History of Content

In the great content debate, the pendulum continually swings back and forth between the failure of that filter or intellectual stack overflow. Philip Sheldrake and illustrator Nic Hinton set out to capture the evolution of content in an amazing infographic from which I have captured only a small detail below.  The poster appears to be a promotion for the mobile aggregator, taptu but their relationship with Philip is not quite clear. (see comment from Philip below.)

Who would have thought thirty years ago that the Internet would go mainstream and the World Wide Web would transform content business models (and many other business models come to that) so radically?

Who would have thought twenty years ago that the average Joe would carry handheld devices as powerful as the Apple and Android devices?

Who would have thought ten years ago that consumers of media content could also, just as easily, be producers of media content?

Who would have thought five years ago that each and everyone of us could, with a stroke of a touch screen, design their own content channel and publish it.

I am fascinated with the history of media and content, its present and its future, and being a communicator I wanted to share my awe in a way that would prompt others to share it with their friends and family.

– via Content, an illustrated history


You can get a hi-res version (42MB) as well.


Social Decay

The money shot from yesterday’s Yahoo Research’s Like Log study is the social activity graph below showing how this activity drops off a cliff after the first 24 hours.

Looking at over 100,000 articles across 45 big media sites over the course of three months, Yahoo researcher Yury Lifshits found that a vast majority of the Facebook Like and Twitter Retweet activity. Broadly, 80% or more of the activity takes place during the first 24 hours following the posting of a story. No surprise here, News is about New.

The conclusion from  Yury makes is that sites that put out more than one story a day actually run the risk of splitting their traffic if they can’t double it. Each additional story/day diminishes the return and may contribute to burnout of your audience. This runs counter to the leaked AOL way memo pushing for quantity over quality.

Gawker Revisits the Front Page

Gawker famously underwent a redesign that reinforces the conclusions made by the Yahoo research. Look at the redesign before and after and you can plainly see. The image below is their traditional “blog” output which presents the latest story at the top with newer stories pushing the older ones down the page. The default Popular Now column on the right gives some counter-weight but otherwise it’s the standard, reverse chronological layout.

Gawker.com Old View

Now contrast this with their new look below. Notice how much more emphasis is placed on the images. This view is called their “Top Stories” view and they’ve taken away all timestamps on the stories as that is not the point of how things are laid out. This layout has an editorial touch to it, the Gawker editors are putting stories in front of you they want you to see.

Gawker.com New Design

Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker, posted at length on the thinking behind the redesign.

We need a few breakout stories each day. We will push those on the front page. And these exclusives can be augmented by dozens or hundreds of short items to provide — at low cost — comprehensiveness and fodder for the commentariat. These will typically run inside, linked by headlines from the blog column, so the volume doesn’t overwhelm our strongest stories.

and later,

A prominent “splash” slot on the home page — taking up the two-thirds of the page — can promote the most compelling gossip and scandal. But it also provides the opportunity to display our full editorial spectrum. The front page is our branding opportunity. It’s a rebranding opportunity, too, a way to demonstrate intelligence, taste and — yes, snicker away! — even beauty.

Back when I was selling the idea of blogs to media companies, I remember saying to them that the front page is dead and that people were coming in the side door to their sites via shared links and pointers from the search engines. This was why it was important for them to make sure each page could stand on it’s own as its own front page for their business.

It seems as we have come full circle with the larger blog sites now focused back on the front page, picking favorites to be their star headline stories for the day. Are we giving up on social mediation to solve the information filtering problem? Are we going back to a world where we start each day with a collection of bookmarked top sites we visit daily? Are we going back to appointment television? Do we abandon the firehose feed and stick to just the top stories?

will.i.am on chips talking to chips

In a post last year, I paraphrased a quote, “If you are not paying for a product, you are the product.” Will.i.am recently updated this quote with the line,

You are either the person getting pimped, or you’re the person doing the pimping.

