Friday, August 17, 2007

Web 2.0 tools can only take you so far

Traditional news sites have taken to using Web 2.0 tools, including blogs, forums, user photos & videos and others in a big way, hoping that this will attract some of the user base that was graduating to Digg, Flickr,, Techcrunch…among other Web 2.0 heavyweights.

Michael Arrington writes in Techcrunch that USA Today, which took to a web 2.0 lifestyle in a big way, undergoing a design overhaul to boot, is not getting the returns it expected voting and commenting to bring in.

One reason may be that people are not getting that unique ‘Community Feel’.

Digg for example, despite all its obvious faults, has a community rooting for it, a community that submits stories, votes on them, comments on them – there is a sense of belonging.

On News sites such as USA Today, and a lot many other news sites that have bought off-the-shelf Web 2.0 tools, integrating them with their existing story flow, the feeling of community is perhaps not there.

The popular and successful method to build a community is to focus on a niche.

What is USA Today’s niche?

Piling on web 2.0 tools can only take you so far. If news sites do not want to be seen as lame copycats, they might start with building community silos around their popular columnists, columns.

They might also consider starting new communities around evocative themes plucked from the Zeitgeist – say, a user-generated section on how to survive the housing bubble.

Giving a sense ownership of content to the reader builds new media brands.
There is no fun in USA Today journalists selecting and writing everything and asking everyone else to comment and vote.

As a commenter on Techcrunch puts it,
My comments on USA Today are meaningless. They add nothing, are seen by very few people, and don’t produce any movement in the earth’s gravitational shift. People want to participate because it makes a difference. If that is not the case, well then who really cares. It’s a novelty that soon wears off.
I think it was Doc Holliday who said,
"My hypocrisy will only take me so far."

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

A very short guide to Media Cliches

Why do we have so many clichés and buzzwords running amuck among our daily communication?

Unintentional or otherwise, clichés can drown the message (another cliché, see how bad things are?)

Seth Godin explains thus:
(Cliches/buzzwords) exist for one reason: to hide. By obfuscating, lying, confusing or just plain avoiding the issue, business people can avoid communicating. Do you have the guts to stop using cliches?

I searched Google news for ‘revolution’ and found more than 100 results from articles posted within past 2 hours.

Media clichés are an old problem. This article is from 1995 and is titled, “Downpour Of Media Cliches Threatens To Flood Nation”

Prorev has analyzed how some ‘top cliches’ of r time have fared on Google over a three-month period.

According to Prorev, the Top 20 phrase clichés are:
Real time - 359 million
Prior to - 341 million
In terms of - 333 million
Next generation - 224 million
Best practices - 191 million
State of the art - 168 million
In accordance with - 159 million
All new - 110 million UP 42 MILLION
World class - 110 million
Cutting edge - 95 million
Check it out - 90 million
Support services - 87 million
Sustainable development 80 million
Mission statement - 72 million
No problem - 67 million
Bottom line - 67 million
On the ground - 48 million
Civil society - 47 million
Period of time - 47 million
Strategic planning [plan] 37 million

Some of my other favorites from what is a long and interesting list.
The fact is
Welcome your feedback
Reality check
As a matter of fact
Tipping point
Having said that
Silver bullet
Make no mistake
Now more than ever
Window of opportunity
The rest is history
Sooner rather than later
Like, you know
No doubt in my mind
Resident expert
End of the world as we know it
Money shot
Recent studies have shown
New normal
Breaking down silos

How many times have we seen these phrases being used all over the blogosphere? (damn, a cliché, again)

Tom Mangan' tracks News Media Cliches on almost daily basis.

Here is Abe Rosenberg’s list of TV news clichés.
Abe on another word we use quite liberally:
Reportedly - Do you know anyone, anywhere on the planet, who uses “reportedly” in normal conversation? If someone is reporting something, say so.

