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.

Is Lou Dobbs’ Head Going to Explode?

Update:  Dobbs is leaving CNN:   http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/11/11/lou.dobbs.leaving/index.html

CNN’s Lou Dobbs personal crusade to rant about the plethora of problems with our bizarre immigration policy came to a fun “head” tonight as he berated and then looked ready to jump out of his chair to strangle the very composed Paul Waldman of a (liberal/ left) media watchdog group called Media Matters.

The group studied stories on “Lou Dobbs Tonight” and suggest the obvious:  Dobbs’ routinely crosses the line of reasoned journalism in his personal crusade to stem the tide of illegal immigration.

“When was the last time you did a positive story about immigrants”  Dobbs:  “I don’t know”.

I’m more than tired of blowhards like Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly, and Keith Olbermann all of whom routinely discard good standards of quality journalism in favor of either bombastic nonsense or simplifications of complex issues.   These guys are not journalists – they are *entertainers*.    That is OK, but stop the pretense!    TV “news” is mostly garbage now, and we should all be very, very ashamed.

CNET SWOT Analysis

CNET is back in the news as today brings layoffs and ominous internal memos so I thought I’d put out this CNET SWOT analysis I did over at the Techdirt Insight Community not so long ago:


CNET Strengths:

Brand awareness and brand respect.   CNET has been one of technologies most recognizable and respected brands for many years, and continues to maintain the high respect of the technology community.

Writers.  CNETs technology writing and analysis is recognized as some of the best in technology.  Unbiased reviews and authoritative articles from seasoned technology journalists are the mainstay of CNETs content. 

Editorial staff.  CNETs reputation for editorial and quality control is unsurpassed in the industry.   

Dan Farber promotion.  Dan Farber is one of technologies most informed and seasoned professionals.   As a blogger who is extensively familiar with and actively participating in social media Dan was a great choice to help guide CNET into a more aggressive social networking posture.

Huge internet traffic.  CNET remains one of the most visited news sites on the internet.

High revenues with potential for high profitability.   CNET’s revenues are strong despite significant earnings declines in the past year. Zacks analysis suggests a modest profit downturn in the coming year, but CNET is still generating very substantial revenues and some profits.   Under a JANA acquisition scenario the aggressive management for profit could boost earnings significantly. 

CNET Weaknesses:

Labor intensive content production.  CNET’s quality writers and editors are her blessing and her curse.   Writers cost money and good writers, collectively, cost a lot of money.    Blogging and the social media revolution have led to an online environment that creates a tidal wave of quality tech-focused content every day at very low average cost per article.

News delays.   Although CNET remains very current, it simply cannot always compete with the 24/7/365 blogging community that is posting (and increasingly scooping) CNET and other media outlets when technology news breaks.  Again, the editorial standards force CNET to delay where bloggers and online journals will report first and ask questions later.  The practice is questionable from a journalism point of view, but usually it is just fine for advertisers and certainly helps with traffic generation as the early reports often garner the most page views. 

Earnings declines.   CNETs earnings are down significantly, placing huge pressure on the company to cut costs and increase monetization for content.    CNETs early success may have led them to incorrectly assume they would remain unchallenged in the tech news space where they are under pressure from both bigger players like Yahoo and smaller players like TechCrunch.

CNET Opportunities:   

Socialism!   CNET’s attempts to build an online CNET-centric community at the website have been modest and in many ways have failed.    With a sterling brand and reputation, CNET is in a great position to leverage the existing tech-centric user base into a number of community endeavors.   One small example would be to create more niche CNET communities online and then evangelize these communities via CNETs advertising as well as Facebook, Myspace, and other social media powerhouses.   Even more powerful would be to facilitate the creation of much more reader-driven content.   For example make registration for CNET simpler with just an email signup and encourage far more guest articles.   Digg style rankings for CNET articles would be another positive step in this direction.  

Be more like TechCrunch.  Mike Arrington has brilliantly leveraged the fast pace of internet journalism, modest journalism standards, advertisement flexibility, and most importantly the powers of social media.   Where TechCrunch initially produced content at a fraction of the cost of CNET using freelance writing and little office overhead, it also distributed and monetized this content in more powerful ways such as massive emailings and very aggressive social media participation and real socializing.   Once again however CNETs high journalistic standards provide some barriers here.   

JANA board coup:  If JANA succeeds in the fight to change the direction of CNET, and this appears likely, a new focus on monetization and innovation will lead to a stronger and more viable CNET.     Unfortunately profitability is probably going to call for a reduction in journalistic standards and quality coverage, but from a company health perspective CNET is likely to benefit from a leaner, faster, broader, but more superficial approach to tech news coverage.

CNET Threats: 

Diminished advertising revenues.   The coming recession may not hit online advertising as hard as some other sectors but online advertising spending growth is likely to slow in the coming year and possibly even go down.   Financial sectors, for example, were huge spenders last year and may be unable to continue spending at the same levels due to the housing crisis.  

