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Monday, 19 Dec 2005

Outing: Nine New Year's Resolutions for Newspapers

Steve Outing at Editor & Publisher has put together a list of New Year resolutions for the newspaper industry.

2006 is starting feel like a make-or-break year for the news industry. Ad sales are slumping, and layoffs are becoming more common and substantial.

Meanwhile, local online ad revenues are jumping through the roof. Yahoo, Google and Microsoft are already making aggressive moves into local advertising and classifieds. (Google alone is expected to sell $6.1 Billion of online ads, more than any newspaper chain.)

It’s time to take action and Steve readies a call-to-arms:

How about if in 2006 local newspapers work to figure out how to become the primary social-networking venues for their communities. That would mean giving every user of a newspaper Web site a personal profile page and supporting communication between them. Figure out a way to allow those community users to network with each other based on interests, neighborhood, etc.

The real bright spot in all of this is precisely the thing causing the most problems - the Web. Newspapers need to figure out how to harness the collective intelligence and eyballs of their citizens.

Citizens are not only those who have purchasing power. They possess the power to create content specific to a community, something which will be more valuable as local advertising demand grows.

So, there is a lot of opportunity and a lot to lose. If newspapers fail to find a way, we’re certain it won’t be because a new business model didn’t exist. It’ll be because they never really tried to find them.

(Thanks to Steve for getting us fired up about this.)

Update: In a related post, Jeff Jarvis offers tangible suggestions for remaking newspapers.

Posted on Dec 19, 2005 | 7:05 pm EST
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Sunday, 11 Dec 2005

Usable exhaust: The active ingredient of effective social media

In The Social Life of Information, John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid concluded “it has become clearer that technology alone cannot dictate its ultimate route. Social life, social needs, and social aspirations remain critical influences.”


This week’s acquisition of Delicious, the shared bookmark service, by Yahoo is evidence that the search giant is eager to bolster its competitive advantage by infusing its offerings with a meaningful social component.

Not unexpectedly, Yahoo’s purchase, along with Flickr earlier this year, got a lot of people buzzing about the Yahoo deals are fresh validation of tagging and folksonomies.

Though tagging shows promise and elicits valuable user-contributed content, to assume it constitutes the main ingredient of social applications does little to enlighten. But if used in the proper way, tagging suggests a larger and more important movement afoot. It’s something Yahoo gets and other social media efforts should embrace: Usable exhaust.

Usable exhaust
The unintended benefits you or others get out of a service just by using it.

When we look at social applications we now look for those that are designed for producing second-order benefits - usable exhaust - which can potentially have a more powerful and unique impact. (For the record, we can’t take credit for this term. It was dropped on us by a Brian Hansen of Kaboodle, during lunch one day this summer. It just stuck with us.)

When we started actively using Delicious in November 2004, our intent was to share links between each other for blog posts or research. This is what Delicious was designed for - social bookmarking. Since then, we’ve managed to collect more than 1,900 links.

But soon after we began bookmarking, we found others were interested in what we were collecting. Even The began to use our Delicious feed for their Media section.

What we were creating was useable exhaust - a useful spin-off of our selfish efforts, which began to have a social life of its own. Another example can be seen in the tagcloud above where we’ve accidentally created an zeitgeist of what interests us.

Much of the success of Delicious came not only from providing the bookmark service (Furl, My Web and many others can do that) but from creating a remarkable means for discovery and remembering.

Recently more social media and network applications have made an important shift from being social for the sake of it (affinity models like Friendster and LinkedIn) towards a more purposeful approach (Flickr and Writely).

So how do you discern the difference? Here are a few guidelines for undertaking the daunting task of creating applications that generate useable exhaust:

  • Resist the common urge to design for a limited set of outcomes. Design for serendipity.
  • Provide APIs, which let anyone extend the utility of the core service - create more exhaust.
  • Focus first on providing a simple and valuable service.
  • Don’t expect people’s habits to change. (Don’t force a rating or tagging system that’s superfluous to the user’s core goal.)
  • Don’t be social for social sake. Provide a social infrastructure that can be explored at will. Don’t flaunt it unless necessary.
  • Don’t let a community or individual dominate the service.

Some examples of these guidelines in use:


Flickr encourages uploading and annotating first. Interactions with the community or chance connections provide the icing on the cake. All of this is handled well by choosing a simple level of privacy on an individual or batch of photos. Making a photo public is less of a technical chore, like say locking a file on your hard drive, and more of a tacit invitation to have a conversation with a larger social infrustructure (family, friends, groups).

