Contributoria after six months

I spent my 4th of July with an interesting group of technophiles in Brighton at the IndieTech Summit hosted by Aral Balkan.

Aral’s opening keynote was a passionate plea to reevaluate our relationship with technology, to understand the impact of handing over control of our personal data to organizations whose self-interests can be in conflict with our own.

Appropriately, the next speaker was Richard Stallman whose purist views on technology echoed that sentiment, that our lives must not be contaminated by commercial software.

A bit later I walked through an overview of Contributoria which I described in this presentation as a democratization of the editorial process in journalism.  I went through how we got to where we are, what it is that we’re doing, and a direction of travel for the future. Those slides are here.

The timing of the event was perfect, as we just launched our membership program which essentially completes our first phase of development and takes us out of Beta.  And it’s important to us that Contributoria resonate with people who want to work independently.  It’s intended to operate a bit like a virtual co-working space, as my colleague Sarah Hartley once described it.

As part of the announcement we produced some nice charts showing our growth in the first 6 months.  We’re thrilled with progress, and you can see why:

Contributoria Metrics - Six Months

There’s one aspect of the project that feels a bit under-reported, so far, which is our recent introduction of a newspaper.  Yes, we’re a digital pureplay that is doing print!

What a bizarre twist!  But when you’ve held it in your hand you’ll understand why we’ve done it.  It’s a piece of magic created by our technical lead Rev Dan Catt and designer Dean Vipond using the Newspaper Club platform.

A community-produced print product – one where all the articles have been commissioned, written and edited by a collective – is a truly unique thing.  It makes being a member here incredibly compelling.

In fact, I’ve started to wonder how long it will be before all publishers start to open up the physical versions of their media the same way they’ve begun to do with their digital platforms.

Contributoria Newspapers

 

Democratizing the editorial process

In the mid-1990’s I briefly covered Internet technologies and games for Macworld.com. I had no previous experience as an editor but enough knowledge about the beat to do something with it.

On the first day my colleague said, “You already know some of the reporters, so just go and start assigning stories.”

I was suddenly thrown. “I am going to ‘assign‘ them?” I asked.

“Uh, yeah,” she responded. “Didn’t you know that?”

I don’t know what I thought the process was, but as an early twenties first-time editor I didn’t feel qualified to tell professional writers what to write about. Of course, there’s much more back-and-forth than that, but the word ‘assign‘ sets the tone of that relationship and the process.

Is that the right word?

The Internet has a tendency to expose the insides of most processes, and publishing is no exception. Often problems occur when the machines replace human processes with something of lower fidelity. The Internet makes us better, however, when people can use it to accomplish things together that are hard to do as well alone.

This is one of the key principles behind Contributoria. We wanted to flatten the traditional hierarchy of the publishing process and extend authority to people in a community.

The piece that has been missing out there is the democratization of funding. Without power over the output and the budget the community is only participating in the editorial process.

We want the community to be driving the process from beginning to end.  We can then play host and facilitate an interesting conversation.  We can even amplify voices sometimes, too.

This could go in a lot of directions from here, but today’s announcement is the realization of the initial concept for Contributoria.  With the new membership program we are handing over more control to independent journalists and their supporters – everyone in the community here can ‘assign’ stories in the ‘designate’ sense of the word.

Maybe ‘commission’ is a better name for what’s happening here.

Please join Contributoria and support independent journalism.  It’s your chance to start commissioning and/or to get commissioned from a community that cares very much about the future of journalism in the world.

The open Internet of the future needs more commercial innovation today

Ethan Zuckerman led a panel with Emily Bell, Jillian York and Nathan Freitas at the MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference last week discussing a range of issues around the future of the Open Internet.

Emily talked about the authoritative position the leaders of the big Silicon Valley dotcoms are in and the lack of checks and balances they are held to. They can be very self-serving and sometimes just naive when it comes to free speech, owning our identities, and other human rights.

It isn’t a doomsday scenario, as there are many wonderful examples of the open Internet enabling a much more accessible and engaged civic dialog in the world. Marco Civil, TurboVote, and Promise Tracker are some of the more recent ones, to name a few.

But Emily is right that too much power is in the hands of too few. We gave them that power, and they developed incentives for us to keep giving it to them. Now their financial position gives them the ability to control even more aspects of the digital world if and when they want to.

There are political remedies to the centralization of authority that may end up just happening as they tend to do when commercial superpowers exercise too much control over large enough markets.