Blogging and the social media revolution.   These represent a substantial threat to CNETs long term prospects and profitability.   Blogs and non-traditional media coverage are generating huge volumes of quality content every day, and technology focused content is especially abundant since blogging’s early adopters tended to be technology enthusiasts.  Bloggers are increasingly respected as quality journalists and analysts who in some cases have more expertise than the technology journalists that are covering the same story, product, or events.   Yet the average cost to produce a blogged story is effectively zero as many bloggers are writing simply for the fun of coverage and the internet soapbox.   Monetization of blogs is also becoming easier and more lucrative in the form of Google Adsense per click advertising as well as projects like Federated Media which match publishers to advertisers – a service for which advertisers are increasingly willing to pay a high premium.

A Google aquisition of CNET?

Despite the reasonable assumption that CNET has significant potential for a valuation far beyond current capitalization of approximately 1 billion,  I consider a Google aquisition *unlikely*.      Google’s actions and stated intention for many years have been to concentrate on content *monetization* and avoid content production.    Also, Google stresses the value of machine scalability which is not compatible with the labor intensive content and editorial style of CNET.   

That said, I think that CNET and Google cultures would be fairly compatible.  Not because they are similar but because they would have a high degree of mutual respect as leaders in their respective fields.  Where Google is relaxed, fast paced, and extremely innovative CNET culture appears to be more formal, professional, and along the lines of a traditional journalism environment with attention to detail, high journalistic standards, and an older workforce.    This is probably an acceptable recipe for a comfortable working relationship.

CNET Linkage:JANA Board Fight:

Zacks YHOO summary:

Google News goes local

Google has launched a local news service that scans local news items for context and then lists them according to relevance to your city or zip code query at Google News.   Testing this today on a few Oregon cities I’ve been  impressed with the results as they seem to pull from some obscure but relevant sources and if Google eventually starts using most of the tens of thousands of local newspaper online sites and other sources this could be a superb tool for mashing up news with websites and blogs.

Propeller vs Mixx vs Digg vs?

Center Networks is reviewing yet another DiggEsque application called, in what has got to be one of the most questionable rebranding efforts of the year:  Propeller  .  Propeller started life as the Netscape ranking site that was very similar to Digg and designed to compete with it.    That effort having failed, it appears Propeller is an attempt to rebrand things such that they can take another shot at Digg.

I’m having a lot of trouble understanding “the point” in what seem like similar approaches to the same challenge, which is getting people to *participate* very actively in story selection and commentary.     Rather than “we’ll build a site and they’ll come to it” approach I want to see dramatic improvements to portable identities.   MyBlogLog is the closest thing to what I think is the clear  “right answer” here.  Basically, what I want is for every online person to have an identity.  I want to see that identity when they visit my websites and I want to see that identity when I am visiting a site they’ve also visited recently (or maybe … visited ever).   One interesting extension that might come out of this would be a superior “vote by your feet” ranking system where pages at which many people spent a lot of time would have more authority, and when this was combined with tags and comments by the visitors you’d have a fairly robust system for ranking sites.

Mixx versus Digg?

During weekends and holidays my favorite news site, TechMeme, gets wilder than usual because I think there are fewer news outlets posting stories and even the big tech blogs dry up on the weekend.   Even more wild are holidays, which may explain the odd top story today at TechMeme today about MIXX versus DIGG.

Mike over at TechCrunch is reporting that a lot of Digg users are heading over to the new social story tagging site called Mixx.     He notes that Digg users have become increasingly frustrated with the Digg communities and mini-scandals.   A quick Alexa take on Mixx did not really seem to support the idea that MIXX poses much threat right now to DIGG, though since MIXX is still in beta it’s possible MIXX is going to be a contender when it’s known to more people.  Mixx appears to have 150k-250k daily visits (per my rough Alexa extrapolation from approx 35k Alexa rank).     Given the up and down traffic pattern at MIXX though it’s not clear it’s “taking off”, rather than it’s setting in as one of the many DIGG “also rans” that have little chance of even catching the big DIGG.

TechMeme still Rulez!

[Following is this is a revision of a post I did over at WebGuild.org – the Silicon Valley social networking and tech education group] . 

For bloggers, Gabe Rivera’s TechMeme has become a top technology watering hole, ranking and finding great blog posts and tracking the discussions that form around them.

Fred Wilson, a New York Venture Capitalist and great blogger, is lamenting the good old days when he thinks TechMeme had more of the stuff he wants to read – more of the old guard tech bloggers and fewer popular newspaper articles.

