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Archive for June, 2009

Just Dance

by henrycopeland
Friday, June 26th, 2009

Have a great weekend!

The economics of printless local news orgs

by henrycopeland
Friday, June 26th, 2009

Can they fly? I agree with Jake Dobkin — the numbers are way off. The wrong way. Excel dude is smoking his own VC-focused PPT.

Minnesota Post’s RSS ads

by henrycopeland
Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Cool idea:

Enterprises that want to get the word out about their products, services or ideas are moving quickly to new media — communicating through social networks like Twitter and by publishing their own blogs.

Of course, the challenge is getting more of the right people to see the messages. MinnPost.com is now offering an innovative solution to this problem: MinnPost.com Real-Time Ads.

For a modest weekly charge, you can show MinnPost’s readers the headlines or brief summaries of these messages you’re already creating, and watch them link to your full messages on your website.

But not quite as cool as our RSS ads, which incorporate up to 7 headlines per advertiser. 🙂

FTC cracks down on “pay for play”

by henrycopeland
Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Deborah Yao of the AP reports:

Many bloggers have accepted perks such as free laptops, trips to Europe, $500 gift cards or even thousands of dollars for a 200-word post. Bloggers vary in how they disclose such freebies, if they do so at all. 

The practice has grown to the degree that the Federal Trade Commission is paying attention. New guidelines, expected to be approved late this summer with possible modifications, would clarify that the agency can go after bloggers — as well as the companies that compensate them — for any false claims or failure to disclose conflicts of interest.

It would be the first time the FTC tries to patrol systematically what bloggers say and do online. The common practice of posting a graphical ad or a link to an online retailer — and getting commissions for any sales from it — would be enough to trigger oversight.

“If you walk into a department store, you know the (sales) clerk is a clerk,” said Rich Cleland, assistant director in the FTC’s division of advertising practices. “Online, if you think that somebody is providing you with independent advice and … they have an economic motive for what they’re saying, that’s information a consumer should know.”

Marking “in kind” advertising clearly will not only be a huge boon for the public. If bloggers are to make a living from advertising, transparency and full disclosure are essential.

This could be bad news for players like Payperpost.com.

Here’s a link to the full FTC proposed guidelines.

testing something fun

by henrycopeland
Friday, June 19th, 2009

China boycotts US debt?

by henrycopeland
Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Reuters reports: “According to US Treasury data issued Monday, Beijing owned 763.5 billion dollars in US securities in April, down from 767.9 billion dollars in March.”

We’ve got another trillion or so to borrow in the next year — who we gonna call?

Twitter bashing part 2

by henrycopeland
Monday, June 15th, 2009

Another day, another prediction of Twitter’s imminent demise today, this time from one Jason Clark.

Taking a close look at Clark’s arguments against Twitter leaves me more convinced than ever that Twitter is, like the action and community of blogging for certain thoughts and communities, The Real Thing. A New Thing. A Good Thing. A Lasting Thing.

A Real New Good Thing That Will Last.

What are Clark’s arguments?

Noting that Terminal Social Networking Solutions have come and gone over the years — BBS, Usenet, IRC — Clark concludes Twitter is “overhyped on a massive level and predict[s] its obsolescence in a year or less.”

Clark argues, correctly I think, that Twitter may soon be useless as a marketing medium, just as commercial e-mailing became self-defeating spam once too many marketers decided “share” their products via e-mail.

But most of Clark’s arguments miscast Twitter’s strengths as weaknesses.

a) Clark knocks Twitter’s simplicity, predicting that more sophisticated UIs, like Google’s Wave, will trump Twitter. In fact, Twitter hasn’t succeeded despite its simplicity, but because of its simplicity. (Check out this 1 hour and 20 minute video “intro to Wave“… whoeee!)

Twitter is a joy because it strips communication down to its essential elements — give and take, modulate and moderate, share and swap, argue and support — and make these interactions feasible with thousands of people at once. I feel my social and intellectual life is significantly richer as I share ideas, jokes, fragments of personal experience with the (currently) 465 people I follow and the 1736 people who follow me.

b) Clark kvetches that only 30% of users “stick” on Twitter. Given that Twitter depends on network effects — Twitter is not REALLY fun and socially dynamic unless your friends are also using it — this adoption rate is phenomenal for a service that’s only used by <0.2% of Americans.

c) Clark complains that Twitter’s conversations are disorganized, fundamentally crippled by “limited and obscure nomenclature.” Twitter isn’t perfect, but what is?