We must be careful what we ask for, however. Stifling technological innovation through regulation can turn into a costly and even self-destructive game of whack-a-mole.

Yet the market is failing to solve this problem organically.

Let’s be honest here — What incentives are offered to new companies by the open Internet? Do those things make a young business more successful than the alternatives, or will the privately-owned digital markets like the Apple bundled stack make it impossible for the open Internet or any public good to compete? Are the creators and custodians of the key industry standards driving the open Internet failing to embrace changes fast enough?

The macro implications are serious as Sir Tim Berners Lee said in a recent plea to protect the open Internet:

“Unless we have an open, neutral internet we can rely on without worrying about what’s happening at the back door, we can’t have open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture. It’s not naive to think we can have that, but it is naive to think we can just sit back and get it.”

But much of that is meaningless to the average entrepreneur trying to make it big or to the average end-user who just wants things to work.

I’m coming to the conclusion that the first step in this recovery is that anyone interested in a publicly-owned open Internet needs to look closely at the next gen entrepreneurs. Protecting the future requires a focus on the commercially-centered standards and issues, fighting for the ones that protect the open Internet and challenging the ones that will kill it. Celebrate organizations today that are both fueling open principles and making money in ways that demonstrate the values future custodians of this space will be proud to fight for.

For example, how can cybercurrencies be used to strengthen the open Internet? And what role does DRM play in the open Internet, or is it purely a threat?

Legislation is a critical battleground, but entrepreneurs care about money. And as the saying goes, when money walks out the door love flies out the window.

If the open Internet isn’t the best way to achieve the things people want to achieve then it is destined to be merely a servant of the path that is.

The Network is the News

A long time ago in Internet years there was a Silicon Valley super power called Sun Microsystems.  Their slogan was ‘The Network is the Computer’, a clever aspirational statement challenging the centralized power of mainframe computers.

It wasn’t long before that vision became reality, and the Internet grew into something much more powerful than a network that computes.  The idea became more of a principle of technology today rather than something any company could own.

Many variations on this theme have surfaced and resurfaced over the years, and yet it still feels like a fresh idea with a lot of unexplored territory.

Journalism, for example, is not often enough a networked activity.

An opportunity to try something that might function as if journalism were a network arose recently when my colleague Sean Clarke was looking for some help identifying a tool he needed for a special project.  Is there a better solution than Google Docs for collecting, analyzing and rendering structured input from users?

Of course the answer must be ‘yes’, but which one?

Around the same time, Knight’s next News Challenge was announced, a very appealing high level question about making the Internet stronger.  Maybe Sean’s need was something we could answer for everyone with a new open data platform.  Ideas are cheap, though, and we needed a team to work on this very unformed idea.

Guardian architect Graham Tackley is the creator of the company’s realtime analytics platform, an incredible tool that makes analytics work for editors in a way analytics tools have traditionally failed to understand.  He was eager to look at the realtime aspects of a project like this and how you can platformize it to serve many different users and use cases.

Also agreeing to join the project was Tom Armitage, a sort of mercenary artist whose canvas is code.  I met him at our first hack day at the Guardian a few years ago, and he supported the Contributoria team in its early phases.  He had some ideas about structured participation that he could tease out with this project.

I’m very interested in journalism platforms and, in particular, ways to make journalism work in a more network-y kind of way as opposed to a broadcast-y kind of way.  In my mind journalism is not yet fully embracing the power of the Internet as a network.

Yes, media companies are now very good at manipulating network behaviour to reach the masses, but very few are effectively using the two-way, linked node architecture of the Internet software and hardware stack.  And, of course, using raw data and user participation as the ingredients for networked journalism is something that needs much more exploration still.

As Susan Crawford said in her opening keynote at the MIT-Knight Civic Media conference announcing the funding for our project, among others, “data can provide a level of factual persuasion that storytelling isn’t always capable of doing.”

We’ve called this project Swarmize.

It’s going to stay very small for now while we figure out precisely what it is and apply it to one or two specific use cases.  My hope is that it sets the stage for something very potent as we’re able to collectively generate insight across the network, that ultimately the network becomes the journalism.

The business of journalism – recalibrating social good and self-interest as congruous forces

The following article first appeared on Contributoria.com, the community funded collaborative journalism platform.  It was also published by The Guardian.