Unlike Fred, I’m happy with what I see as a diversification of the early TechMeme post universe. I’ve never been comfortable with the idea that the “old guard” does all the best blogging, and TechMeme does a great job of unearthing new voices for me.    Frankly, I’d like to see even more new voices.   As I’ve noted here before we need a blogging revolution (hmmm – I guess I’m too lazy to lead it?!   I was supposed to get Scoble a list of “great new voices” and have not done that yet, though it’s on “The List”).     My criticism of TechMeme is more along the lines that by design it will become too focused on the insider rumor mill rather than the most significant technology news stories.    But I appreciate the fact that you want “most significant story” to be defined by objective processes rather than a handful of editors.  TechMeme is doing a great job of that so far.

In general I find I prefer the new fresh voices to the old ones.  Fred wrote that he likes new voices too but appears to be tired of TechMeme’s increasing number of legacy media stories about tech issues.  I agree the old schoolf folks often miss the big picture, but they are driving much of the national debate on these issues so I want their take as well as the insiders angle from well-connected bloggers.    I also appreciate that legacy media folks check their spelling, usage, and their facts – a point that should not be lost on many bloggers including this one.    (But the spell checking takes an extra 30 seconds …. I have no time for THAT inconvenience!)

Thanks to TechMeme I find a lot quickly, and I also have the site doing some of the human filtering for me because I know Gabe won’t run lousy blogs.   Are people writing specifically to TechMeme to get links there, as Fred notes?   Sure they are, but this just creates the challenge we get with all news media – a sort of echo chamber where all the insiders are talking about the same stuff.   That challenge is not really TechMeme’s fault – the solution for that is more good bloggers which will diversify the conversations even more and get people talking about things and linking to things they had not though about before.  

[groaning] after I wrote the post above, TechMeme managed to have one of it’s dumbest top stories in some time – a clear indication of how insulated our silly tech community can become from real world issues. 

Print Media Future – so dim, you won’t need to wear shades.

Two articles today suggest how tough it’s becoming to turn a buck in the print media world.   Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine and founder of eWeek, notes in “Whither Mags”, that major print efforts require a huge capital outlay before they can even hope to be profitable, and that the current high risk associated with print publications means we probably won’t see nearly as many new big magazine efforts.   

Even more ominous is the New York Times report today showing circulation declines almost across the board for US Newspapers.  The  NYT Article “More Readers Trading Newspapers for Websites” has a great graphic showing how circulation has fallen at most newspapers since last year with an average drop of 2.4%.    Given the relatively thin profit margins at many papers and the fact many costs are fixed this does not bode well at all for the future of newspapers.   The future of news?   That is a far more complex question and I think the answer is not knowable at this time.    Blogs are picking up some of the journalistic slack, but I’m not convinced they can pick up all of it. 

TechMeme Secrets

TechMeme has rapidly become one of the key techno watering holes in the blogosphere thanks to how it helps sift through tech blogs and posts to winnow out those getting maximum buzz.     Todd recently suggested he thinks a lot of SEO firms  are gaming techmeme, especially by post plants from A list bloggers – the implication is that they are paid for this.

He’s largely wrong about this and has given *way* too much credence to the always inflated claims of SEO companies (his inspiration for the post was a small SEO firm in Honolulu).

Of course Tech blogging, and most of the web for that matter, and much of the offline world, have been “damaged” with respect to objective quality content by various tactics that come about as the inevitable result of content monetizing.

But take a look at the prominent TechMeme posts tonight – it’s clear that these are generally spawned from sincere interests and not “planted” as part of advanced SEO tactics. Do any plants happen? A few, but in SEO you have to balance the chance you’ll “sneak in” a good plant against the greater chance that you’ll permanently tarnish the blogger’s reputation cause a scandal (Wal Mart’s Edelman fiasco), or simply spend a lot of time and money for a marginal result. The best SEO strategies rely more than ever on getting legitimate content and placements.

Now, Robert Scoble has a great video post today that is a lot more interesting because he’s trying to reverse engineer TechMeme, something a lot of people in tech are interested in for several reasons.   Robert also manages to feed the new little Scoble during his impromptu 2am advanced tech blogging lecture, which is really a fun statement about how far social networking and life/work integration has come in the past few years.

I hope Gabe responds to Robert to clear up some confusion though he may want to keep the TechMeme algorithm top secret, following in Google’s footsteps.

Some key points by Robert as he speculated about the TechMeme algorithm:
Tech blog database of perhaps 10,000 blogs.
Blog rankings (see TechMeme leaderboard) used to reflect their authority and thus “weight” the power of outbound links from  those blogs.
Reciprocal linking is not as heavily weighted as one directional outbound linking.

Robert suggests an experiment to test some of his ideas and I hope he does it, though Gabe may simply shut down that post or (if he wants to mess with his TechMeme folks) manually override the algorithm so it does funny things that lead to wrong conclusions.  Scoble’s Breeeport experiment was fun a few years ago, and this stuff can be a great way to bring more transparency to the mysteries of content ranking.