The video below of will.i.am from the Black-Eyed Peas speaking with John Battelle at a recent conference he hosted in LA has been looping away in my mind for the past week. In it, he questions the 80/20 revenue split with Apple of iTunes digital distribution as something left over from the days of Tower Records when distribution meant up-front manufacturing commitments, inventory stocking, and shipping of physical goods. The fact that record publishers still keep this uneven split for digital “licensing” to places such as iTunes is the, “dirty secret nobody’s talking about.”

will.i.am’s description of how the Black-Eyed Peas negotiated a new type of advertising unit for the Super Bowl and collaborated with Marc Benioff and Salesforce to promote Chatter.com through the mini-site thebabypeas.com is a glimpse at how switched on celebrities are using modern tools to manage their brand without the help (or interference or commissions) by an agency.

But the most visionary thing and something I keep coming back to is will.i.am’s vision of the next generation internet. It’s a world where brand “alliances” pool together to subsidize content producers. A world where, “chips talk to chips” without a middleman to make the free flow of content seamless and automatic. In this new world, a collection of devices will marry themselves to a library of content and work seamlessly together.

Extended further, it’s a world in which we no longer need the internet to connect us all. When you text someone next to you, why do you need to connect to a cell tower and send the message over a network only to round trip it right back again. If you extend the chips-talking-to-chips metaphor, why not just have the phone turn itself into the modern version of a walkie-talkie and beam the message right over? Bluetooth and NFC have started this vision but taken further, why can’t cellphones self-organize into mini-networks so that a group of phones together could share information without having to connect to the cloud?

Three Schools of Thought on the Internet

Adam Gopnik has a survey in this week’s New Yorker running down a few of the recent books about the internet and divides them into three schools of thought:

  1. The Never-Betters believe that we’re on the brink of a new utopia, where information will be free and democratic, news will be made from the bottom up, love will reign, and cookies will bake themselves.
  2. The Better-Nevers think that we would have been better off if the whole thing had never happened, that the world that is coming to an end is superior to the one that is taking its place, and that, at a minimum, books and magazines create private space for minds in ways that twenty-second bursts of information don’t.
  3. The Ever-Wasers insist that at any moment in modernity something like this is going on, and that a new way of organizing data and connecting users is always thrilling to some and chilling to others—that something like this is going on is exactly what makes it a modern moment.

Seeing the title of this blog is everwas, I think you know where I come in. The arrival of the internet and hopes and fears that we collectively foist upon this new technology is something we’ve seen before.

Commuters in Tokyo, Absorbed in the Cell Phones

The printing press, the telephone, the radio, the television, the internet, and now the cell phone. Each successive wave of communications technology push and pulls our society to new behaviors. I read somewhere when the telephone was first introduced, no one knew how to start a conversation with the person on the other end of the line. For a few years, “Ahoy!” was the commonly adopted opener, choosing to go with nautical terminology maybe to acknowledge the fact that we were all sailing into new waters together.

Eventually we adopt and assimilate the new technology into our daily life much like the body develops an immunity to a new virus. We grow stronger and learn to control our tools rather than let them control us. What was once shiny and new becomes less so. Gopnik continues to draw the arc of history,

Yet everything that is said about the Internet’s destruction of “interiority” was said for decades about television, and just as loudly. Jerry Mander’s “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television,” in the nineteen-seventies, turned on television’s addictive nature and its destruction of viewers’ inner lives; a little later, George Trow proposed that television produced the absence of context, the disintegration of the frame—the very things, in short, that the Internet is doing now. And Bill McKibben ended his book on television by comparing watching TV to watching ducks on a pond (advantage: ducks), in the same spirit in which Nicholas Carr leaves his computer screen to read “Walden.”

Now television is the harmless little fireplace over in the corner, where the family gathers to watch “Entourage.” TV isn’t just docile; it’s positively benevolent. This makes you think that what made television so evil back when it was evil was not its essence but its omnipresence. Once it is not everything, it can be merely something. The real demon in the machine is the tirelessness of the user. A meatless Monday has advantages over enforced vegetarianism, because it helps release the pressure on the food system without making undue demands on the eaters. In the same way, an unplugged Sunday is a better idea than turning off the Internet completely, since it demonstrates that we can get along just fine without the screens, if only for a day.

