Observer launches new blog

The Observer launched their first blog today (or rather, yesterday, by the time MT deigned to post this), and I have to admit that I really like it. It’s a mix of links to stories from the Observer, glimpses into the production process and thoughts about the news:

Ok, that’s the first edition gone and now there’s the big haul through the next few hours to improve the paper as we go through the night. Last edition is at 2am and we’ll keep tweaking until then.

I’ve been here since 8 this morning, probably ballsing a few things up, changing my mind and basically shouting at people who are doing a very good job. Good staff always save the news editor. At one point the production editor, Bob Poulton, patted me on the shoulder and said: ‘We kept you out of the loop on that one’ as I started arguing about another headline. Quite right.

Unlike most blogs out of the mainstream media, the Observer blog has a nice personal tone to it. Although it obviously does link to its own articles, it’s not just hawking them, it’s talking about how they decide what to cover, how they put the paper together, what their thoughts are. Some of the commenters accuse the blog of being banal, but I like the personal observations. There are so many blogs that act as content filters, giving me links and sending me off into the great wide web, and that’s nice, but for me an insight into what it’s like to put a major UK broadsheet together is far more interesting.

I’ve said before that I think the Guardian ‘gets’ blogs in a way that most of the rest of the media don’t and Neil McIntosh, along with the Observer team and Ben Hammersley, has done a great job on this new blog.

In his email announcing the blog, Neil said:

The blog experiment has been fascinating thus far, especially the unprecedented quality and quantity of discourse between readers and journalists we’ve been enjoying. We’ll be continuing the experimentation as we continue to launch and develop our weblogs in the months ahead, aided by blog guru and journalist Ben Hammersley, who’s come on board to help with the technical aspects of our blog setup.

The Observer is also possibly the first mainstream paper to start podcasting too, as Ben explains:

Meanwhile, the first Podcast (another newspaper first, I think) went up today with this post by John Naughton. Apart from being a fine chap, and one of the webloggers, John wrote the definitive history of the internet, and is the Professor of the Public Understanding of Technology for the Open University. So, you know, this isn’t some old guff recorded in the car by a fat bloke with a mullet.

It’s a coincidence that the Observer’s blog launch comes the day before my discussion panel at the LSE on blogging and journalism, but it’s a great example of the good stuff that can be done with a little thought and a solid understanding of how blogs work and what their strengths are.

Northern Voice conference notes

I feel at this point like I should have blogged a lot more from Northern Voice than I had the chance to. Predominantly this is because I did my usual thing of starting up a SubEthaEdit document for collaborative note taking and put my efforts during the sessions into that rather than live blogging. The results are up on the Northern Voice website, but I shall reproduce and elaborate on the the notes from the sessions that I was actually in as and when I get the chance.

The conference itself was really enjoyable. It was very well organised by Darren, Boris, Roland, Cyprien, Brian and Lauren – congratulations to them for putting together such a fascinating set of speakers and running the day so smoothly. The audience seemed to be a mix of beginner bloggers and more experienced people, but the streams easily catered for different levels of expertise by providing some basic ‘how to’ sessions and some more conceptual session.

Opening keynote was from Tim Bray of Sun Microsystems, who provided a very good introduction to blogging. He gave beginners a good overview of the sorts of things you need to think about when you start blogging, and more experience people got a reminder of the things that should be important to them.

One particularly good point was:

Private blogs aren’t private, and the internet never forgets – something you write today will be dredged up in a very embarrassing scenario in 2028.

I have to agree wholeheartedly with this. I’ve been bitten on the bum by something I’d written in a fit of frustration six months beforehand, so I’ve learnt my lesson, but it’s one that is going to become more important as more people put more personal information online.

Second keynote was Robert Scoble who made an attempt to explain how he manages to keep abreast of 1000 RSS feeds a day. In short, this appears to be by using an RSS reader, skimming headlines and the body of a post for keywords and ditching anything that doesn’t immediately catch his eye. He ditches any RSS feed that doesn’t include the full body of the post, any feed that turns sexist or racist, and any feed that gets boring.