From Gawker’s list of blog clichés:

• Best. [ultimate thing or experience.] Ever/Evar.
• [undesirable counter-example], not so much.
• FTW, O RLY, lol, FTL, OMG, FWIW, btw, PWND, ROTFL, etc.
• [negative experience, situation, or description]; I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.
• [purposefully non-ghetto statement], yo.
• [undesirable conclusion]. Oy.
• [amazed paraphrase of opposing position]. Seriously? Seriously?
• What's next? [outlandish scenario]?
• I'm looking at you, [example of complaint].
• Um, [condescension]?
• [Argument], wait for it, [rhetorical flourish].
• [Undesirable experience] made my [sensory organ] bleed.
• [adjective]-y goodness
• [any word]-gasm
• [x] is the new [y].

From The Guardian, this is a link to a Pdf document containing clichés often found in British Media.

Factiva did the research and here are the toppers from the Factiva Cliché Index:
1. "at the end of the day"
(This phrase is in many people’s top clichés list. A Bollywood Film producer, replying to charges of copying from Hollywood, used this phrase so many times during a short TV interview that I could hear the reporter getting a tinkle on the side)
2. "in the red"
3. "in the black"
4. "level playing field"
5. "time and again"
6. "wealth of experience"

Curiously, most of these are used by the Financial Press.

I think there are two kind of media clichés:
1. Terminology Cliches, which fade away with time – remember “the information superhighway”?
2. The Language clichés – phrases such as “actually”, “basically”, “at the end of the day” and so on.

An interesting discussion on Media Clichés goes on here.

Before we forget the art of putting our message across, time to look at George Orwell's advice on English Language:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Related links
The Plain English Campaign

Complete List of Banished Words at Lake Superior University

The Book of Clichés

On a side note, Seth Godin has started an Encyclopedia of Business Cliches on Squidoo

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

My Media Wishlist for India in 2067

As India celebrates its 60th year of independence, I note that newspapers are celebrating that this nation has graduated up from a developing nation to a transforming nation.

Nice semantics but shrewd brainwashing.

It has often been said that journalism changed Gandhi to Mahatma Gandhi. The Mahatma has himself written:
"My newspapers became for me a training ground in self-restraint and a means for studying human nature in all its shades and variations.

Without the newspapers a movement like Satyagraha could not have been possible."

Modern Indian Media, at least those with reach, likes to present itself as possessing similar noble ideals.

However, contrary to the popular perception, the media is not the savior of our democratic essentials.

That mantle is deserved by our higher courts of justice and no one else.

Here’s how I wish the media to be in 2067:

1. Be a real agent of change
In 2067, the media gives value to the important issues and becomes an agent of change through its proactive investigative reporting.

The current competitive media universe, with its 100+ news channels and district-level paper editions leaves little space for investigative, real reporting, reducing the media companies to opt for frivolous topics for quick gains.

P.Sainath, the 2007 winner of the Prestigious Ramon Magasaysay award for Journalism says in a recent TV interview that while 400 debt-ridden cotton farmers committed suicide in Vidharbha region in Maharashtra state, there were only 6 reporters to cover an area almost as big as Switzerland.

Meanwhile, in the state Capital Mumbai, more than 500 journalists gathered to cover the Lakme India Fashion Week, where many models wore the same cotton for which people were paying for their lives with.

The Media takes pride in the fact that it exposes corruption, but given the gravity of the problem, it is mere tokenism.

Sting operations don’t solve the problem, they get advertisers.

S. Mitra Kalita, writing in MINT, points out that 2007 is also the 60th anniversary of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Some things never change - we had a problem of corruption among the administrators and politicians when we had barely become independent.

A proactive investigative media, probing at all levels of administration, in all corners of this country, is what the people wish for.

2. Jingoism go home
Media outlets are more enthusiastic selling this 60th anniversary than the general public. After all, they got to report the local sports bar in Mumbai celebrating the occasion with 60 different cocktails.

On this holiday, in garrison-like surroundings, while school kids from government schools march in rain or shine for the V.I.P.s of this country, news channels and newspapers are chock full with words that George Orwell might find troubling:

My Great India, No. 1 Nation in the world, the Indianization of West, the bollywoodization of Hollywood, the great India story, East or West, India is the West…

Why are painting ourselves in such nationalist tones?

The Soviet Union died 19 years ago but the legacy lives on in India.
Or maybe, Hitler left a mole here.

