post

Photophilia

View a triking set of photos from the National Geographic Photo Contest. Galleries here. These photos reminded me that the world is so much larger than my Twitter account…

post

Jay Rosen on the state and future of journalism

Jay Rosen has a terrific post about the state of media, beginning with this clip from the film “Network”:

Pretty timely, eh?

Jay analyzes the scene:

… the filmmakers are showing us what the mass audience was: a particular way of arranging and connecting people in space. Viewers are connected “up” to the big spectacle, but they are disconnected from one another. Or to use the term I have favored, they are “atomized.” But Howard Beale does what no television person ever does: he uses television to tell its viewers to stop watching television.

When they disconnect from TV and go to their windows, they are turning away from Big Media and turning toward one another. And as their shouts echo across an empty public square they discover just how many other people had been “out there,” watching television in atomized simultaneity, instead of doing something about the inarticulate rage that Beale put into words. (“I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the streets. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad!”)

He goes on to ask what would happen today in response to a “Howard Beale” event…

Immediately people who happened to be watching would alert their followers on Twitter. Someone would post a clip the same day on YouTube. The social networks would light up before the incident was over. Bloggers would be commenting on it well before professional critics had their chance. The media world today is a shifted space. People are connected horizontally to one another as effectively as they are connected up to Big Media; and they have the powers of production in their hands.

Jay follows with an expansion of his comments, and concludes with a set of recommendations for today’s journalists. (The post is a must-read for journalists and news bloggers.)

There’s been too much hand-wringing over the supposed collapse of journalism as we know it, but journalism’s never been more exciting, never had the kind of tools and channels of information available today. We’re seeing, not collapse, but evolution. I’m wanting to spend more and more time with journalists, and think more and more about the relationship of professional journalism to blogging and other more or less informal information channels.

post

Blogging’s not dead

Social media-savvy medical advocate Regina Holliday pointed out a clueful post at Health is Social, a blog “about integrating social and digital media into healthcare.”

The post’s subject is “Healthcare Blogging: Wide Open Opportunities,” but the post itself is not just abou9t healthcare blogging. It’s a more general explanation why blogging is NOT dead, contrary to the opinion, expressed by some supposed social media experts, that “blogging wasn’t worth the effort and that nobody reads blogs.” Of course, “experts” who are totally focused on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube argue that those platforms are “all that’s needed anymore and that … websites [including blogs] were basically useless.”

Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, among other social apps, are indeed important to consider in creating an organizational media strategy; many businesses truly don’t understand how to use them effectively. Anyone hoping to create a vital and productive Internet presence should go where the conversations are, generally Twitter and Facebook.

Note that there’s a lot of confusion and questioning about the future of the Internet. John Battelle posts about points of control, and Tim O’Reilly has posted a map to highlight the point that we’re seeing platform wars from which the Internet of the future will emerge. [Link to complete map.] Blogs are nowhere on that map, probably because blogs will be everywhere in that world, like trees spewing oxygen into the ecosystem.

So blogs and web sites will continue to be critical points of presence for individuals and organizations, where they will develop more static core content, and dynamic emerging content via blogs, to show expertise, articulate new ideas, publish news about relevant organizations or projects, etc.

Some history: Blogs catalyzed the mainstreaming of social technology by making it easy for anyone to publish online. This meant more writers and more readers, a more robust social ecosystem online, which spiraled ever greater adoption. As more people were communicating in more ways over the web, social network platforms and messaging systems other than blogs appeared and evolved – the platforms on the O’Reilly/Battelle map. The growth of interest in social connection and persistent short messaging made Twitter a hot phenomenon, and as Facebook incorporated its own form of short messaging and activity streaming, it grew like wildfire and became the mainstream platform of choice for all sorts of social activity.

A new breed of consultants emerged who were not especially active on the Internet before Twitter and Facebook came along. I would argue that these consultants have blinders on; because of their limited experience, they don’t have a deep understanding of the Internet and the broader set of potentials inherent in its still-evolving ecosystem. Much of what you hear about “social media” is noise generated by folks who’re smart enough, but have limited experience and constrained vision. Considering that, confusion around “platform wars,” anxiety over economic instability, persistent growing deluges of unfiltered information, it’s great to see a breath of fresh air like the post at “Health is Social.” In fact, I’m finding that empowered patients and their advocates are as clear as anybody about the current and potential uses of social media in their world. They’re in the middle of a revolution that depends on the Internet, democracy of information, and robust social knowledge-sharing environments (patient communities).

I have more to say another day about the importance of deep, sustained conversation, not really supported by Twitter/Facebook short messaging/activity streaming strategies.

post

Five questions you should ask about marketing, PR, and social media

Big flash recently, as someone said “social media is not the same as social media marketing.” Of course, that’s true. In fact, social media is one of those complex phenomena about which our thinking is often insufficiently complex – we think of it as one thing because there’s this one label, but infact the term “social media” is plural, and the concept overlays many communication contexts, personal and professional.

