kevin Rose had a TV platform from where he evangelized Digg to like-minded Techies, who have stuck with him since and have only increased in number.

For example, if you are a journalist writing political stories, you may network with other like-minded political journalists convincing them to spend at least 30 min submitting stories and commenting on your site.

Moreover, you must give these like-minded people a valid reason to shift their allegiance to you from their existing favorite online haunts. Digg gave the promise of doing away with Slashdot-like editor-controlled filters.

What promise do you have?

4. Give them a reason to keep coming back
Quality stories, day after day – that is the only mantra.

5. No ads at start
I read once that a blog shouldn’t have ads until it has traffic of at least 1000 people a day. Something similar applies to Digg clones, most of which are chock full of adsense and other ads.

This is sure recipe to piss off users.

6. Spend money to get users
Set aside some money to spend on promoting your site - Adwords campaign, contests, text ad links, freebies, etc.

You will have to literally snatch people away from other social news sites.

If you are well-funded, do what Jason Calacanis did. He announced to pay $1000 per month to top Diggers who moved to the revamped Netscape site.

Forums are a good place to look for users for your social news site.

7. Be the biggest news submitter to your site
Stock up your RSS reader. Check them every hour for any scoop.

Digg got a big boost from the Paris Hilton stories, just when she was becoming infamous.

The key to making a successful Social news site is the community, the same essential ingredient that goes into making successful blogs.

One more thing: building a successful Social News site will take more of your time than building a successful blog. Remember, people will link to a good blog post, they won’t link to a good Social News link, and after all it is an aggregator.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Coming soon: Old Media's last stand

I read the Reuters story about Old Media’s deep grouses against New Media. At a recent meet they returned to the hallowed topic of New Media thriving by stealing Old media’s content.

By that, they mean Google news and other aggregators.

Time Warner Inc. CEO Richard Parsons says,

..."The Googles of the world, they are the Custer of the modern world. We are the Sioux nation," Time Warner Inc. Chief Executive Richard Parsons said, referring to the Civil War American general George Custer who was defeated by Native Americans in a battle dubbed "Custer's Last Stand"."Rather than painting false pictures, Old Media must identify the rot within.

Umair is quick to point out the ‘lethal’ irony in Mr. Parson’s ‘ironical’ statement.

Who's advising Dick? With analogies like that, it sounds less like a consultancy, and more like Dick Cheney.

Google is the one who is hyperflexible and capable of mounting quick yet disproportionately devastating forays into new markets and new value chain segments.

Old Media is ‘trapped in an ever deepening value chasm’ (Umair’s words)

Umair explains that legacy bindings of Old Media, which doesn’t want to change from existing still lucrative business models to new digital media-based models, returns from which are small for the time being.

Google is not bound by any legacy unlike thickheaded General Custer.

For more on Old Media vs. New Media debate, read this earlier post on MediaVidea, Cliffnotes for Sam Zell.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Truemors: A potent 5 –in-1 mix?

As usual, Michael Arrington has the scoop on Guy Kawaski’s secret soon-to-be-launched startup Truemors.
Truemors will be “rumor reporting bulletin board with twitter-like capabilities.”

Mike has posted screenshots of the currently password-protected site .

With Truemors, Guy Kawasaki finally gets a chance to develop a ‘monitizable’ audience for a potent mix of edgy news the Valley might love.
(meaning: what people in other parts of the world might be forced to love, since the valley is the fountain ‘coolness’ and all that).

If you remember, Guy was unhappy with the paltry revenue he gets from his otherwise highly popular blog.

What is in the Truemors mix?
Guy is reportedly looking for people who can find real and juicy rumors, much like Digg is looking for interesting and punchy stories.

A probable 5-in-1 feature mix for Truemors might be something like this:

1. Startup breaking news – e.g. Techcrunch
2. Bitchy Valley Gossip – e.g. Valleywag
3. Juicy Celeb news – e.g.Gawker

4. Breaking news - Add a spoonful of Digg-like voting.
5. Exploit our addiction to the latest inanity via Twitter.

So, will this Indian-like spicy mix work?
Too early to say anything, boss.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Bloggers’ Page as the new Op-Ed page: & how to go about it

The New York Times writes about BostonNow, a new and free weekday daily that carries reports written by local bloggers, including sports and music reviews.

Bloggers’ posts are carried in gray boxes, next to regular articles written by reporters.

A look at the issues related to this idea

1. Reliability
The editors act as filters, weeding out puff pieces and soft reporting.

2. Verification of authors
At present, the newspaper only verifies bloggers’ e-mail IDs on registration.

3. Code of ethics
Needed but not finalized yet

Making it better
Writing earlier about the possibility of reading 'Best of Digg' (alongwith Techmeme and others ) articles in print, I wrote about JPG magazine, where users submit their photos, people rate it and the best stuff goes on to the print version.