This does not do justice with the people of India who are among the most welcoming people in the world. We can live peacefully with anyone, among anyone – Pakistani, Nigerian, British…this is not something you can say about many developed nations in the world.

By 2067, man will have found a planet to move base to and that will hugely change how we label ourselves – nationalities, religions, cults, they all pale into insignificance with that quantum shift of perspective.

Hopefully, by then people will realize that only human rights and more importantly, human freedom is worth celebrating and fighting for.

I did not research how the US media celebrated the country’s 60th year of independence but I bet the Americans were celebrating that they were free people living in a free nation, the emphasis would have been, and still is, on Freedom.

Are we free?

Here is a view held by many in this country: India exists for the powerful, by the powerful, and of the powerful – where we celebrate that by 2067; we will beat the US, ignoring how many lives we trampled upon to achieve that glorious objective.

In a live TV debate on a news channel, they brought out this wizened 90-odd years old person and dutifully asked him what he thought the country had achieved in 90 years. NOTHING, the man replied. That was enough for the anchor to silence him out and focus on what the successful people of the country thought.

There is so space for the common man.

The media wants to be powerful and it has chosen Nationalist Visualizations to harness our imagination.

The Media says we are great because our growth rate is 10%, but get this:

- We still haven’t won an Olympic Gold Medal for a long time.

- Our films don’t win the Oscars.

- Barring Vishwanathan Anand, we have no genuine world beating sportsperson.

- Most of the giant business houses were not born out of innovative thought and are actually conglomerates of basic manufacturing and utilities businesses – 'money begets more money' kind of outfits.

- We have few genuinely locally developed successful, business ideas – Amul, Lijjat papad, Dabbawallas of Mumbai are some exceptions.

- A civilization is defined by its buildings and public structures. Our government offices are ugly; our cities are dusty and filthy; slums line the boundaries of every posh locality.

- Our infrastructure is in shambles and we call the army in to handle all sorts of emergency jobs: rail accidents, floods, riots; if a kid falls down a well, they call the army.

- Naxalites control a major part of central and east India. In some regions, they won't allow the people to hoist the flag (by the way, V.I.P.s hold the license to displaying the national flag)

- Our youth wants to work for American companies (even a call center will do), likes to wear American brands and reads little.

- The politicians want us to hate the west, America in particular.

- While our public education is in shambles, and private education is getting expensive.

- The media wants us to sing “we are the best” because students from our IITs and IIMs get to work in the best companies. Doing what? I am not sure.

- We make a goddess of a person who wins a trashy reality show in the west, something even the westerners do not watch.

This is the height of desperation.

I hope by 2067, the media won’t be as jingoistic as it is now. By 2067, we will all be citizens of the Earth, where the focus is on the individual, not the nation.

The Mahatma said, "Be the change you want to be".


Long live User Generated Content Part -2

Yesterday I wrote about a lame and rehashed study that said we read more and contributed less. Although I think one should read more than write, I felt the study did not add anything new to the discourse.

Now, there is this new study that I like.

The new study, brought out by the National School Boards Association and Grunwald Associates LLC , reports that 96 percent of U.S. teens and ‘tweens, especially students with online access use social networking technologies, such as chatting, text messaging, blogging, and visiting online communities/social networking sites including Facebook, MySpace, and Webkinz.

Moreover, 60% students say that one of the most common topics of conversation on the social networking scene is education, talking about college, college planning, learning outside of school, and careers. I hope businesses involved with education take a note of the growing importance of social networking in education..

50 percent of online students reported they talk specifically about schoolwork.

On an average, students spend 9 hours a week on social networking sites, comparing favorably to their TV habits – 10 hours a week.

On the user-generated content side, students are creative online – 49% have uploaded pictures, 22% have uploaded videos created by themselves (hopefully we are not talking about filching the latest Beyonce Video and posting it on Youtube)

Students are also contributing pieces of art and writing and actively taking part in online projects.

Now you see why my party line has always been – Long live User generated Content.

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How Print and Web 2.0 can co-exist successfully

Tim O’Reilly analyzes an interview that Dale Dougherty, the publisher of Make: Magazine did with Publishing Executive Magazine.

