Blogging isn’t a publishing strategy

It’s become a new mantra for me: Blogging isn’t a publishing strategy; it is a community strategy. That simple statement drives a lot of my thinking. I’ve always railed away against what we used to call ‘shovel-ware‘ back in the boom. It was simply shoveling your content onto the web. It was a stop-gap, not a strategy.

But I see the same mistake being replicated with blogging. Newspaper publishers and broadcasters often fall into the trap of trying to understand new media behaviour through old media paradigms. Podcasting becomes another distribution channel, and blogging becomes another publishing platform. Adding comments to the bottom of stories or columns is a step, but it’s missing the point. It’s treating blogging strictly as a publishing tool, not as part of a broader community strategy.

My question has been for 10 years: What can we do on the internet or other digital platforms that we can’t do in newspapers or on TV? What is the real opportunity here? Is it republishing more content that we already publish somewhere else?

I’m not saying that it’s a mistake to allow comments on the bottom of articles or columns. But that doesn’t change the fact that simply allowing comments on static content isn’t taking full advantage of blogging. It’s is treating blogging as a content-management system that allows comments. If that’s your goal, just adapt your content-management system to accept comments.

Recently, Shane Richmond of the Telegraph wrote: What is the point of newspaper blogs? in response to Andrew Grant-Adamson’s post, which questioned whether newspapers were blogging simply to get snaps from the kids (Bob Cauthorn was a little more adamant that newspapers needed to get a clue and stop blogging, which I disagree with). Andrew wondered if blogs were just content that got lost on the cutting room floor and didn’t make it into the paper.

I agree with much of what Shane wrote. My only quibble with Shane’s post is one of emphasis. I would move interactivity or engagement right up to the top. Yes, blogs allow us to focus on niches. Yes, websites in general and blog in particular promise a bottomless newshole that we can fill with additional content.

But it’s the engagement that really matters. And as Scoble says, from a business standpoint, an engaged audience is more valuable commercially than the drive-by surfers. It’s hard to measure, and Scoble rightly calls for a new metric. We used to call it stickiness, how much time people actually spend on your site. But this is even more than stickiness. This is about people actually doing something, not simply consuming content. I remember in BBC meetings about the blog pilot project, we decided that we wanted to measure how engaging or interactive blogs were. It was more than the number of comments or the traffic.

What happens when you view blogging as a community strategy rather than simply a publishing strategy?

  • Comments and other forms of participation are highlighted as well as the blog posts written by your own writers.
  • The site is designed to encourage participation on several levels.
  • The site is designed to allow like-minded participants to find each other.
  • The content must change to suit the nature of the site because its purpose has changed. What makes good content in a newspaper doesn’t necessarily make sense in a space created for participation.

That next-to-last point is key. Shoveling newspaper content onto the web was always a stop-gap, not a strategy, and it continues to be. For the last point, I leave it to Dan Gillmor who said this as he stepped aside from his citizen journalism/community project Bayosphere:

Tools matter, but they’re no substitute for community building. (This is a special skill that I’m only beginning to understand even now.)…

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UK AOP: Awards and sessions I didn’t blog about

I’m still recovering from the Association of Online Publishers awards bash on Wednesday night, but Mark Sweney at Guardian’s (yes, my new keepers) Organ Grinder blog has a roundup of the award winners. Host Jimmy Carr was baffled by one winner: Nature’s Avian Flu Google Earth Mashup. Too bad he didn’t have a clue what a mashup was, and too bad that this is behind Nature’s pay wall. I’d love to have a play with it. But you can get a feel for it here at Declan Butler’s blog. Declan is a senior reporter at Nature and helped put the mashup together.

(Thanks Declan for the updated link!)

Congratulations to the CiF editorial team for their award and several honourable mentions. The team works hard to keep their rambunctious community happy. It’s a bit anarchic sometimes at CiF, but the commenters seem to like it that way. Well done, Georgina, Tom, Ben and Toby.

Jemima Kiss was there for PaidContent, and she has a nice write up with pictures of Tim O’Reilly’s session. You can see that brilliant IBM visualisation of a Wikipedia change log. She also wrote up the session about marketing to youth, or The Mystery of Teenage Boys. As Jemima says, “kids are watching less TV, spending loads of time online and on mobile and just love IM,” which are trends that pretty much everyone knows already. But there were interesting experiences given by panelists. I also liked how she wrote in the post about how social this generation are. They are just socialising in different ways.

UK AOP: The social web

Another panel discussion here at AOP, now talking about the social web. Simon Waldman, of the Guardian Media Group, moderated the panel.

