Posted on October 29th, 2005 No comments
There’s a great story about TiVo from Investor’s Business Daily this week that puts the digital video recording company in historical perspective. It also makes an interesting comparison with Google. From the story:
If TiVo as a company did fade out, through an acquisition or other means, it would join an exclusive group of firms killed by the market they created. Other examples include Netscape in the Internet market, Lotus 1-2-3 in spreadsheets and the Sony Betamax in VCRs.
Can first movers like TiVo manage their way out of the market burial awaiting them? Some say it’s possible. But much of it spins on reinventing yourself and being faster and better in a commoditized world.
TiVo was such a hit, its name is used as a verb for recording video just like Google is for search.
That last bit makes me wonder: would Google still be around as an independent entity if it hadn’t stumbled across AdWords and AdSense? Google has made billions on a very simple concept of delivering ads that match what people are searching for. Coupled with easy self-serve advertising, these two features are responsible for almost all of their revenue. They reinvest it into other products that for the most part are no different from those of their competitors.
Well … that’s not entirely true. I would argue that their major differentiator is the lack of obnoxious advertising — what they call their “do no evil” approach. But they can do that for now because AdWords, a one-trick pony, was so lucrative.
TiVo people: if you’re listening, I really hope you can find your AdSense! I really don’t want to have to substitute the $150 replacement you made me buy (to maintain my lifetime membership) with a substandard knock-off.
Posted on October 27th, 2005 No comments
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was one of the fortunate people to get to attend the Citizen Media Summit in College Park, Maryland this week. It was sponsored by the University of Maryland J-Lab and the Newspaper Association of America, and organized by Jan Schaffer, Rob Runett and my boss and long-time colleague and friend, Mary Lou Fulton. These people and organizations all deserve a big pat on the back!
There were many themes shared at this conference that I just don’t have time to blog about right now (we’re in the middle of some MAJOR changes with Bakotopia, while also taking on Northwestvoice.com next week — wish us luck!) I think the most gratifying thing for me was hearing other people who are involved in participatory media projects echoing my own thoughts. The conference was full of people who are actually doing something instead of just talking about it. We need more conferences like that!
Following are a few quotes that really resonated with me. In some cases these are straight from memory, so I apologize in advance if I inadvertently mangle a quote:
Mary Lou Fulton, Northwestvoice.com:
“It’s very gratifying to empower people to be active participants in their local news. While they may start out just posting a family recipe or a story about something their kids did at school, it doesn’t stop there. The next time something happens in their community that they’re upset about, they may realize that they’re now empowered to write a story about that, too. I think this is really important to society and to democracy.”
Mark Potts, Backfence.com
Someone asked Mark if he has concerns about people posting shabby stories on Backfence, and if he plans on creating training sessions so people can write better stuff. Mark responded:
“We’re in the community business, not in the journalism education business.”
Amen to that! I’m tired of hearing traditional journalists talk about their readers as if they’re members of a lower caste. Just because you allow people to participate in news coverage — especially the stuff that they care most about, like what their kids are up to or new businesses opening in their neighborhood — doesn’t mean that we want or expect everyone to be a Journalist with a capital J. I think it’s more than a little insulting and even self-serving of us to assume that what we do is so amazing that no mere “citizen” could do it. Guess what? They don’t want our jobs, and many of them don’t even respect us because we’re always telling them we can’t cover their stories, or we get things wrong. They just want to be part of the conversation in their community. You don’t need training for that. You do need good role models and editors to make sure people aren’t violating the community’s rules.
Adrian Holovaty, now at Washingtonpost.com
Adrian encouraged news organizations to hire programmers, and also to create open APIs to their content so that open-source programmers can create new interfaces around our content — just like he used Google Maps to create Chicagocrime.org. His quote:
It’s one thing to let people contribute content to your site. It’s quite another to let programmers contribute programs to your site that use the content you already produce.
I’m sure I’ll think of more great quotes. It was that kind of conference. Right now I have to get back to relaunching Northwestvoice.com!
Posted on October 27th, 2005 No comments
Last Spring, I had the pleasure of meeting Jonathon Berlin, a designer who did the initial designs for the print editions of YourHub.com.