Where to start? Perhaps with marketing and PR.

Seeing that mindshare is moving online, and in the digitally convergent online ecosystem, channels have been multiplying like crazy, some of us assumed that marketing people were seeing the handwriting on the wall, realizing that they will have increasingly more trouble building attention, and were focusing on social media hoping to get a handle on the space. When we would bring up these issues and they didn’t like it, we assumed that the resistance was a manifestation of informed anxiety, that they understood their predicament.

However, I now wonder whether marketing pros didn’t believe their world was changing that much, and considered us naive to think so. It seemed obvious to me that mindshare is increasingly fragmented across many channels, and marketing products across media will be increasingly challenging and labor-intensive. Could this be hard to see? Or could I be wrong?

And how about metrics for social media marketing?

I have been known to say that any metrics connecting social media messages to actual responses or conversions would be suspect. It seems obvious to me that it would be hard to connect a purchase or conversion to some specific conversation or event within social media. Drivers for conversion can be complex and scattered across many channels. What did you do that worked? How do you know that you’re having any effect at all? Howe meaningful is it that a million people “like” you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter? Engaging may be more important than measuring hits, but engagement can be expensive and labor-intensive to scale, and again, the metrics can be hard. I assumed marketing pros were looking for some sort of metrics, a dashboard that shows aggregate numbers, whether accurate or not – they’re in a world that runs on numbers, accurate or not. What’s the discipline if you can’t quantify your success (or lack of success)?

My smarter colleagues, like Dave Evans, didn’t try to pull marketing professionals into the world of social media and get them to see it for what it is. Rather, they kept their advice closer to business as usual, showing enough of what’s changed to be useful, but offering a sense of security – people are people and the world hasn’t changed that much. I no longer have an argument here: I realize that people need to believe the ground beneath their feet is somewhat solid.

And it could be that, if you’re a marketing professional, the social media are just a new set of channels that you work like any others. It’s just a mashup of television, radio, and newspapers, all differently distributed. You’ll still be able to have an effect on a relatively large audience (and the need to do so may bias development over time in favor of a more broadcast approach to Internet programming, something that has made seasoned Internet pros like me shudder whenever it’s come up. If the Internet becomes television, its power as an engine of creativity and innovation diminishes. Many voices are drowned out by a few, effectively “marketed.”)

To summarize that last point, If you’re in marketing and you don’t think your world is changing radically, social media won’t mean much to you. When you hear an Internet maven talk about challenges to your world, you don’t feel anxiety – rather, you tell yourself that Internet people are crazy idealists that don’t understand how the world works.

I’m just speculating, since I don’t have a marketing background. As a writer and sometimes journalist, and as an Internet professional, I have more affinity with the world of public relations. Marketing is about consumers, demand, and sales. Public relations is about relationships, conflict resolution, cooperation and collaboration. From a professional perspective, social media is just another set of tools for the PR person, and if you’re selling yourself as a social media consultant, you might as well say you’re in public relations (but you’d better be armed with an understanding of all that entails).

I had an aha moment about this in New York recently, having dinner with my friend Doug Barnes, a technology-focused attorney. I described my research and focus of the last three years, and how I’d never been quite sure how to present it to potential clients. Hearing me describe how I started 3-4 years ago creating an approach for analyzing an organization’s social connections, building a model of the org’s social network, and working with them to determine how most effectively to address and leverage that network, Doug said “That’s public relations. Why don’t you just say that’s what you do?”

As a journalism student in the early 70s, I was drawn to public relations, but I didn’t make it my career at the time. Over the last two decades I’ve built my career on Internet expertise, focused mostly on community, engagement, relationships and communication. I’ve apparently come back, almost forty years after I first studied it, to public relations through that path. Thinking about this, I realize that I know other “social media consultants” who don’t see that they’re knocking on PR’s door – without necessarily the training or understanding of communication that a PR person should have.

Pure social media consulting turns out to be a difficult business. Naturally, organizations that need help with communication strategy are hiring PR companies, not social media companies, and the social media consultants who came through the Internet, especially those who came through specific platforms (the Twitterati), aren’t getting the jobs they dreamed they would get. Many companies, like the marketing pros I mentioned earlier, realize social media is important but don’t necessarily see it as a major change – rather, it’s a couple more media channels to address, Facebook and Twitter. How hard can it be to set up a Facebook page and a Twitter account? Hire a low-cost college graduate to do it, they’ll understand how that stuff works.