Bloggers’ page as Op-Ed page
What if every local paper around the world started doing this? How do you go about it?

Done properly, the new Op-Ed pages can do two things, to begin with:
1. Bringing hitherto unknown bloggers/writers into the realm of public scrutiny and wider acceptance.
Some local bloggers might have sizeable online readership, which the local paper can bring in to its print versions.

2. Bringing more issues out in the open
Hot button local issues such as governance, corruption, local biases can easily be covered in the commons when there are so many reading and planning to explore issues.

What will it take for every local paper to aggregate, rank (Digg like) blogs posts and print the best ones in the new Op – Ed page?

The rating page can be made better by using tags like “unfinished piece”, “puff piece”, “Worth researching further”, going imaginative with the process.

All stories tagged “worth researching further” will be listed in a special section. This will particularly help in bringing to light worthy stories and issues that affect the citizens’ lives.

This is especially important in today’s webified times, in light of suggestion made by knowledgeable people that newspapers must focus on more analysis and opinion pieces in order to compete with free, up-to-date information available on the web.

Reporters’ Guide
A Reporters’ guide would also be a good idea
Sites like Wikinews have it. Assignment Zero ahs a basic reporting guide. We can make it more comprehensive.

Paying writers
At present BostonNow does not pay bloggers.

Here’s what the editor-in-chief of BostonNow, John Wilpers has to say about it:

“If you’re writing about Boston sports, what’s more valuable to you, $25 or a press pass to the Red Sox? Or a backstage pass as a music writer to interview the band you’ve always wanted to interview?” he said. “It’s something they can’t get but as a newspaper we could.”

Good point.
A sort of practical vision one can use to start with, until the new coverage gains wider acceptance, and the experiment results in increased circulation.

Moreover, bloggers who contribute to BostonNow retain the ownership of their content. The current circulation of BostonNow is 85,000.

Who knows, one day many papers could have armies of bloggers writing for them, and bloggers would be paid as well?

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7 things to know about the web in India before...

1. Check out this Alexa list of top 100 sites visited by Indian users.

There are no UGC-driven sites in that list. Most of the action is taking place in Walled gardens that started in the 1990s, and in the social networking sites outside India.

2. No original ideas
Save a few examples like Zoho which can still make it big in the online office applications area, most startups are knock-offs of popular applications, often made up to flip.

Huge site deals like the fluke Indiaworld (it was the first), Jobsahead, Baazi are far and few. Of late, a South African Group has bought out a Couple of sites inspired by Flickr and Indeed.

3. Small user base
Going by different surveys, there are anywhere between 8.5 million - 40 million Internet users. Broadband is still relatively expensive and most are not power users, that is, people who spend more than 4 hours online.

Those that do are chatting or looking up hot chicks on social networking places, among other things.

Many users are cybercafe-based users.

India might be the fourth in terms of net users but only 4.5% Indians have anything to do online.

A wide range of travel and matrimonial startups are gunning for the same space. Recently, real estate sellers have gone after the same 4.5%.

It is not surprising that the most successful Indian blogger writes for an international audience to make a living. I used to be the managing editor at a blog network and the CEO was unwilling to launch blogs for Indian audience at first.

4. The typical Indian consumer is a value consumer

She goes for discounts, among other things. I do not have details about adsense clicks from India but I can bet they are nothing to be proud of.

So, how do you monetize you social networking startup, or your Youtube clone?

5. Online shopping has still not taken off in a big way
People are afraid of scams. Moreover, Indians tend to be credit averse (though this is changing fast) and there are no widely acceptable online Debit card transaction services in India.

6. Few are paying attention to unglamorous but promising niches
Online education, online transactions, online publishing other than blogs, podcasts & instructional videos, etc

7. Where are the mobile applications?
There are more mobile phones in India than PCs. However, where are the applications than even a farmer can use? For example, how can sell his produce using his GPRS mobile? I am sure he can spare a hundred note if the transaction successful.

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Is it possible to build a laptop for $10?

The Times of India recently reported about a couple of ‘secret’ designs submitted to the Government of India, claiming to be able to develop laptops for $47. The government is looking to bring the cost down to $10, roughly around Rs. 500.

The only we know about the secret designs is that the whole laptop is made on a single board.

Now however, it is tempting to laugh off the $10 Laptop.

The cost of One Laptop per Child has climbed up to $175 from the initially projected price of $100.

Both Motorola and Nokia have plans to make Mobile phones for Rs. 500. Motorola is already selling a mobile phone for $35 (Rs. 1600) in India.

Therefore, I wonder whether it is really possible to build a laptop for $10 in near future.

Don't be surprised if later an over-zealous government servant is blamed for an incorrect story.