The panel:

  • Tom Bureau, CNET Networks UK
  • Adriana Cronin-Lukas, Big Blog Company
  • Lloyd Shepherd, Yahoo!

Tom talked about CNET Networks UK. They try to create ‘architected participation’. They will look at Gamespot. One of the biggest interactive, online-only publishers with about 115 million unique users each month. They have, CNet and other sites.

It’s important to think about who you serve. There is only a small sliver of groups who will contribute, but they are very important. They are not trying to be AOL, Yahoo or MSN to cover everyone. What they are trying to do is to focus on the top third of level of passion/expertise and numbers. They are not trying to reach the ‘true freaks’ but with ‘avid contributors’ with a very deep way. They want to create value for the smart consumer (probably people like me with the obsessive-compulsive comparative shopping gene).

They have to be aware of brand sensitities both ours and our clients. Also, they are looking at challenges with quality, appropriateness and relationship to their core mission. He talked about MySpace and Bebo issues of size of community and ‘child care’.

He also talked about the issue of centre of gravity. Without a centre of gravity, they wither, eg Friendster. You give people are a reason to return.

Systematic approach for created architected participation

  • Draw in passionate and high value users
  • Solicit their knowledge and get them to contribute and translate that to the broader audience.
  • Encourage them to make contributions and connections

He gave the example of Gamespot UK. Globally, it reaches 30m unique users. First thing they realised, users create content everyday, their use, their links. They created a product called Gamespot Trax, a real-time reporting tool. You can find out an enormous amount of what they are doing. They use this information to focus on what content they need. They have to register. They have to use site for several weeks. They must use drop downs. They set a barrier to entry.

They promote user content. They encourage them to create better content. They create an identity for themselves. They have over 3000 ‘editors’ on Halo Union.

Your profile is your social identity. They have blog levels. Profiles. They are encouraged to set up their own identity. She can contact and track others and start to make social contacts. Real life connections hapen. People take their online contacts to make offline social connection. Someone set up a Gamespot UK Frapper map. How many users are using your site and for what period? That is the new metric.

Adriana and the social web and Web 2.0. Changing attitudes and behaviour. This is not about technology but a developing culture. This about creating content and distributing it like never before. The one trend driving this on all sorts of fronts. The consumer is no more. The monolithic is no more. People are contributing. Does this technology allow people to do what they could not do before?

Control was always a delusion and you were never were able to control the context for the content. The process of distibution on relaying a message to the final audience has been disrupted.

We’ll be right back after these imporant message. Feel free to go fuck yourself in the meantime.

from a Hugh McLeod business card

Channels and networks. In the early days, ots of people see the internete as another channel. TV, print, radio and internet are just seen as another distribution channel. But the internet is a sea for the other channels. It is creating leaks from these other channels. We all swim in the same pool. The internet is not a one way channel.

All of the other pipelines have a particular business model. The current model is based on pipelins. Media makes society one way. Internet is many-to-many. The internet is interconnected. We are all networked even in the offline world to some extent. Why does thi matter? Online if aster. Change is being amplified faster. The balance of power between the broadcaster and the audience is changing.

Social media: Blogs, RSS, wikis, live search. The social aspect is far more important than technological.

The demand side, the customer, the consumer is now supplying itself. It is no longer a straight forward supply-demand curve. She pointed to the rise of the amateur professional. First came the geeks, then the news junkies, then the teenagers and now anyone. It is not mainstream as in the mainstream media, but it is mainstream. The network is more dense. The amateur professional is someone who uses their knowledge but uses social media tools. You can’t cry that these aren’t amateurs. They are professionals.

Why talking about social media? We’ve had new media for a long time. People used to pigeon hole me into new media. The progression from old media to new media means that old media is moving to the digital space. The pivot where new media and social media meet is the individual.

Where’s the business model? New media doesn’t change the core competency of the media. Google sells reach. Amazon sells reviews. eBay sells reputation. It goes back to what O’Reilly said this morning that we are selling something but it might not be what we think.

She said that media used to sell eyeballs to advertisers, but now they are trying to sell content as audiences flee.

The internet is a network. Users are rerouting around the gatekeepers.

One things she said really resonated with me:

Content is never finished. The ultimate audience is gone.

Lloyd Shepherd with Yahoo! finished up the round of talks. He started off with a couple of quotes defining social media, one from Tom Coates of Plasticbag:

The age of social media then is probably about a fusing of these two

ways of thinking – the communicative and the publishing/creative parts

of the internet – into something new and powerful. It’s an environment

in which every user is potentially a creator, a publisher and a

collaborator with (and to) all of the other creative people on the


(I don’t think this is the quote of Tom’s that Lloyd actually used, but it’s a good one.)