So while many of us are seeing a profound culture and communication change, with marketing and PR and social/community organization transformed, and traditional business models (especially for media) disrupted and made obsolete, this hasn’t necessarily sunk in with the business world, apart from some clueful early adopters. Zappos, for example. I read somewhere that Tony Hsieh’s board persistently pushed back on his innovative uses of social media because they just didn’t get it. It took one guy standing up for it to make Zappos a social media success, and I don’t think the board ever got it.

Why is all this important to consider? We all know that the Internet is transformational and is touching all aspects of our lives, and we know that social organization is increasingly computer-mediated. I don’t think we’re clear, however, how this plays out in business, where there’s enough trouble and anxiety in the normal day to day given the way way down economy – so who has time to think about social strategy, culture change, transformation, evolution, noosphere, etc?

But we have sufficient and significant adoption and innovation, so the transformation is happening, whether we acknowledge it or not. We can innovate in an innovative context and build what Jean Russell would call a thrivable future, or we can resist change, adhere to old ways in the new context, and at best lose opportunities, at worst create huge messes.

If I was involved in marketing, public relations, or media production, I think I would take a few days to step back, look at what’s happening, and do some strategic thinking, ask some questions. Here are five points to stimulate your thinking:

  • How are people using their time and their mindshare when it’s not engaged in work/survival? Clay Shirky refers to our cognitive surplus, time and mental energy that we can commmit at our discretion.
  • How do people take media, and how do they take messages within media? Are we seeing changes in consciousness/attention? To what extent can people screen out messages they don’t want to see/hear? How do you engage someone sufficiently that they want to be exposed to your message?
  • When people are otherwise engaged, how well to ambient messages get through? And what are the ethics regarding ambient or more direct messages mediated by technology as persistent parts of the environment (think “Minority Report.”)
  • How well can companies engage their customers, and how well does that scale – or how can it scale – in mass markets? (Governments have the same question re constituents.)
  • How do you measure the effectiveness of an approach or campaign in a context that is more social and conversational? And what should you be measuring – what are the ethics of measurement?
post

Public Access

Last night, the City of Austin’s Telecommunications Commission had a roundtable discussion – actually a series of panels – on the state and future of public access television and community media. I led a session on innovation, including as panelists by close friend Rich Vazquez, web developer for Community Impact newspaper; Ronny Mack, IT Project Manager for the City and former President of the ACTV Board of Directors; Gary Dinges, editor at Austin360.com; Korey Coleman of spill.com; and Chris Holland, a marketing consultant for independent filmmakers. We had a great session where we were thinking outside the public access box (which is shaped like a television set). Here’s the text of my introduction:

Public access television is a product of the broadcast era, when media was distributed from the few who owned the means of production to the many who owned the means of reception. Eventually pretty much everybody had a television set, and cable access proliferated as well.  In order to give the public more of a voice and support free speech, it made sense to have a public facility that could offer anyone access to the means of production and to a channel for distribution, i.e. public access television via cable.  

The key concepts here are the public access was access to PRODUCTION and to ATTENTION.  Over the last two decades, the Internet has evolved from a computer network to a media environment, a public media network with very low barriers to entry. Anyone with access to a computer can have the means to produce media and make that media public.  However with so much media, it’s harder for anyone to get and sustain attention.  

As part of this evolution, television audiences are moving to computers and committing more mindshare to social media. To the extent they watch television at all, more and more are watching on their computers. Given this environment, do we need to redefine public access?

In response to this intro, panelists talked about how television just becomes one of many modes of distribution, and how access has to be about using Internet channels as well as the cable channel. The emphasis now should probably be more on teaching people to produce better and more effective media, and helping find ways to build audience and attention.

post

Happy Birthday, Ray Harryhausen

Heroic special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen, whose influence nearly led me to a craft for which I probably would have had no patience, is 90 years old. Harryhausen’s films opened my head and rocked my world. Thanks to Harry Knowles for the birthday candle and pointer to the video below, a compendium of Harryhausen’s stop-motion animations.

Harry’s tribute:

Ray is easily one of the single most beloved figures in the behind the scenes arts. While primarily an effects master, Ray’s sense of wonder, personality, design and imagination was so clearly outputted to the screen that his films and him in particular… are cherished as though they were the beating heart of Jimmy Stewart himself. I’ve had the honor of getting to spend some really great quality time with Ray over my lifetime, and he’s like an additional grandfather to me. Not to mention one of the chief founders of my imagination. His creatures live in my brain – and I love them there.