Why Print publishers must embrace Web 2.0:

Dale has this to say:
…(with user-generated content) you are expanding your sources at the same time you are deepening the relationship you have with your audience—again as individuals, not as an abstract demographic.

Tim adds in,
The secret of success in publishing is finding these people and pouring fuel on their fire. Web 2.0 isn't just technology; it's attitude. If you're a publisher who looks down on "user-generated content," you're probably also a follower, not a leader, since you'll never find the great new ideas that almost always emerge from the edge.

Dale points out to the enduring value of print:
We can do things in print that you just can’t do online—and one is hold a person’s attention for a longer period of time.

That’s a virtue. If a magazine is not going to be visually interesting and stimulating—which is to say as smart as it is beautiful to look at—why should readers care to buy this print product? If you’re going to pour lots of text in columns, you might as well put it online.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

User-generated content is dead; long live User-generated content

Guess I haven’t bashed a research report/survey for a while. Thus I feel it my solemn duty to trash the latest study from Online Publishers’ Association of its 4 year old Internet Activity Index, which tracks our usage of ‘e-commerce, communications, and content and search services over time’.

The Internet Activity Index is maintained by Nielsen Net Ratings. It reports,

(While) in 2003, Internet users spent about 46 percent of their time communicating and 34 percent reading online content.

From January to May 2007, about 47 percent of users' time was spent looking at content and 33 percent spent on communicating.

So it was very easy for many to proclaim that users are reading more and saying less.

Maybe, if they had said that we are watching more and typing less, I would have agreed – there is so much video online.

In fact, I don’t get the basic premise of this study, vis-à-vis the ratio of reading and writing.

If this is supposed to help advertisers devise ad strategies, I hope the advertisers keep a couple of things in mind:

1. As Ars Technica points out, the OPA study does not think Social Networking is communication, only e-mail is.

And you thought Social Networking Advertising was going to be big – where Myspace is rolling in big money while Facebook struggles with its innovation shtick.

2. Getting your message across to online video watchers will indeed be beneficial if you figure out a way to reach to them without annoying them.

Another thing I would like to know is that while we knew Pageview was an inadequate metric, was Nielsen Netratings using Time spent on page all these 4 years?

There is this Sample Size and Projection thing.
No one came asking me, if you know what I mean.

Coming back to blogging and commenting, two essential aspects of UGC. I know 2007 has been …a LEAN year for blogging.

But that is only the disheartened Professional Blogger’s version – people are still putting their thoughts on their blogs everywhere.

This Hugh Macleod illustrates the disheartened blogger’s state of mind.

In another post, titled “why we're all blogging less” Hugh reasons:
They said what they had to say, then moved on. It happens all the time with book writers, why not the same with bloggers?

Valid point. But that isn’t how the chatterbox/shoutbox operates.

You normal blogger is like one of my friends – one who has opinions for everything; isn’t afraid to voice them, however repetitious they might be.

User Generated Content is not stagnating.

B.L. Ochman says that new people are going into blog – C-level executives and businesses who are using blogs as PR tools, among other things. He thinks group blogs are better suited for long-term survival, where absence of one member can be offset easily.

User generated content is moving into newer stream – Twitter, for example.
I wonder whether Nielsen tracks Twitter activity.

People are commenting on blogs and sites like Digg/reddit as strongly as before.
At least that’s what I can tell, and I have no metric to measure comment activity levels.

Wikipedia is going strong.
The activity is robust enough and you find detailed articles on breaking news faster than big news sites.

Citizen Journalism, though still not in full flow, is going steady on sites like,

For a final measure, the moment Michael Arrington tells us that commenting on Techcrunch is not what it was before, I shall know times are changing.

Till then, long live UGC.

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What kids think of the OLPC

People at the OLPC recently gave the new $175 machines to kids and reported,

Note that Gabe had never seen one of these things before, and with practically no help from the adults, he had started painting, typing, and playing with the webcam, cackling quite evilly the whole time.

Nicholas Negroponte hopes that 95% of technical support for the OLPC will be carried out by the kids. As a demo, the OLPC guys set out a challenge for the kids to replace the OLPC motherboard. Watch it on Youtube.

