Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most verbose of all?

It’s coming up to Thanksgiving here in the US, and a thin layer of snow still sparkles on the ground in the winter sun. On Friday, (that’s the day after Thanksgiving for any of you not steeped in American tradition) we shall drive to Milwaukee for a spot of Christmas shopping and, in the case of the young ‘uns, some serious scoping out of items to be put on a list for Santa.

All of which is a long winded way of saying that it is again that time of year when lists are made, checked twice and, in the case of Now Public’s MostPublic Index, found to be rather wanting in the sense department. Yes, we have another meaningless ranking of the internet’s glitterati into top 20s for New York, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Vancouver and London. And yes, I’m listed on the London list, at number 11.

There was a time when I would have cared about this, especially coming from Now Public. I was one of the first people to write about Now Public, back in March 2005, and I’ve had a soft spot for them ever since, even if I never did get as involved in the community there as perhaps I would have liked. But that, I’m afraid, is not enough to make the list they’ve drawn up relevant in any way.

The list has been derived thusly:

NowPublic’s formula gauges influence and “publicness” across four categories, including:

* Online Visibility
* Presence on User-Generated Content and Social Networking Sites
* Interactivity and Accessibility
* The “R” Factor: Presence on Microblogging Platforms (Flickr, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.)

But what does that actually say about someone? Nothing more than that they will readily adopt and use social tools. In some ways, it’s just the top 20 Chatty Cathys in London (guilty as charged), but in other ways it’s not even that.

What amuses me, though, is the reaction to the list. As usual, many are doing the whole “Who they hell are these people?” thing, particularly in the comments on Iain Dale’s blog. Now I wouldn’t begin to claim to know all the UK’s political bloggers, because that’s not really my bag. But Iain’s commenters are only too happy to dismiss any names they don’t recognise on the basis that they don’t recognise them, as if somehow it’s possible to know everyone on the internet including those outside of your sphere of interest and expertise.

Many people have commented on preponderance of journalists in the list – six from the BBC, four from The Guardian, and a few independents. (Two more listees are genuinely famous outside of the internets, and two of us are social media consultants.) Given this list is more about verbosity or GoogleJuice than influence or contribution to the tech community, it should be no surprise to see a lot of (tech) journalists there. For one, it’s their job to be on top of new tools so they sign up to everything going, and secondly, loquaciousness is a prerequisite for being a journalist. If you’re not good with words and happy to talk, then you’re not likely to take a job that relies on just that.

Jess McCabe notes that there’s only one woman on the list (me). Is this a function of the manner in which the list was compiled, or a reflection of the underlying dominance of men in social media? Well, it’s impossible to tell for sure from this distance, but if you look at the Los Angeles list there are nine women in the top 20, so there doesn’t seem to be an inherent bias in the list-making process.

It is, of course, disappointing to see such a male-dominated list. And many have made suggestions as to who else “should” have been on it, but unless there was bias in the list compilation process, then “should” has no part to play in the discussion. Maybe women in the UK aren’t as digitally noisy as men. Certainly there aren’t as many of them in leading positions. But that’s a discussion separate from this one – unless there’s proof that the list compilation process is inherently biased, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they’re just reflecting an existing trend.

Some people are dissociating themselves from the list, with weary sighs and more than a little perplexity. Those of us who’ve been kicking around the blogosphere since well before the invention of the podcast have seen lists like these come and go, and every single one of them was pointless.

Yet we’re all human, and there’s no shame in feeling a little fillip to see your own name listed, even if the manner by which your name was chosen seems rather arbitrary. Despite my intellectual self understanding that the list is a waste of time, my emotional self can’t help but be at least a little happy to have been named.

But ultimately, the list has done exactly what it set out to do. It’s caused a few big name bloggers (predominantly the ones listed…) to write about NowPublic, link to them, and regardless of what is said pass some traffic their way. That is all that this list – and every other that has come before – set out to do. It’s PR. Bizarre and shallow PR perhaps, but nevertheless, the aim of the list is not to teach us something about ourselves, nor to reveal something interesting about the communities of which we are a part, but to provoke us into making some sort of comment, good or bad.