Twitter lets me sit in a coffee shop eaves-dropping on some of the world’s most fascinating, plugged in people — like my former editor Jon Gage, New York aficionado Amy Langfield, SEO maven Sara Holoubek, media gadfly David Carr, gossip mogul Perez Hilton, wit-whipping Baratunde Thurston, post-slinger Amanda Marcotte, conservative web guru Patrick Ruffini, social spook Amy Senger, progressive bonfire Markos Moulitsas, and Cluetrain/VRM visionary Doc Searls — and sometimes share my thoughts with them.

d) Everyone will leave for some new service with the arrival of “a glut of competition in the next few months, with companies duking it out for the best implementation of the microblogging model.”

Will all the hundreds of fascinating people I follow suddenly emigrate to one new service, dragging me a long? Social network gravity is strong — the odds are greater that the Alps will break loose from continental Europe and spiral off into space.

Twitter has already captured the best and the brightest. There MIGHT be a new Twitter-like service for an articulate, highly networked subset of people who aren’t currently enTwittered — evangelicals, for example. But there is NO WAY one million of America’s best and brightest media freaks are going to decamp en mass to some new service.

Though more powerful communications tools abound, most of the time, I don’t want to do more than what Twitter offers, thank you very much. Suggesting that Twitter will fail because of its simplicity is like saying bicycles would be more fun if they had four wheels, an eight cylinder engine, seat-belts and a glass and steel cage. We’ve got plenty of cars already, I’m happy on my bike.

My bet is that many new people will take to Twitter in the future. Twitter will be bigger and better five years from now than today. Lots won’t, but that’s OK.

(Don’t miss Ken Layne’s hilarious excoriation of Twitter in the comments on this post. Ken would be less agoraphobic if he twittered more. 🙂

New interface for ad versioning and scheduling

by henrycopeland
Saturday, June 13th, 2009

Our scheduling and versioning UI just took a nice hop forward. (Nearly a leap?)

After lots of agonizing, things got a lot easier when we realized that our ad units cry out to be displayed horizontally in the admin interface. Having turned the interface on its side, suddenly an ad scheduling calendar suddenly made a lot more sense.

The interface still isn’t perfect, but it is a big improvement over what we had yesterday.

Here’s what you see after you’ve uploaded two versions of an ad. You click on the dates below each version to indicate when that version should run. (You can add as many versions as you want.) This illustration is for a one week ad. If you wanted to run a one month ad, you’d see 31 days. (Click to enlarge.)

If you indicate that three ads will run on one day, the machine automatically distributes the SOV proportionally.

And if you want to change the weighting for a particular day (or all the days with that particular set of versions), you click a day in the list in the left column and get a screen like the following one, in which you can then customize the weighting for that set of creatives.

Obviously this UI still isn’t perfect, so we need your suggestions and critiques… either in the comments or by e-mail.

Reporters are still hard at work on “aged news”

by henrycopeland
Friday, June 12th, 2009
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
End Times
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Newt Gingrich Unedited Interview

The essential problem we face: though the Times’ Baghdad bureau is a civic necessity, only a few individuals would spend $10 a year to get the Times’ Baghdad reports.

Twitter backlash

by henrycopeland
Thursday, June 11th, 2009

A couple of college buddies, still clinging to their AOL e-mail addresses, wrote yesterday to highlight the BBC’s article about Twitter being “hyped” and “one to many.”

Only 10% of tweeters really use the medium, says the Harvard study that served as the source for the BBC’s story.

Worse, “Twitter is a broadcast medium rather than an intimate conversation with friends,” the study’s author said. “It looks like a few people are creating content for a few people to read and share.”

Wow, “broadcast” is a serious indictment, coming from the Beeb and Harvard, two pre-eminent institutions of bombastic broadcast!

This Twitter backlash reminds me of the blog-bashing of 2001 and 2002, when journalists and academics were eager to “burst the blogging bubble” by identifying shortfalls, overreaches or variations from whatever standard of decency or probity they wanted it to live up to.

Back then, I had more time for blogging, so I’ll quote an old post about blogging backlash that outlines the basic rhetorical framework in play then and now:

What is it about blogs that so confuses and concerns newspaper columnists? I think most columnists lack the experiences and conceptual categories to understand “the blog.” Like a one-year-old baby grappling with the idea of other beings, the average newspaperman scribbling about bloggers can describe “the other” only as an ersatz version of himself.