He then quoted a blog in an article called the Myth of Social Media:

Social media is just one metaphor for the way that humans tend to

coalesce into various thought collectives. Let’s not forget that we’ve

been doing this for millennia anyway – mainly in offline mode. And the

jury is still out on whether social networks can establish anything

beyond weak, loosely-coupled relationships;

Lloyd then walked us through all of Yahoo’s social media sites, including Yahoo 360, Yahoo groups (800,000 groups in Europe alone), messenger, MyWeb and, of course, Flickr and He credited Flickr with unlocking and spurring a lot of social media and interface design at Yahoo. They just launched a feature in the US called The 9 (note the video automatically loads on launch and note Suw, number 6 is Chocolate: It’s what’s for dinner). The programme is the top 9 videos on the web based on what users think.

One of the interesting things things that Lloyd talked about were some interesting mixed community-driven or user-generated content advertising campaigns. One was on the Yahoo! France for the launch of the Ford S-Max. They gave 10 people a S-Max for a week, and asked them to blog about it. The person who had the most popular blog won the car. After a week, the bloggers had posted 1200 photos, 168 posts, 15 videos and 3 podcasts. Wow.

They also had a contest called Get Your Freak On and had people do their own versions of a Shakira video. The most popular user video got as many views as Shakira’s video.

In the Q&A, one of the questions about the attention economy: How do keep relevant with all of these new bits of content out there?

Adriana said watch what the individual is doing. I’d follow that my network is my filter. So much of what I read, watch and listen to come from recommendations from my friend. My social network points me in the direction of articles that I’ll be interested in either in e-mails or IM conversations. I was slightly surprised that this wasn’t brought up. But a former BBC colleague said that she was surprised that no one has mentioned RSS today. I would be drowing in information if it wasn’t for RSS, and I’m constantly looking for better tools to manage those feeds. But in the meantime, my friends are my filter. And they are a damn spot better than the EPG on TV.

Web 2.0? It’s about finding people

Susan Crawford has a great post about how all this structured metadata in Web 2.0 is really about helping us to see the patterns in the networks that we are a part of, find people that we need to find, and create bonds we need to create in order to get things done.

These meta-informational thingies are letting us see our online environment in ways we can’t possibly see the offline world. What’s important isn’t just that these thingies are dynamic (although that’s clearly important) but also that they can be (1) visualized and (2) affected by the attention of individuals.

[…] we can find issues and people we want to work on/with and then actually do something about it. That’s the big difference. All this high-quality meta-information allows us to see the rules and roles that make up groups online, join those institutions for brief periods of time (because we’re just the right person for the job) and change the world. introduce fees have introduced fees for the use of their service:

Everyone asks “How does pay its bills?” That question is even more important as we plan new ways for you to grow your group and have better Meetups. To get there together, we are introducing a required small monthly Group Fee to be paid by Organizers.

Do all members pay?

No. Organizers pay the Group Fee to and may ask their members to chip in. It’s up to the Organizers. The fee is per group, not per person.

Organizers have already started to step down, preferring to use some other way of organising events than paying the $19 (or even the discounted $9) a month that are now charging. I’d love to know how many of them are now going to abandon ship and how many feel that the service provided by is worth the money, but I’m betting that aren’t going to be sharing that information any time soon.

UPDATE: MSNBC has more.

Whuffie and the snowball

Doc Searls blogs about how these days he prefers to roll snowballs downhill instead of pushing rocks uphill:

Tell ya what. I’m fifty-seven years old, and I’ve been pushing large rocks for short distances up a lot of hills, for a long time. Now, with blogging, I get to roll snowballs down hills. Some don’t go very far. But some get pretty big once they start rolling.

See, each snowball grows as others link to the original idea, and add their own thoughts and ideas. By the time the snowball gets big enough to have some impact, it really isn’t my idea any more.

Anyway, at this point in my life I’d rather roll snowballs than push rocks.

He then quotes Steve Gillmor and Jay Rosen about getting ideas moving, and concludes:

I think Big Challenges start with conclusion, with finished opinions. That’s what makes them sysiphean. They are bodies at rest that are hard to put into motion, especially in an uphill direction.

But if you start with an idea, whether partly formed or whole, whether yours or somebody else’s, and push it in the downhill direction that all blogging (thanks to links and RSS) essentially goes, it’s bound to have some impact once it grows large enough. And as long as it keeps going.