Such an approach prevents what Paco Underhill termed the dreaded Butt-Brush Factor. Blatant, albeit unintended, physical contact with people in a store makes people too uncomfortable to shop. People are social but they need their space. A social application needs to identify the level of interaction necessary, if any at all, to make the core experience memorable and rewarding.


What makes Delicious cool is that it has remained simple and hasn’t been design for a specific outcome. It designed a means for letting people remember pages important to them. It also made it easy for others to use or create usable exhaust with APIs.

Yahoo seems poised to leverage that. Want to make is a social search engine? Try Delicious meets Rollyo. Delicious contains links to 10 million pages with more than 500,000 tags associated to them. Instead of just searching that relatively small collection of links, why not let us roll our own search of domains with specific tag intersections (e.g. search only domains tagged with mainstream media and trends). Rollyo is an interesting service, but it requires someone to actively create a personally relevant search before using it and doesn’t benefit from the work you or others have already done.

Ross Mayfield has written about a similar progression of search from public to personal to social.

Yahoo and Google

All of their wonderful APIs, which can be remixed in limitless ways.


Easily overlooked in the cacophony of AJAX is RSS. RSS is a perfect example of usable exhaust. It’s unobtrusive, standardized, portable and easily remixed for different purposes. How much more difficult would it be for Technorati to uncover what’s being said on 20 million blogs without it? Even Target has a feed. While we’re on the topic, Feedburner would be another great purchase for Yahoo.

Whether you’re creating a collaborative word processor, event calendar, or news site, take the time to think about the how your community can generate the most useable exhaust.

Reaction: Brian M. Dennis loves usable exhaust but takes issue with our analysis

Posted on Dec 11, 2005 | 2:50 am EST
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Friday, 09 Dec 2005

Yahoo gets Delicious

According to CNet, Yahoo has struck again with a high-profile purchase of a social media/networking site:

Yahoo, the world’s largest Internet media site, has acquired, a popular Web site that helps users share links to their favorite has only nine employees. Venture backers include Union Square Capital, and BV Capital, among others. Some 300,000 users have shared more than 10 million of their favorite links to Web sites.

Congratulations to Joshua Schachter, Albert Wenger, Chris Fralic and the rest of the team.

Update: blog and Union Square Ventures blog.

Posted on Dec 09, 2005 | 9:36 pm EST
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Tuesday, 06 Dec 2005

We've joined the Corante Media Hub

A few of you might have noticed the Corante Media Hub logo that showed up in our right column about a week ago.

It signifies our participation in Corante clan where our blog posts will be aggregated along with the feeds of some of our favorite media writers: Robin Good, Robert Andrews, Tim Porter, Jonathan Dube, Vin Crosbie, Terry Heaton and Mark Hamilton.

The editor of the Media Hub is none other than Hylton Jolliffe, Corante's CEO, Editor and Founder. Hylton explains:

"The Corante Media Hub is your starting point for keeping abreast of the best writing and thinking on the media industry, the practice of journalism, the rise of social media, and the radical forces reshaping the media landscape. With the launch and development of the Corante Network, Corante has partnered with scores of the blogosphere's most respected thinkers and writers in specific categories to bring you cutting edge coverage and commentary that will help you stay ahead of the curve, gain valuable insights, and save time. In addition, you'll find various tools and features on the Hub designed to help you find related and relevant editorial."

To celebrate, we decided to finally redesign the Hypergene MediaBlog.

The MediaBlog was launched on 1 October 2002 about two months before anyone had heard of Technorati. And until this week, we hadn't really touched the design.

As professional designers, we've had to habor our guilt not unlike a plumber with perpetually leaky pipes. But with a few midnight night readings of Bulletproof Web Design and a prescription of IE/Win hacks from our collegue Blake Scarbrough, we think the worst is over.

More about the Hub

Posted on Dec 06, 2005 | 12:22 pm EST
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Saturday, 12 Nov 2005

Dynamic podcast networks

Lost Podcasting NetworkWe came across an ingenious idea this week: A theme-based aggregated podcast feed. Several of the folks who make fan podcasts devoted to ABC’s hit TV-show Lost got together and created the Lost Podcasting Network (RSS).

Their network is basically a weblog, where each post is a different podcast episode. The RSS feed, therefore, is an aggregation all seven indie podcasts, plus the official ABC Lost podcast. Effectively, they have created a theme-based channel or podcast network.

It would be cool, however, if you could use an RSS service like FeedBurner, to create an aggregate feed by auto-splicing together any number of exisiting podcast feeds. That way, you could dynamically create a podcast network/channel. Sure, you can do this with technologies such as OPML or use RSS aggregators, but you are still having to manage separate feeds. Using this technique, you could splice together your favorite entertainment feeds to create your own special entertainment podcast. Or, it would at least allow various podcasters to get together more easily and create these aggregate podcast networks.

