Monday, November 30, 2009

What's going on with Wikipedia?

As I've written before, for people who want to contribute articles, I think Wikipedia can have an unwelcoming, even hostile environment. There are editors who clearly live to delete new content rather than edit new content. (These are known as "deletionists": editors who shoot first and ask questions later.)

And then there are the flame wars, the infighting among "contributors writing about controversial subjects and polarizing figures," according to a recent Wall St. Journal article.

Although Wikipedia continues to be a popular Internet destination, the site is losing editors.

"Wikipedia is becoming a more hostile environment. Many people are getting burnt out when they have to debate about the contents of certain articles again and again," Felipe Ortega, a project manager at Libresoft, a research group at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, told the Wall St. Journal. Ortega analyzed Wikipedia's data on the editing histories of its more than three million active contributors in 10 languages.

So could this mark the end of crowdsourcing -- the theory that "there is wisdom in aggregating independent contributions from multitudes of Web users"?

The Journal points out that "as it matures, Wikipedia, one of the world's largest crowdsourcing initiatives, is becoming less freewheeling and more like the organizations it set out to replace. Today, its rules are spelled out across hundreds of Web pages. Increasingly, newcomers who try to edit are informed that they have unwittingly broken a rule -- and find their edits deleted, according to a study by researchers at Xerox Corp."

I could've told you that.

Look, I don't think Wikipedia is dying. But I think it is facing a crisis, even if it's akin to a mid-life crisis. Check out the interesting Journal article, "Volunteers Log Off as Wikipedia Ages."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Are Your Friends' Tweets for Real or Advertising?

Next month, new FTC rules will go into affect that mandate increased transparency among payments to bloggers in exchange for mentions -- because the FTC feels gifts and payments to bloggers is basically a new form of advertising.

Of course, companies can provide gifts and payments to bloggers but still can't control the actual content, tone, timing, etc.

Meanwhile, the New York Times ran an interesting article about sponsored tweets, "A Friend’s Tweet Could Be an Ad." Startups like,, Izea and Peer2 offer ways for celebrities and regular people can insert sponsored statements and get paid for doing so.

From a Tweeter's perspective, I certainly understand the desire to monetize one's following. And from a marketer's perspective, I certainly understand the desire to tap the credibility of people so as to conduct a word-of-mouth initiative.

But it raises some key questions.

For example, some services ensure that any sponsored tweet includes either #ad or #sponsor. But it's not clear that every service does that.

Credibility is important, but it's not clear, yet, what the impact of including sponsored tweets will have on followers. Even without sponsored tweets, there's been some controversy, including around Guy Kawasaki and certain mainstream celebrities, who uses tweets prepared by others including personal assistants.

And the impact on marketers is also unclear. Will people resent those companies that are using Twitter in this obvious, harder sell way? The Times quotes Peer2 co-founderJoey Caroni, who said, “We don’t want to create an army of spammers, and we are not trying to turn Facebook and Twitter into one giant spam network. All we are trying to do is get consumers to become marketers for us.”

I understand that goal, but that is asking a get consumers to become marketers for them.

If those services don't require some designation that a tweet is sponsored, I would expect the FTC to start requiring disclosure here.

But I also think this approach, while it generates a way to make money from having a strong followers, is more of an old-style, offline, one-way sell because it does not truly engage followers. From that perspective, I think sponsored tweets is really a Web 1.0 approach.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Three Rules of Success, According to Accenture's Chairman

I always read the "Corner Office" column in the Sunday New York Times. It's a question-and-answer column with a CEO regarding his or her management experiences.

There's usually a something valuable in each week's column.

This week's column, "68 Rules? No, Just 3 Are Enough," interviewed William D. Green, CEO of Accenture, who made this point:
I once sat through a three-day training session in our company, and this was for new managers, very capable people who were ready for a big step up. I counted, over three days, 68 things that we told them they needed to do to be successful, everything from how you coach and mentor, your annual reviews, filling out these forms, all this stuff.

And I got up to close the session, and I’m thinking about how it isn’t possible for these people to remember all this. So I said there are three things that matter.