Still, to save you a click, here’s the list, republished in all its daftness:

1. Rory Cellan-Jones
2. Darren Waters
3. Iain Dale
4. Paul Bradshaw
5. Erik Huggers
6. Tom Coates
7. Ewan McIntosh
8. Stephen Fry
9. Nick Robinson
10. Neil McIntosh
11. Suw Charman-Anderson
12. Alan Connor
13. Kevin Anderson
14. Andy Murray
15. Ian Betteridge
16. Robert Peston
17. Jon Kossman
18. Euan Semple
19. Jack Schofield
20. Charles Arthur

links for 2008-11-22

  • Mark Potts writes: "Back in the earliest days of planning The Washington Post's online strategy, 15-plus years ago, we talked a lot about our intentions to "be promiscuous"–placing as many bets as possible on as many different technologies and strategies as we could. " He echoed something that I often say about my own reading habits: Voracious and promiscuous. I'm interested in information not egos, and I'll go wherever I need to go to find the information I want. And publishers need to wake up to this fact before it's too late.

links for 2008-11-20

Interview like a human being

Suw and I are huge fans of This American Life, a show on NPR in the US. We often listen to the podcast over breakfast on the weekends. My friend Mohamed Nanabhy says that the US government should spend its public diplomacy budget on This American Life because it’s such a good representative for the US.

One of the great things being back in the US during the elections was to catch up with Andy Carvin, head of the social media desk at NPR. Andy is live blogging a session with the host of This American Life, Ira Glass, on story telling and interviewing.

There is s view that an aggressive, in your face style of interviewing is the mark of a great journalist, but Ira and his team actually tell wonderful stories about everyday life full of humanity. It’s an amazing form of journalism, just different from aggressive public accountability journalism. Here are a couple of choice quotes from Ira:

Ira Glass: If you do interviews like a stiff, that’s what comes out of the interview subject. One of your greatest tools is to be a human being.

or this nugget:

Ira Glass: Pure imagination. Part of what makes a story work is the reporter imagining what it really means to be this person.

For any budding journalist who wants to know about interview techniques, Ira is one to listen to or watch.

links for 2008-11-18

Disrupt or be disrupted

more about “ Why do people listen to Michael Ros…“, posted with vodpod

Andy Dickinson has a post asking the question: Why do people listen to Michael Rosenblum? Andy thinks that Michael is worth listening to but that his approach doesn’t “work across the board”. At conferences, many in the room may be hearing Michael’s message for the first time, but Andy says:

As suprising as it may be to them, there are people in their organisations who are as knowledgable and passionate about video as he is. They may have more experience of the particular problems in their company and more direct suggestions to help solve them.

They may not give as good a show but they may give as good advice.

Suw sees the same thing in business. She is often called in as a consultant by people who agree with her, often passionately, but don’t have the political capital in their organisation to shake it from its inertia. They need a comrade in arms but have to buy one in.

Returning to Andy’s post, I think another, possibly more important question is: Why do people nod in agreement at conferences and then completely ignore Michael Rosenblum or other digital advocates, especially those in their own organisations? Frankly, Michael, Jeff Jarvis and many of us have been saying the same thing for years now. Digital technology will disrupt the business of journalism, and it presents a clear choice of either adopting and adapting the technology or watching your business crumble. However, we shouldn’t mistake the collapse of some businesses as evidence of lightning fast change. This has been a slow motion train wreck. This is the predictable outcome of the economics of disruptive digital technologies, which is why I’m mystified people continue to ignore this fact, carry on with business as usual and then feign surprise as their businesses implode.

We’ve had decades to watch the digital revolution play out. As Tom Coates wrote in debunking the attack of the snails argument:

So here’s the argument – that perhaps broadcast won’t last forever and that technology is changing faster than ever before. So fast, apparently, that it’s almost dazzlingly confusing for people.

