Posted on December 24th, 2006 No comments
Yesterday we were informed that Bakotopia.com is a finalist for a second year in the Best Visitor Participation category of the NAA’s Digital Edge Awards, after winning in 2006. And for the first time ever, Bakersfield.com is also a finalist for Best News Site! Both nominations are a tremendous honor regardless of the final decision on winners, which will be made in late January.
The Bakersfield Californian has been fortunate to win many awards in 2006, including a Knight-Batten Award recognizing the Bakomatic platform, and a piece in Editor and Publisher magazine recognizing us as one of the “Ten that do it Right”. It was also featured in publications as diverse as NAA’s Presstime, the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily and The New York Times. And I was extremely proud to showcase the Californian’s citizen media and social networking ventures at the World Association of Newspapers conference in London, among other places.
We’re honored by all the attention our work garners, but at times like this I always like to remind people that we would continue to do all of this if nobody said a word, even in the midst of doubt and derision.
True innovations are often met by both praise and criticism, and that’s because innovation means you’re doing something in a new, untested way that may or may not pan out. So, if the Californian wins more awards next year, great. If not, and others do, we’re happy for them. We follow our path because it’s in the long-term interest of our local audience, not for international recognition (although that’s always nice). I suspect the same is true for other finalists, and many others who never get a single award. That’s as it should be.
At the end of the day, we’re about change because that’s what we and all newspapers need to be about as the world changes around us. Change is not easy, and when it comes to new product development, any one success is often the result of many evolutionary steps. To a pessimist, those steps can sometimes look misguided failures. The optimist sees them as a necessary part of the process. That has certainly been the case for Bakotopia.com and Bakersfield.com, two evolutionary, revolutionary products that are redefining what it means to serve local audiences.
So here’s to many more successes — and a few more evolutionary steps — in 2007 for the “mainstream media”. I hope all of our efforts make that term meaningless by 2008!
Posted on December 19th, 2006 No comments
Congratulations! You made Time’s Person of the Year. The article cites these reasons:
“For seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, Time’s Person of the Year for 2006 is you …”
So much for the theory that user-generated content was a passing trend. Of course, isn’t it also conventional wisdom that once something is in Time it’s already old hat?
In certain industries — like newspapers — people talk about things like community and social networking being the “new new thing.” I hate to say it folks, but this proves that it’s now the old new thing! It’s not too late to move to a participatory media model, but pretty soon we will enter an era where if you’re not fostering true interactivity with your “readers”, you’re not really in the game that matters.
Sometimes our community members do things that make us all giddy, and this is one of them.
Last week Soulajar, a longtime band on Bakotopia.com, created a YouTube video commercial about their new album. The album comes out in February, but they uploaded all of the music to their Bakotopia profile, and announced in their video commercial that you can hear the music exclusively on “the one and only Bakotopia.com”.
They did this with no prompting from us, and we were so excited when they sent us the video that we featured it right on the Bakotopia home page under a new “Bakovids” header (under the Bakotunes radio). They helped us, so we helped them.
I recall something similar from about a year ago, when various bands recorded ads for Bakotopia that played on a local radio station whose event we were sponsoring. It was a great quid-pro-quo, as we got the bands onto local radio (virtually impossible in Bakersfield) and they got our name out. You can still hear those radio ads on our site.
Another similar situation is a local theatre fan who uses blogs on several of our sites to publish his Theatreaddict Blog and Podcast, where he interviews actors and directors in the local theatre community. He’s always out there telling people to go to his blog on Bakersfield.com and Bakotopia.com, which promotes both him and us.
All of this demonstrates one of the great things about audience participation. When you give a community tools for self-expression, and put the focus on them vs. forcing them to go through your editorial process, they not only publish — but they find ways to give back to you. We couldn’t ask for a better Christmas present from them!
I’ve agreed to speak on a panel about Social Networking at the NAA Connections track of the NAA Marketing Conference in Las Vegas in late January. If you’ll be there and want to hook up, drop me a line!
Also, this Thursday I will be giving the commencement address at the University of Colorado School of Journalism and Mass Communication (I’m on their advisory board). I’m struggling with what to say, but my basic message will be to resist thinking about your career in terms of any one industry or medium.
If like me you’re lucky enough to work at a forward-thinking newspaper such as The Bakersfield Californian, great! But if you can’t find that, I believe it’s very important for people who are trained in journalistic values to think about how to apply those values in any medium or organization. That may be a newspaper, or a completely different type of company — maybe even Google or Yahoo, which seem to be competing to get into newspapers’ business right now.
This advice is especially important as many traditional news organizations respond to shareholder demands to contract and cut back, just as non-traditional, “pure-play Internet” companies expand to do more of the things that newspapers used to do.