Further Reading (I’ve added a few books of my own, feel free to suggest more in the comments):

Adam Gopnik, How the Internet Gets Inside Us, The New Yorker




Smart LinkedIn Integration

Congratulations to whomever is turning up the heat over at LinkedIn. It’s been just over a year since they opened up their API and now we’re really starting to see the fruits of this effort.  The latest integration with Fortune on their 100 Best Companies to Work For demonstrates how a professional social network can add value to a web publication. Browse through this list while logged into LinkedIn and on each companies profile page you’ll see a list of any of your connections that work at that company. It’s like the old Six Degrees game but with a purpose. You’ll be surprised at who shows up (Hi Mark!)

  • The hackday-inspired Resume Builder takes the data you’ve already added to your profile and gives you a series of templates for a cleaner output in PDF format suitable for sending via email or printing.
  • LinkedIn Share buttons that you can add to your site works just like the Facebook Like button, crowd sourcing the curation of the web.
  • Integration with OneSource iSell product to combine their “triggers” with to help Sales teams connect with their prospects through existing relationships.
  • Bump integration making connecting via LinkedIn easier than ever.
  • A Microsoft Outlook social connector to add LinkedIn profile information to your email and contacts.
  • Ribbit Mobile integration resulting in a product they call Mobile Caller ID 2.0. It installs on your mobile phone (sorry, UK and US numbers only) and does a dynamic lookup on incoming numbers to see if LinkedIn (or other connected networks) has any information about who is calling and what they have recently shared on the social web.
  • LinkedIn Tweets, an application that has a cool, somewhat hidden feature, that creates a twitter list of all your LinkedIn connections that have twitter accounts and (and here’s the cool thing) will add new members to that list automatically as you add new connections on LinkedIn.

All this is on top of heaps of new features they’ve added to the site including the faceted search UI and the ability to customize your profile to name just a few. Really stellar work.

Finally, what prompted this whole post to begin with, and I’m not sure how widespread these emails are, was this customized visual that summarized who in your network has changed jobs. What a contrast to the old, text-heavy, anti-social LinkedIn of 2009 where “connections go to die” – the new LinkedIn is much more vibrant and connected with the world outside. Looks like they’ve taken Dave McClure’s advise from over a year and a half ago when he berated them and screamed,  it’s all about the faces.

LinkedIn 2009
LinkedIn 2011

Social Cruft

First I read through a longish piece outlining how Forbes is re-inventing itself into a hub that harvests it’s audience and transform them into content producers in a new media factory.  Then I read about how Gawker is embracing the transformation of the web into a visual medium, prepping their web pages for the eventual living room, lean-back consumption model.

And now I click through (via twitter of course) to land on this abomination of design from MSNBC.

I count no less than twelve potential interaction points to share or otherwise spindle this piece back into the social-sphere. This isn’t even counting the 50+ links that are drawing me off this page. I guess what really sends me off are the four icons next to the scroll bar. Some genius thought that click through rates on those little gee-gaws increased engagement. Look at it, there are only two lines of the article above the fold!

All I can think of  is that this site is looking like that kid in your neighborhood who would deck out his bicycle with fancy horns, reflectors, and baseball card/clothespins on the rear wheel to make his old Scwhinn look cooler than it really was.

I think we’re in the awkward, adolescent stage of Mass Media adoption of social media. Eventually more sane minds will prevail and attention and praise will flow towards more nuanced design. Less is more my friends, really.

Textbroker.com – low cost, bespoke content

So the results are in from our little experiment and the view is . . . you get what you paid for.