The problem I have with Doc’s post is this – in order to get ideas rolling downhill, you need to already be uphill, you need whuffie. Firstly you need people to be reading your ideas, secondly they need to want to do something with your ideas (there’s always extra kudos and therefore motivation in doing something with the ideas of someone who’s got a bit of whuffie), and thirdly they need to tell people that they got their idea off you (so that your whuffie builds).

People like Searls, Gillmor and Rosen have whuffie in spades, and this is why they can start snowballs rolling downhill and why those snowballs grow as they go. If you have no whuffie, your snowball will just melt – no whuffie means few readers, no one gaining kudos off developing your idea, no whuffie coming back to you for having had it. The idea goes nowhere.

It’d be nice to think that it’s the quality of the idea that gets the snowball moving, but more often than not, that has nothing to do with it. Hugh Macleod, for example, has so much whuffie that all he has to do is fart and the trackbacks start rolling in.

I saw exactly the same thing when I worked as a music hack – it’s not the bands with the best music or the journalists with the best writing skills that make it, it’s the ones with the whuffie. Same in the film industry – doesn’t matter how good your script is, if you have no whuffie you aren’t going anywhere.

It’s no surprise that it’s the same in the blogosphere, after all, we all know that we have a small minority of bloggers who have all the whuffie. They stand at the top of the mountain, from where it’s easy to start an avalanche. Those of us in the foothills can throw snowballs all we like, but it’s not going to have the same effect.

The trouble is that there are a couple of whuffie Catch-22s going on: firstly, those who have whuffie get more whuffie and those with none find it hard to build up. Secondly, my own personal whuffie Catch-22 and one common to all those in the whuffie-dependant industries, is that I need to blog to gain whuffie so that I can get more work, but the things that pay the bills take me away from blogging thus preventing me from gaining more whuffie in order to obtain more work. That’s basis of the feast-or-famine self-employed life.

The answer? Find a ski-lift.

YASN without a point (and two with)

In 1980 a small toy invented by Erno Rubik, a Hungarian obsessed with 3D geometry, became a smash hit. The almost impossible to solve Rubik’s Cube was everywhere – in the shops, on TV, in the record books, but mainly in bits on frustrated children’s floors.

I, like millions of other kids, had a Rubik’s Cube and I, like millions of other kids, never managed to actually solve the problem. Instead I resorted to either taking the thing apart or trying unsuccessfully to peel off the coloured plastic stuck to the cube’s faces so as to rearrange the colour without rearranging the cube.

By 1981, demand for original Rubik’s Cubes outstripped supply. By the end of 1982 over 100 million cubes had been sold. By 1983 the fad was over and the Rubik’s Cube was no longer in production.

One of the problems with the Rubik’s Cube was that although there was huge initial curiosity as to what this thing was, once you got your hands on one and realised that it was harder to solve than it looked, you just lost interest. There was no point to the cube. Even my brother, who could solve it fairly quickly, got bored with demonstrating his prowess after a while. It became very ‘so what?’.

Twenty years later, and now we have social networking, and we’re going through the process all over again. A new social network springs up, people join up, play with the features for a bit, get bored and then can’t even be bothered to leave. In fact, so passé have social networking sites become that the accepted acronym for them is not something like SNS (for ‘social networking site’) but YASN (‘yet another social network’).

Yet, the rise of the YASN seems unstoppable. Despite the fact that the business end is covered by sites like LinkedIn, the pet angle by Dogster, Catster and Hamsterster, and geek tracking by Orkut, YASNs continue to proliferate like weeds.

The latest YASN that I’ve received an invitation for is aSmallWorld (UPDATE: I no longer have a login for aSmallWorld so please do not email and ask me for an introduction):

aSmallWorld is an invitation-only online community which is not open to the public. It is designed for those who already have strong connections with one another and want to create new ones. It allows you to interact more effectively with like minded individuals who share similar friends, interests, and schedule. We list the most popular restaurants, hotels, and night clubs in over 60 major cities, summer and winter resorts and we keep track of major events, parties, exhibitions, film and music festivals and sporting events such as motor racing, tennis, sailing, golf, and others. Our goal is to become the leading global social networking community.

aSmallWorld is attempting to create an exclusive community, but exclusively what is not obvious. Rich? Successful? Stupid?

Once inside aSmallWorld, it becomes clear that it has little to offer – classified ads, forums, job search, city guides – that actually differentiates it from any of the other YASNs. If I want a job, there’s LinkedIn. If I want a city guide there’s Time Out. Classifieds? Loot or eBay.

