Category Archives: publishing

The generosity strategy

I’ve wondered for a long time why WordPress doesn’t get the dotcom homage some of the other perhaps less interesting organizations are showered with.

There are many reasons to pay attention to them, but there’s one primary aspect of what they do that’s worth spending some time thinking about – what they give to the market in order to fuel a network that they benefit from in the end.

As Andy Weissman wrote about TED, sometimes giving away the core assets of your business is exactly what will create success for you.

“With the content, processes and brand more freely available, the community and the set of values can instead drive the business. And those are not as easily replicable.”

This attitude is what won them the war with their first rival in the blogging world, Movable Type.  It turns out that generosity is a very competitive strategy in a globally connected world.

Except it’s not my impression that was what they were intending the strategy to be used for. I think they used that strategy because it resonated with what type of company they wanted to have first and foremost.

It’s also true that ‘free’ can destroy established markets in order to create advantage for alternative models.  Bill Gurley has written before about how Google is intentionally using a scorched earth policy with Android, in particular, in order to build an unapproachable moat around their core business.

The WordPress approach has similar effects in the content management market, but they’ve built the core business itself on the open strategy.  They have made themselves dependent on the success of their customers.

I had the good fortune of inteviewing Matt Mullenweg on stage at The Guardian’s Activate Summit event last week where we spent most of our time talking about how the WordPress team operates. This is not a man chasing wealth for the sake of wealth, though wealth may in fact be chasing him. This is a person who understands the DNA of the Internet and knows intuitively how to craft a movement optimized to use the most powerful aspects of the network.

In case you’re unaware, WordPress is a publishing platform. They sell access to the WordPress tools, and they also give away the software.  The whole thing. They put it out there to download for free with an open license. They even make it super easy to install. No tricks. It’s genuine. They want you to use their software even if they don’t see a shred of direct value coming back to them as a result.

Their software is their core asset. Without it they have nothing. Why would they give it away?

What they are building is not your traditional enterprise software business. What they are building is at the very least a partner network if not something even bigger, something that looks more like a movement.

Looking at their business through the enterprise sofware lens is easy to do and certainly worth more consideration. They are leaving a lot of money on the table. They know this, and they’ve made impressive progress recapturing that lost opportunity with their VIP business.

But the founder’s philosophies lead the commercial strategy, not the other way around. WordPress wants to be a platform for free speech. Everything else comes after that.

As Matt said at Activate, “We are a neutral force. We participated in the SOPA blackout because we felt it posed a threat to our ability to stay that way.”

Operating the business strategy at that level creates a framework for all their decision-making.

They can open source their core assets because it strengthens the collective power of the WordPress toolset as a platform for free speech. In addition, it gives them a sensible model for working with developers who want to contribute code to the platform. They can operate with a small staff, prioritize product over profit, and play fast-follower to the break-neck pace of innovation that most of the rest of the top players in the business may be forced to play.

What’s the result of the generous nature of their business?

75M blogs, about half of which are hosted by them, and many of those pay them a monthly hosting fee. 341M monthly users across the network. 20,000 software plugins built by a huge network of developers working on the platform…many of whom make money being professional service providers and premium template designers for WordPress.

Now, they have a lot of powerful forces challenging their existence. Not least of which is the atomization of everything and challenges to the idea of blogs and even articles.

But by embracing a strategy of giving and a deep-seated commitment to enabling others to speak their minds on the global stage, WordPress has something more valuable than robust revenue streams. They have a network of customers who need them to succeed in the world.

That network of people is more valuable than any software or hardware distribution platform.

Why Outside.in may have the local solution

The recent blog frenzy over hyperlocal media inspired me to have a look at Outside.in again.


It’s not just the high profile backers and the intense competitive set that make Outside.in worth a second look. There’s something very compelling in the way they are connecting data that seems like it matters.

My initial thought when it launched was that this idea had been done before too many times already. Topix.net appeared to be a dominant player in the local news space, not to mention similar but different kinds of local efforts at startups like Yelp and amongst all the big dotcoms.

And even from their strong position, Topix’s location-based news media aggregaton model was kind of, I don’t know, uninteresting. I’m not impressed with local media coverage these days, in general, so why would an aggregator of mediocre coverage be any more interesting than what I discover through my RSS reader?

But I think Outside.in starts to give some insight into how local media could be done right…how it could be more interesting and, more importantly, useful.

The light triggered for me when I read Jon Udell’s post on “the data finds the data”. He explains how data can be a vector through which otherwise unrelated people meet eachother, a theme that continues to resonate for me.

Media brands have traditionally been good at connecting the masses to eachother and to marketers. But the expectation of how directly people feel connected to other individuals by the media they share has changed.

Whereas the brand once provided a vector for connections, data has become the vehicle for people to meet people now. Zip code, for example, enables people to find people. So does marital status, date and time, school, music taste, work history. There are tons of data points that enable direct human-to-human discovery and interaction in ways that media brands could only accomplish in abstract ways in the past.

