Laying Newspapers down to rest

More from AlacraBlog, Steve Goldstein has a roundup of some of the latest stories pointing to the demise of the newspaper as we now know it. It may take longer than we think but the signs are all there to the eventual end of a business model that has worked for over 200 years. Craig Newmark calls it a “tipping point” but is the first to admit that he’s not a news guy and doesn’t know how the model will evolve.

I realize I’m no newsguy, not an activist; just like everyone else, tired of news that I can’t trust. My favorite irony is that Jon Stewart produces fake news that’s honest; and the White House produces allegedly honest news that’s really fake.

My guess is that either me, personally, or my craigslist team, will promote work which merges professional and citizen journalism, along with more fact checking and more investigative journalism. We’re relying on people who really know this stuff to advise, and can’t predict what me or craigslist will do. However, it’s really important to us that we help newspeople and newspapers survive the big transition, and thrive.

One thing is certain, there will be changes and those that embrace this new frontier will be in a position to capitalize upon it while those that chose to ignore it do so at their peril.

Grokker & Data Visualizaiton

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a sucker for whiz bang tools that change the way we look at things. When it comes to search, I’m always on the lookout for a better way to scan a text listing of search results. While there have been many attempts at this (remember some of the early data viz attempts by Alta Vista?) I always ended up going back to relevance ranked text search results. Nothing can really beat the speed with which the mind can process text on a page.

Grokker.com is the latest attempt to make searching more efficient through the use of data visualization. They’ve been around for a while with a client side version of their graphical user interface and they’ve been showing off their front end to Yahoo Search since early May. After being reminded of Grokker by a post from Steve Goldstein, I thought I’d give it another whirl.

Conclusion? After 10 minutes of playing around and trying out different searches I’m not convinced that this is going to bring any extra value for me. I think that a generic search does not lend itself well to this type of presentation. The clumping of similar results into a sphere that you can explore may be helpful if you’re searching on a really broad concept (i.e. "polish") and do not know where to begin but as soon as you have a set of results focused enough to scan through them, the visual representation breaks down and is less efficient than plain text. Grokker tries to overcome this with the text preview box but the slight time delay makes it more frustrating than effective.

I am usually pretty tuned in to how I want to search on something and how to construct that search. Call me an old command line guy but I know better than to search on a single, ambiguous word and expect results that will be relevant. It’s much better for me to try out a couple of examples with liberal use of the browser’s back button than to wait for an AI program to "grok" my result set for me.

This is not to say that data visualization is all fluff – it can be very powerful  when applied in specific situations. I’m a big fan of Edward Tufte and all the great work being done around the Google Maps API in combination with other data overlays (real estate listings, crime in Chicago) is clearly preferable to a text representation of the same data. Likewise, Blogpulse is trying to represent blog posts over time which is a great initial step towards representing  search results over time. In each of these cases, the application of data visualization is effective because the data is already focused enough so that the graphical representation of that data is effective. In general search, there are too many questions about the base data that undermine the impact of the graphical presentation to make such an interface an effective way to navigate search results.

The Bed’s Too Big Without You

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On Friday morning I packed up the wife & kids for a two month trip where the plan is to put Tyler & Julia into public school in Japan. The Japanese school year goes through to mid-July so the idea is that the kids can get some real immersion into Japanese culture and language while living with their grandparents in Tokyo. Since I can’t work out of Japan, I’ll stay behind until the last week of their trip living in the house on my own. This is the second year in a row that we’ve done this. Tyler’s time in Japanese school last year was a resounding success – he learned quite a bit, about Japan and himself. The hope is we can further Tyler’s learning (he’s going into 1st grade this year) and replicate the experience for Julia who will go to pre-school.

While Izumi and I know this is a good experience for the kids, it’s always hard to say goodbye, even if it’s only going to be for eight weekends. I count the weekends because the pace of work makes the weeks slip by relatively quickly compared to the weekends when time without family distraction slows time to a crawl. Today I awoke to my first day without them to go for an extended run, then folded the last load of laundry that we did before the kids left. Folding the tiny shirts and sweaters seemed so bittersweet – like putting away a collection of childhood memories and keepsakes.

My cousin arrived in the late morning with his family which was a welcome distraction. We took a drive around the neighborhood, stopping by to see the kite surfers and USS Hornet on the north end of the island then headed up to Tilden park to ride the steam trains. Later, after walking Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, we headed back to Alameda to eat at Hinn Tha, the Burmese restaurant on Park Street that I’ve been meaning to try. I’m happy to report it was delicious and will be taking Izumi and the kids there as soon as they return.

Now I’m back home alone, listening to Jack Johnson, feeling blue, and streaming words into the blog entry page as a way to pass the time until it’s late enough to call Izumi and the kids and hear how their day went. I usually get to pull news out of them bit by bit at a more natural pace over the course of the day. Now my time with them will be limited to the short exchanges left to us on the phone calls during the period that our waking timezones overlap. The house is so devoid of life – it’s just me, the fish, and the fading in and out of family photos on the iMac screensaver in the corner, a reminder of a much more spirited time. This is going to take some getting used to – I miss my family.

Word Meme

Every now and then, a new word makes its way through our office as if everyone is reading and talking to the same people. They look up the word, think it’s useful, then incorporate the word into their daily conversation. I too will succumb with orthogonal.

Weekend Treasure Hunt

Looking for 10% lifetime discount off on a TypePad subscription? Just to keep things interesting and fun around here, I’m going to start hiding little promotional discount cards for TypePad around the city and post hints on this blog where you can find them. The first card is hidden near the corner of 4th and Harrison in San Francisco, in front of the Whole Foods entrance on 4th

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Once you see this lightpost, look down, then around. A little froggie will be peering out at you.