Thus I look at aSmallWorld and I see the next step down from a YASN – a YAPSN, Yet Another Pointless Social Network. The people I am linked to in aSmallWorld are the same people I talk to on AIM or IRC, the same people I’m linked to in LinkedIn or Orkut. Thus for me, personally, aSmallWorld has no added value – there’s just no point hanging out there.

UPDATE: I no longer have a login for aSmallWorld so please do not email and ask me for an introduction.

(Not that I hang out much in Orkut or LinkedIn either, to be honest. Once the initial flush of enthusiasm waned, there really was very little to keep me going back to either, but at least there is enough use from them to keep them in my bookmarks list.)

Now, in stark comparison to aSmallWorld are two sites: Last.FM, sister site to Audioscrobbler, and Flickr. I consider both of these sites to be social networking sites, even though it would be possible to characterise Last.FM as a music site and Flickr as a photography site. But both sites have at their heart not the music or the photos but social networking and the sharing of personal information. Without their social networks, both sites would be pointless.

Last.FM provides a way for users to easily share their music, giving others the opportunity not only to see which songs you have recently been listening to but also to actually listen to the music that you listen to. You can also find other users with a similar taste, discuss your favourite music, and buy music to add to your collection. All playlist updating is done using the free Audioscrobbler plug-in which allows your chosen music software to report what it plays directly to both Audioscrobbler and Last.FM.

As Joi points out, the social aspect of Last.FM is key – as you listen to someone else’s playlist, they can introduce you to new music and subtly shape your own listening habits:

I found editorgrrl in my neighborhood. She and I have extremely similar taste, but she seems to have a bunch of stuff that I don’t have in my profile so I listen to her personal radio a lot. I notice my profile becoming more and more similar to hers as her playlist starts to influence my playlist. I just noticed that this feels a bit like online music profile stalking…

I also realized that if you had a crush on someone, you could listen to their music all day long. You would show up in their neighborhood. You would get to know their music. Or… you would keep hitting “ban” and you would realize that you should NOT have a crush on them. 😉

Joi has hit the nail on the head as regards the one thing that differentiates Last.FM from all the other YAPSNs – using Last.FM gives you the feeling of closeness with other users. Music is such an intensely emotional experience, and in sharing music you’re sharing those emotions too. For people to whom music is important, knowing what bands someone likes is an essential part of the getting-to-know-you (or stalking) process. In terms of added value, Last.FM hits the spot perfectly.

Another site that is worth a lot more than the paper it’s not printed on is Flickr, the photo sharing site. Like Last.FM, Flickr allows users to share something emotional and personal – their photographs. Although I signed up for Flickr months ago, it’s only recently that I’ve started using it to upload photos and I am a complete convert. Not only is the uploading, metatagging and labelling process very simple, but it’s really easy for people to other people to leave notes and to make you a contact, friend or family.

Flickr gives you a glimpse – literally – into your friends’ and acquaintances’ lives, something which again brings you closer. Rather than being just people on the end of a keyboard, Flickr rounds out your online friendships by providing a strong visual aspect to your interactions. You get to see their world through their eyes.

As it happens, this neatly complements the auditory enhancements to the relationship provided by Last.FM.

If I had to put money on it, I’d say that aSmallWorld won’t last, but both Flickr and Last.FM will. The reason I say this is because they provide clear, definite benefits to social networking – it’s not just networking for networking’s sake. If I had a criticism, it would be that Flickr and Last.FM’s social tools could be improved, particularly in the location of friends and FOAFs.

However, both sites are still essentially in their infancy, and succeeding releases provide improved usability and feature sets. Whilst I’ve only recently started uploading to Flickr, I have been looking at other people’s photos for a while, and thus have watched the site evolve since February when I first signed up. Recently, they have implemented some nice workflow navigation at the bottom of each page, which Matt Jones discusses on his blog, BlackBeltJones.

Having spoken to Joi, who’s been advising Last.FM, and their CTO, RJ, I can say that they too are busy developing the site – I’d say it’s certainly one to keep your eye on. But even as it stands, Last.FM is already a slice of fried gold.

Social networking bingo

It’s a bit silly, but silly is good for the kind of Monday I’ve had today. First one to a full house shouts ‘foaf’.

Actually, I caught myself using foaf as real word in spoken conversation the other day, as in ‘Oh, he’s a foaf of mine’. I’m not sure, but I think that makes me very afraid. I bet it’ll be in the Oxford English Dictionary as a real word within the next two years…