URLs can enable connections, too. Jon goes on to explain:

“On June 17 I bookmarked this item from Mike Caulfield… On June 19 I noticed that Jim Groom had responded to Mike’s post. Ten days later I noticed that Mike had become Jim’s new favorite blogger.

I don’t know whether Jim subscribes to my bookmark feed or not, but if he does, that would be the likely vector for this nice bit of manufactured serendipity. I’d been wanting to introduce Mike at KSC to Jim (and his innovative team) at UMW. It would be delightful to have accomplished that introduction by simply publishing a bookmark.”

Now, Outside.in allows me to post URLs much like one would do in Newsvine or Digg any number of other collaborative citizen media services. But Outside.in leverages the zip code data point as the topical vector rather than a set of predetermined one-size-fits-all categories. It then allows miscellaneous tagging to be the subservient navigational pivot.

Suddenly, I feel like I can have a real impact on the site if I submit something. If there’s anything near a critical mass of people in the 94107 zip code on Outside.in then it’s likely my neighbors will be influenced by my posts.

Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures explains:

“They’ve built a platform that placebloggers can submit their content to. Their platform “tags” that content with a geocode — an address, zip code, or city — and that renders a new page for every location that has tagged content. If you visit outside.in/10010, you’ll find out what’s going on in the neigborhood around Union Square Ventures. If you visit outside.in/back_bay, you’ll see what’s going on in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.”

Again, the local online media model isn’t new. In fact, it’s old. CitySearch in the US and UpMyStreet in the UK proved years ago that a market does in fact exist in local media somehwere somehow, but the market always feels fragile and susceptible to ghost town syndrome.

Umair Haque explains why local is so hard:

“Why doesn’t Craigslist choose small towns? Because there isn’t enough liquidity in the market. Let me put that another way. In cities, there are enough buyers and sellers to make markets work – whether of used stuff, new stuff, events, etc, etc.

In smaller towns, there just isn’t enough supply or demand.”

If they commit to building essentially micro media brands based exclusively on location I suspect Outside.in will run itself into the ground spending money to establish critical mass in every neighborhood around the world.

Now that they have a nice micro media approach that seems to work they may need to start thinking about macro media. In order to reach the deep dark corners of the physical grid, they should connect people in larger contexts, too. Here’s an example of what I mean…

I’m remodeling the Potrero Hill shack we call a house right now. It’s all I talk about outside of work, actually. And I need to understand things like how to design a kitchen, ways to work through building permits, and who can supply materials and services locally for this job.

There must be kitchen design experts around the world I can learn from. Equally, I’m sure there is a guy around the corner from me who can give me some tips on local services. Will Architectural Digest or Home & Garden connect me to these different people? No. Will The San Francisco Chronicle connect us? No.

Craigslist won’t even connect us, because that site is so much about the transaction.

I need help both from people who can connect on my interest vector in addition to the more local geographic vector. Without fluid connections on both vectors, I’m no better off than I was with my handy RSS reader and my favorite search engine.

Looking at how they’ve decided to structure their data, it seems Outside.in could pull this off and connect my global affinities with my local activities pretty easily.

This post is way too long already (sorry), but it’s worth pointing out some of the other interesting things they’re doing if you care to read on.

Outside.in is also building automatic semantic links with the contributors’ own blogs. By including my zip code in a blog post, Outside.in automatically drinks up that post and adds it into the pool. They even re-tag my post with the correct geodata and offer GeoRSS feeds back out to the world.

Here are the instructions:

“Any piece of content that is tagged with a zip code will be assigned to the corresponding area within outside.in’s system. You can include the zip code as either a tag or a category, depending on your blogging platform.”

I love this.

30Boxes does something similar where I can tell it to collect my Upcoming data, and it automatically imports events as I tag them in Upcoming.

They are also recognizing local contributors and shining light on them with prominant links. I can see who the key bloggers are in my area and perhaps even get a sense of which ones matter, not just who posts the most. I’m guessing they will apply the “people who like this contributor also like this contributor” type of logic to personalize the experience for visitors at some point.

Now what gets me really excited is to think about the ad model that could happen in this environment of machine-driven semantic relationships.

If they can identify relevant blog posts from local contributors, then I’m sure they could identify local coupons from good sources of coupon feeds.

Let’s say I’m the national Ace Hardware marketing guy, and I publish a feed of coupons. I might be able to empower all my local Ace franchises and affiliates to publish their own coupons for their own areas and get highly relevant distribution on Outside.in. Or I could also run a national coupon feed with zip code tags cooked into each item.

To Umair’s point, that kind of marketing will only pay off in major metros where the markets are stronger.

