Archive for July, 2008

Pictures! to Accompany Words! about brands!

I won’t rehearse what I wrote before about brands and advertisers and content-producers and so forth. I just want to add a picture I’ve been sketching out in my head over the past few days.

Here’s roughly how the triangle of publishing-advertising-consumer, for instance, has worked and works now:

And here’s roughly how the triangle of publishing-advertising-consumer will come to look, to the extent that “advertising” and “consuming” are still relevant terms:

Other than the color of the magic sparkles—going from green to purple—what’s changed? Well, the direction of the arrows around them, of course!

Companies, says my interpretation of Haque, will be listening to consumers beliefs about their products. Consumers will have cause to air those beliefs, in a conversation among themselves, the publisher, and the company as well, because a publisher will “seed” that conversation and host it.

I don’t know how this will work beyond obvious examples of product reviews. But there are other possibilities that come to mind. What if an earnest politician paid an editorialist to start a conversation about some policy in order to elicit his constituents’ beliefs about it?

I may be pushing the limits of reasonability here, but what if a government paid journalists to write about its war-planning because it actually wanted its citizens’ opinions about it?

The point is to imagine a world in which it doesn’t pay to keep secrets. The point is to imagine a world in which, on the contrary, openness pays and listening pays because talking fails.

Advertisements

Blue-skying Brands; Plus, Summize Delivers Sensical UGC to Twitter

Traditionally advertisers’ job has been to talk about a promise of expected utility about their, or their clients’, goods and services. To do that, they’ve paid producers of content to attract readers, listeners, and viewers and get them to engage with advertising.

But now—for a whole mess of really interesting economic and social reasons, like cheap interaction and expensive attention—people think that listening is becoming more important that projecting. Advertisers, or their clients, are supposed to listen to their consumers, who in markets, networks, and communities , are collectively generating UGC, or “user generated context”—”the result of the complex, multilevel network effects that hapen when millions of consumers connect.”

Can content producers “seed” the conversational context to which advertisers are supposed to listen?

Consider a restaurant that once would have stuck slick ads in fancy magazines. Now the restaurant might pay a blogger to review the magazine and attract a lively customer-driven conversation comprising replies to the post and comments on it.

But wait! Doesn’t that represent a hopeless conflict of interest? Isn’t that just payola? Well, not if the restaurant is actually interested in listening—because they want to form their strategy around their customers’ beliefs. If they were engaging in payola, on the contrary, they would be trying to form their customers’ beliefs around their strategy. That’s projecting, or talking.

The idea is that restaurant welcomes a bitter review for the opportunity to draw out customer agreement (in which case it can learn what to change or improve) or, hopefully, provoke customer rebuke (in which case it can focus on new improvements).

Note that the money still flows from an advertiser (or its client, like a restaurant) to a producer of content. Content still flows from producers to consumers. This hasn’t changed.

But the thing that contains the “beliefs” about the brand used to flow from the advertiser to the consumer (via an ad); flowing in the opposite direction was engagement from consumer to advertiser. Now the thing that contains the beliefs about the brans flows from the consumer to the advertiser (via UGC); flowing in the opposite direction is now engagement from advertiser to consumer. This has reversed.

PS. This is more or less how you monetize twitter+summize.

Unbundling Traditionally Editorial Value-Adds

Felix Salmon does a brilliant job of deconstructing what a great newspaper does once it’s got “just-the-facts” news in hand:

  1. It turns news into stories: well-written, well-edited, not-too-long pieces which provide perspective and context and a bit of analysis too.
  2. It takes those stories and prioritizes them: important stories get big headlines on the front page; less-important stories are relegated to the back. A newspaper provides a crucial editing-down function, providing a way of navigating the sea of news by pointing out the most significant landmarks.
  3. It takes those prioritized stories and turns them into a finely-honed object, a newspaper. That’s what Thomson is talking about when he praises the Spanish newspapers—they’re very good at intuitively guiding the reader around the universe of news, making full use of photography, illustration, typography, white space, and all the other tools at a newspaper designer’s disposal.

Felix then goes on to write a post about customization—defined as giving value-adds (2) and (3) over to readers—and how it hasn’t worked when newspapers have tried it.