The new Pew Research report

I was not surprised by the new research report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, where it said that web 2.0 users only formed a minority.

Saying 37% is a minority would be an overstatement.

37% people reported to have done at least one of these:
Posting comments to a blog, uploading photos or video, creating webpages or mixing and mashing content from other sites.

It would be interesting to know how many of the 4001 people who were surveyed were in colleges.

The report said that 8% of respondents were frequent users of the internet and were not so enthusiastic about cell phones, and did not think that the new web 2.0 tools improved productivity. The reports call them the lackluster veterans, who were among the internet’s early adopters.

I guess the current group of web 2.0 evangelizers/opinion shapers might have similar feelings 20 years down the line, when all that adrenaline has taken its toll.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Personal branding using blogs

Raj Dash has this follow up graphic on personal branding using blogs, among other tools. The new graphic illustrates some online ‘brands’ you can aspire to.

I would say it is the first draft of a list and the graphic does not give example of people associated with each brand type.

Let me find quick examples for each.

Web guru:, alistapart
Web doofus: The people who went after Kathy Sierra
Net Doofus: Hackers, spammers
Net nerd: Often tribal in nature, moving in packs. Digg members, for example.
Net geek: Lifehacker, …helping out others with tips and tricks.
Internet ultra Geek: skilled coders like Dave Winer and Doc Searls.

I would add one more ‘brand’ – pompous nerd.

Here’s how people do it:
1. Calling attention to the number of pageviews, rss subscribers, downloads, they have achieved in a given period of time.
It can give you instant recognition, “he’s arrived”.

Make exaggerated claims if you are up to it. S
how a photoshopped image of a $50,000 Google adsense check.

2. Writing deliberate, in-your-face headlines:
“My rules for linking to fellow bloggers.

3. Spoofing famous acts:
“What would I do if I was News Corp”, “Would you spend the rest of your life selling sugared water?

Confidence can work.
It is a competitive world out there and people go to any lengths to attract attention.

Examples of this breed: web site owners, blog network owners, blog owners, conference speakers, book writers, etc.

Disclaimer: I haven't tried these out and I can't guarantee if I ever will.
Follow this at your own peril :-)


Sunday, May 06, 2007

Blogs to books, revisited

The second Lulu Blooker shortlist is out. Instituted by Print on Demand service provider, Lulu, the award carries a top prize of $10000, out of a total prize fund of $15000.

There is an interesting variety of material on the shortlist, including the cult hit “My War: Killing Time in Iraq” by Colby Buzell who fought in Iraq, a book even the great, late Kurt Vonnegut liked. There is a book from the Postsecret site and surprisingly, a collection of Seth Godin’s blog posts, ebooks, articles, etc. I thought Seth was a mainstream speaker cum author with a blog that does not allow comments.

The nature of blooks is the same as that blogs:
- As blog posts in print, only a few of the blooks are good enough for widespread reading and dissemination in all other forms.
- Many are plain rewritings of existing matter.
- Only a few bloggers/blookers break out into solid mainstream acceptance.

Critics of the blogging, user-generated content and citizen journalism ( and blooks, by implication) phenomenon, acting as defenders of the Gatekeepers are quick to dismiss them as ‘amateurist’, unedited, uncensored, often anonymous content that come along with the added danger of spreading disinformation.

To all those who fear that the end of newspaper & book editors, film and TV bigwigs, creative talent agents, and other ‘victims’, I can say only two things: Democracy and quality will out.

The democratic potential of user-generated content, blooks in this case, cannot be overlooked.

It has been said,
“The more people blog or write about something, the more sides to the story you get to know about.”

There is something quite Voltairish about this truth.
"I might disagree with you but I will defend to death your right to say it."

When you are talking about quality, I hope the critics do not want every blogger to achieve the hoary heights of New Yorker writers, among other things.

Quality is always rare and it eventually shines out. If it doesn't, perhaps it needs some serious Google love :-)
Quality bloggers have started writing for big papers, even here in India, I am sure things are same everywhere.

If you are worrying about the spread of disinformation, I suggest you worry about the reader who tends to make up his mind after reading just one article or two, in this age of information glut.

Google the topic, if you 'needed' to know more.

Why are critics afraid of anonymity?
You will have to live in countries like Iran and Egypt to find that out.

Maybe the critics are pure golden-hearted souls who have never blown the whistle, said what is right and true, disagreed with the boss and the organization, and have managed to keep the job and neck intact.

Things to expect from blookers in future

More exposes:
Where are the books about Gonzalez case, the Don Imus case, the IIPM scandal in India?
All these stories were raked up bloggers and I am sure there more issues and stories waiting for the adventurous citizen journalist in his neighborhood.

More experience reporting:
More Iraq war accounts from soldiers, accounts of jailed bloggers in Egypt, live accounts from political campaign trails, etc.

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