Marc Canter: How do you read 1000 blogs?

Scoble: I poke at them. If it’s interesting to me I read them in depth. If I find it very interesting I’ll drag it over to my ‘blog this’ folder.

I think Scoble’s ability to stay on top, even roughly on top of 1000 blogs must be at least slightly a personality thing. I can’t skim posts, I always end up reading them. Scoble, on the other hand, looks for trends in keywords and links – if five people are talking about the same thing then he’ll pay attention.

Third up was Tod Maffin, who gave my favourite talk of the day about audioblogging and podcasting. A great mix of practical tips and conceptual gems, presented in an entertaining and amusing way.

Last year I spent a week audioblogging, but I didn’t really ever feel that comfortable with it, and the feedback I got was mixed, to say the least. Tod made some great points though about what sort of thing you should audioblog:

What are you passionate about? What interests you? […] At the beginning podcasts were about podcasts, now they should be about fishing or whatever. Don’t have a show about nothing – it worked for Seinfeld but they had NBC behind them.

Adam Curry was one of the first podcasters, and it’s a technology show about podcasting (fair enough – he invented it), but one thing that was interesting and helped him gain audience share is that he moved from the Netherlands to England and he talked about the problems he had getting high speed internet access.

Radio is a powerful medium. Radio is the most visual medium out there because there are no limits to what you see in your head. Let us know about your life, if you’re having problems moving house, then say so. There are far too many DJs, but you don’t know anything about who they are. The most interesting people are the ones that let you into their personality and life.

The panel discussion that I was on with fellow bloggers Jeremy Wright, Chris Pirillo and Derek Miller, about how to increase your traffic, was great fun. We each had five minutes to introduce ourselves and briefly discuss a tactic we thought was important, then we opened to questions from the floor for an hour and a half.

I had prepared for the session by creating a mindmap of the various things you can do to promote your blog and things to keep in mind whilst you’re doing so, but most of that material wasn’t used. The questions from the floor were much more varied than I expected, but it was fun to have to think on my feet (not that I was standing up at the time, but forgive me that minor discrepancy).

One topic that seemed to be important to people was stats. How do you find out what your traffic stats are and what do you do if you get a big spike in traffic. My answers were, in short:

– traffic counters/server stats, although they aren’t reliable so don’t take them as gospel, and be careful how you interpret them

– talk to your hosting company as soon as you’re aware that a spike might happen, and mirror your site or big files

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that people are interested in such questions more than they want to know which tools to use to create such traffic. It seems to me to be part of the blogging life-cycle. When you start out, each hit is precious, each referral is exciting. The more you blog, the more you stop looking at individual hits or referrals and start looking at trends and anomalies.

I want to see an upward trend in my stats rather than obsess about the exact figure (particularly as javascript counters are notorious for under-reporting, sometimes by 75% compared to server stats for the same blog). I’m also interested in spikes, what causes them and their shape, for example my recent Instapundit mention caused a huge, one-day spike with no retention aftewards, but a link from Kuro5hin had a four day upward climb and a six day fall-off with a good retention rate afterwards.

Which one is more valuable? Well, the Instapundit spike was bigger, but the Kuro5hin one spread my link more widely and persisted longer, with more people sticking around on the blog afterwards. Much of this is down to the format of the two blogs. You fall off the front page of Instapundit quickly, whereas the Kuro5hin articles hang around longer and are more easily found by latecomers.

Anyway, this wasn’t supposed to be an analysis of linkylove, although I should undoubtedly write such a piece when I get a moment (along with the gazillion other blog post I have sloshing round in my head).

Obviously I couldn’t do my demon-typist note-taking trick in my own session (I’m notorious for taking notes almost verbatim in real time), but Rob Cottingham has taken some great notes of the session. It’s far harder to take notes in a discussion than in a keynote, because you have more people to track, but he’s done a very good job. More links on the Northern Voice wiki, including an audio recording of the whole session on Blogosphere Radio (note: site’s down at this precise moment – hope it will come back soon as I’ve not heard this yet).

