WordPress – Inspire Me ?! lololoooool?


WordPress has a new feature that’s supposed to inspire folks to write in their blogs.   I guess that’s cool, but it seems kind of funny to me.  If you are a big victim of writers block maybe you should consider… not blogging at all?   

Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?

 

The Social Networking Generation(s) enter online “adolescence”


Although Social Networking has been around for some time it has not seen anything like the widespread use until fairly recently.     Where technologists and early adopters are trying to figure out the importance of the  Twitter explosion to the social networking landscape, millions of regular folks are just now starting to come to grips with how social media is changing our relationships and our personal identities in ways we’re only beginning to understand.

Peggy Orenstein has a thoughtful article at the New York Times today about the how Facebook social networking has affected her and also her concerns about how it will change the way kids grow up.    She notes how a Facebooker’s post of a picture of her at 16, and her own Facebook account, brought up many items from her past, even including what appeared to be an inappropriate encounter with a high school teacher who now wants to be a Facebook friend.

She asks:

As a survivor of the postage-stamp era, college was my big chance to doff the roles in my family and community that I had outgrown, to reinvent myself, to get busy with the embarrassing, exciting, muddy, wonderful work of creating an adult identity. Can you really do that with your 450 closest friends watching, all tweeting to affirm ad nauseam your present self?

The answer, as anybody who has been socially networking for long knows, is “sure, Peggy, no problem”.      I’d argue that the benefits of what we might call socially “‘transparent living” probably far outweigh the costs, though it’ll be years before we understand how all of this will shake out.     From a sociological point of view the most intriguing aspect to me is that the technologies are allowing us to expand our “social networks” well beyond the limits that nature intended.

Evolution works too slowly to anticipate most technological changes so our “tribal” genetics has prepared us well to deal with “hundreds” of personal associations rather than the “thousands” we have with even a modest level of socializing online.      I suppose you could argue that a “letter to the editor” in a local paper reaches thousands of people, and in this case can even label you for some time depending on how you express your concerns, but most people don’t write these letters where even in rural communities there are many thousands of people using social networks, creating huge numbers of individual interactions every day.

If biological and social evolution really do limit us to only about 150 close personal associations as some have suggested we’ll probably see that social networks will eventually sort of “implode” as people reduce their connections to more manageable numbers of friends.  However I don’t really see this – my guess is that we’ll see humans expand their numbers of  contacts well beyond the 150 number, reaching a new plateau that will likely be defined as much by our personal history of real associations as by any biological limits.    In fact there’s a lot for the Facebooks and Twitters of the world to do to make it easier to manage our growing social networks, and I’d guess we’ll soon see a lot more slicing and dicing of contacts than we have to date into “close friends”, “family”, “business associates”, etc.    As in real life we’ll eventually want to control access to our information from different groups in several ways.

Another intriguing aspect of social networking is what we might call the Social Networking  “all your base are belong to us”  problem.    Even if a person despises the internet, social interaction, and everything technological they are already likely to appear in some internet venues and will eventually appear in many social networks.    Phone records, your home and real estate, business associations and records, permits, and most importantly photographs and videos are flowing online at a rate of billions and billions of bytes per second.    This information is increasingly  “tagged” by people you may not even know with information about you, usually without your consent or even your knowledge.    Reclusive old curmudgeons beware – you could be all over the place in no time by simply owning a home or phone or  attending a family function, Community BBQ, or Shriner’s parade.

Assume that a person on Facebook or Twitter has 200 people who read about them and who they read about.     Assuming each person in this network creates a *single item* for *private* review – a photo or short comment.    This small level of activity – under a minute of action per person – in one sense explodes to generate 200 x 200=40,000 different personal interactions.      Although obviously every participant won’t review every possible interaction which would not be possible without a rash of exploding heads, the total amount of interactions in the total  Social-Network-O-Sphere is, literally, mind boggling.

How this will affect our feeble human condition?    I don’t know, but you can bet your Twitter we’ll all be dealing with it for some time.

Death of the Media Mogul: Digital Diaspora means …. less for everybody.


