links for 2010-01-21

  • Kevin: Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridget says: “It would be crazy if we were to all jump behind a pay wall and imagine that would solve things,” he told an audience at Coventry University’s journalism department, according to “He conceded that, whilst pay walls are unlikely to be erected around, it was good that journalism was ‘trying different things’.
  • Kevin: Brilliant analysis by Ken Doctor of not only MediaNews and its post-bankruptcy position but also of the US newspaper industry: "Given the harrowing last year publishers experienced – a fifth of their business has disappeared in a single year, with little likelihood of much of it coming back – 2010 feels a bit better than 2009. Yes, it’s hard to know how accurate the feeling is.

    Yes, this could be a plateau. Knocked down a couple of notches, but standing tall on solid ground, dailies could move forward. Or it could feel like a safe plateau and really be a ledge, a landing place offering temporary comfort."

  • Kevin: A good post from Martin Langeveld who spent 13 years as a publisher at MediaNews and he looks at Dean Singleton and MediaNews after its recent announcement that it would seek bankruptcy protection. It's a good overview of the recent past for MediaNews and some of the key players. Can Singleton steer MediaNews to a digital future? Based on what Martin has written, I doubt it. The group suffers from outdated systems, a view of digital as peripheral and Singleton is "not an active computer user". Not a recipe for digital success.
  • Kevin: Peter Kafa at All Things D writes: "Here’s someone else you won’t see onstage with Steve Jobs next week: Anyone from Time Inc. With good reason–the magazine company doesn’t have any tablet-ready stuff to show off yet." Good post looking at Time Inc's strategy for tablets including a nice video of the what they see as their tablet future.
  • Kevin: Alan Mutter goes deep into the numbers at MediaNews and shows how it will affect Hearst. "After plowing well over $1 billion into a decade-long effort to salvage its ill-starred purchase of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Hearst Corp. now stands to lose another $317 million in the upcoming bankruptcy of MediaNews Group."
  • Kevin: Ken Doctor has an excellent post in which he takes a deep look at the issues surrounding the New York Times paid content strategy. He pulls out a great bit of detail in the announcement that I haven't seen highlighted elsewhere. "What does "frictionless experience across multiple platforms," in the Times release this morning, mean? I think this is one major move, if the Times can pull it off well and quickly. In the age of the smartphone, the coming tablet, and (coming a bit after that) the Internet-mediated livingroom TV monitor, readers are already coming to expect easy, and smart, access to the their content wherever, whenever."
    I've seen a demonstration of how the New York Times envisions this future, and it is one in which their content follows you seamlessly throughout your day from platform to platform. At the time, some pieces of the technology weren't widely available. However, the vision is compelling if the Times is your only source of information.
  • Kevin: Amazon has announced a new programme for its Kindle e-reader that will allow publishers to keep more revenue for some of content they release on the platform. For publishersm and authors, the Kindle hasn't been a good deal for them. They only get 7-15% of the list price for digital books. Under the new programme, they will get to keep 70%, but the deal comes with strings attacheed. "The list price for your title must be both between $2.99 to $9.99 and be 20 percent below the lowest physical book price; title also must be “offered at or below price parity with competition, including physical book prices”. The title also needs to be included in a broad set of features in the Kindle Store, e.g. text-to-speech. Finally, the title must be made available for sale “in all geographies for which the author or publisher has rights”.
  • Kevin: Steve Outing writes: "A big theme for 2010 in media will be mobile smart-phones and portable digital tablets; newspaper companies better have that figured out soon. (Perhaps NY Times Digital, with its large technology development staff, is well on its way.) But the Times is still mucking around with the details of its website metered-paywall decision and needs another year? Oy!" Newspapers have to move faster he says.
  • Kevin: Fred Wilson with Union Square Ventures explains the paid content strategy for Boxee, alternate set-top box software. It's open-source software based on XBMC, and Wilson likens it to "Android for TVs", referring to Google's mobile phone OS. "content owners will be able to package and price as they wish, including pay-per-view and subscription. Content partners will have the flexibility to decide what they make available, whether it’s premium content, content from their existing library, or extras that will never make it “on air”…. Boxee will charge a small fee (i.e. lower than the 30% charged by many app stores) for transactions which we enable"
  • Kevin: Laura Oliver at writes: "Guardian News & Media is considering paid-for access to its paidContent websites.