This was actually the first time I’ve spoken in public, but it was great fun. Maybe it’s because I’m a blog-obsessive so I felt comfortable with the subject matter, but I didn’t get any of the nerves I thought I’d get. And I did the whole day, til midnight, on no more than four hours sleep (damn the jetlag!). Caffeine is such a wonderful substance.

Other sessions I saw were the Introduction to Videoblogging and Blogger as Citizen Journalist. Saw some of the Lightening Tool Talks, but by then I was sustained only by the hurried edamame I’d had at lunch and my energy levels were waning.

Dinner saw me wind up with Brian Lamb and Michael Tippett of NowPublic, and a couple of people whose names, I’m sorry to say, I can’t remember. Excellent conversation about bloggers, journalists and the way that the media is going to need to adapt to blogging. I wish I had an eidetic memory because there was lots of good stuff to plunder for next week’s LSE debate, but not enough room on the table for me to get my laptop out and start taking notes.

Then on to the after-conf party where there were more great conversations. I truly expected to fall asleep at some point in the evening, but I managed to stay fairly perky.

Anyway, thanks to everyone in Vancouver for such an enjoyable and stimulating day. Northern Voice has set a high bar that other conferences are going to have a hard time surpassing.

Further reading:

Technorati tag:

Northern Voice thanks

Northern Voice – excellent conference which I really enjoyed. I’ll blog more about this when I have the chance, but it’s been a whirlwind of activity the last few days and I’ve barely had the opportunity to check my emails, let alone post! Needless to say, I’ve had a great time, primarily due to the wonderful hospitality and kindness of everyone I’ve met. Thanks!

From the north

Just a quick post from Vancouver before I head out to Northern Voice. Have had a great time here so far – met some really cool people and had some great conversations. Will blog a full update soon as I can.

Meantime, I’m battling jetlag and hoping that I will still be a functioning human being by the time my panel discussion comes around.

The Fall and Fall of Journalism – venue info

If you are interested in coming to the London School of Economics debate on the effects of blogging on journalism at the end of the month (28th Feb, 6.30pm), it’s taking place in room D602, 6th Floor, Hong Kong Theatre, Clement House, which has its entrance on Aldwych. (Map of the LSE | Map of the area)

If you can’t find Clement House, go to the main entrance of the LSE on Houghton Street from where you can get directions.

UPDATE: Note change of venue!

Bad Language: Associated Press’ fake blog

I saw on the feeds last week that Associated Press, old chestnut of the news wire, has started a blog called Bad Language. Flagged it ready to follow up but, whilst it’s easy enough to find syndicated versions of Bad Language posts, I’m having difficulty finding the blog itself. It’s one thing to read about it, but I really want to inspect the horse’s mouth for myself. Does it have fillings? Hallitosis? Gingivitis?

According to Yahoo, in Bad Language‘s first post, Derrik J Lang, Associated Press Writer wrote:

Yeah, we know we’re like two years too late to straddle the blog bandwagon. But we’re backed by the largest and oldest news organization in the world. So, you know, we’ve got nothing to prove. Really. All you should expect from Bad Language is sarcasm-coated news and commentary about all things pop culture.

But where? No link.

MSN Entertainment syndicate another post, but insofar as I can see (and I can’t see all of it because MSN’s site doesn’t play well with Firefox) there’s no link back to the AP blog. The Miami Herald ran the story, but ditto. Editor and Publisher, ditto again.

Ok, cut to the chase, go straight to the AP website, but whilst I’ve found the horse, there’s no sign of the mouth – no link to the blog on the front page. Nothing on the site map either. Nothing on their What’s New page. Nothing on the Press Releases page.

What about Technorati? A quick keyword search turns up a lot of commentary but no links to Bad Language itself. I’m starting to wonder if this blog actually exists. Then a breakthrough from Common Sense Journalism:

And just to show how hip AP is, the Yahoo story does not have a link to this new blog. Yeah, that’s hip: let’s put out a blog that’s not easy to find among the 5 million or so that now exist.