As podcasters and webcasters and such try to turn a buck they come up against fixed ad revenues.

Ad model is a problem

(Note several comments came in based on those two sentences before I finished this post)

The main point I’m trying to make here is that the internet has created a remarkably cheap and effective content distribution mechanism – a global soapbox for anybody who cares to make a point online.    The cost to publish online is now essentially zero for all but very  large scale online publishing efforts.    Although eventually the number of publishers will level off as everybody who wants to be online gets online and the dropping out folks balance the new arrivals, I think we are still early enough in that process that there’s a lot of new website and blogging action ahead of us.

This suggests that it may be increasingly hard to become a  *Media Mogul* even in fairly specific niches.      We’ve seen the rise of mini moguls like Arriana Huffington in the Political space,  Mike Arrington in Technology at TechCrunch, Jason Calacanis , and Nick Denton of the Gawker Yellow Journalism and Celebrity Blog Empire,  but I think the success of early blogs is more a transitional thing than a trend that’s going to stick.     Few blogs make much if any money and that’s not likely to change a lot although I suspect we’ll see lots of hard working good writers find comfortable niches of expertise managing to make a living providing online content – at least until the machines start to slice and dice and repackage online information so effectively nobody can tell if it’s organic or artificially intelligent organization.

Now, contrast this trend towards many publishers with the fact that online advertising total spending may actually decline in 2009, and more importantly can only grow so much.    Now, it’s true that the online spend is currently low enough that we may see online advertising grow enough to support the growth of online content for some time, but my guess is that content is growing many, many times faster than online advertising it needs to be profitably supported.   Luckily for users the content is not going to go away and will keep flowing online, but unluckily for online publishers they are going to have to produce more and more to make the same amount.   We’re already seeing this trend with sites like TechCrunch which often spin out dozens of articles daily.

As an online publisher myself I’m not really sure how to address this challenge.    Certainly I tend to favor keeping expenses under control and not making the mistakes we did earlier in the travel empire by spending too much to improve websites that were always under the gun of Google’s somewhat algorithmically arbitrary content policies.   Better I think to use small amounts of capital to seed a lot of project and then fund the winners and let the losers whither on the vine.     I’ve written a lot about this process which I think is somewhat analogous to biological evolution where smart businesses actually are usually working away from failure more than towards success.    I know a many successful business folks (and perhaps even *more* biz wannabes) would bristle at the notion that serendipity plays as much a role in success as careful, reasoned strategy but the more I see of success and of failure the less convinced I am that formulas play much of a role.    Sure it helps to work hard, have a general idea of what you want to do, etc, but like evolution I don’t think a whole lot of planning is the recipe for most success stories.  On the contrary you find engaging people engaged in things they enjoy and are very good at doing, and you find lucky breaks or circumstances that propelled thos particular people to fame.    Music and sports are a great example of this – for every thousand excellent singers or sportspeople there are only a handful of superstars, and the road to that stardom is often littered with personal tragedy as well as the failures of the other 999 folks who didn’t make it.    I think the reason we tend to think there are success “formulas” is that we examine success too much and failure … too little.

OK, I got too far afield  – must be the turkey talking.   Hmmmm …. where is that leftover stuffing anyway?

Twittering Thanksgiving?


Like most folks who spend a bit too much time online, it’s always odd trying to explain things to folks who … don’t have an online life outside of the weekly checking of the email or surfing for a cranberry recipe.

Over Thanksgiving in Minnesota I was asked to explain what Facebook was and got in some trouble for suggesting that it’s more of a “coastal thing” which was in fact probably wrong anyway but also seemed to imply the heartland wasn’t up to snuff on digital happenings.    Interestingly though Craigslist was well known and loved by all even as the social networking tools were largely unrecognized.

I’ll definitely want to wait until next year to explain Twitter, but when I do I’ll have them read Tim O’Reilly‘s insightful post where I think he correctly observes that Twitter has moved from something that didn’t have obvious relevance or usefulness to an almost indispensable part of the work life of many onliners.