Leave a comment once you pick up the card to keep others from looking. Stay tuned for more Weekend Treasure Hunts!

Sparkle Body Spray – P&G Character Blog

The interactive agency Imc2, has launched a character blog running on Movable Type for P&G’s product, Secret Sparkle Body Spray. AdWeek covered the blog and some blogger purists have complained that a character blog, because it masks the true identity of its writer and in this case is blatant in its intent to market a product, goes against the spirit of blogging.

I posed the question of character blogs to Esther Dyson at the recent AdTech conference in San Francisco and her response was at once simple and obvious. I’m paraphrasing here but essentially Esther said that character blogs are just another use of the medium. They are neither right nor wrong (is there such a thing as “wrong” blog?) The overriding principle is to make the character blog (and this applies to any blog) clever, informative, and engaging.

Me? I’ll confess I’m not subscribed sparklebodyspray.rdf but I’m pretty sure they’re not trying to reach out to 38 year old married men anyway!

NY Times puts their best known writers behind the gate

TimesSelect, a new package being launched by nytimes.com in September, will restrict access to some of the best known columnists to only those with a subscription key. For either $49.95/year or free with a home-delivery subscription to the print newspaper, readers will get an account to TimesSelect which will give them unfettered access to the likes of Krugman, Friedman, and Dowd.

It’ll be interesting to see if keeping these writers behind the subscription wall will lead to a drop off of references to their material on blogs and, as some claim, a drop off in their ability to set the agenda for the day.

Perhaps. In an interview on paidcontent.org, Martin Niesenholtz says their looking to also launch an affiliate network of sorts to drive people to nytimes.com and hopefully sign up for a subscription of their own.

We also hope to roll out an affiliate program so the long tail can create a revenue stream for itself. If you’re a blogger who uses a lot of Times Op-Ed content in your blog you can continue to (by subscribing to TimesSelect)… and, through an affiliate network, extend that to their base and they can make money on the backend off that. We think the blogosphere needs more revenue streams.”

It’ll be a delicate balance but if they do it right, they might be able to recreate that economic model that works so well for them in print. One reason to get a paper such as the New York Times is to get their editorial perspective on the events of the day and share them as a point of reference If you’re a blogger that enjoys amplifying these perspectives to your readers and drive your readers to also sign up for the online edition or home-delivery, then you should be able to subsidize your own subscription.

It remains to be seen if the demographics of their readership is still right for this balance to play out online. Is a Paul Krugman or Maureen Dowd enough of a draw or has the curve shifted to the point where people are already drawn away towards some of the newer writers of the day that are not going to be drawing a paycheck from an established brand.

This September the wall will go up and we’ll see if the Times’ magnetic pull can draw others inside and make it a sustainable business for the Times and its affiliates.

Opinion pieces have their most value immediately after they’re published (when the piece is fresh and original) for about a day or two and then once again, several months later, when they serve as a a useful reference point for historical perspective. These same pieces have their least value in the in the time between, say after they’re a few days old until 3 months out.

Restricting access during the period when these pieces are the most valuable will drive subscriptions to TimesSelect. It makes less sense to keep these pieces under lock and key throughout the time when people are mildly curious to see what all the fuss is about and have the time to sample a frequently referenced article without having to commit to an annual subscription. I would prefer to see the program re-jigged so that TimesSelect members get first dibs on grokking the perspective of the day but after 48 hours the doors are open for any and all up until the 3 month mark when they drop back to a view which restricts non-subscribers to only the first few paragraphs.

This new system would allow nytimes.com to extract maximum value from the work of their best authors (in order to keep their far-flung bureaus open for business) while also providing grist for the bloggers and general public to amplify and discuss stories in the public realm for a good three months. Open access to popular pieces for a three month period would help move low cost advertising inventory and allow for the fence-sitters to properly experience the quality of the Times’ news stream should they later decide they want to get access to this stuff prior the 48 hour embargo for non-subscribers.

Call it Kennedy’s Rolling Window of news & perspective. The cheap seats only let you see what’s directly in front of the window while subscribers get to see not only what’s coming down the pike but also dig back and review what’s gone by. Each time you see a story fly by that you wish you could have read sooner or wanted to read later, you’ll be fingering your credit card and thinking about the value of that $49.95 subscription.

Technorati Amplifies the Conversation at Salon

Technorati has integrated itself into Salon.com with a new feature which lists the most blogged stories of the site. In addition, they list links at the bottom of each story so that you can follow the conversation out of Salon and trace the thread into other blogs that have linked to the Salon piece. Richard Ault has a nice write up illustrating the integration with screenshots and Niall Kennedy describes this as the first of what Technorati hopes to be many such integrations.

Salon is the first of what we at Technorati hope will be many integration deals with media partners. I want to continue to get the quality content produced by bloggers marketed to as big of as big of an audience as possible. Journalists are often asked how their job security has changed with the popularity of weblogs. I think both serve a purpose and complement each other, and the Salon partnership takes a big step in that direction with a pioneering Internet content company.

Big Blue Blogging Army

It’s been known for some time that there are hundreds of bloggers toiling away inside IBM and representing the company to their various audiences. This week, IBM announced support for this grassroots movement and is encouraging any of its 320,000 employees to take up the blog.

“We’re not telling our people what to say, we could never do that. It’s a natural extension of the work IBM has been doing for many decades, in establishing its expertise in key areas,” Jim Finn, senior communications executive at IBM told Silicon Valley Watcher.

Tom Forenski of the SiliconValleyWatcher describes the move as something that, “would hlep establish IBM’s thought leadership in global IT markets.” In related news, James Snell of IBM has posted the IBM corporate blogging policy which is a good read for anyone else thinking of launching similar “massive corporate wide blogging initiatives.”