To help address the inventory problem, Outside.in could then offer to sell ad inventory on their contributors’ web sites. As an Outside.in contributor, I would happily run Center Hardware coupons, my local Ace affiliate, on my blog posts that talk about my remodelling project if someone gave them to me in some automated way.

If they do something like this then they will be able to serve both the major metros and the smaller hot spots that you can never predict will grow. Plus, the incentives for the individuals in the smaller communities start feeding the wider ecosystem that lives on the Outside.in platform.

Outside.in would be pushing leverage out to the edge both in terms of participation as they already do and in terms of revenue generation, a fantastic combination of forces that few media companies have figured out, yet.

I realize there are lots of ‘what ifs’ in this assessment. The company has a lot of work to do before they breakthrough, and none of it is easy. The good news for them is that they have something pretty solid that works today despite a crowded market.

Regardless, knowing Fred Wilson, Esther Dyson, John Seely Brown and Steven Berlin Johnson are behind it, among others, no doubt they are going to be one to watch.

Ziff Davis sells its mission statement

Paul Conley rants on Ziff Davis for their latest breach of journalistic ethics. They’ve gone so far as to sell the very text of their editorial mission statement to advertisers. Check out this screenshot:

“If you want to see the single most ridiculous, most offensive, most disgusting and dimwitted thing in the entire history of B2B publishing, then take a look at the Editorial Mission statement of Baseline magazine — the Editorial Mission statement, for god’s sake!!! — where ads have been inserted in the copy.”

Rex Hammock agrees and clarifies his distaste for the intelliTXT model:

“I’m not even opposed to having clearly marked advertising or sponsored content that is interspersed with editorial content. The practice that Paul (and I) oppose is the hidden nature of hyperlinked-text advertising…This is a slippery slope.”

It’s just unbelievable what people will do to their future to get an extra dollar today.

Gatekeepers need to stop calling themselves gatekeepers

Time business columnist Justin Fox questioned the success of the new media methods in a recent post “The reign of the enthusiasts“.

He suggests the algorithms that proudly surface the deep dark corners of the Internet are actually just self-referential popularity contests. When searching for his name Justin found that the articles he’s written that are likely most influential in the real world fail to rank higher than the articles he’s written which attracted the most link love from media-obsessed blogger types, like myself.

“There are web2topians out there–Battelle and my friend Matt McAlister immediately spring to mind–who are convinced that the Googles (and Diggs and del.icio.uses and Amazons and Last.fms) of the future will do a vastly better job of steering people to what they want, such a good job that most of the gatekeepers of the current media universe will prove wholly extraneous.”

This isn’t the first time someone has accused me of being a Web 2.0 blogger. Coincidentally, the same day Justin posted this, I was mocked by a local construction worker waiting for the bus with his buddies as I passed on my way to the office. He shouted to nobody in particular,

“Man, you know what I hate? Dotcommers.” He watched me walk by stonefaced and waited for a response. The guys standing around him turned to look. Unsure still, he blurted out, “Architects, too. Hate all of them.” He got the laugh he was looking for.

Jeez, am I that boring? Or that obvious and annoying? (Please don’t say anything. I think I know the answer.)

Anyhow, Justin’s question is top-of-mind for a lot of people in the media business. Where I disagree with him and the wisdom of the media industry crowd is on the notion of “gatekeepers” or rather the need for them at all.

Perhaps the most important part of being successful in media is distribution, and the reason we’re asking what the role of the gatekeeper is today is because the Internet has disintermediated the media distribution models that helped them become gatekeepers in the first place.

Online search changed the way people access relevant information, and those who once thought of themselves as gatekeepers suddenly found themselves at the mercy of the link police, the new gatekeepers, the search engines.

Yet, Justin’s explanation of the weakness of Google’s algorithm is exactly what I think many people who get mocked for their trendy glasses, old man sport coats, carefully orchestrated facial hair events, designer shoes and man purses (I don’t have a man purse) all see improving with the introduction of explicit and implicit human data into the media distribution model. The act of hyperlinking to a web page is not a strong enough currency to hold together a market of information as big as the Internet has become in recent years. It’s a false economy.

But the link currency opened the door to the idea of using behavior to help people find things. I love Last.fm not just for the music it recommends to me but because it proves this to be true. The Internet is made of people, people with a wide range of knowledge, tastes, and interests.

Now, there will always be a role for experts, and there are many cases where being an expert is not just subjective. Experts are hugely influential on the Internet as they are in other media. But I don’t see that a gatekeeper is an expert by definition.

There will also always be a role for enablers. Good enablers are often community builders who understand the rhythms of human psychology and emotion. Henry Luce was such a man, and I think he might have been a very successful web2topian today.

If those who call themselves “gatekeepers” want to share their expertise in valuable ways, then they will need to understand how the role of human data helps with distribution of that expertise. If those who aim to be enablers of communities want to be relevant, they will find ways to do that in many of the social technologies that have proven successful in this new world.