(AP is following its old model, apparently, of making it accessible only through member newspaper sites. Here’s today’s entry (sub req after you’ve clicked once) at the Miami Herald about the “Playboy: The Mansion” video game. The writing is pretty much old AP with a (not much) breezier spin.

(Visit Bug Me Not to get a login if you need to.)

So Bad Language isn’t, in fact, a blog at all. It’s another wire, written as if it was a blog and unavailable to the general public except through the sites of those purveyors of news who have the cash to pay up for it. Bad Language is a phantom, a pretence, a fake.

I really don’t understand what AP think they are doing. You can’t become a part of the blogosphere simply by calling a wire a blog. It doesn’t work like that. Blogs syndication means that anyone can pick up an RSS feed and read it at their leisure, it’s not the same as old-fashioned news syndication where anyone who wants to reproduce your articles has to pay through the nose for it.

Blogs are discrete entities with a single, stable URI for the main page and permalinks for individual entries. They have trackbacks and comments and archives and categories. You can search Technorati for their cosmos or Truth Laid Bare for their position in the ecosystem. But Bad Language exists only in distributed form, scattered across the web on a number of news sites. It is not a blog, not by any stretch of the imagination.

AP have obviously and spectacularly failed to understand what ‘syndication’ means in the blog sense or what a blog actually is. And what’s worse, the entries I’ve read so far are just not very good. Whilst it’s true that I have read drivel less interesting in my years as a blogger, this poor copy of Wonkette is written by someone who is supposedly a professional writer and it really should be better.

AP have a long, long way to go before they can claim membership of the blogosphere. Firstly, they need a blog. Secondly, they need a blogger who can write interesting and compelling posts. Thirdly, they need to engage with the blogosphere directly, on a first person basis, not try to latch on to the buzz through the intermediaries of news sites like Yahoo.

Question is, do they have the backbone to break their old media habits and truly embrace blogging?

Nascent blogroll

I used to have a blogroll hard-coded into the right-hand side-bar of this page, back before the Great Template Update, but it went by the wayside and was lost forever. But now, if you look to your left and down a bit you will see my new, nascent blogroll, still in its formative stages, yet to spring forth in glorious bloom.

So, whilst I populate it with links from my aggregator, do feel free to tell me what you would link to if you were me.

(By the way a ‘shufti’ is a look or a glimpse, and it comes from the Arabic ‘saffa’ – to try to see.)

Ask Jeeves acquires Bloglines

Mark Fletcher, CEO of Bloglines, confirms that they have been bought by Ask Jeeves, in a deal both he and Ask Jeeve’s Jim Lanzone are very happy with. Mark says:

So what will change?

We’ll have a lot more resources available to us. For example, we’ll be integrating Ask’s killer Teoma search engine technology within Bloglines. This will vastly improve our blog search capabilities. We don’t think that world-class blog search exists yet; with Teoma and Bloglines that will happen.

Sounds good to me!

Bloglines used to be my aggregator of choice until I hit a usability limit caused by too many feeds, at which point I changed to NetNewsWire which works really well for me now. NetNewsWire and Bloglines are working in concert, however, so that I will soon be able to sync my posts between the online and offline readers. Which would, I have to admit, be rather cool.

So, yay for Bloglines!

Another one bites the dust

Another blogger fired for blogging – this time Mark Jen got the sack from Google after just a few weeks for blogging about how he didn’t like his remuneration package, amongst other things.

What surprises me about this is that I thought Google were savvy enough to have a clear blog policy and that they would have ensured that all employees understood it. They are a truly geek-laden company, after all, and geek-laden companies should be amongst the first to realise that employees will blog. Maybe not all of them, maybe not all the time, but they will have people blogging and some will be blogging about their work and about the company.

For Google, that should have been a no-brainer, particularly in the light of the fact that they own Blogger. How on earth the concept of blogging guidelines could possibly have escaped them, I just do not know.

Neville Hobson has some good commentary, as does Scoble.