Just to review. Textbroker.com is a service which will write for you on the topic of your choosing. They have a four levels of service and pay by the word. For our experiment, we tried two levels on the upper end of the scale. The topic was “The History of Cream Cheese,” as a control, I added a third sample for the poll in which I copied an article from wikipedia and used some software to shorten the text using an algorithm.

For those of you who read through the samples on the earlier post, here’s what we paid.

  • Sample ONE, copy/paste from wikipedia, shortened using software algorithm
  • Sample TWO, 2.2 cents/word, 24 hour turnaround
  • Sample THREE, 6.7 cents/word, 5-day turnaround

The overwhelming choice (over 80%) was for the most expensive#3  sample. It’s pretty clear that the most thought was put into this text and at a total cost of almost $20, it was by far the most expensive sample to commission.

Textbroker is a pay-as-you-go version of companies such as Demand Media which are content factories that focus on, “optimizing high-quality content” for domain squatters and publishers looking for fill to generate pageviews for their advertising partners. What was interesting about to my Finnish colleagues is the thought they could use the service for preparing rough drafts. English skills are very good here but the hardest part for many is just getting started. Many that I talked to thought Textbroker would be a great way to jump start a first draft to get beyond the blank, white page.

My father, a former editor at Random House, is weary of this trend toward mass produced content. “This way lies madness,” was his one line reaction. The business model exists, of course, at the other end of the spectrum. For those that cannot afford their own ghost writer, there is a fellow going by the name of Charles Kinbote who is offering Bespoke Art Commentary specializing in critical analysis of your child’s artwork. For 190 pounds you get a beautifully framed original.

Here’s how he pitches himself.

And you are also busy, no? You may be keen to know what modernist artists your two-year-old son is referencing in his playgroup art, or perhaps what Renaissance works your three-year-old daughter mimics in her scribbles, but you nevertheless don’t have the time, or, let’s be honest, the talent to critique your children’s artistic endeavors the way a real critic would. Explaining any work of art is not easy. Explaining why a young, immature artist — a child, if you will — chooses to be influenced by Renoir rather than Richter is an almost impossibly complex maneuver, one for which you need an expert. I am that expert. The exploration of the meaning contained in the artwork of children is my life’s pursuit. I offer you my service. My name is Charles Kinbote…

– from Kinbote’s Bespoke Art Commentary Service

Thanks everyone. It was fun but I think I’ll stick to my own writing. I enjoy it too much.

UPDATE: Just for giggles, I copy/pasted the text from the third sample into Xtranormal to get the narration.

Outsourced Thinking

Last week a colleague of mine tweeted about a new service that offers “exclusive written articles created to your specifications”

I replied that Udo might be stretching the definition of “professional” if we look at the quality of output. Cranking out “content” on demand for pennies a word, one has to wonder about the thought that goes into such work. Cheered on by the folks at @textbrokerUS we decided to test the results.

My kids came up with a topic general enough for anyone to judge and we figured it’d be fun to see what others would come up with too. The pricelist on textbroker.com shows a range of prices depending on the quality required. Three paragraphs follow:

  • 2.2 cents/word – 24 hour turnaround
  • 6.7 cents/word – 5-day turnaround
  • Copy/Paste from wikipedia, use Microsoft Word AutoSummarize feature to shorten

Below are the results, use the poll below to pick what you think is the best quality.  I’ll collect the results for a bit then share the source of each entry in a future post.

The topic was 300 words on the History of Cream Cheese.


Cream cheese (also called soft cheese) is a sweet, soft, mild-tasting, white cheese, defined by the US Department of Agriculture as containing at least 33% milkfat (as marketed) with a moisture content of not more than 55%, and a pH range of 4.4 to 4.9.