Does anyone know if there is technology out there that would enable or is enabling something like this?

Posted on Nov 12, 2005 | 2:01 pm EST
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Wednesday, 02 Nov 2005

Putting a price on citizen media or what's the value of your blog?

A month back, Tristan Louis did an interesting analysis on the AOL-Weblogs, Inc deal. Since pure traffic numbers are not a good measure of a blog’s influence, Tristan divided the total sale price of Weblogs, Inc. (estimated at $23 million) by the most recent count of inbound links by Technorati.

Business Opportunities Weblog uses Tristan’s data to let you create a badge (or price tag) for your site:

The consequence of this is interesting. With this recent deal (and a similar purchases by New York Times of or Murdock’s acquisition of MySpace), big media is placing a value on citizen media. That might make it potentially much harder to get talented bloggers to contribute to their sites gratis.

Posted on Nov 02, 2005 | 4:11 pm EST
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Friday, 28 Oct 2005

The state of advertising in RSS feeds

In the WSJ’s special section, Technology Innovation Awards, on Oct. 24, 2005, David Kesmodel has an excellent article on the state of advertising in RSS feeds, Really Simple Sale.

Since it’s buried behind the subscription wall, here’s a few highlights:

RSS feeds “are the next avenue for smart marketers to look to,” says Jeff Hinz, a senior vice president for ID Media, an Interpublic Group unit that helps companies decide where to spend ad dollars. “You’re reaching a consumer who’s raising his hand, who’s looking for relevant information.”

Paul Volen, vice president of product marketing for Yahoo Search Marketing, says it’s “way too early” to tell whether placing ads in RSS feeds will become a significant source of revenue. But one advantage of the advertising method is that subscribers to the feeds don’t fork over any personal information, such as an email address, so that fewer privacy concerns than they do with other types of online advertising.

The article mentions Googole’s AdSense tests with RSS, Yahoo’s experiments with Feedburner, and the Washington Post selling ads in their RSS feeds. The article also talks with Pheedo, an ad broker that negotiates placement in RSS feeds. Camera maker Nikon Corp. and are using the Pheedo service.

Pheedo uses three pricing models, not that different from typical banner ads: Flat fee to have an ad appear for a certain period of time; Pay a fee for each time an ad appears; Pay per click-through. A VP at Pheedo is quoted saying that some advertisers will pay as much as $2 per click-through. 

What’s interesting is that the article makes no mention of using RSS to deliver classifieds, jobs and real estate listings, or product sales information. Amazon has RSS feeds for virtually every product category. As do, craigslist and Monster.

According to RSS marketing expert Rok Hrastnik, “The true power of RSS for end-users, in direct relation to marketing, is getting precisely the content you want, carefully adjusted to your needs, at exactly the right time.”

“For marketers, this means delivering highly relevant information that directly addresses the needs of their audiences. For end-users, this means consuming only the information tailored to their interests.”

“To see what I mean, take a look at the RSS feeds provided by CityCrybs. Then, go on to their search page and see how far they let you customize your search, which then produces a dynamic RSS feed, tailored specifically to your interests.”

Given the potential of RSS, it’s strange that sites like CareerBuilder, and eBay have stayed away from this marketing tool. It’s probably only a matter of time. Like the WSJ article says, when Windows Vista arrives with RSS integrated into IE, RSS will probably cross the chasm.

For interesting commentary, tips and ideas on this RSS marketing, check out Hrastnik’s weblog, The RSS Marketing Diary or Chris Lockergnome’s RSS & Atom Tips. Pheedo also has a weblog.

Posted on Oct 28, 2005 | 11:45 am EST
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What a little Kaboodle could do


Yesterday our friend and former colleague, Brian Hansen, along with Manish Chandra and team announced a new idea in social shopping called Kaboodle.

The announcement was remarkable for at least two reasons. First, Kaboodle generated tremendous buzz throughout the blogosphere literally overnight - without spending a penny. Steve Rubel would be proud.

Second, even in it’s early beta stage, Kaboodle exemplifies one of a new crop of web applications that are designed for collaboration at the start and not merely social for social’s sake.

Describing the beta release of Kaboodle to someone can be a mouthful: It’s kinda like a social shopping bookmark site. It allows you to gather elements from different web pages and invite others comment or to help you decide on them.

It has elements of wikis (let others add pages), blogs (let people comment on your posts) and shopping sites (ratings).