All this is exciting but as the writer points out: these are well-off kids who have obviously had a long experience with technology and whose background is pole apart from the demographics of those for whom the OLPC was originally meant.

The challenge will be to make those poor kids as tech-savvy as the ones in the above story – and that they aren’t content using the OLPC to view porn.

A photo set of Kids trying out the OLPC


Monday, August 13, 2007

Where is the next Big Internet Thing?

After blogging, user-generated content, Citizen Journalism, Youtube,, Digg, I am tempted to believe, nothing new, exciting and useful has come on to the scene. This is a phase of consolidation and rejiggling of business models.

There are far too me-too offerings.

Twitter and its ‘seemingly hipper’ competitor Pownce are time wasting lite variations of what Gmail can easily offer.

Facebook has been around for a lot of internet years now. The A-listers got to it after everyone else. The Facebook Platform is a faux –AOL application drive. T is nothing in Facebook that you can’t do on the open internet mashing Gmail, Google Reader, Blogger, Fliclkr and other freely available tools.

The smartest Web 2.0 user of recent times is Republican Presidential hopeful Ron Paul, whose Web site is in reality a mashup of social networking, bookmarking, Youtube, Social news (Digg and Reddit) and other free tools. He is so smart he doesn’t have comments on his site and drives people to gather and hawk him on Digg.

Blog Networks were supposed to be the Newspaper conglomerates of tomorrow but barring some exceptions, some are content to glorified content rewriters and others (e.g. Glam) are using conniving (or stupid) investment bankers to raise more Venture Capital using dubious traffic calculation methodologies.

The really smarter blog networks are very few and focus on solid, old fashioned reporting and writing – Gawker, Gigaom, Paidcontent.

While Backfence failed to bring Citizen Journalism to every town USA, others like Frontporch Forum, iBrattleboro,, New Assignment and Assignement Zero (which is now over) took CitiJ to new levels.The Knight 21st Century News Challenge promises to support better news innovations and we will be better for them.

Copying the Digg model was, and still is, a noble cause and I am sorry to learn that the creators of Pligg, a Digg clone software, has put up its domain, Sourceforge account and community up for sale - the minimum bid being only $25,000.

Challenging Wikipedia and Google is always hip. Squidoo, Hubpages, Mahalo, Swickis, Techmeme and its controlled news index have to prove they can run with the giants for a long, long time and ultimately prove themselves.

Here’s to the reworking of existing models and to the next big internet thing.

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Can the Lonelygirl15 bring the money to social networking sites?

Joanna Shields of British Social Networking site Bebo is betting on this. Bebo launched an online teen drama, Kate Modern – 3 minutes Webisodes following the travails of the eponymous Art Student, created by the person who was behind the Lonelygirl15 ‘constructed’ phenomenon on Youtube.

The inaugural Webisodes reportedly got 100,000 hits and the creators have expectedly integrated advertisers into the drama from start. One plot line involved Tampax.

While it is good that Social Networking sites are getting serious and creative about bring in the money, I am not sure ‘Contrived, Advertiser-influenced Entertainment’ is it.

I know we watch ad-pervasive entertainment all the time, but watching James Bond driving the Ashton Martin in a 95 minute show is one thing, and following the adventures of an Art Student grappling with Tampax can make some smart young ones feel they are watching one very long advertisement.

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The Wasted Parked Domains

If you were an enterprising online publisher, you would surely be unhappy with the ways of Parked Domain Players, most of whom have booked and parked topical 1-5 word domains as mere bank deposits.

This is shame, for these domain names cover some of the most desirable, albeit generic names –,, and others.

The domaineer’s logic is simple: wait, wait and sell the domain to the highest bidder. But, history tells us that so far only and have netted the players good returns and I bet was working just as fine.

A bootstrapping publisher can’t afford these domains and those that can will obviously focus on creating ‘get me some quick returns’ kind of publishing, which leaves out any scope for patient and dogged good content creation.

This article here has a good list of great but sadly wasted parked domain names and their pitiful Pagerank and Alexa traffic numbers.

Some say, there ought to be a time limit for using a booked domains and I agree.

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