There are French references to cream cheese as early as 1651. According to the American food processing company Kraft Foods, the first American cream cheese was made in New York in 1872 by American dairyman William Lawrence. It can be a base to some spreads, such as yogurt-cream cheese topping for graham crackers, (10 oz cream cheese, and 1 cup yogurt, whipped.). It is sometimes used in place of butter (or alongside butter in a ratio of two parts cream cheese to one part butter) when making cakes or cookies, and it is also used to make cream cheese icing, which is similar to buttercream icing, (using a ratio of two parts cream cheese to one part butter) which is used to ice carrot cake. Furthermore, because cream cheese has a higher fat content than other cheeses, and fat repels water, which tends to separate from the cheese, stabilizers such as guar and carob gums are added to prolong its shelf life.

There are French references to cream cheese as early as 1651. It can be a base to some spreads, such as yogurt-cream cheese topping for graham crackers, (10 oz cream cheese, and 1 cup yogurt, whipped.). Cream cheese is difficult to manufacture.


Cream cheese, the most popular ingredient for cheesecake, is a smooth, white cheese made from heavy cream and milk.

Specifically the soft, unripened cheese is made from cow’s milk and by law must contain at least 33 percent milk fat and not more than 55 percent moisture. Light or lowfat cream cheese has about half the calories of the regular style.

Cream cheese is frequently used for spreading on bagels, raw vegetables and crackers and as an ingredient in appetizers, snacks and dips.

There are many different types of cream cheese such as Mascarpone, which comes from Italy and Quark which is a cheese from Germany that has a sharp flavor. In parts of Europe, cream cheese is called “white cheese.”

While there are French references to the origin of cream cheese around the 1650’s, the first American cream cheese was made in 1872 in Chester, New York by American dairyman William Lawrence, according to Kraft Foods. Lawrence distributed his cheese under the brand Philadelphia, now a trademark. The Kraft Cheese Company bought Philadelphia cream cheese in 1928 and still owns it today.

To make your own cream cheese, combine 2-3 cups of whole milk and 3 cups of heavy cream in a stainless pot and stir regularly. Mix 2 tablespoons of buttermilk thoroughly into the warmed milk-cream mixture and cover. Then stir in a quarter teaspoon of mesophilic starter culture, which preserves the cream cheese.

Add a quarter teaspoon of calcium chloride liquid and 2 tablespoons liquid rennet to the pot. Cover the pot and allow it to sit overnight at room temperature. The mixture will have gelled by the next morning, at which time line a large strainer with a sterile handkerchief and gently pour the product into the cloth and let drain for roughly 30 minutes. Transfer the cream cheese into a separate container and mix until smooth and creamy and then store in a refrigerator.

And while cheese can be traced back about four thousand years, the first recipe for cheesecake wasn’t recorded until 230 AD.


References to cream cheese can be found in France dating to the mid-1600s, though surely it existed long before that. The Greeks contend that cheesecake, made with a soft, creamy cheese, was served to athletes participating in the first Olympic games over 2000 years ago. From Greece, this delicacy spread to Rome and throughout Europe in the following centuries.

Neufchatel, the French soft, white cheese, was the inspiration for an American dairyman who developed what is recognized as cream cheese, the familiar, foil packaged uncured cheese. In an attempt to make a version of the French soft cheese, William Lawrence of Chester, New York, stumbled upon a unique creation in 1872, higher in fat due to the addition of cream to the recipe. The true French Neufchatel cheese is made only with whole milk; its fat content is a little over 20% while cream cheese’s is over 30%. Although controversy surrounds the invention of American cream cheese, with some saying a neighbor of Lawrence’s independently developed the same cheese, it was Lawrence’s version that evolved into today’s Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese.

Lawrence began commercially distributing his new cheese in 1880. Wrapped in foil and named after the city renowned for quality products, Philadelphia, the cheese was manufactured by Lawrence’s own cheese factory in Chester and by C.D. Reynolds’ Empire Cheese Company in South Edmeston, New York. Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese’s ownership passed to the Phenix Cheese Company of New York in 1903 after a disastrous fire reduced the Empire Cheese Company to ashes.

The J.L. Kraft Company merged with the Phenix Cheese Company in 1928, obtaining the rights to Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese, still manufacturing it today. There are hundreds of other brands, but none as famous as the one originally invented by Lawrence.