Similarly, if the people Justin affectionately refers to as web2topians appear smug, glib or arrogant when talking about media, then they are only doing themselves and everyone in the business a disservice. Gatekeepers know better than anyone that expertise does not by definition make you important. That’s a lesson the Internet generation will learn the hard way when someday they become irrelevant, too, I’m sure.

Media As A Service

Much like print and tv are becoming marketing vehicles to drive people online, the domain name for an online media service is becoming sort of an abstract utility or maybe just a brand address for media services rather than the real estate upon which the core activity occurs. The service a media vehicle provides matters more than the vehicle itself.

And this isn’t only happening in the content space. Every aspect of the media business is pointing to a services model. Here’s what the key pieces look like, in my mind:

  1. Data is infinitely distributable. All data…not just editorialized words. The RSS standard opened the doors for vast distribution networks, and services like Yahoo! Pipes and Feedburner figured out how to make the distribution methods meaningful. There’s an endless supply of microchunks flying around the Internet, most of them unattached to any domain or URL except as a handy reference point.
  2. Data can be visualized in meaningful ways. AJAX and the many freely available widget kits and javascript libraries such as YUI are rendering these microchunks in the right place at the right time in the right way for people which, again, is not always on a web site. The Internet user experience is no longer held back by the limitations of HTML and the packaging a site owner predefines for their media.
  3. Media is created by everyone. Whether written in long form by a reporter or researcher, captured as video by a mobile phone owner, or simply clicked by a casual web site visitor, expressions of interest are shared, measured and interpreted in many different ways. This results in a seemingly neverending stream of media flowing in and out of every corner of the digital universe.
  4. Distribution technologies are increasingly efficient and inexpensive. Personal media services like instant messaging, blog tools, podcasting and collaborative media services like Wikipedia, del.icio.us, Flickr, etc. are easy to use and often free. Web services and open source software enable people and companies to scale distribution and production functionality for large audiences or groups of users with negligeable costs. Most importantly, these tools enable people to be influential without ever owning a domain.
  5. The distance between buyer and seller is shrinking. There are more and more ways for buyers to find sellers and sellers to find buyers from search engines to recommendation tools to coupon rss feeds, etc. Distributed ad markets like Right Media are enabling marketers and service providers to negotiate both the methods and the value of a marketing message. Advertising can operate as a service, too.

After re-reading this description myself, it looks like I’ve just echoed much of the whole Web 2.0 thing yet again. That makes me think I didn’t articulate the concept properly, as I believe there’s a very different way to visualize how data get created, packaged, distributed and remixed and how the various parts of a media business can be coupled both within the organization and across the wider network. Maybe that’s Web 2.0. Maybe it’s edge economics. SOA. Whatever.

The important thing is to think of how your media business can create for yourself or leverage how others offer Marketing As A Service, Sales As A Service, Operations As A Service, in addition to your editorial and community building efforts. Here’s a quick chart of how a media business might look that hopefully gets the point across:

Staffing Model Source Data Coopted Data Distribution Services
EDITORIAL Reporters, Community Managers, Assemblers (formerly known as ‘Producers’) Original News, Analysis, Columns News Wires, Paid Data Feeds, Free RSS Feeds, Links, Comments, Votes, Ratings, Clicks RSS Feeds, Content API (Read and Write)
MARKETING Customer Service, Evangelists, Event Organizers SEO, SEM, Paid Inclusion, Sponsorships, Staff Blogs Partner Promotion, Customer Evangelist Blogs Customer Help, Usage Policies, SLAs, Traffic/Referrals to favored partners
SALES Sales Engineers, Business Development Customer Data, On-site Inventory Partner Inventory, OEM Partner Services Ad Service API (Read and Write)

We’ve seen Journalism As A Service evolve with a little more clarity, particularly recently. Mark Glaser provides a step-by-step guide on how to structure a community-driven news organization:

“Reach out to the community for bloggers, muckrakers and go-to experts. Each topic area would require more than just reacting to news. The Topic Chief would be sure to enlist as many experts as possible not only to be sources but to also be contributors, commenters, and word-of-mouth marketers. Anyone who possesses the skills that go beyond basic participation can be hired on as freelancers or even full-time staff.”

Similarly, Doc Searls’ “How To Save Newspapers” post also lays out what needs to happen on the editorial side. Here’s step #5 in his list:

“Start looking toward the best of those bloggers as potential stringers. Or at least as partners in shared job of informing the community about What’s Going On and What Matters Around Here. The blogosphere is thick with obsessives who write (often with more authority than anybody inside the paper) on topics like water quality, politics, road improvement, historical preservation, performing artisty and a zillion other topics. These people, these writers, are potentially huge resources for you. They are not competitors. The whole “bloggers vs. journalism” thing is a red herring, and a rotten one at that. There’s a symbiosis that needs to happen, and it’s barely beginning. Get in front of it, and everybody will benefit.”