My curiosity about how he did what he did, gave me the passion to pursue finding out more about film in general. How do you make a toy live? That’s what I always gathered, and nobody, but nobody’s toys moved like Harryhausen’s.

post

The manifesto that made my day

Earlier today I listened to a Buddhist Geeks talk with Stephen Batchelor, who said he was pretty sure there is no god… but then Chris Carfi sent a link to an email list we’re on that aligned so completely with where my life has been going that I thumbed my nose at Batchelor. There clearly is a god, and he made sure that I saw Maureen Johnson’s manifesto today: I AM NOT A BRAND. Have you read it? If not, stop now, go read it, then come back and we’ll talk.

“We can, if we group together, fight off the weenuses and hosebags who want to turn the Internet into a giant commercial…”

The rest of this is about me, and who cares? But I do want to download a bit and make a point.

All I’ve wanted to do for the last couple of decades is help people have meaningful conversations and solve problems together, i.e. build communities and organize effective collaborations. I’ve been in conversatoins about this with all sorts of people, including conversations in the early 2000s about social software and online social networks and how the web that was evolving – conversations captured to some extent in the collaborative paper “Emergent Democracy” that I had worked on with Joi Ito and others, and the post by Tim O’Reilly and Dale Daugherty that described “web 2.0.” I spent a lot of time thinking about political uses of the technology, with the Howard Dean campaign as a laboratory, and co-edited a book about social technology and politics called Extreme Democracy. About four years ago I was working on a consulting methodology that would help people leverage their physical and online social networks more effectively, and while I was working on this people started talking about social media. Specifically social media marketing.

I understand social technology and I get why the social web is attractive and compelling and starting to get all the mindshare we formerly committed to television. Clay Shirky talks about this in Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age: maybe we really wanted, needed, to have two way conversations all along, and broadcast television was just an alternative we had to accept until we got the technology we have now.

Television has confused us, it makes us think that media is (are?_ a vehicle for commercial messages, and without ads and persistent selling, a medium is broken. (This makes me remmber Lance Rose’s contention more than a decade ago that THE INTERNET IS NOT A MEDIUM, it’s an environment, and that’s probably another conversation we should be having.)

I’ve tried to establish my social media cred, but in a world where social media, as a profession, is supposed to be about marketing and selling, I don’t completely fit. It’s not that I’m against selling, but it’s not really what my life’s about, and I’ve never been attracted to the world of sales and marketing, even less so when I found myself in the middle of it.

But I love the idea of building relationships – that businesses can build symmetrical relationships with their customers, and vice versa. Is that the new marketing? Time will tell. I was raving supporter of the ideas in The Cluetrain Manifesto: 10th Anniversary Edition, and I’ve been edging my way into a conversation started by one of its authors, Doc Searls, labeled Project VRM. Doc recently posted a piece called “Manage relationships, not each other,” that makes the point:

During the Industrial Age, the power asymmetry between vendor and customer got so steep that vendors got to talking about customers as if the latter were cattle or slaves. Customers became “targets” that vendors “captured,” “acquired,” “locked in” and “managed.” As the Information Age dawned, however, customers gradually became more independent. So, midway into the second decade of the new millennium, customers were no longer the ones being managed. Nor, however, were vendors. Instead, relationship itself was managed by both parties.

This perspective lines up pretty well with Maureen Johnson’s manifest. “I am not a target” is not unlike “I am not a brand.”

Every person I meet is a universe of experience and intelligence and spectacular complexity. I’m learning to appreciate this point, I can no longer easily and readily reduce someone to a statistic or a line of text or a bald concept bouncing around in my brain… there’s too much. We need more respect and reverence in our lives, and less of the reduction and dehumanization that we’ve somehow fallen into, no doubt driven by old media and mass marketing conceptual shorthand.

So this is where I have to quote, in full, the “I am not a brand” manifesto:

The Internet is made of people. People matter. This includes you. Stop trying to sell everything about yourself to everyone. Don’t just hammer away and repeat and talk at people -— talk TO people. It’s organic. Make stuff for the Internet that matters to you, even if it seems stupid. Do it because it’s good and feels important. Put up more cat pictures. Make more songs. Show your doodles. Give things away and take things that are free. Look at what other people are doing, not to compete, imitate, or compare . . . but because you enjoy looking at the things other people make. Don’t shove yourself into that tiny, airless box called a brand -— tiny, airless boxes are for trinkets and dead people.

post

Arianna Huffington – interviewed by Evan Smith

Wrote this in May and saved it as a draft. Timing’s good for publication: I’ve been thinking a lot about the Huffington Post as a model for network journalism that combines the work of professionals with contributions from a broader set of bloggers. In this interview, Huffington showed that she was savvy about the contemporary Internet and the future of journalism.

May 4, 2010 – As part of the Texas Monthly Talks series, Evan Smith interviewed Arianna Huffington, in town to speak at a benefit for the Texas Freedom Network. Huffington’s flight arrived late, so the talk was abbreviated. Much of the discussion was about the current state of journalism and Huffington Post’s (HuffPo’s) success as new media hybrid journalism – a combination of user-generated and professional content.

Huffington led with the observation that people want contgent, but they also want engagement – they want “to be part of the story of our time.” That’s the essence of participatory journalism. She said that self-experssion has become the new entertainment. Evan: “It all counts.”

Huffington Post has been successful, has a readership apporaching that of the New York Times, and leaving other major online publishing venues in the dust. She says part of the secret of HuffPo’s success is that “we’re not just talking to people who agree with us.”

HuffPo has a thriving community and “human moderators” that maintain the civility of the conversations – “we don’t want it to be the Glenn Beck Show.” When Rick Perry shot the coyote and it was reported at HuffPo, there was an immediate surge of interst – 1,000 comments within a day. In addition to moderators, the Post’s readers police the site – they wouldn’t be able to manage the conversations without help from the community.

Evan: “What happened to journalism?” Why is for-profit legacy journalism failing? Have they lost sight of their mission, or is it that new media approaches are more compelling. “Are they down, or are you up?”

Huffington responds that they just didn’t get it. When HuffPo launched, legacy media were still skeptical of new approaches (participatory media/social media), but now they’re moving online, moving toward a hybrid model. Pay walls haven’t worked – worked for Wall Street Journal initially, but their subscriptions are down. In this context, she mentioned that traditional tenets of journalism should prevail – meaning that fundamental journalistic ethics and standards will necessarily be maintained in new media. [I’ve been thinking about this, and want to be involved in training news bloggers and citizen journalists. Matt Glazer of Burnt Orange Report and I have been instigating a conference for this purpose.]

Digital natives consume all their news online. We can’t go back to old ways of doing journalism – can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The Internet has a culture of free content that can be monetized [she didn’t specify how, but I suspect she was thinking of advertising and some other mix of revenues associated with brand].

You have to be prepared to take your content to the readers, rather than expecting them to come to you. [This is a 101 new media concept, but always worth repeating.] Evan notes that this implies a “disintermediation of content from the source.” Arianna: “ubiquity is the new exclusivity.”

HuffPo includes content contributed by unpaid bloggers, paying only editors and reporters. Is Huffington building an empire on the backs of unpaid contributors? Not at all – bloggers are leveraging HuffPo’s visibility, finding and building audiences, getting book deals, etc.

HuffPo aggregates content from other sites, too – is this leveraging others’ content? Huffington notes that they strictly follow fair use guidelines and have never been sued for infringement. Aggregation and curation of content are essential parts of an Internet information service. Curation means identify what’s important and elevate it, give it visibility. Put flesh and blood on data.

Evan: “Obama – how is it going?” Huffington says she is very glad he was elected, that he inherited a huge crisis. One problem: he’s surrounded himself with Clintonites like Larry Summers, and did everything humanly possible to save Wall Street, but nothing to save Main Street. Huffington is writing a book on the decline of the middle class, and is very concerned that there is no effort to reverse the decline, which has been going on for thirty years. So Obama’s administration should be doing dramatic things to save the middle class – though he may have done a lot already, he’s not necessarily taking the right approach, making bold moves that he should be making to support those in the middle. Some say he saved the economy, but he didn’t – he just saved Wall Street. We still have 25 million people out of work, and escalating foreclosures.

It also bothers her that no strings were attached to the salvation of Wall Street.

Otherwise, Obama is an extaordinary communicator and has improved U.S. standing in the world community – those are real pluses. “I will definitely vote for him again. What’s the alternative?” The “loyal opposition” is not talking today’s issues seriously. They treat governing like it was a debating club.

The administration’s attempts to be bipartisan are wasted effort, she says. She compares it to guys hitting non Ellen Degeneres “and not being told you’re not going to get anywhere.”

post

Information spill?

We’ve all zeroed in on a set of established platforms for interaction, primarily Facebook and Twitter. Icons linking to Facebook and Twitter pages are standard on many web sites now – suggesting a consensus about where people are hanging out. Many experience the Internet through one or both of these platforms, and a few scattered others (.e.g YouTube, Yelp, blogs etc.). Increasingly we see world-views based on shared content and hyperlinks. As it becomes the new normal, social media is just media, no need to make the distinction. We can end the obsession with tools and forms on the production side, and focus on content. On the consumption or demand side, we have a problem of abundance, of having more quality content than we can track and manage. Filters are crucial, but imperfect. Maybe we still need some work here.

How do we characterize the flow of media? In this context, we invoke the words “push” and “pull.” John Hagel describes pull as ” creating platforms that help people to reach out, find and access appropriate resources when the need arises.” This morning I met with Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune, and he used the opposite word, talking about pushing media to readers where they are, rather than expecting them to come to you – “web site as destination” is obsolete in the world of social media.

I think they’re both correct. Is this a 21st Century media koan? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Whatever the case, I don’t think we have a handle on the evolving flow of information online, any more than BP has a handle on the flow of oil from the MC252 spill (if you can call a explosive hemorrhage of oil a “spill”) in the Gulf of Mexico.

post

The Internet is not (just) a marketing platform

Fading Coke sign by Jenny Solis S..

Increasingly I’m finding that, as a consultant about effective Internet communication, I have to talk about marketing, how to market to, for, and with communities and social networks.

Marketing is, always has been, an important part of the media mix, and it’s important to understand how the transformation and evolution of media – the emerging world of “social media” or “new media” or “digital media” – will change how we think about marketing and how it works.

To say what I want to say here, I have to devote a few paragraphs to my background. Over twenty years ago my life took a turn when I discovered a technology that connects people to people. Since then I’ve followed a career path that’s all about computer networks and social networks, and how the former mediates the latter to ever greater effect.

In the 1990s my focus was on cyberculture and Internet policy via the Electronic Frontier Foundation and related tribes, including EFF-Austin, and on Internet-mediated community + commerce and web publishing via FringeWare, Inc. and Whole Foods Market. At Whole Foods, I learned so much about building web sites that, when the dotcom bust ended the ecommmerce projects I was working on, I started a web development company, Polycot Consulting. Polycot was a cutting-edge, standards-based, open source web company, a partnership with two brilliant developers, Matt Sanders and Jeff Kramer. Part of my role in the company was based on what I’d always done, surf the edges of web trends and understand what technology patterns we should recommend and build for our clients. Because of my focus on community, I was particularly focused on the evolution of the social web. Because of my focus on publishing, I was particularly interested in the trend away from professional to personal content – the blog. Because I hung out at O’Reilly’s Emerging Technology conferences and SXSW Interactive here in Austin, and because I had so many connections within ‘net culture, I was spending time with many of the best and brightest thinkers about the direction of the web. I was in conversations about trends that came to be labeled “web 2.0,” and the evolution of social networks, social media, social web.

So I was drawn into the “social media” conversation when it started within the last 3-4 years. I had been building a consulting methodology focused on helping people understand and leverage their relevant social networks to accomplish their personal or organizational goals. As a consulting practice, it worked well. When we heard people talking about social media, we thought there might be a conceptual link to what we were doing. I started paying attention, and thought I would consult in that space – really a matter of effective communication in the new world of participatory, omnidirectional, Internet-based communication. It was the sort of consulting I was ideally suited to do.

I’m presenting all of this background to make it clear that I’m not just talking to hear my head rattle. The Internet, the web, and what we’ve come to call “social media” and “social business,” the social web, is my career and my life, what I live and breathe, something I feel passionate about. A digital culture has been emerging for two decades. It’s opened up a world where anyone can produce and publish content; it’s a powerful and disruptive context for human energy, intelligence, and innovation. On the Internet we can mash up our personal and professional lives and selves and effectively channel creative impulses we never knew we had.

My life online led me into a company called Plutopia Productions the name of which derives from “pluralist” + “utopias.” The Plutopia krew has evolved a vision of a DIY world where everyone can build to a unique, personal set of specs – configurable homes, configurable scenes, all mediated by pervasive technologies… the realization of the cyborganic vision many of us were talking about in the 90s.

So here’s the drum roll, and the point I’ve been working toward in this post:

The Internet is not a marketing platform.

Obviously marketing is a powerful part of the mix of many things we all do online. Increasingly I find myself consulting about effective marketing communications using social media, and I know how important that can be for some people. The Internet is also an effective platform for getting customer feedback into both product marketing and operations.

For some, there’s a temptation to want to structure the Internet as an environment for sales and marketing, where those activities can be as dominant as they became with television when it emerged as pervasive media in the fifties and sixties. Marketing was such an obvious use for the medium, which was saturated over time with commercial messages. Over decades in a world of persistent, pervasive commercials, audiences started shutting down, became marketing resistant.

As this was happening, the Internet emerged, lowered the barriers to media production, and now anyone can produce as well as consume media. We are empowered, and we feel that we don’t have to follow marketing messages at all – we ignore them, even suppress them. If Facebook decides to become less of a social engine and more of a marketing engine, someone else will build an open alternative that isn’t about selling, and Facebook might just be doomed to beocme the 21st Century AOL.

We do see an emerging Internet marketing discipline, an approach that can be summed up in a word: spam, which has come to be used as a term for any unsolicited commercial message delivered online.

However there’s another approach that is lighter and more consistent with digital culture. When I give talks about social media, which is often, my message is that you have to forget manipulative or interruptive marketing and selling and build authentic relationships with your customers/clients/constituents instead. That’s hard to do and it doesn’t scale very well. Traditional marketing people are often uncomfortable going there, and that’s not unreasonable – they have efficient processes geared to mass marketing and advertising, and those do scale, and they do seem to have an effect. But mass media’s fading if not evaporating, mindshare is fragmented, and in a social network/digital media context, mass marketing feels like, or is, spam.

I don’t have a marketing background, but as a new media expert, I believe that, if you’re in marketing, you have to rethink all your strategies and processes and get your head around a media environment that enables symmetrical relationships with customers. In this context, your customer is your partner, not your “target.” Read The Cluetrain Manifesto (which I’ve been advocating since it appeared in the 90s). Get familiar with Project VRM. Marketing strategies that empower the customer are the new black. (Those that don’t are the new black and blue.)

If you want a good model for new thinking, check out Tara Hunt’s work. She strikes me as particularly clueful about 21st century marketing, viewed from an online marketing professional’s perspective, but also from an online community builder’s perspective. You can also contact me if you need help in thinking about how your business can be more effective with new media.

post

Media wants to be public

I just posted the following on Facebook, in a comment to Gary Chapman, who’s been discussing Facebook privacy…

I’ve always assumed there’s low expectation of privacy on systems like Facebook. While Facebook can do better if they’re clueful, really care, and realize how privacy issues can bite them in the ass – I think there’s also a general difficulty balancing the desire for privacy with the desire to have something called “social media.” Stewart Brand said “information wants to be free,” in this context we might say “media wants to be public.” He also said “information wants to be expensive” because it’s valuable. I suppose the new world of media wants privacy controls, because for so many that control is valuable. We’ll have to sort this out, there’s no going back.

post

Abundance, the ‘net, and the open mind

I recently attended (and blogged and tweeted) Fiber Fete in Lafayette, Louisiana. One highlight of the Fete was David Weinberger’s talk, which closed out a day of presentations and panels about the evolution and implications of high-bandwidth networks. David had been asked to talk about “what we could do if we had ubiquitous, high speed, open, symmetric (i.e., roughly the same speed for uploading and downloading) connectivity.” As we sat together at lunch, he was telling me that he doesn’t really know how to answer that question.

What he did talk about was stimulating and, I think, important to consider: “an assumption of abundance…an abundance of information, links, people, etc.”

The abundance means we will fill up every space we can think of. We are creating plenums (plena?) of sociality, knowledge and ideas, and things (via online sensors). These plenums fill up our social, intellectual and creative spaces. The only thing I can compare them to in terms of what they allow is language itself.

What do they allow? Whatever we will invent. And the range of what we can invent within these plenums is enormous, at least so long as the Net isn’t for anything in particular. As soon as someone decides for us what the Net is “really” for, the range of what we can do with it becomes narrowed. That’s why we need the Net to stay open and undecided.

Read more at David’s site, “JOHO the Blog!” Ignore Richard Bennett’s comments. Think about what David is saying, and feel free to comment here, because I’d love to discuss it.

post

Arianna Huffington – interviewed by Evan Smith

May 4, 2010 – As part of the Texas Monthly Talks series, Evan Smith interviewed Arianna Huffington, in town to speak at a benefit for the Texas Freedom Network. Huffington’s flight arrived late, so the talk was abbreviated. Much of the discussion was about the current state of journalism and Huffington Post’s (HuffPo’s) success as new media hybrid journalism – a combination of user-generated and professional content.

Huffington led with the observation that people want contgent, but they also want engagement – they want “to be part of the story of our time.” That’s the essence of participatory journalism. She said that self-experssion has become the new entertainment. Evan: “It all counts.”

Huffington Post has been successful, has a readership apporaching that of the New York Times, and leaving other major online publishing venues in the dust. She says part of the secret of HuffPo’s success is that “we’re not just talking to people who agree with us.”

HuffPo has a thriving community and “human moderators” that maintain the civility of the conversations – “we don’t want it to be the Glenn Beck Show.” When Rick Perry shot the coyote and it was reported at HuffPo, there was an immediate surge of interst – 1,000 comments within a day. In addition to moderators, the Post’s readers police the site – they wouldn’t be able to manage the conversations without help from the community.

Evan: “What happened to journalism?” Why is for-profit legacy journalism failing? Have they lost sight of their mission, or is it that new media approaches are more compelling. “Are they down, or are you up?”

Huffington responds that they just didn’t get it. When HuffPo launched, legacy media were still skeptical of new approaches (participatory media/social media), but now they’re moving online, moving toward a hybrid model. Pay walls haven’t worked – worked for Wall Street Journal initially, but their subscriptions are down. In this context, she mentioned that traditional tenets of journalism should prevail – meaning that fundamental journalistic ethics and standards will necessarily be maintained in new media. [I’ve been thinking about this, and want to be involved in training news bloggers and citizen journalists. Matt Glazer of Burnt Orange Report and I have been instigating a conference for this purpose.]