I agree with Felix that customization at the level of one publication isn’t terribly useful. That’s because there’s just not that much to customize. Relative to the universe of news—or even just the galaxy of financial news, say—someone who customizes the Journal just doesn’t hide all that much bad stuff or make it all that much easier to find the good stuff.

Let me be clear: I agree that customization can be a lot of upfront work, and I agree that amount of work will ward off many readers, but it’s not at all clear that there isn’t a relatively small (but absolutely substantial) group of users who have tastes that editors and designers miss or don’t appreciate.

But is customization at the level of an aggregator is equally suspicious? I find that once a reader is reading dozens of sources anyhow, value-adds (2) and (3) are more of a hindrance than a help. Whatever value a reader gets out of them is often overwhelmed by the simple inconvenience of having to jump around many different websites.

On the other hand, a customizable aggregator represents a return to the convenient one-stop shop. The reader’s customization may seem like source of value-add (2), but there’s nothing to say the Journal couldn’t serve a feed of articles with “big headlines.” This is what’s going on with the list of most-emailed articles—”emasculating” the editors. That’s essentially what google news and digg and their distant cousins do. And even if we don’t particularly like how they do it (I don’t), we should both respect that this project of figuring out alternative ways to accomplish value-add (2) is very young.

In the end, there’s nothing about your main value-adds (1)-(3) that requires them to come together. Why not unbundle them? Why not give some users the ability not to care about what an editor cares about. After all, an editor is just offering a guess—an intelligent one, to be sure—about what readers want. But who even knows which readers—the mean, the median, the mode, the ones on Wall Street, the ones on Main Street?

Is the Future of Investigative Journalism Partisan?

I think Steve Boriss is basically correct when he’s skeptical about the future of investigative journalism written according the View from Nowhere.

He writes, “It is becoming clear that while journalists might love investigative journalism, there is not much of a consumer market for it.” In the end, though, Boriss isn’t cynical: “America will be well served and will get valuable information from investigative journalists and their benefactors at partisan sites fulfilling their passion to make their opponents look bad.”

Boriss may have more of an explicitly political bone to pick with the “center-left establishment stance” that he sees pervading mainstream American journalism, but non-political arguments, like the one offered in Jay Rosen’s View from Nowhere, can get us to a place of sufficient agreement. We agree, more or less, that neutrality doesn’t work nearly as well as its practitioners claim—and that competitive partisanship may be better.

I do think there’s more to be said about just how partisan investigative journalism will come to thrive. This is a straightforward case of edge economics.

Stories start at the partisan edge, where the reporters or “reporters” receive ideological compensation, as it were, and therefore need less financial compensation. (In other words, political hacks are cheap.)

Then the network takes over, first weeding out the majority of stories that are actually spurious.

Legit cases of investigative journalism start at the partisan edge, and legit stories will tend to migrate to the center—as if guided by an invisible hand. Increasingly mainstream publishers and readers, to the extent those two capacities can be distinguished, will pull the story toward a public sphere’s political-cultural center as they deem the investigations’ conclusions legit at each step.

Each incremental publisher will exploit the political-cultural trust it has with its audience and conversants to advance the story, build a brand, and make a buck. Each incremental social reader-curator will do the same, judging the story for its legitimacy and, it if passes, sending it on to his followers, testing their open-mindedness. The social reader’s reasons may involve dispensing civic duty or earning his peers’ esteem.

The homophily that characterizes social networks will mean that mere transparency, of the kind DigiDave discusses in his comment on Boriss’s post, will be insufficient for even a legit story to jump across groups with heterogeneous ideologies. (In other words, you won’t find too many readers of the Huffington Post check out Power Line.) The process of moving incrementally from the partisan edge to the political-cultural center is one of diffusion across groups with similar ideologies. (In other words, you will find Huffington Post readers checking out Talking Points Memo, and you’ll find TPM readers checking out Andrew Sullivan, and you’ll find Andrew Sullivan readers checking out Instapundit, and, finally, you’ll find Instapundit readers checking out Power Line.)


Josh Young's Facebook profile

What I’m thinking

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

What I'm saving.

RSS What I’m reading.

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.