But thinking of Kaboodle as just a way to shop might be missing the bigger idea: It’s, potentially, a living “decision engine” that helps you make sense of the overwhelming number of choices you are faced with each day.

Or tweak this for a specific effort like journalism. You could use it to collaboratively select elements of a breaking story, photo-edit or find experts in the community working on similar subjects.

More powerfully, we could imagine it extracting the patterns of decision-making. This could lead to something similar to an expert system. The more things you choose and rate, the more the system would begin gathering new or existing content on the web that match your particular interest. Sort of a super-Google alert.

Either way, new endeavors like Kaboodle, Rollyo and Writely, give us hope that no matter how complicated the future gets, maybe we won’t have to figure it out alone.

Posted on Oct 28, 2005 | 4:54 am EST
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Wednesday, 26 Oct 2005

Can 'Citizen Journalists' Really Produce Readable Content?

Steve Outing has a piece that begins to address some of the more pesky problems of citizen media - credibility. With more and more questions being raised about Wikipedia’s credibility, now is probably as good time as any to face the issue at large.

"If a news organization (or entrepreneur, for that matter) is to have a citJ initiative succeed, there are some steps to be taken to ensure adequate quantity of citizen-submitted content, as well as quality,” said Outing.
We couldn’t agree more. The build-it-and-they-will-come- news-site-of-your-dreams is just that - a dream, which is well summed up by Rich Gordon, an associate professor of journalism at Northwestern University and the faculty advisor behind the school’s, citJ Web site:

"If you don’t have a well-developed strategy to populate the site with content of interest to people, you will end up with a site full of junk. Hard as it is to get people to visit a citizen journalism site for the first time, you don’t want them to come and decide it’s not worth coming back."
(Perhaps the most troubling observation of Outing’s is that mundanity could turn out to be a greater threat.)

Steve had recently broken a finger, which made typing difficult. So he asked if we could send along some thoughts via email. We were honored to oblige:

"To get the best content,” says Willis, “I do believe people will have to be compensated. News companies had a chance to get a lot of participation for free, but as blog networks begin to get bought up by the likes of AOL, the New York Times or News Corp., a value for influential online voices is being set. That’s a genie that won’t be going back into the bottle anytime soon."
The reality of writing an article is bound by three things: Deadlines, length and being able to write transition to all the exceedingly insightful comments your subjects sent you.

For those interested, here are a few other responses that weren’t lucky enough to make the cut:

"News companies and those starting citizen journalism endeavors need to understand that media is becoming more of a social entity. As in any social environment, there are participants who serve different roles in the creation, consumption, sharing and transformation. This is giving rise to information ecosystems, such as the blogosphere, which we are just starting to recognize and understand."
Q: I’m curious if you think that citJ sites will play a big role in obituaries. (See Steve’s piece on the topic.)

“Experimenting with obituaries is an excellent place to start. Paid obituaries, though still closer to classifieds, have traditionally been one of the few example of citizen content that sits in the newspaper. It’s a perfect opportunity to both experiment with new forms of storytelling and improve the product and value to the customer.

There is still value in getting a mention of a loved one in the newspaper. Print the name and link to the online obit. There you could offer not only a means to publish a story and photos but offer writing/editing services, links to stories about a person, job or school they attended, etc.

From what I’ve observed working in the online news industry and, most recently, is that you need to know your customer like never known them before.

The online world is interactive. Journalists and editors probably need to start by getting a better grasp of the Internet and then start visiting people in their homes or places of work and see how they interact with news sites and their products (ethnography).

There is little hard evidence to suggest that your average citizen is interested in being a journalist in the traditional sense. What we do know is that people are seeking different kind of relationship to media and the companies or people that create media. Experiment with how you can engage everyone to participate in a way that makes sense and is rewarding to them."

As of today, Technorati was measuring more than 20 million blogs. Even if the vast majority is less than credible or less than compelling, the message is becoming more clear every day: People are driven to create and collaborate. The Internet is a social media and a conduit through which we will continue to see in some instances and an acceleration of cultural, legal, social and technical change or a renewal of rules we already knew.

Posted on Oct 26, 2005 | 3:05 am EST
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Friday, 21 Oct 2005

What Obstacles Exist for Online Journalism?

In anticipation of next week’s Online News Association annual conference in New York City, Vin Crosbie has thrown down the gauntlet:

Unfortunately, the major obstacle for online journalism is the people who practice it ó the best of whom will be attending the conference. Most are transplanting into the new medium the failings of the old, mass medium: the failings of traditional journalism and the failings of traditional journalismís packaging.

Posted on Oct 21, 2005 | 3:36 am EST
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