Digital natives consume all their news online. We can’t go back to old ways of doing journalism – can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The Internet has a culture of free content that can be monetized [she didn’t specify how, but I suspect she was thinking of advertising and some other mix of revenues associated with brand].

You have to be prepared to take your content to the readers, rather than expecting them to come to you. [This is a 101 new media concept, but always worth repeating.] Evan notes that this implies a “disintermediation of content from the source.” Arianna: “ubiquity is the new exclusivity.”

HuffPo includes content contributed by unpaid bloggers, paying only editors and reporters. Is Huffington building an empire on the backs of unpaid contributors? Not at all – bloggers are leveraging HuffPo’s visibility, finding and building audiences, getting book deals, etc.

HuffPo aggregates content from other sites, too – is this leveraging others’ content? Huffington notes that they strictly follow fair use guidelines and have never been sued for infringement. Aggregation and curation of content are essential parts of an Internet information service. Curation means identify what’s important and elevate it, give it visibility. Put flesh and blood on data.

Evan: “Obama – how is it going?” Huffington says she is very glad he was elected, that he inherited a huge crisis. One problem: he’s surrounded himself with Clintonites like Larry Summers, and did everything humanly possible to save Wall Street, but nothing to save Main Street. Huffington is writing a book on the decline of the middle class, and is very concerned that there is no effort to reverse the decline, which has been going on for thirty years. So Obama’s administration should be doing dramatic things to save the middle class – though he may have done a lot already, he’s not necessarily taking the right approach, making bold moves that he should be making to support those in the middle. Some say he saved the economy, but he didn’t – he just saved Wall Street. We still have 25 million people out of work, and escalating foreclosures.

It also bothers her that no strings were attached to the salvation of Wall Street.

Otherwise, Obama is an extaordinary communicator and has improved U.S. standing in the world community – those are real pluses. “I will definitely vote for him again. What’s the alternative?” The “loyal opposition” is not talking today’s issues seriously. They treat governing like it was a debating club.

The administration’s attempts to be bipartisan are wasted effort, she says. She compares it to guys hitting non Ellen Degeneres “and not being told you’re not going to get anywhere.”

post

Redefining journalism: the International Symposium on Online Journalism

Journalists have been curious, and often anxious, about prospects for the future of news in an era of user generated content, fragmented abundant media, and cheap or free web-based advertising platforms. Nobody doubts the importance of in-depth news reporting, but the business model’s unclear. Many publications are moving online, which may reduce some physical costs but also reduces advertising revenues. There’s still the cost of content development. Sure, you can leverage user-generated free content, which can be very good, but the time and attention required for excellent reporting can’t be free. Said another way, to the extent writing is done without compensation, it tends to be shallow and incomplete. And reporting without editorial process and fact checking is subjective, not authoritative. Reporters may try to be objective and fair, but that’s very hard to do outside a process of vetting, checks and balances.

Academics that study journalism are studying and thinking about the changing present and the future. Several gathered in Austin last week for the International Symposium on Online Journalism. I was there the second day. It was a great event; I came away with my brain churning – though I’ve had an interesting thread of complementary career paths in my life, my original goal was to be a journalist, and I’m most passionate about writing.

You can see my complete tweets (over 250, I think, in one day) here. I also jotted down some notes just after the conference; here are some thoughts based on those notes:

I felt I was hearing a consensus that news is a public good, and news reporting will increasingly be funded, coordinated, and curated through nonprofit entities. I’ve been focused quite a bit lately on Texas Tribune, which is an innovative Texas news organization operating as a nonprofit. Its CEO and editor, Evan Smith, told me at the conference that he’s feeling positive and excited about the future of journalism and the kinds of experiments we were hearing about at the conference.

Former for-profit newspapers are focusing more on infotainment to build and sustain attention and revenue – it’s harder for them to fund hard, in-depth reporting. One potential model would be for nonprofits to report in depth, and provide reporting through content syndication partnerships with for-profits. That may be one wave of the future.

Another interesting experiment presented at the conference: Spot.us, a site set up to source public funding for news stories suggested by – I think the best word to use here is particpants. We were talking a lot about participatory journalism, which could manifest in any number of ways. Anyone who can read, write, and has access to a computer can potentially report news. What works as journalism is, I think, a matter of context. Is the reporting feeding into a journalistic process of some sort, and what sort of analysis/vetting do you have within that process? I’m all for broader sourcing of facts and perspectives, but how that mix becomes journalism in today’s world of social and collaborative media is still being defined.