  1. The first is competence — just being good at what you do, whatever it is, and focusing on the job you have, not on the job you think you want to have.
  2. The second one is confidence. People want to know what you think. So you have to have enough desirable self-confidence to articulate a point of view.
  3. The third thing is caring. Nothing today is about one individual. This is all about the team, and in the end, this is about giving a damn about your customers, your company, the people around you, and recognizing that the people around you are the ones who make you look good.
Pretty simple, and all are important. But the first two aren't enough -- the third point is vital, especially in today's economy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Supreme Court Rules 5-4 Against New England School of Law

At the top of the hour, WBUR-FM did its minute of thanking listeners who support the station, including New England School of Law, touting that four Supreme Court Justices will visit the school this year, its centenary.

That's nice, I guess. But a more provocative way to get mileage from that could have been to say: "Supreme Court Rules 5-4 Against New England School of Law -- find out why at..."

The school could then announce that it is appealing the decision -- and invite other justices to visit the campus.

Actually, I just had lunch with a person in charge of communications at a nonprofit client we've worked with, and we talked about the reticence of some nonprofits from engaging in active PR. Look, every organization has to be comfortable with the type of PR before, and there may be some great strategies and tactics that just aren't right for the organization. So you don't do recommend reluctant organizations to take on a PR campaign that goes against their culture. But it can be fun to imagine what they could do with it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Walt Mossberg, David Pogue & the State of Consumer Tech Reviews

Providing consumer technology reviews is a difficult job.

I say this not to suck up to consumer tech reviewers, but to acknowledge that they really do face significant challenges that include:
  • Conducting daily triage on products that are relevant to consumers. There's a lot of new gadgets and technology, especially around Christmas and CES, and most of them may be worthy while still not worthy of reviewing.
  • They have to sort through claims that products are "revolutionary," "paradigm-shifting," etc. when perhaps they're not all that.
  • If the technology is truly revolutionary, it may be of interest only to very early adopters, not mainstream consumers. (In 1975, the Altair 8800 was the first microcomputer -- but the PC didn't catch on until years later.)
  • They have to translate geeky features and terminology that only engineers care about into language that consumers can understand.
  • There are a lot of cross-over products that work for consumers and small businesses, but most consumer tech reviewers really only look at consumer technology -- which doesn't stop publicists handling SMB technology to call and complain to them.
  • There's a lot of useful technology out there, like utility software. But reviews of utility software don't sell papers like reviews of the latest mega-pixel camera, smartphone, etc. -- which doesn't stop publicists handling utility software to call and complain to them.
  • They get advanced look at buggy software, gadgets with glitches, etc. You know how frustrating it is when your own technology doesn't work as advertised. These folks are on the front line for that, so think how frustrating their jobs can be -- though, of course, when they have a problem, they get priority tech support from the company.
Point made? A difficult job.

Recently, there's been talk about the New York Times' David Pogue and potential conflicts of interest. As a long-time reader of Pogue's column and email newsletter, I think he's a pretty straight shooter. But I think he should do a better job of disclosing potential conflicts of interest. His credibility is important for the success of his column, which is important for all his side endeavors. There's no reason he'd jeopardize the credibility of his Times column, but, again, better disclosure would help.

The latest contretemps involves Walt Mossberg and his review of Windows 7. The complaint: that Mossberg wrote a glowing review of the now-reviled Vista, and used almost verbatim copy to describe Window 7. (Check out the complaint here.)

Seems to me some of the problems Pogue had also entailed his reviews of Win 7 and also of Snow Leopard, Apple's operating system. I know operating systems are important -- it's the reason I've waited to replace my aging computer until Win7 became available, and didn't replace it earlier in the year when I should have but would have had to deal with Vista. So maybe that's the problem: people take operating systems very seriously, and are therefore much more critical of reviewers who praise faulty OSes.