    GNM, which bought paidContent's parent company ContentNext in 2008, is surveying readers to ascertain what price they might may for a subscription to its websites, which include digital media news sites, paidContent:UK and MocoNews."

    It is just a survey of users at this point.

  • Kevin: Thoughtful post from C.W. Anderson about paywalls in the wake of The New York Times announcement that they would go to a metered system. He writes: "The questions about newspaper paywalls, then, are more than simply economic questions. They are more than simply questions about “will the model work?” and “can we balance the ratio between clicks and advertising dollars that maximizes our paywall’s effectiveness?” There are also questions about how journalists see themselves, and whether they can live with the answers that a paywall provides."
  • Kevin: The New York Times explains its decision to move from free website to a metered system similar to the Financial Times that allows people to read a number of articles before being asked to pay. The system will be rolled out by 2011.
    Also key in the announcement, they say: "Our strategy is to build the metered model while we remain focused on making more compelling, interactive and entertaining, providing many more reasons for online audiences to visit our site and stay longer." They will be working hard this year to build their own solution.

Making the case for internal community managers

i was reading a great post on Fresh Networks about the key mistakes community managers make when it struck me: Most people are sold on the need to hire community managers for public facing communities, but how many businesses hire community managers for their own internal social networks?

Most communities rely on a small number of individuals who glue the group together socially. It’s a role that I have been discussing with many people, especially Kevin Marks, over the years. Kevin and I first met on IRC (Internet Relay Chat), in a channel where one person in particular played a key role in keeping things moving smoothly. She wasn’t chosen by the community, nor did she put herself forward to fulfil the role: it just sorta happened.

Since then, we – and many others – have been trying to find the right word for that sort of role. Whether you want to call them tummlers, geishas, animateurs or Chief Conversation Officers, these people are essential to the smooth running of a community. Kevin said in 2008 (read the whole post, it’s well worth it):

The key to [successful communities] is finding people who play the role of conversational catalyst within a group, to welcome newcomers, rein in old hands and set the tone of the conversation so that it can become a community. […]

The communities that fail, whether dying out from apathy or being overwhelmed by noise, are the ones that don’t have someone there cherishing the conversation, setting the tone, creating a space to speak, and rapidly segregating those intent on damage. The big problem with have is that we don’t have a English name for this role; they get called ‘Moderators’ (as Tom Coates thoroughly described) or ‘Community Managers’, and because when they’re doing it right you see everyone’s conversation, not their carefully crafted atmosphere, their role is often ignored.

These people are as essential in internal communities as they are in public ones, yet somehow we expect internal communities to just run themselves. It’s no wonder that so many social media projects wither on the vine: they are not getting the right social conditions to flourish.

Instead, I suspect that the tummler role is rather frowned upon in business contexts. That person who makes sure that they talk to the new users, who spends time tidying up the wiki and talking to people about how things work, who reads all the internal blogs and highlights favourite posts, is probably also the person whose jobs review says, “Spends too much time on the intranet”. The expectation is that everyone will take a share of the tummler role, that everyone is responsible for making the community work and so therefore it will. “Because we’re all professionals round here, and that’s just what professionals do.”

That is, I’m afraid, deluded bullshit. We need tummlers internally just as much as we need them in external communities. Certainly they’ll have to be much more capable diplomats and skilled in recognising and smoothing out internal political shenanigans. They’ll also have to be good coaches, helping people understand how to use the tools and why they should bother.

The payback from employing a tummler could be huge as they would be the people who’d help drive tool adoption across the business. I’m sure some will read this and think, “But this is what evangelists/champions do. We don’t need tummlers too.” I think tummlers and evangelists are very different indeed. Evangelists tend to be people who are superusers who are massively enthusiastic about the tools they are using. They often manage to persuade the people around them to use the tools too, but they don’t always have the social skills required to achieve even that. I have certainly come across “evangelists” that were so obsessive about their new favourite toy that they put people right off. They also, of course, have their own job to do. They can’t spend all their time helping others get to grips with social software.

A tummler, on the other hand, would be hired for their social skills, their ability to communicate, teach and explain, and their knowledge of the different tools and how they work. In a way, a good social media consultant acts as a tummler-by-proxy, encouraging their clients to adopt more sociable thinking patterns, but they can only do so much. A full-time tummler who only needs to focus on nurturing internal communities could achieve so much more.

I guess we’re back once again to the 20:80 rule: 20% of social media is tech, 80% is people, so focus on your people!