There is lots of guidance for the newsroom, but all parts of a media business can become services.

For example, the ultimate in Marketing As A Service is the customer evangelist. It’s not about branded banners, as Valleywag points out,

“When paid-for banner ads lead to another site that’s supported by banner ads, you know that something’s wrong. Anyone who relies on that circular spending is asking for trouble.”

Marketing should be about enabling customer evangelists whether your customer is simply promoting your stuff for you or actually distributing and reselling it. Fred Wilson thinks of this in terms of “Superdistribution“:

“Superdistribution means turning every consumer into a distribution partner. Every person who buys a record, a movie, reads a newspaper, a book, every person who buys a Sonos or a Vespa becomes a retailer of that item. It’s word of mouth marketing, referral marketing, but with one important difference. The consumer is the retailer.”

None of this needs to happen on a single domain. The domain chain in any of these actions probably should be invisible to people, anyhow, except maybe to ground the events in trusted relationships.

Now, there are many domains that can create wonderfully useful and valuable destinations once they reach a certain critical mass. Invoking another over-used dotcom jargon word, this is what happens at the head of the long tail. And there are obviously lots of nice advantages of being in that position.

Most media companies want to be in that position and fight tooth and nail for it even if it just means being at the head of a niche curve. But instead of or maybe in addition to competing for position on the curve, most media companies need to think about how they provide relevant services outside of their domains that do something useful or valuable in meaningful ways across the entire spectrum.

Posting articles on your domain isn’t good enough any more. The constant fight for page views should be positive proof of that. There’s a bigger, deeper, longer term position out there as a critical part of a network. Sun Microsystems’ mantra “The Network is the Computer” is still meaningful in this context. What is your role if “The Network is the Media”?

Similarly, is Marshall Mcluhan’s widely adopted view that “The Medium Is The Message” still true? Or, like many have asked about the IT market, does the medium matter anymore?

If we are moving to an intention economy, then those who best enable and capture intention will win. And that doesn’t have to happen on a domain any more.

InfoWorld to close magazine business

Rex Hammock and Valleywag tip us off to Sam Whitmore’s MediaSurvey piece on the closure of InfoWorld’s magazine operation.


Though still rumor at this point, the news doesn’t surprise me one bit. The “enterprise fleet”, as former IDG President Pat Kenealy once descibed the combo of InfoWorld, Networkworld, Computerworld, and the CXO titles, was a crowded space within the company not to mention amongst the amazingly dense collection of print titles across the market at places like CMP, Ziff, etc.

When I was at InfoWorld, there were countless discussions about how to work together and compete with Computerworld, a “sister” publication that operates in Boston. We found a nice complementary relationship online where InfoWorld focused on products and Computerworld focused on news. That position may still work for them, but they’ll have to find a way to pay for the research involved in reviewing enterprise-scale hardware and software. It ain’t cheap or easy.

If they can’t pay for it with the niche-level advertising, then everyone in the market is worse off. Somebody somewhere needs to pay InfoWorld fair market value for the analysis they have provided in the past.

Fair market value will not likely be as attractive as it used to be. It may not pay for lavish sales offsites and fat expense budgets. But the market for it is real nonetheless.

If the rumor is true, then IDG is doing a smart thing even if merely experimenting with the model for how to move entirely online for the rest of the “fleet”. Somebody had to step forward, and InfoWorld is as well positioned to make that transition as anybody.

They’ve figured out some clever ways to package and sell podcasting, screencasts, RSS, newsletters and lead generation programs even if only as a loss leader for larger bundles of ad impressions.

They need to continue the progression and start baking their valuable data and services into strategic distribution points (how about IDG’s 300 other web sites around the world to start…?) and find ways to integrate their offline events business into the online experience as a form of collaboration, social networking and participation.

It seems to me that they are better off (at least a little) than the San Francisco Chronicle where the Editor-in-Chief is waving a white flag:

I’m hearing rumors that the San Francisco Chronicle is in big trouble. Apparently, Phil Bronstein, the editor-in-chief, told staff in a recent “emergency meeting” that the news business “is broken, and no one knows how to fix it.”

My fingers are crossed for the InfoWorld guys. And it’s hard not to feel bad for them, despite failing to value their star performer, Jon Udell, who left recently for Microsoft.

IDG has been a deer in the headlights of the Internet 18-wheeler for years. I can imagine this is the first of many similar moves that will happen this year across the whole print market.

Did Infoworld just get slaughtered or saved? And who will be next?

UPDATE: Rafat Ali of PaidContent says this is no rumor. He added, “The worst thing: the staff internally didn’t know about this until this story came out.” Yikes.

SFGate’s Tech Chronicles says, “The announcement is due out Monday.”

Scott Karp observes, “there’s a big gap between a B2B magazine making the transition [to an online-only publishing business] and a local newspaper making it across the chasm. But we’ve got to start somewhere.”