On the other hand, I say, give Mossberg and Pogue a break. There used to be lots of tech reviewers out there, every paper had at least one for a while. Now there are far fewer of them. So ask them to make more disclosures and to voluntarily follow the same rules the FTC will be applying Dec. 1 to bloggers in terms of receiving free products, and let's move on.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

We All Live in a Genre World -- It's a Matter of Choosing What Genre to Live, or to Write

Funny essay in the New York Times Book Review about literary genres.

Seems there really are just a handful of genres. In "What to Write Next," by author Colson Whitehead, author of “The Intuitionist” (ist) and “John Henry Days” (encyclopedic), quickly identifies the mainstream different literary genres.

He did not, alas, identify different genres or styles among bloggers, which I will start to do here, albeit not as humorously:
  • Self-expressive: more like a diary open to the public.
  • Humorous.
  • Hobbyist.
  • Professional. Opinions and insight into a sector.
  • How-to: focusing on specific functions or sectors, covering all industries.
  • Get-Rich-Quick. Which often are used to sell get-rich-quick solutions from the blog's author.
  • Political: across the spectrum. Some like to fact-check opposing perspectives (i.e., point out wholes or inconsistencies).
  • Opinion, Political: often without original reporting.
  • Mommy -- there are some Daddy bloggers, but seems to be far fewer than Mommy bloggers.
What genres of blogging have I missed? Let me know.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Are Shelter Books Dead -- Or merely the new bridal magazines?

With the news that Hachette Filipacchi Media is shuttering Metropolitan Home magazine, we've come to a turning point, I think, in what used to be known as the "shelter books" -- magazines focusing on interior design for the home.

In an environment where home foreclosures continue to mount up, the potential readership for decorating tips has other things on their mind.

In fact, a lot of people seem to renovate these days only to spruce up their homes to make them more marketable. I know someone who had put off updating their kitchen for year because they thought they might move, and now are moving -- but not before investing $10,000 to update their kitchen appliances. And that's even though they know any buyer will rip out those improvements to more completely renovate the kitchen. (My friend is also lamenting that they didn't spend the money years ago to enjoy the new appliances.)

I'm not saying that's the only reason or only time these days that people are renovating or updating their homes. But it does seem true when I look around at friends and colleagues.

The advertisers and publishers seem to recognize that fact. After all, they've pulled the plug on at least six other shelter pubs: nStyle Home, Cottage Living, Blueprint, Country Home, O at Home and Domino.

True, there are still a lot of other shelter pubs out there, like Better Homes & Gardens and Elle Decor.

But I think people interested in interior design magazines may be shifting their reading habits, and won't be interesting in annual subscriptions to those magazines. Like readers of bridal magazines, these will be interested buyers, looking for tips and ideas before they actually decide to update the look of their homes. They'll buy a couple of issues, and be done.

Besides, they can always look online at the weekly home sections still published by many newspapers. Of course, the graphics on newsprint aren't as impressive on high glossy magazine stock, but it's more convenient.

And while our clients usually are not interested in shelter pubs, one reason I'm interested in this change is that the high resolution graphics necessary for shelter pubs was one reason I thought they -- along with bridal and high-end travel magazines -- would survive without having to shift to an online-only business model. Because the graphics are so important to the end product.

For the moment, it seems only bridal and high-end travel magazines may be able to resist going online only.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bloggers and Journalists Need to Improve Transparency/Credibility

According to surveys on the perception of different careers (journalists, car dealers, etc.), journalists often score low – and bloggers will soon face the same if they don’t increase transparency about who they are and any potential conflicts of interests (free gifts, employment, etc.)

A couple of years ago, a political blogger famously talked to Bill Clinton without disclosing that she’s a blogger, and captured him saying something he shouldn't have, something he probably wouldn't have if he had known he was talking to a blogger.

I know, these days, everyone can be a blogger or a citizen journalist. But if you're at an event to blog about it, you should tell people you talk to that that's why you're there talking to them.

Meanwhile, the FTC's new rule on mandating bloggers to disclose paid relationships (including gifts) has generated a lot of initial buzz among bloggers.

It may be that people don't care, but I continue to think it's important to maintain credibilty. The FTC rule may not be a great rule, but at least they're trying to keep up with technology.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Do You Have the Infotention Skills to Survive Online?