I was really impressed with how well he and the YourHub team had designed their “citizen” weeklies around people, so when in another life he invited me to write a story about Bakotopia.com in the Society of News Design magazine — for which he’s editor — of course I said yes. I typed up some stuff about the guiding philosophies behind Bakotopia and what it’s really about.
And incredibly, they printed it in a two-page spread, along with some cool color screen shots! If you get the magazine, it’s in the Fall 2005 issue (#96). The title is “The Future Issue” — which I consider an honor, being a wannabe futurist.
Out of respect for the magazine I’m not republishing the entirety of the article on my blog. If you want to read the entire thing, you can purchase the issue for $10 from the Society for News Design Web site. (And on a side note, I have to say that this is one magazine that’s worth paying for in print form. Not only is it packed with interesting case studies from news design and product professionals, but this month’s issue also has 3D glasses that work with special pages designed with 3D popouts. Pretty cool!)
Bands, Bargains and Bakersfield
By Dan Pacheco
Sr. Product Manager
The Bakersfield Californian’s New Products Group
When The Bakersfield Californian asked me to come up with a “new product” separate from the newspaper that would appeal to young people in Bakersfield, California, I can recall vividly my feeling of panic. As a 33-year-old suburban father, I could suddenly relate to the music reporter in the movie Almost Famous who lamented, “you and I want to be cool – but we’re just not cool, man.”
So I set out on a quest to familiarize myself with how young people in Bakersfield spend their time. And what I learned was this: they like local music, socializing and hooking up. And most of them were using three sites to do these things: Yahoo Groups, Craigslist and Myspace.com.
Three months later, I found myself the proud father of Bakotopia.com, the first online commerce community created by a U.S. newspaper (the first in the world was Sydney’s Cracker.com.au). When we launched in February of 2005, many in the newspaper industry gasped at the audacity of a newspaper creating free Classifieds. But they really missed the point. Bakotopia – and Bakersfield Craigslist, which launched two days after we did, I should point out – is first and foremost a young, hip community meeting place.
Every day, dozens of bands now publicize their gigs in our events calendar, and others post personals and “musicians wanted” ads. We invite people to take pictures at local concerts and gigs and post them on the site, and they do! Registered users get a free online profile where they can post their personal photos, talk about themselves and link to their other Web sites.
Occasionally someone will also post a couch, guitar or motorcycle for sale – but that’s not what draws them in. Kids come to Bakotopia because it’s by, for and all about them.
Bakotopia’s design and language communicate two things: community and connections. And commerce is simply a subset of those. We try hard to avoid terms like “classifieds” or “ad” or “liner” — or for that matter, charging for anything.
We figure the average 22-year-old kid on our site was probably posting things in message boards and chat rooms at 12. To the young American, this is all just “posting stuff,” and they’re used to doing it for free.
In our product design, we also try to steer clear of the imaginary silos of “content” and “advertising” so prevalent in traditional media. A user of Bakotopia uses the same tools to publish a couch for sale as a band does to promote an event or a local belly dancer uses to fill out her profile. All of this stuff is presented together in the same search engine and directory. We even invite people to post their own stories and feature cool things they post, a trend that newspapers have their own silo name for: “citizen journalism.” When’s the last time you saw interesting posts featured in your newspaper Classifieds simply because they were cool? And why not? It’s not all about the money – Classifieds are great community content.
Posted on October 26th, 2005 No comments
As widely reported yesterday and rumored for months, Google is getting into the free classifieds business through an upcoming product called Google Base (nerd comment: I think this gives new meaning to the phrases “all your base belong to us!”)
Practically every story written about it suggests that this is bad news for newspapers and sites like EBay. Maybe, maybe not. We’ll have to see how quickly it takes off. Google has a lot of experiments out there, and some have yet to attract a critical mass of users.
I think this story is bigger than just classifieds, and is really more about Google getting into community publishing. Google’s product marketing manager Tom Oliveri elaborated on this on the Google Blog yesterday afternoon. Tom wrote (emphasis mine):
Here’s what’s really going on. We are testing a new way for content owners to submit their content to Google, which we hope will complement existing methods such as our web crawl and Google Sitemaps.