I’m afraid I think this is certifiable bullshit. There’s nothing rapid about this transition at all. It’s been happening in the background for fifteen years. So let me rephrase it in ways that I understand. Shock revelation! A new set of technologies has started to displace older technologies and will continue to do so at a fairly slow rate over the next ten to thirty years!

Tom wrote his post two and a half years ago, and yet journalism and media organisations continue to bemoan the rapid pace of change. In fact, this change is just the logical conclusion of decades-long trends that have been clear to anyone who was actually paying attention.

In some ways, it’s understandable. If you have a wonderfully lucrative business model like television or the de facto monopolies of big metro daily newspapers in the US, the first reaction is to protect the existing business model rather than adapt to meet the challenge of digital insurgents. It’s a perfectly reasonable response.

In other ways, it’s a complete failure of management replicated almost identically across several sectors of the media industry. Newspapers have been suffering declining readership for decades. Television has been facing fragmenting audiences for years under the threat of cable and satellite. This is the failure of vision by media management: They have focused on digital consumption patterns without adopting digital production methods and undercutting their own costs. And as the erosion of audience has accelerated, they have mainly cut costs by cutting staff instead of by adopting digital production and distribution technology.

At this late hour for many media companies the critical question is, when are you going to stop nodding your heads at conferences and get on with it? Not many of us in media will be able to go hat in hand like Northern Rock or General Motors and ask for billions to bail us out. I think that Mindy McAdams raises an important issue in the comments on Andy’s post:

News organizations seem particularly susceptible to “a prophet is without honor in his own land” — people inside the organization who spread Michael’s same message might be completely ignored, but management will hire Michael to come in and do his excellent presentation, and THEN they will ooo and ahh about it, acting as if it is brand-new.

A few things to realise in the age of digital disruption:

  1. Higher costs of production do not necessarily result in higher quality of products.
  2. Quality and brand do not equal media success.
  3. Broadcast=wedding. Anytime you put broadcast near technology in the same sentence, it’s like saying you want something for a wedding. Just triple the cost.
  4. Disrupt or be disrupted. Actively look for ways to disrupt your own business model with digital technologies before someone else does.

links for 2008-11-17

  • Jeff Jarvis responds to Adrian Monck and Roy Greenslade who say that journalists are blameless in the decline of print journalists. I think the key lines from Jeff are these: "My purpose in rebutting Farhi, Greenslade and Monck is not to flagellate journalists but to empower them. To take responsibility for the fall of journalism is to take responsibility for its fate. Who'll try to save it if not journalists?"
  • Craig Stolz condences an online discussion amongst journalists and Jeff Jarvis about the death of journalism, or more precisely the current woes of print journalism into six Twitter-size summaries. Jeff responds saying that blame doesn't matter, but responsibility does. I think the key take away is that journalists aren't powerless in this. They can change. They can take their own futures into their hands, but the sad thing is that many journalists have put more energy into defending the past rather than preparing for the future.

Journalism: Hop on the Cluetrain

After seven weeks in the US for the elections, I’m behind in everything: Eating, sleeping and blogging. I’m going to be writing a lot about the experience and lessons learned in terms of the technology and in terms of the journalism. But, before I get into deep thoughts about the trip, I saw something that really resonated with me as I watched how social media covered these elections and where traditional media was sometimes successful in adapting to the world of social media and also how much further traditional media still has to go.

Tim Eby of WOSU, who I reconnected with at the Columbus Social Media Cafe, just tweeted:

Retweeting @amber_rae amazing social media presentation @andyangelos http://tinyurl.com/5eqmxg

The presentation by Andy Angelos, quotes the Cluetrain Manifesto:

Get out of the way so internetworked employees can converse directly with internetworked markets. The result will be a new kind of conversation. And it will be the most exciting conversation business has ever engaged in.

Just so a leap of logic isn’t necessary because I’ve found sometimes I make connections that others in my industry don’t:

Get out of the way so internetworked journalists can converse directly with internetworked people formerly known as the audience. The result will be a new kind of journalism. And it will be the most exciting journalism that we have ever engaged in.

That’s the lesson that I’ve learned from my trip. Discuss.