Infotention is Howard Rheingold's term for the psycho-social-techno skill/tools we need to find our way online.

The basis of Infotention, according to Rheingold is:

Honing the mental ability to deploy the form of attention appropriate for each moment is an essential internal skill for people who want to find, direct, and manage streams of relevant information by using online media knowledgeably.

Knowing how to put together intelligence dashboards, news radars, and information filters from online tools like persistent search and RSS is the external technical component of information literacy.

Read more Here.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Wired's 10 Best Things We'll Say to Our Grandkids

Just 10 items, a quick read. Most of them very funny, and mostly, I think, accurate.

Check out #2, 3, 5, 6 & 9.

Lessons to be Learned When Politicians Attack the Media

Politicians who gripe about the media should be taken with a grain of salt. Because they weren't complaining about agendas and getting the story wrong when the media wrote positive stories about them.

On the other hand, Fox News didn't really do any positive stories about Obama, so perhaps it's not a typical love-hate relationship...since there was never any love to begin with.

But I think we can learn some interesting lessons from what's going on now.
  1. Media on both sides of the aisle (whether they admit that or not) find the fact that Obama thinks Fox News is biased is a great story. The Times has written about it extensively ("Fox’s Volley With Obama Intensifying). So has the Wall St. Journal. The latest entry is from the Journal: "Obama Is Right About Fox News."
  2. Fox News LOVES the controversy, becoming the Dick Cavett of News by making itself part of the story as I blogged earlier in the month.
  3. The public actually doesn't care about the story at all. Ok, I can't back this up with a specific survey, but with the two wars, the economy, the foreclosures, etc., it's difficult to imagine that most people care one way or the other.
  4. Obama's claim that Fox is biased is actually silly because no one really thinks it isn't. Instead, conservatives think of it as an alternative to liberal media.
  5. Fox's claim that it's being bullied by the president is equally absurd because they constantly find ways to play up small, negative stories about Obama (the Town Hall shouters were promoted and reported by Fox) -- and because Fox is able to play the valiant hero to its base, saying it's able to take on the president.
In the end, the White House needs to back off, because it's providing the oxygen to keep this fire burning. and it does the administration no good.

So the lessons:
  1. Be careful of who you fight with. The old adage was never start a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. Now, you no longer have to worry about the ink, it's the pixels. And Fox has a lot of 'em.
  2. Decide what's a reasonable outcome. What could the Obama administration think could be a positive resolution to this situation? Fox chief, Roger Ailes, isn't going to slap his forehead, and say, "Y'know what, Barack is right, we need to deliver truly balanced news."
  3. Develop a plan to achieve that reasonable outcome. Not sure there could be a plan -- other than to not engage with Fox. That's still a plan.
  4. Enlist partners to make the case. Fox has done that. Not sure that the White House has.
  5. Sometimes the smartest decision in a fight is not to start the war in the first place. I learned that lesson from "War Games," and it still seems like a smart line.
Are there any lessons you think I missed? Let me know.

Meanwhile, check out "Veteran reporter's 5 lessons for Obama" by Helen Thomas.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

In Detroit, Separation Between Church and State -- Editorial and Advertising -- Has Blurred

So it's come to this: the separation between editorial and advertising (also known as church and state) at a major newspaper has become blurred. While it seemed like there wasn't always a lot of separation at the smaller trade magazines, there was always a strong separation at major newspapers. Until now.

Check out an interesting Wall St. Journal article about the Detroit Free Press and Humana: "Major Detroit Newspaper Takes Cues From Advertisers; Free Press Gets Idea for Medicare Series From Humana, Defers to Target on Timing of Education Stories."

Given the significant ad slump everywhere, and the lousy economy in Detroit, it may not be surprising that it happened there.

I bet we'll see more of this kind of collabortion. We just won't always be aware of it.

NYT's David Carr May Be Right That Business Media Has Changed Forever -- But Steve Jobs Continues to Be a Great Cover Subject

As I wrote earlier this week, Is NYT's David Carr Right? Has Business Media Changed Forever?, business media probably has been changed forever, due to the advertising decline and the impact of the Internet.