In some ways Twitter has replaced both email and blogging as the tool of choice for the digitally obsessed, and this has come about from it’s usefulness combined with the natural problems that have cropped up with email (spam, attachments, delays, lack of brevity, timing, etc, etc) and with blogging (surfing issues, navigation problems, wordiness, unequal playing fields, comment moderation, etc, etc.

SES San Jose Blog Coverage


Although it’s fun to attend conferences like SES you can learn an enormous amount reading the many folks who are live blogging the sessions here in San Jose. If you read this and I haven’t added your blog please do so in the comment section.

Search Engine Watch (official blog for SES)

Top Rank Blog

Yahoo

SEO Roundtable

Shoemoney

Aim Clear – Charlene

SEM News

Tech Macro News

Applied SEO

David Dalka

Natural Search

AP Retreats from the North Bridge, but the shots were read around the world


The AP’s tiny battle with Rogers Cadenhead over copyright issues appears to have ended with a whimper and no bang as the AP met with Cadenhead and has issued a vague statement about upcoming standards.

Rogers noted today:

I think AP and other media organizations should focus on how to encourage bloggers to link their stories in the manner they like, rather than hoping their lawyers can rebottle the genie of social news.

He’s right regardless of how the courts will be interpreting upcoming cases of copyright infringement.   Unlike the music industry where a case can be made that bootlegging leads to lost revenue, blogging AP stories arguably *improves* APs distribution and presence in journalism.   AP is shooting itself in the foot, if not the head, when it fights bloggers with copyright lawsuits and takedowns.

Obviously blogging has a long way to go before it will have the mainstream respect typically reserved for mainstream journalism.    Part of gaining that respect will be bloggers taking on more responsibility and accountability with respect to attribution and quoting.  Meanwhile the legacy news industry must come to grips with the fact that blogging isn’t just news and analysis, it is a dynamic and powerful global conversation that will throw off any chains as fast as they can be applied.

AP News Boycott is the News


There is a huge story brewing that covers the intersection of mainstream news and blogging. Associated Press (AP) decided to crack down on what they felt were copyright violations by blogs quoting AP stories. Spoof site “The Drudge Retort” is under legal fire from AP, and this has prompted action by other blogs that coudld become one of the most interesting developments in the history of blogging and news. AP has backed off somewhat from its initial reaction and is now offering guidelines for blogs using their stories, but this is too little too late in the eyes of many prominent bloggers.

The world’s top tech blog, TechCrunch, has called for support of the boycott of AP stories – telling bloggers to stop linking to AP stories until they change the new policy and stop threatening to sue blogs.

Here’s a somewhat different perspective from Jeff Jarvis who probably did more to get the ball rolling on this than anybody.   His concerns seem to be more that AP is hypocritical and opportunistic about copyright and linking.  I do like Jeff’s idea that the key metric for compliance with good practices in blogging and journalism should be a *link* to the original material along with reasonable other attribution.

Although the story is interesting from the perspective of the changing interpretations of fair use and copyright legalities, this also represents what I think is the first large scale test of the influence of blogging on mainstream news outlets. If the boycott catches on the effect on AP will be very interesting to watch, and probably costly enough for AP in terms of stunting traffic and incoming links that they will revise the policy very quickly. The big winner here will probably be Reuters which will see a huge swell in links from high authority blogs. This has the potential to have a very positive long term affect for Reuters, especially with respect to Google rankings for very valuable technology news terms but also for the Reuters site in general.

It will also be interesting to watch how AP covers the story of its own decisions. I need to read up more before forming an opinion on this but I’m guessing AP’s guidelines are not all that excessive or unreasonable, rather AP is just missing the point that the benefits to AP from new media news and blogs far outweigh the challenges they will face from copyright violations.

As usual the blogging community is quick to attack attackers without giving enough thought to their reasonable concerns about flagrant copyright violations with no attribution to original authors or sources. It would be nice if in conjunction with the AP story boycott bloggers would work *twice as hard* to give MORE attribution to original sources. I’ve found myself in disagreement about this with other blogs but I continue to think the solution is to make it standard form to provide a link to original material you reference in your blog. This was standard practice in the early days, but as links became the key currency of the web people stopped using them as much, and started using them more strategically.