I sincerely hope that five years from now I will be able to give a much better message that tells graduating students that traditional media is doing well, increasing its audience and revenue and leading innovation in digital media. But that’s not collectively where it is right now, and if news organizations continue to skimp on digital they will make the former advice even more important to follow. Gotta be real!
I will also tell them that while the mainstream media are struggling, that also means that there are great opportunities for people who a) like to push change, and b) are allowed by their organizations to do it. Right now that’s more of a noble path and uphill battle, and not a sure thing by any means. But innovation is never easy or sure. I often like to remind people that I have been able to make more progress more quickly at a small, forward-thinking newspaper than I was in the same time at a big media company. There’s a different type of economy of scale when you’re small, if your leadership takes advantage of it. Bigger is not always better.
If you have ideas on what to tell journalism grads, I would love to hear your thoughts.
OK, now back to some serious stuff — unless anyone thinks we’ve been doing nothing but building in Second Life (which has been largely an evening and weekend, on-the-cheap experiment by me and my teammate Justinian).
Over the last few months we’ve completely rearchitected the Bakomatic platform to make it even more scalable on larger sites (more about that later). The new version is appropriately called Bakomatic 2.0. All of the code behind the scenes has been rewritten, and for the most part the user experience is the same. But there are a few new things, with more to come as always.
First, the “sexy” stuff. We’ve made it much easier to add photos and videos to blogs and content. All functionality around media shows up in a nice package below the text box for the blog entry.
Here’s how it works. After you select photos, MP3s or files from your hard drive, they immediately begin to upload. You can then keep working on your blog or article entry, add captions, or find other files without waiting for the upload to finish. And if you’re one of the growing number of user who tries to add YouTube URLs, we surface a box that lets you do just that (without getting into the messy business of allowing embed tags in the post body, which can open up security holes).
Here’s an example of the new media tool with one photo and one YouTube video embedded. You can also see a YouTube video showing how to upload a YouTube video to your blog here.
The other thing we did — which is not quite as exciting but has a much bigger impact — is lower the bar of user registration for “passive” actions that don’t justify getting a full user ID, such as reading a new story. Rather than having to go through a list of 20 questions and confirm their e-mail address, passive readers can simply answer three questions about their age, gender and zip code. That information is saved so that we can customize the experience for that user based on their demographic, starting with ads. We also let any user see three pages for “free” without giving up any of their information.
We think this will impact our overall traffic and also make search engines like Google News happy, as they’ll be more likely to index our pages. We still require full registration to participate with blogs, comments and anything involving persona, but since statistically 80% or more of users will never participate in that way we don’t see the need to make them jump through the same hoops.
The registration changes are already having a measurable impact on user experience and traffic. Where we used to get 5-10 complaints per day from people who were frustrated with having to fully register just to read a story, we now get an average of zero!
We’re also seeing a large percentage increase in pageviews to news stories using this new method during a pre-holiday period during which we typically see a reduction in traffic. I can’t share raw numbers, but here are the daily bar graphs from our metrics for just one week.
So that’s what we’ve been up to in Bakomatic lately. We have some much bigger initiatives around businesses and Classifieds that will launch sometime in the first quarter. More on that then!
Posted on December 12th, 2006 No comments
It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve said anything about our Second Life experiment — which is largely an evening/weekend personal project on top of a bunch of other serious stuff we’ve been working on with Bakomatic.
We’re still learning and figuring out what we want to do, but we have learned how to pull headlines and photos into a wall using something called Second View. Here’s a picture of my avatar Eusebio Holt sitting on a park bench reading the day’s news from Bakersfield.com:
Now that the land is set up, we’re thinking about how best to use it to engage people at a local level. We have a few ideas, such as inviting Bakotopia bands in to “play” on a virtual stage (accomplished by pulling Shoutcast streams into the land, which is easy to do once you have a Shoutcast station to point to), or having fireside chats with people of importance. We even have a virtual firepit for the occasion! In the spirit of community, we’re also asking our Bakersfield.com community to chime in with their ideas.
Since this is just a side project and not a full product, there’s no rush to do anything. It’s more of a tool to drive other goals. I’m interested to talk to other media people who have ideas for what we could do, or may have their own experiments underway.
I will say that I have spent quite a bit of time at the Reuters building, and I’m disappointed to often find myself the only one there. So far I’m not convinced that news is the way to engage people in a virtual world, although I do read every single story that Adam Reuters writes about the Second Life world. If we can get local people interested in news using Second Life, that’s great. I just think the environment is more about meeting people, connecting and shopping than it is about getting headlines.