Shel Israel looks back on InfoWorld the magazine with nostalgia, “It was a must-read for the entire IT industry every Monday morning…The death of this publication does not surprise me, but it also does not make me particularly happy.”

Jim Forbes runs through InfoWorld’s editorial history, “In its more than 20-year life, this magazine has been the launchpad for several notable computer journalists including Stewart Alsop, Maggie Canon, John Dvorak, Jonathan Sacks, Ziff Brother’s Investment counselor Michael Miller, PBS’ Mark Stephens (who left InfoWorld with the name of the magazine’s fictional field editor and gossip columnist, Robert Cringely) as well as New York Times technology journalists Laurie Flynn and John Markoff.” He leaves out influential and talented journalists like Steve Gillmor, Jon Udell, Eric Knorr, and current EIC Steve Fox.

PR 2.0 blogger Brian Solis adds, “Knowing Steve Fox and Ephraim Schwartz personally, they will ensure that it continues to be a top information source for IT professionals who rely on qualified news and hands-on reviews.”

Jon Udell offers an empathetic shoulder, “as someone who’s loved and lost a magazine, I just want to say to my friends there who were blindsided and are losing sleep over this: Been there, done that, it’s no fun, good luck.”

John Battelle notes the operating cost savings of going online-only but recognizes the challenge ahead, “When I was running The Standard, InfoWorld was a sister publication, and a good one at that. I really hope the publication thrives online, but its owner, IDG, will have to take painful measures to make it relevant in a world where coverage is owned by online pubs and blogs already deep in the flow…Good luck, guys.”

Tom Murphy hates the blogosphere coverage so far, “News that the print issue of InfoWorld is no more, while not a terrible shock, is very sad. Of course what’s sadder may be the cacophony of Web 2.0 folks pointing their fingers and shouting ‘I told you so’….”. I’m sure this post isn’t helping with that, though that’s not my intent here. Sorry if that’s what it sounds like I’m saying.

David Churbuck says this move fits with IDG’s long term strategy, “it’s not a big surprise, nor, does it mean anything especially dire or negative about the ongoing strength of the InfoWorld franchise online. I was at IDG two years ago, I knew its managers and editors, and the plan at IDG was to go hard in the direction of online at all possible velocity.”

InfoWorld contributor Phil Windley assesses the personnel moves, “Steve Fox, InfoWorld’s Editor-in-Chief has said that very few layoffs will occur since most people will simply work on the online version or the events side of the business (a big focus lately). I suspect those let go will be people who’s expertise is in Quark and other print-only skills.”

UPDATE 2: InfoWorld EIC Steve Fox makes the announcement formal on the Techwatch blog, “Yes, the rumors are true. As of April 2, 2007, InfoWorld is discontinuing its print component. No more printing on dead trees, no more glossy covers, no more supporting the US Post Office in its rush to get thousands of inky copies on subscribers’ desks by Monday morning (or thereabouts). The issue that many of you will receive in your physical mailbox next week — vol. 29, issue 14 — will be the last one in InfoWorld’s storied 29-year history.”

IDG’s Colin Crawford puts the news into perspective amongst several intentional and determined moves down this path, “Recently InfoWorld’s revenue has been predominantly driven by its online and events business. Print no longer is the major product line at InfoWorld. So while the closure of a 27-year print publication is somewhat newsworthy, it is also a natural step in a plan that was put in place 2 years ago”

InfoWorld.com GM Virginia Hines explains how the transition unfolded up to this point, “Over a year ago, we began sharply differentiating the web business from the magazine with a focus on the Web 2.0 cornerstones of community, multimedia, and interactivity. Once we started building those three principles into our web presence the result was so much more compelling and engaging for advertisers and audience alike that the ink-on-paper magazine version paled in comparison. ”

Paul McNamara of InfoWorld’s sister publication Networkworld worries about the future of other IDG publications, “Network World will continue to produce a print edition for the foreseeable future, I am told. In general, I no longer make predictions about the future of print magazines and newspapers, although, I suppose if you were to read the handwriting, you’d find it not on the wall but online.”

IDG President Bob Carrigan adds that IDG has no plans to eliminate any other print titles, but “the trends are not good for print . . . we’re quickly moving to a place where print is not going to be the predominant revenue stream for us.”

Are big product launches necessary?

A commenter in Mark Glaser’s recent post on MediaShift about the USA Today redesign sheds light on a problem that Internet companies seem to struggle with a lot.

“I think there may be a lesson to be learned in how to roll these things out. Most of the problems people are having are usability issues that it is nearly impossible for designers/developers who are in the weeds to notice.”

Similarly, Scott Karp asked the right question:

“Could it be that it’s really the social media revolutionaries who “don’t get it” when they assume that what the people want is to rise up against the media autocracy and take control, when in fact what most people want is to get high quality information from a reliable source?”