But in his column, "Business Is a Beat Deflated," David Carr said he thought we had reached the end of the period of CEOs-as-gods cover stories.

Well, someone forgot to send the memo to Fortune.

Fortune just crowned Steve Jobs: CEO of the Decade.

Do we really need to determine the CEO of the Decade?

Is most of this decade one that most CEOs -- whose tenure has gotten shorter and shorter -- would prefer to forget?

And, by the way, for the record, I pointed out that there was an exception to the no more CEOs-as-gods stories: "Steve Jobs, who still gets adulation."

That prediction proved correct far more quickly than I had expected.

Getting Internet Buys for Top-Tier Sites For Cheap -- Using Ad Networks

Advertisers have a cost-effective way to reach top-tier media sites: it's using ad networks that sell unused space on websites. When a site like the New York Times can't sell space, it turns to the ad networks to fill that space at a discount.

This process helps and the advertisers, too.

The catch is that the ad networks can't guarantee placement on the top-tier sites. But these ad networks also enable advertisers to target demographics that may not be possible through the Washington Post, for example.

There's no similar workaround for PR functions, but it's interesting to know these alternate distribution channels exist.

While they provide a service, these ad networks are also having a negative impact on newspaper sites. Check out this NY Times article, "Online Rally May Sidestep Newspapers."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Is NYT's David Carr Right? Has Business Media Changed Forever?

New York Times media critic David Carr has written an interesting article about the state of business media in his column, "Business Is a Beat Deflated."

In the article, Carr wrote, "While the business of business may be back, the business of covering it with heroic narratives and upbeat glossy spreads most certainly is not. And probably never will be."

I think that the nature of business coverage will have to change, that we're not going to see many CEOs-as-gods stories (with one exception, Steve Jobs still gets adulation).

That's not to say we won't see cover stories on CEOs. We will. They just won't be as glowing profiles, for the most part.

I don't think that's a bad thing since the CEOs I've met have generally been very smart but also very human, too.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Recession & The Newsroom

Clark Hoyt, the Public Editor at the New York Times, wrote an interest an interesting article, "Recession, Revolution and a Leaner Times," about the impact the recession is having on the newsroom. Here are some highlights:
  • The Times retains the largest newsroom of any American paper — 1,250 reporters, photographers, editors, columnists, graphic artists, Web producers, videographers and more — it is about to cut 100 people through voluntary buyouts and, if needed, layoffs that would happen in the weeks before Christmas.
  • Other cuts: The Baltimore Sun had 400 journalists, is now down to 150 journalists. The Los Angeles Times, where a staff of more than 1,100 has been cut nearly in half.
  • Rick Edmonds, a scholar at the Poynter Institute, a journalism training center in Florida, estimated last month that newspapers have reduced spending on journalism by $1.6 billion a year over the past several years.
  • Bill Keller, executive editor, said he is determined to avoid closing foreign or national bureaus and does not expect significant cuts in Washington, DC.
  • The Times has already reduced "the support staff, cutting freelance budgets, capping expense-account meals, seeking bargain airfares and hotels, rotating foreign correspondents every five years instead of four, and housing some bureaus in correspondents’ homes rather than downtown offices. The nice car and driver for the London bureau chief? History."
  • "The metro staff, with more than 60 reporters, is still the largest, but it has been reduced by nearly 20 percent over a decade. The paper, for example, no longer has correspondents in the state capitals of New Jersey and Connecticut." Much the way the Journal announced that it would close its Boston bureau, shifting some coverage to New York.
  • With an around-the-clock news cycle, reporters file throughout the day, and copy can be edited over a smoother cycle.
  • Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, said the newsroom cuts and a decision about charging online readers are entirely separate issues. The cuts are “meant to address the immediate, short-term realities of our current economic situation.” Charging for online content, he said, is a strategic issue that “would have little or no impact on our financial results in the short term, but rather position us differently for long-term grow.
Very interesting insight into the newsroom.