Google Base is reported to say on its test page that you can use this service to post a “description of your party planning services,” “articles on current events” and “database protein structures.” In other words, it will be a consumer publishing infrastructure that will also allow people to post commercial things. Put another way, it will be a commerce-friendly community.
I just got back from the Citizen Media Summit at the University of Maryland where I showed other people in the participatory media movement how Bakotopia and Bakomatic are about community, of which classifieds are just a subset. We started Bakotopia with Classifieds in mind, but it’s grown beyond that, evidenced by the fact that we now have two sites running on the platform and a third on the way. The majority of the activity on Bakomatic now is about community news and socializing, not classifieds.
I also wasn’t the only one there to report that community events have been the most popular type of content on the sites. Other sites like YourHub.com and Backfence.com are seeing the same phenomenon. And we all see that people don’t make a big distinction between commercial and non-commercial content. If they have a need to get the word out about something, they publish it, and it makes no difference if it’s a motor bike for sale or a story about a child’s achievement.
For this reason, I think Google is smart to approach community publishing holistically and not limit its publishing platform to just one type of content. What isn’t smart of them is to keep developing sites like this in a black box with no regard to how they will affect existing media. If Google really cared about its relationship with EBay, or the newspapers that it’s courting to use Adsense and other products, it would find a way to spider what’s out there the way Oodle is doing.
There’s a big difference between helping people find local content and enabling publishing. I suspect that over time, Google, Yahoo and others of their ilk will realize that they need good relationships with other media companies — especially on the local level. This will become more obvious to them as more local media adopt participatory models and make community publishing central to what they do. They may have big ships, but we have a lot of little boats that are slowly filling up the water between them.
Posted on October 20th, 2005 No comments
And now for something completely different — camel polo! I just couldn’t resist reposting this photo my sister took from her mining camp in Mongolia. What a different world!
Posted on October 12th, 2005 No comments
I have to admit that I’m one of the few people in the interactive media space to ignore all the buzz about “Web 2.0” — a conference in San Francisco focused on social software. I’m sure a lot of great ideas were shared, and it would have been fun to be a part of it. But … as someone who’s really busy trying to get some of this “social media” work done while also maintaining a real life and being a good father, I have my limits.
However, I’m not too disciplined to miss this gem: a session that consisted of a conversation with five teenagers who talked candidly about their media habits.
You can really see in this transcript what an incredible impact My Space, persona and social networking have had on teens and youth in general in just two years. I’m absolutely floored at how pervasive My Space has become with this audience — and I don’t think it stops with high school (as one of the interviewees suggests). Through my work on Bakotopia.com and Bakersfieldbands.com, I can tell you that at least half of the musicians in Bakersfield (many with members long out of high school) are also in My Space. And because they promote their profile URLs at their shows and in their e-mail newsletters, they’re bringing in fans of all ages. I also know several college students and even recent college grads who use it regularly. And if a college student isn’t hooked on My Space, Facebook.com is the social drug of choice.
I once ran the Member Profiles on AOL, which were like an early prototype of the My Space concept. I would marvel at how people would spend hours updating their profiles in all kinds of ways. Some would change their names, hobbies and interests several times in an hour as they hung out in chat rooms (similar to how users on My Space update their profiles while chatting on AIM). My theory was that they were adapting to the people they were talking to — in much the same way as bad dates end up being interested in everything their date is into. The younger folks would hang out in the “under 20″ chat rooms obsessively fixing up their profiles while they tried to impress each other, while older folks would congregate in topical interest chats, looking for common ground to break the ice.
I think My Space is successful because it combines online persona with social networking, adding a totally new element to online socializing. You create your profile, then invite your friends. Since they’re your friends they can’t say no, and then they get hooked and invite their friends. And they meet new people through people you know. LinkedIn works in the same way for career people.
We’re trying to bring this social networking element into Bakotopia and Bakomatic, while also allowing people to make new friends through shared interests. So far we’re seeing good progress with user profiles, which launched late in the summer. We’re starting to see some people update their profiles a couple times a day and rate and comment on each other, and a statistically significant amount of new traffic now comes to Bakotopia through user profiles. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising to me, but it’s always nice to see evidence begin to mount that supports your wild theories.