Unfortunately, even if you do the user research the recommendations of the studies often don’t fit into tight product release deadlines. And the studies often just support product direction rather than fully investigate a user need.

But the problem isn’t the research, it’s the product roadmap. In order to deliver a big punch in the market and cut through the noise, you need to be bold. And big changes that get noticed by big audiences require a lot of planning and complicated scheduling. Big changes are expensive on many levels.

But do you really need a big punch?

Most of my favorite online services tend to evolve organically as if responding to the way people are using the tools. Last.fm, for example, subtely rolls out new features that can occassionally have a significant impact on my usage. They had a pretty crappy web-based player for a long time. Of course, they upgraded it, as I knew they would, and I found it when it was relevant for me to look for it. There’s no amount of marketing they could have done to make me upgrade, and if they had done heavy marketing I might have actually been annoyed with them and considered a competitor.

The online media market is way too fickle to annoy your loyal customers.

But what about reaching new customers? Subtelty won’t win market share.

Admittedly, when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail, but the lessons of the web services market can be instructive. When you empower people to build businesses (or audiences) with your core offering, then you create a multiplier effect and reach all kinds of markets that you might never reach otherwise.

Winning market share in online media can happen by giving people the ability to distribute your offering for you, to create loyal customers for you out of their own customers, to build their own buzz for your product because they have an incentive for it to succeed.

Building the kind of passion required for a distributed customer model like this will never come from big bang marketing. It comes from fostering trustworthy relationships, establishing meaningful brands, proving tangible value, and responding quickly to market changes.

It’s not about noise. It’s about relationships.

I tend to agree with most online media insiders who appreciate the conceptual breakthrough for USA Today online and the balls to act on it, but I would be surprised if any of the positive comments in the blogosphere came from USA Today readers. And if USA Today damaged their relationship with their readers with this redesign, then they have made an incredibly costly mistake.

Online services need to roll out important new features constantly. But the days of hitting the market hard with a new product launch are fading. It works occassionally for major releases of things that are really new and require a reeducation of the market, like the iPhone. But fewer and fewer things fit into that category.

At the risk of invalidating everything I’ve said here by quoting a man who’s social and political beliefs go against just about everything I believe, Eric S. Raymond’sThe Cathedral and the Bazaar” included many astute observations about the way Linux development was able to scale so efficiently. Among the lessons is the classic “Release early and often” mantra:

“In the cathedral-builder view of programming, bugs and development problems are tricky, insidious, deep phenomena. It takes months of scrutiny by a dedicated few to develop confidence that you’ve winkled them all out. Thus the long release intervals, and the inevitable disappointment when long-awaited releases are not perfect.

In the bazaar view, on the other hand, you assume that bugs are generally shallow phenomena…or, at least, that they turn shallow pretty quickly when exposed to a thousand eager co-developers pounding on every single new release. Accordingly you release often in order to get more corrections, and as a beneficial side effect you have less to lose if an occasional botch gets out the door.”

Product Managers and Marketers need to bake these concepts into their thinking as well or risk missing the wider opportunity, the ultimate in marketing and distribution efficiency — customers as partners.

Photos: marble2, ccarlstead

Do you want my clicks or my attention?

I’ve been a believer for a long time that the magazine business is best-suited amongst the “old” media markets to embrace and extend the online media world successfully. They understand communities. They understand niche content. And they get targeted advertising. They intuitively understand some of the hardest things to get right.

But watching eWeek handle the recent IntelliTXT controversy (more here from Paul Conley and here from Jason Calacanis) reminds me why there are newcomers in every market nearly every day displacing the magazine incumbant in that space.

RollingStone is kicking itself while MySpace displaces everything they once were. It continues to pain ZiffDavis and IDG every day that CNet and Slashdot control more and more of their once-dominant market positions. Everyone who was working at Time Inc. while Yahoo! rose to power is embarrassed every time they check their email.

Instead of embracing the Internet, the magazine businesses, particularly niche publications, choose to hide under their old business models. Then each time a Digg or a BoingBoing or the next new media site screams across the network, the internal fingerpointing and backroom politics escalate. And while everyone plots the next move, key thought leaders inside the company head elsewhere for employment.

There was a collective ‘ouch’ when InfoWorld lost Jon Udell to Microsoft.

I’m surprised that the trade associations are only just now picking up on things like this and the damage they cause. Martha Spizziri of the ASPBE takes a first pass at what IntelliTXT means:

“…at best the IntelliTXT model is annoying–in the same way that even editorial links can be annoying when the text is vague. In both cases, you aren’t really sure what kind of information you’ll get if you click.”

The American Business Media, on the other hand, has chosen not to take a side. In fact, they’ve chosen eWeek as a Neal Award finalist instead. B2B media watchdog Paul Conley explains why that’s a bad idea:

“it’s beyond me why the screening judges at ABM would think that a site that embarrasses the entire world of B2B journalism should be considered a symbol of what is best in B2B journalism.”