In theory, press freedom and the commercial markets should be fantastic partners on the internet. These two forces are better because of each other than either one is alone.

It’s not always a healthy marriage, though.

The mutually beneficial dynamic that many collectivist and individualist forces have worked out together on the internet today works more like a mutually exclusive dynamic between press freedom and commercial interests.

They often operate independently of each other when they could both benefit from investing in the partnership.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
Traditionally, financial control of a newspaper in the hands of a wealthy individual, family or shareholders has supported newspapers very effectively and for a long time. This model has existed since the beginning of the business of journalism, and it has also allowed newcomers to enter the market and either support older businesses (Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post) or create new businesses (Pierre Omidyar’s launch of New Look Media).

Yet the internet is particularly good at distributing influence and democratising voices in a very egalitarian way. The same can’t always be said about the platforms that operate on the internet, which sometimes have more hierarchical models, but the technology and user behaviours are capable of supporting independent media if the support model is applied well.

While a patriarch may protect press freedom, it comes with strings attached. There are better options.

Best friends forever
Of course, advertising is a working model. There’s a massive and very mature marketplace operating today and both sides of the equation understand each other well. Journalism and advertising are best friends forever on the internet.

In fact, the traditional news outlets are getting smarter about making the advertising vehicles they offer mutually beneficial for the advertiser, the media owner and the end user alike. One of the best examples of that model playing out is GuardianWitness, a user-contribution platform where the sponsor was a collaborator in the creation of the product.

However, advertisers are finding their customers through other channels, too. Everyone is a publisher on the internet, including advertisers. And the wider selection of options across the media landscape means news organisations need to work a lot harder to retain those relationships.

While functionally serviceable, the press freedom and advertising relationship is mostly platonic. The internet is capable of delivering much more value at scale than what’s happening today.

Taking back control
While the dotcom giants of Silicon Valley created new power structures and operating rules over the last several years, the incumbent media forces held their ground, watched and waited to see how big the opportunity would get. By moving slowly they eventually learned how to benefit from not playing by the rules.

For example hiding your website behind a paywall, where Google can’t find you, and focusing the attention of your readers on a direct and explicit transactional relationship instead of syphoning them off Facebook is an interesting way to protect your revenues from going elsewhere. After all, the argument goes, readers should be paying for the quality journalism they are reading. It’s simple logic.

Simple answers aren’t going to solve the problem, though. As FT columnist John Grapper tweeted, “I find the argument that people ‘should’ pay for news as flawed as the claim that it ‘should’ be free.”

Mathew Ingram a journalist covering the media business at GigaOm suggests the paywall is too blunt and fails to respect the relationship the reader wants to have with the media. “The paywall is undifferentiated. It gets applied across everything the newspaper produces and forces people to pay whether they want to or not. On the other hand, with a subscription model like Andrew Sullivan’s (The Daily Dish) you know exactly what you’re getting. It comes down to the question, ‘Do your interests align with the creator?’ In that sense Andrew Sullivan’s is a very personalised paywall.”

The paywall business model may in fact define the value of the business to its readers, but it doesn’t value the impact of the story in the world. It protects the existence of the business first and foremost, a choice many newspapers have decided justifies the costs of being less accessible to the world’s media distribution channels.

Rather than joined up in a healthy and supportive partnership, one side is always subservient to the other side in these relationships, an unhealthy long-term agreement regardless of which side thinks it is in control.

An open relationship
Newspapers can learn a lot from open publishing platforms which fuel mutually beneficial relationships between the producer, the host, advertisers and the consumer.

WordPress, for example, is host to over 75m blogs in the world today. It not only hosts websites for free, it licenses its software openly, too – the source code itself. WordPress makes money by selling premium services to those who need more support.

Newspapers face additional costs as a result of the hands-on role they take in paying for, crafting and selecting individual articles. They have civic responsibilities to respect certain institutions, industry codes of conduct such as commitments to accuracy and privacy standards, political influences including prior restraint laws and regulatory bodies, and cultural expectations, which vary from country to country.

The open content host or open distribution model can be too risky for the stable and nurturing relationship that press freedom seeks sometimes, but there are some interesting examples that begin to blend these two worlds and create mutually beneficial relationships that are worth watching closely, including Daily Kos, the New Jersey News Commons and Global Voices, to name a few.

What’s mine is yours
There may yet be an answer in generative platforms, a more purely and intrinsically internet-native model that leverages the natural give-and-take relationship the internet fosters so effectively.

The ideal system would fuel growth by building value collectively as a result of serving the needs of the individual.

When it works it can snowball and develop into what is known as a network effect. These platforms generate value as more participants join and become active across the system.

A generative business model fuelling the operational requirements of investigative journalism would be a powerful innovation indeed. With democratic commissioning on one side and self-serve licensing and open distribution on the other, the journalist could sit in the middle and manage their own relationship to multiple funding channels.

Notwithstanding Contributoria’s mission to support journalism in precisely this way, to date, a two-sided platform for journalism has yet to be applied at scale.

Til death do us part
Of the many revolutionary developments the internet has inspired, the most important might be the recalibration of social good and self-interest as congruous forces.

Perhaps this union comes from way down at the deepest layers of the internet’s protocols where give-and-take goes in both directions in a very literal sense. Perhaps it’s the limitless nature of the space we’re creating and a natural human desire to work together to shape it.

Whatever the reason, we’ve become incredibly effective at using the internet to barter, to share resources, and to collaborate on the creation of things. The result of this approach is that communities are benefiting as a whole as a direct result of fulfilling the needs of the individual.

The details of the relationship may be difficult to work through and require more compromise and sometimes even sacrifice than either side may prefer, but the right relationship is always worth fighting for even when times get tough – particularly when it comes to ideals as important as press freedom and trade.

Applying Internet philosophies to the journalism process

When I joined the Guardian a few years ago I was really eager to bring some ideas I had about applying the philosophies that made the early Internet possible to the publishing process and to journalism itself.

Transparency, networks, open data, platforms, collective behaviors, generative media, etc are all meaty concepts. I’m fascinated by how those words translate for industries that were formed before the Internet came along.

There are no answers, but there are certainly best practices and lots of ways to iterate and build and grow when you’ve found something that seems to work.

I was initially focused on opening up the Guardian’s content and data. That’s how the API got off the ground.

Then we took a Hack Day experiment on mobile reporting and we evolved it into a platform service called n0tice. n0tice powers GuardianWitness, among other things (more to be announced soon), and we offer that service to other publishers around the world.

And then this week another small crew (Sarah, Dan, Tom, Dean) launched a new business called Contributoria. It’s a collaborative writing platform where members drive all aspects of the publishing process together, including commissioning stories and the editing process itself.

Based on the initial reaction and the first participants to join Contributoria, I’m becoming really hopeful that we’ve created a new market, a new way of doing things that will help a lot of people who care about the future of journalism and want to be a part of it and to see it succeed.

While we’ve yet to do much future-proofing of Contributoria against the many threats to the Internet as we know it today, I remain an optimist about the wider network. And perhaps if we get enough momentum behind it, Contributoria can become a tool for or at least a participant in securing the principles that made the early Internet such a wonderful thing.

At worst, the guys have made a pretty neat platform. Wish us luck!

Dear Britain (Part II)

As you know, I became British recently. You now have a population of 63M + 1.

I’m still working out what being British means, but based on my observations as an immigrant the last several years there’s a lot of scope for self-referential commentary and a bit of naval-gazing here.

These are some of my impressions, so far.

Britain at its best

The first thing to say is that you are complicated. Now, it won’t surprise you that as an American I would find you or any other culture complicated. But it’s true.

On one hand you are totally brilliant and creative and funny and sensible and worldly, and then on the other you are petty and embarrassed and cranky and ironically hypocritical.

Let’s start with your brilliance because when you get it right, you get it really right.

Your success as an entertainer is pheonomenal.

You give the world some of the strongest and most powerful actors. Your artists and writers have a great balance of attitude with insight. Of course, you already know that your humor is unparalleled, a cultural attribute worth marveling.

Banksy on Whymark

And your music…how do you do it? And keep on doing it? The music you give the world consistently punches above your weight.

I sometimes worry you’re being a bit too cavalier with your position in the popular music world, though.

Yeah, it’s very entertaining watching talent shows where the judges say out loud the horrible things that you’re thinking in your head, but it’s not helpful to those performing and doesn’t yield good music. It’s shallow, mean-spirited, and keeps true creativity reigned in.

You are an ingenious inventor.

You gave the world hugely important tools and technologies like the pencil, the radio, typewriters, carbon fiber, silicone, steam engines, jet engines, submarines. You discovered invisible worlds like cell biology and calculus.

Everyone forgives you for polyester, which, not surprisingly, was actually popularized by an American you love nearly as much as we do – Elvis.

You invented practically every professional sport. Strangely, you’re rarely the best at any of them. *

That fact is very interesting to me because it doesn’t seem like an isolated trait. It’s something every Brit is aware of and just accepts as truth, like some maligned strand in the British cultural DNA.

This is precisely where I find it harder to relate, because it doesn’t have to be true.

Backseat driver

I think maybe you don’t want to be responsible or accountable for anything you might not win. You’d prefer to observe, analyze and then criticize those who make mistakes.

When things go wrong you can legitimately say, “I told you so”, because you eagerly reported all the many ways it was going to fail. One of them was going to be right.

For example, instead of following through on the English republic, a somewhat more controlled democracy seemed preferrable to all-out people-powered rule. I won’t pretend to understand everything that happened during that period, but ultimately you voluntarily revoked your own independence and invited the monarchy back.

And to this day you still pass the Commander-in-chief role through family lines rather than democratically elected officials, and you govern through appointed Lords who keep your people’s representatives in check.

Queen's Diamond Jubilee Parade and Muster at Windsor Castle

I’m not arguing the British governing system is broken or wrong — we all know America’s form of democracy has plenty of challenges, too — but rather that these choices define you and demonstrate what matters to you as a society. In some ways it feels like you’re in denial about who is in charge here.

On the other hand your creativity in both foreign affairs and domestic policy are profound and forward-thinking.

Perhaps the first ever manifestation of a concept of freedom of speech in the world appeared as a result of the end of the republic in your 1689 Bill of Rights. You thought people should be able to petition the monarch without fear of retribution.**

That was surely revolutionary at the time and remains a core tenant of democratic values today.

It seems to me that your commitment to that premise is on shakey ground at the moment, as your politicians are challenging free speech in many worrying ways. But you’ll get past this episode, as it clearly matters deeply to you.

Later you invented the World Wide Web, the most profound open market for free speech the world has ever known. ***

Again, like many others before it, your role in your invention’s life was a strange one.

First, you watched from the sidelines while US entrepreneurs created massive commercial institutions off the back of it.

And then when you realized the Web mattered to the world so much you used it to monitor conversations instead of protecting its meaning and its existence as a public space.

The inventor of fingerprinting, iris scanning, and DNA databases, unsurprisingly, turned the great communications channel of the world into a weapon against your own allies by literally tapping into the information flow going through it.

Knowledge is power. It didn’t surprise me to learn recently that you coined that term.

The cancer of self-doubt

It’s not your sophisticated and sometimes dangerous information machines that are the problem but rather your lack of faith in yourself as a positive contributor in the world that is going to do the most damage over time.

That fundamentally British cynicism can become a sort of infectious disease within your culture. It can destroy some of your greatest capabilities…creativity chief among them.

As much as I value the grounded way in which you view yourself, I think you are too cynical.

You refuse to let yourself believe that you are actually good at anything unless you are definitively the best at it. You can’t seem to see or imagine the sky beyond the heavy clouds that rain on you all the time.

The London Olympics were absolutely wonderful, and yet a year after you were still debating whether or not it was a success.

It was a huge success!

In fact, it was the London Olympics and the brilliant opening ceremony that first inspired me to make my naturalisation happen. It thrust the country onto the world’s stage in a big way, and I know I wasn’t the alone in my admiration for you.

Untitled

Why can’t you pat yourself on the back, Britain? Is the system more important to you than the individual?

That could explain the great English superhero James Bond. Yes, he is a talented man, but his abilities are amplified by the secret intelligence machine behind him, an invisible hand that provides for his lifestyle and is always prepared to catch him when he flies too close to the sun. His super power is actually the government and country. (…a force that is prepared to dispose of him, too.)

Often that collective spirit is a huge plus.

Instead of operating without a leader in 2010 when you couldn’t choose a party to run the government, you joined up two parties to run it together. As much as the politicians are clearly annoyed with it, the model is very sensible and grown up.

My American countrymen seem incapable of collaborating with oppositional forces at all. There has to be a winning team and a losing team, even if that results in a worse outcome than both sides giving up a little for the good of all.

It’s likely that some of your many talents result from the struggle against the institutional powers that work so hard to maintain the social net and the status quo.

Great art often arises out of conflict, and the struggle against immovable forces may just be what makes Britain so British.

The British pride contagion

My first draft of this letter included some things I think should change, but, on reflection, that seemed too, well, American. Instead I’ll adopt my new culture, accept us the way we are, and continue to study what it means to be British until it’s clearer where I can have a meaningful impact.

To be clear, I’m very proud to be a dual citizen. The naturalisation ceremony hammered that home. It’s also true that your quirks have really grown on me.

My favorite is how you queue everywhere, whenever possible, as if the future of the human race depended on it. It makes me laugh, but I also get it.

I’ve become very proud that my children are British. I love to see my American friends and family react when they hear their accents.

I love that we can expose them to foreign people and languages both via our home city in London and with cheap holidays to foreign countries.

I love the newspapers here, particularly the Guardian, of course. The BBC is brilliant.

London is one of the truly great cities in the world. Dorset, Norfolk, and Sussex have all treated us very well on our travels.

I’ve learned to really enjoy football here, though the Premier League shenanigans can make that a difficult relationship, as I think most people here feel, as well.

And my friends and colleagues here, and the kids’ school are all brilliant.

I look forward to voting and becoming a more active member of your society.

I’m proud to live here, warts and all. It wouldn’t be home any other way.

* Britain’s Olympic medal count over time and in London, in particular, shows that athletic capability is stronger than you might think. Maybe I’m being unfair in my criticism here and in fact Britain dramatically outperforms relative to its size. That wouldn’t be surprising.

** Going a step further and calling for the abolition of the monarch carries a life sentence even still today.

*** While, technically, it was a subset of the Internet which had been around for years, the World Wide Web was the best solution for publishing open and connected public documents and thereby the key to unlocking the Internet as a free speech engine.

Dear Britain (Part I)

In November on the day before Thanksgiving I officially joined your ranks. I now have dual citizenship here and in the US.

I wasn’t expecting this new status to make me feel any different about you, but the truth is that I do feel different.

I’m thankful. I’m inspired to be an active citizen. And I’m proud to be a member of your society which I respect and admire very much.

More than anything else it was the citizenship ceremony itself that changed the way I think about being British.

In particular, I was really struck by the language in the ceremony. They referred to free speech and democracy at the same level, interlocked and co-dependent. I wasn’t counting, but I believe there were more references to free speech and democracy than to either the Queen or God.

That resonated deeply with me, but it surprised me to hear it at the ceremony.

Before becoming a citizen I considered the British forms of free speech and democracy almost like methods for distributing and managing authority held at the core as opposed to true pillars and foundations of society.

For example, I don’t find it encouraging for future generations that a newspaper editor acting responsibly and clearly in the public interest should be called into a parliamentary hearing to defend his acts of journalism – and to declare his love for his country, bizarrely.

But I also know that this episode is the exception to the rule. Free speech and democracy run deeply through the veins of the British culture. And like everything else that is British, they are occasionally challenged in a very public way. (More on that in Part II.)

In the ceremony we are all told very clearly and specifically that being British means that we value free speech and democracy. What a wonderful command. I can get behind that.

I was also stuck by the multiculturalism represented in the ceremony itself. It’s one of the things I love most about London, but it was great to see multiculturalism so deeply woven into the naturalisation process. Not one of the organizers of the event was white, and it seemed likely based on their accents that none of them were born here, either.

What a great way to be welcomed into the country!

Thank you, Britain. I will do my best to make you proud.

Becoming a British citizen

Eternal transitions

Market transitions in digital media can be absolutely fascinating both as a bystander and as a participant.

I’ve been on both the frontfoot and the backfoot as part of media businesses trying to lead, fast-follow, steer away from or kill different technologies and services that come and go.

Transitioning seems to be part of being in this business, something you’re always doing, not the end game.

There are a few patterns I’ve observed, but i’m hoping some clever business model historian will do some research and really nail down how it works.

There are job training issues that people face. Remember all those Lotus Notes specialists? Organizational issues. How about when the tech teams finally let editors control the web site home page? Leadership issues. It wasn’t until about 2003 before media CEOs started talking openly aout the day when their Internet businesses would overtake their traditional businesses. Technology strategies. Investing in template-driven web sites was once a major decision. Etc.

The mobile wave we’re in right now shares all the same issues for people who are in the business of running web sites. Re-educate your developers or hire new ones? Should mobile be a separate business; should it be added to the queue for the tech team; should the editors or product managers manage it? Is mobile-first a subset of digital-first or does it mean something more profound than that? Responsive, native, both? What’s the mobile pureplay for what you already do?

Media organizations have become so diverse over the last several years that they can easily get caught thinking that you can do all of the above – a hedge-your-bets strategy by investing lightly in all aspects of the transition. While that strategy has drawbacks it is definitely better than the hide-and-hope or cut-til-you-profit strategy.

The most interesting part of this story is about the anomolies, those moments of clarity that signal to the rest of us what is happening.

For example, everyone who disregarded the Newton and then the PalmPilot for failing missed the point. These were anomolies in a world dominated by Microsoft and the PC. They understood computing was going to be in people’s pockets, and they were right to execute on that idea.

What they failed to get right was timing of the market transition, and timing is everything.

(Harry McCracken’s retrospective review of the Newton is a fun read.)

So, when is an anomoly worth noticing? And when is the right time to execute on the new model?

Google has been a great example of both in many ways. They cracked one of the key business models native to the Internet at just the right time…they weren’t first or even best, but they got it right when it mattered. Android is another example.

But social has been one challenge after another. They ignored the anomoly that was Twitter and Facebook (and Orkut!) and then executed poorly over and over again.

They don’t want to be behind the curve ever again and are deploying some market tests around the ubiquitous, wearable network – Google Glass.

But if they are leading on this vision of the new way, how do they know, and, importantly, how do other established businesses know that this is the moment the market shifts?

I’m not convinced we’ve achieved enough critical mass around the mobile transition to see the ubiquitous network as a serious place to operate.

The pureplay revenue models in the mobile space are incomplete. The levels of investment being made in mobile products and services are growing too fast. The biggest catalysts of commercial opportunity are not yet powerful enough to warrant total reinterpretations of legacy models.

The mobile market is at its high growth stage. That needs to play out before the next wave will get broader support.

The ubiquitous network is coming, but the fast train to success aka ‘mobile’ has arrived and left the station and everyone’s onboard.

Is Google Glass this era’s Newton? Too early? Dorky rather than geeky-cool? Feature-rich yet brilliant at nothing in particular? Too big?

They’ve done a brilliant job transitioning to the mobile era. And you have to give them props for trying to lead on the next big market shift.

Even if Google gets it wrong with Google Glass (See Wired’s commentary) they are becoming very good at being in transition. If that is the lesson they learned from their shortcomings in ‘social’ then they may have actually gained more by doing poorly then if they had succeeded.

n0ticeVIP_LOGO

The mobile publishing technology behind GuardianWitness

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One of the great ah-hah moments in my career happened in 2006 when Amazon launched EC2.

To be honest, the shockwave I observed across Silicon Valley at the news inspired that ah-hah rather than any insight I had about the product. I don’t think I really understood virtual machines. The idea still makes my head spin.

But when I realized Bezos was exposing Amazon’s incredible internal infrastructure and selling those capabilities externally everything clicked. What a smart thing to do.

Why don’t more companies do this?

Yes, it might be hard to move legacy bespoke systems into a state where they can support paying customers, but it’s not hard to design the possibility for commercializing technology externally at its conception.

We’ve been applying this strategy to n0tice from the start. Now we have a very significant case study in the form of GuardianWitness, and others will be announced soon.

While the GuardianWitness project is clearly going to have a big impact both in terms of open journalism and in terms of new revenue for the Guardian, there’s a parallel world where the technology making GuardianWitness possible can be used to build both a technology licensing business and an interesting partner network.

appsGuardianWitness was built using n0tice, the mobile publishing platform we launched publicly almost exactly a year ago. The web site, iPhone and Android apps, and a bunch of new capabilities, including moderation tools, video processing and YouTube integration, high performance, scalability and security levels, and a customer support process were all built with the intention of selling those services, too. The n0tice API servicing all this is now very robust.

We have a marketing site at http://vip.n0tice.org explaining the offering. I’ve written a bit more detail about what we did on the n0tice blog. And you can find a lot more technical information on the developer web site here, which includes an architectural overview of the n0tice platform.

If we’ve done this right then any professional publisher, broadcaster, brand, community, developer, etc. who wants to give their customers the ability to post photos and videos from their phones will be able to do so with specialised, high quality, enterprise-level technologies and services.

There’s a ton of great capability here at the Guardian, and we are not the only media organization that could benefit from the technologies that enable us to do what we do.