In essence, the bashers complain that blogs don’t measure up to “real” media. The Boston Globe’s recent column “In the world of Web logs, talk is cheap” regurgitates the list of complaints. Individual blogs don’t appeal to a broad audience. They aren’t serious or objective or edited. They contain meaningless personal details. They can be trite, verbose, incoherent and/or self-aggrandizing.

We all know that none of these traits apply to newspaper columns, ergo, blogs must be bad. In fact, many blogs are so bad, Globe columnist Alex Beam concluded, that the most they can aspire to is being “mocked in a medium that people actually read,” ie the newspaper.

The weblog community has pummeled Beam, and blogging dean Glenn Reynolds does the best job of logging the individual punches. Also, don’t miss pre-publication e-mail exchanges between Beam and Virginia Postrel and James Lileks.

Here’s my own reaction to Beam and anyone else trying to understand blogs: measuring the blog against the newspaper is a waste of time.

For a start, let’s try measuring the blog against other media, ancient and modern.

Blogs compare rather well to an older and more widely used communications tool, talking. Anyone who complains about blogging as sloppy or fruitless might want to take a tape recorder along the next evening out with friends. The next morning, listen to the incoherence, grunting and mumbling that passes for scintillating communication. Not a fair test? As any newspaper reporter can tell you, even the most practiced, coherent and committed spokespeople rewind, elipsize and armwave their way through most points.

Most human verbal communication isn’t rocket science… it’s sloppy, looping, incoherent, and prolix… which is part of its appeal.

Then there’s the telephone. In its early days, “lack of seriousness” was a frequent complaint against telecommunication. As tech scholar Andrew Odlyzko writes:

Sociability was frequently dismissed as idle gossip, and especially in the early days of the telephone, was actively discouraged. For example, a 1909 study of telephone service commissioned by the city of Chicago advocated measured rate service as a way to reduce “useless calls.” Yet the most successful communication technologies, the mail and the telephone, reached their full potential only when they embraced sociability and those “useless calls” as their goal.

So forget about dissing blogs as chit chat. Forget about blasting blogs for unnewspaperness. The new order isn’t just a negation of the old, or a recombination of its components: the new media spawns new features and experiences which are indescribable in the old language. E-mail isn’t just “electronic mail,” it is bccing, subject lines, limitless dribble, forwarded jokes, FLAMING, writing a quick note when you don’t have the energy to engage in a full dialog, sig files. SMS is far more than “short messages sent by mobile telephone,” it’s a whole culture of instant feedback, global simultaneity, crooked thumbs, endorphined beeps announcing news and stimulation.

In the same way, blogging isn’t a diary, a reading log, a common place book, a collection of newspaper articles or opinion columns. But what is it?

Rather than asking how blogs fail, let’s enumerate what blogs do right. Let’s describe why they inspire so much passion. 500,000 bloggers can’t just be vain, right?

In February, I listed timeliness, willingness to credit others, passion, blogrolling, human interest, chronology, and devotion as the characteristics that make blogs so appealing and useful for readers. But a blog’s power comes also from its benefits to the blogger.

Blogs are a great tool for brainstorming and sharing knowledge. Blogs encourage us to write and think more clearly. Blogs force us to interact (intellectually and physically) with the texts we are reading. Blogs invite others to reward our creative effort with feedback and, sometimes, appreciation. Blogs weave new social networks, introducing us to people with common passions. Blogs disseminate “micro-opinions” that are important for a small audience but would never make it onto a newspaper’s op-ed or letters page. Blogs build a shared history of experience and opinion among friends and acquaintances.

Talk is cheap and so is blogging, which is what makes both such powerful social tools. Blogging confers the bonus benefits of searchability, and temporal and spacial scalability.

But enough comparisons and descriptions. The joy of tennis can’t be described, it must be played.

And so it goes with Twitter. There’s some strange new social experience being born amidst the @s and RTs and #s and bit.lyed URLs. Spending time grunting about Twitter’s shortfalls — only 10% really use it and most people are passive misses out on the amazing social experience some of us ARE having. If you want to learn what makes Twitter special, don’t look at the 9 million low-tweeters, looks at the 1 million people who love it and are helping to invent some new social codes.

Even if Tweets are not a true conversation, there’s something new going on in the vocabulary of @ and # and “d” messages betwixt and between folks. It will take us a long time to figure out exactly what and give it a name. But it won’t be along metrics defined (developed) by existing media. And folks who sit on the sidelines, fingers firmly in their ears and complain “this new stuff isn’t as good at what WE do” are missing the point entirely.

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