UPDATE: the results are in! I’ve posted an overview.

The Future of Print

Two concepts floated around in the past year envision the future of print on connected tablets such at the iPad.

Future of the Book, a video by IDEO, suggests three designs for an interactive book. Co. Design has some thoughts and link to an interview with some of the designers behind this concept.

Mag+ is a concept by Berg. The video was released in December 2009, a version of was released for Popular Mechanics in April and  is available for the iPad.

Both of these concepts  illustrate the power of additional information deep-linked into the text. These links can lead to interactive graphics as in the Mag+ example or discussion boards as in the IDEO example. Yet, each of these experiences, despite being more interactive than ink on paper, still feel packaged. One vector not explored in either of these concepts is that of reader’s context which is increasingly available via mobile devices. More and more apps are leveraging things such as location to customize the experience. What other contexts can be added to the reading experience and how would it change the reading experience?

The Premium Upsell

Todd Sampson has a great take on publisher’s reaction to the text-to-speech feature on the new Amazon Kindle. Rather than view this feature as a threat to their existing Books on Tape business line, they should look at Amazon’s electronic distribution of their text as a potential channel for an upsell.

The quality of the voice is crappy.  It’s bearable, and a major improvement, but it’s still crappy.  It simply can’t compete with the quality of a professionally recorded audio book.

Ever the optimist, Todd challenges the book industry to charge extra to sell electronic versions of their books bundled with higher quality audio versions of their books as an alternative to the robot voice. Be confident of the quality of your goods and your true fans will support you. More simply, hold your chin up and stop whining if you want to run with the cool crowd.

Nine Inch Nails Ultra Deluxe

The band Phish has mastered the premium upsell on their site, livephish.com. In the tradition of all jambands, Phish allows their fans to tape their live concerts. They sell specially marked tickets for the tapers (as they are quaintly called) giving them access to a special section set up for them behind the soundboard where the sound is best. Despite the existence of high-quality audience recordings that are traded in a vibrant online trading ecosystem, Phish make available soundboard quality, non-DRM recordings of their concerts on their website as well.

The band is confident that their hardcore fans will spend extra to download high-quality FLAC recordings that come complete with pdf files of cover artwork formated to fit within the standard CD case. At a certain age, the $12.95 per show is easily worth it, especially if you went to that concert and want a memento of the evening. The Phish backoffice gets that too and now that they are back on tour, your online ticket purchase comes with a link to pre-purchase a recording of the show at a 15% discount. It’s like a futures bet on the quality of your evening.

Nine Inch Nails also understands the premium upsell. They are sold out of their $300 Ultra Deluxe Limited Edition version of their album Ghosts, an album that was available free for the download.

Then there’s Josh Freese who has taken the premium upsell and turned it into an artform for his album, Since 1972

$75,000 (limited edition of 1)
* Signed CD/DVD and digital download
* T-shirt
* Go on tour with Josh for a few days
* Have Josh write, record and release a 5-song EP
about you and your life story
* Take home any of his drum sets (only one, but
you can choose which one)
* Take shrooms and cruise Hollywood in Danny from
Tool’s Lamborghini OR play quarters and then hop on
the Ouija board for a while
* Josh will join your band for a month … play shows,
record, party with groupies, etc.
* If you don’t have a band he’ll be your personal
assistant for a month (4-day work weeks, 10 am to 4 pm)
* Take a limo down to Tijuana and he’ll show you how
it’s done (what that means exactly we can’t legally
get into here)
* If you don’t live in Southern California (but are a
U.S. resident) he’ll come to you and be your personal
assistant/cabana boy for 2 weeks
* Take a flying trapeze lesson with Josh and Robin
from NIN, go back to Robins place afterwards and his
wife will make you raw lasagna

For a more detailed and way more informed view into the premium upsell (complete with graphs!) check out Strauss on Crystal Ball for Studio Execs or WWJD?

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