Micah Laaker joins us on YDN

Friend and colleague Micah Laaker just joined us on the YDN team. You may recognize his name from the classic ACLU Pizza video that he directed. Here it is in case you haven’t seen it or forgot how great it is and want to watch again:

Micah posted an interview on his blog that I gave him as a new member of the team. Some good stuff there, too.

Some fun visuals

Presentation Zen offered up a great collection of visuals today I thought were worth pointing to here including this stunning use of typography running in parallel with Samuel L. Jackson’s briefcase interrogation in Pulp Fiction (not exactly work safe…turn down the volume):

A start page on my own domain

With a quick copy and paste job using Kent Brewster’s Pipes Badger and a few widgets from services I use, I now have what is a mostly sufficient start page on my own domain that displays my various forms of online expression. Really interesting stuff here.

A magazine I would love to read

There’s a magazine that I’d love to read if someone published it (yes, the print kind). Of course, it’s about the Internet. It’s about the stack that makes up the Internet, the platform or, as many people are calling it, the Internet Operating System. It’s mostly technology. But it’s a little bit business. And it’s definitely artful.

It’s not Business 2.0 or Red Herring. It’s not The Industry Standard, though I’d be happy to read that again, too. Those were/are too business-focused and often misunderstand the wider impact of many breakthroughs.

It challenges the people in positions to change things to make changes that matter. It exposes the advances in the market that have negative repurcussions to the Internet as a platform for good.

It’s critical and hard-hitting. It’s accurate. And it is therefore trusted and respected.

It isn’t first to report on anything. It might even be last, but it gets the story right.

It dives into services like Pipes, EC2, and Google Apps. It analyzes algorithms, data formats, developer tools, and interactive design. It studies human behaviors, market trends, new business models, leadership strategies and processes.

It’s not about startups, but it may be about why VCs like certain startups. I love the fact that Brad Burnham of Union Square Ventures disclosed the broader motivations for investing in AdaptiveBlue:

“We are particularly excited about the prospect of AdaptiveBlue developing tools that allow users to build the semantic web from the bottom-up to fill in the gaps and correct the top-down approach when necessary.”

This magzine should be printed monthly with lots of possibilities online that may actually be more successful in the long term. (I can imagine the print magazine turning into a sort of marketing vehicle for the web site. )

It includes longer deep-dive articles that have been throughly researched and copyedited. The editors are paid very well because they are experienced and talented. It also includes samples from the blogosphere and insights from contributors and participants who care deeply about the subject. There are intelligent interviews of people who are innovating and actually doing important things. There are insightful case studies of both the methods and results of certain technology breakthroughs. And there are columns that remind us to keep it real.

What I want from a new magazine about the Internet Operating System is to understand the technology breakthroughs and their meaning in the conext of the history of the Internet. I want to know what we can learn from art and innovation online to understand what lies ahead. The business model breakthroughs matter hugely, but I think they often matter as a result of an innovative technology rather than serve as a driver.

How is the Internet as a platform, operating system, network — whatever you want to call it — evolving? Who and what is influencing change? What are the trends that indicate this progression? How do new online developments impact communication, governments and social organizing principles?

Of course, a lot of this is out on the web in bits and pieces. But I’m too lazy to go through my entire feedreader and follow all the links to all the interesting stories out there. Maybe someone could invent a personalized and distributed Digg that surfaced what mattered to me more efficiently. But even then, I’d still pay a subscription fee and happily browse through endemic advertising for someone to assemble something thoroughly thought through, designed nicely and printed on my favorite portable reading medium — paper (recycled, of course).

And I’d read it in part because I would know everyone in the business would be reading it, too. At least, I suspect I’m not alone in wanting this…?

Membership has its privileges

Mark Glaser asks his readers this week to submit the answer to the following question:

“What would motivate you to contribute to a citizen media site?”

I can’t imagine that anyone is going to be able to answer that question in an interesting way. It’s the wrong question. It’s kind of like asking why do people sing at church? Or why do people meet their friends at the pub?

Photo: -bartimaeus-

If the church asks you to sing, you sing. If your friends tell you to meet at the pub, you go to the pub. The community and purpose of doing things together is already implied, so you do whatever everyone else in that community does if you want to be a part of it.

Jon Udell starts to dig into the critical mass hurdles for social networks in a recent post where he quotes Gary McGraw saying:

“People keep asking me to join the LinkedIn network, but I’m already part of a network. It’s called the Internet.”

The real question is not about getting people to do things. There are too many things to do and too many people to socialize with in a day already.

The question is about forming meaningful communities and the kinds of things that will help a community flourish. Meaning comes in millions of different shapes and sizes, but there are lots of precedents in terms of ideologies, aesthetics, and methods.

News, for example, is inherently about being first to report on an event. Successful community-based news sites enable people who care enough about a topic to either be the first to report on it or be clued in before less speedy outlets pick up on something. It feeds into a competitive and sometimes gossipy human nature. Just ask your best reporters why they became reporters. Digg appeals to the reporter in all of us.

I used to attend a charity event called Rebuilding Together where groups of people would assemble and fix up houses and schools around the city of San Francisco. There was a core team who selected applications for fix-it team deployments. Then there was a leader who would drive the work to be done by each team at each site. On the chosen date, people would jump on a project and invite their friends to join. It was impressive to see what a focused group could accomplish in a day, fixing plumbing, painting, cleaning, rebuilding fences, etc.

Why did people do it?

There was a purpose. We were helping people truly in need. The commitment was lightweight. It was 1 day a year. It was well organized. I didn’t have to debate with people about how things should be done. The result was impactful, a total overhaul of a building. It was fun. I had a laugh with my friends and met new people.

Often when people start asking how you get to critical mass, they’re losing the plot. Sure, it would be great to worry about scaling a site rather than fighting for a Digg. But if you and your community are doing something unique and valuable, then size really shouldn’t matter. And in many cases, it makes sense to make the community exclusive and smaller rather than bigger and diluted, anyhow.

The question then becomes, “Are you offering a service that a lot of people find unique and valuable?”

I think a lot of publishers fail to understand the size of a potential market, what’s unique about an offering, and the value of that offering to the people who do actually care about it.

Then there’s also the issue of recognizing what you can actually deliver. You have to play to your strengths.

Yahoo! Answers is a good example of that. The idea of getting immediate answers to any question you can think of from real humans is outrageously ambitious. There are lots of ways to get answers to questions out there. But Yahoo! played to its strengths to get it off the ground, then it just took off. It’s easy. It’s fun. It works. And, therefore, it’s meaningful. And now there’s nothing like it out there anywhere.

Of course, not everybody can point a firehose of traffic at a domain, but there are plenty of cases where Yahoo! failed to create a community by pointing a firehose of traffic at it.

So, what makes a meaningful community that has a definitive purpose? Yeah, well, that’s an answer you can get from Cameron Marlow, danah boyd, and a lot of people a lot smarter than me.

Though perhaps this is all just echo blogging and the real question gets to something people already understand. Maybe the question is simply: “How do you make membership in your community desirable?”

Wikipedia defines “privilege” as follows:

A privilege—etymologically “private law” or law relating to a specific individual—is an honour, or permissive activity granted by another person or a government. A privilege is not a right and in some cases can be revoked.

I think the answer is in there somewhere for everyone who is struggling to get their community to do stuff.


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.