And Bill Mickey at Folio faults eWeek for being desperate:

“I’ve written about this before, as has Conley, who this time suggests that pressures stemming from owner Willis Stein’s efforts to sell Ziff Davis have resulted in a revenue-at-all-costs Web site strategy.”

Its obvious to everyone that print is struggling. And the stories of a market in turmoil only get more critical when a leader like eWeek sells out its last asset…the words on its pages.

Look, relevant advertising is great. It works for everyone in the media ecosystem. But when credibility is the elephant in the room, you can’t disrespect your customers. It’s as if your own content is getting in the way of what you want from people.

Do you want my clicks or my attention? If you capture my click, you’ll have a dollar today. If you capture my attention, you’ll have a customer tomorrow.

A community site without a community

Taking a little time at home last week gave me a chance to play around with one of my experiments that was nearly at its end. FlipBait is a simple Pligg/MediaWiki site that pokes fun at the dotcom golddiggers out there.


It’s mostly a sandbox for me both technically and journalistically. But it’s not really helping to inform or build community the way I hoped.

First, after a month I still have no participants. There have been several passersby, but a group publishing site needs to have a core team looking after its well being.

Second, it’s just too much work in its current form for me to keep posting to it.

I sort of expected this to happen, but I’m a big fan of experimentation. So, I thought I might analyze the issues for a few blog posts and close it down…

…but then Pligg 9 was released.

The new version of this Digg-like CMS added a key feature that may alter the dynamics of the site completely: Feed Importing.

I give it a few RSS feeds. It then imports the headlines from those feeds automatically.

Now, I have a bunch of feeds all pouring headlines into FlipBait throughout the day. I’m aggregating the usual suspects like TechCrunch and GigaOM and VentureBeat, but I also found a few sources from various searches that effectively round out the breadth of the coverage

I can find new dotcom golddiggers without fail every day.

This is very cool. Though you can see back in the Pligg forum archives that there was some debate about whether this feature would destroy the whole dynamic of voting-based publishing. That may be true, but it’s just too useful not to have.

Now, this might be the most interesting part…

I’m also importing stories from del.icio.us using a new tag: “flipbait“. That means that if you tag an article with “flipbait”, Pligg will automatically import that article and make it available to the FlipBait community. That’s how I’m entering my own favorite posts for the site as opposed to using the ‘submit’ function directly at flipbait.com.

You don’t ever have to visit the domain, actually, because you can pull articles to read from the RSS feed and submit articles to the site just by tagging as you already do.

Hmmm…what does that mean? Interesting question. Can a meaningful community form around a word that represents an idea?

Valleywag is becoming essential

I have to echo Fred Wilson’s view that Valleywag has suddenly become a must-read for me. Despite the incessant Yahoo! bashing recently, Nick Denton has finally created an insightful Silicon Valley gossip rag that’s worth the time put into it. Fred states,

“Under the old regime, I never read Valleywag. Now I read it every day. Sure its still snarky. Sure its still evil. But its relevant. Nick is reporting on real stuff, with classic Gawker attitude.”

For example, he covered today’s Glam.com hype by exposing the story behind the high traffic numbers. First, he colors the piece with the appropriate human elements that make the story tangible and interesting:

“Samir Arora looks so beatifically happy in that photo, and it’s no wonder why: Glam Media, the fashion site headed by the smiling web guru has just raised an astonishing amount of money, $18m…7m [women] visit each month, an achievement of which Glam is so proud that it places the claim in the logo. Unfortunately, as claims go, it’s a stretch, and here’s why:”

Then he goes on to explain how a network of smaller blogs make up the total traffic and that Glam is not as big as you might think.

Denton’s next post is a reaction to Seth Goldstein’s incomprehensible Root Markets business. It’s short, menacing and basically spot on.

“I never understood Seth Goldstein’s most recent company, Root Markets…Root’s website, a blank page with a mysterious log-in box, doesn’t help. And nor does the advertising guru’s personal website, which leads off with the following gobbledygook headline: API: In the middle of the middle, about Poverty & Wealth in the Gesture Economy.”

This kind of journalism, though not for everybody, clearly, and no doubt difficult to get right, is exactly the kind of commentary that creates a center of gravity in a market. He’s creating cocktail party quotable stuff here for the whole industry and maybe even influencing the way people think about what’s going on in the Internet business.

He publishes stories very quickly, often first. Every post is always about people. He may get frivolous, but his viewpoint is always colored by experience in the market rather than some removed personal opinion. His opinion is a filter on the story, not the story itself.

This is exactly how John Battelle initially conceived the editorial voice of The Industry Standard in the early phases of defining the business. He wanted to create Silicon Valley’s Variety. I’d say Nick is well on his way to making that vision happen here.

And as Fred pointed out, the numbers prove that it’s working whether you like what he has to say or not: