WordPress 3.6 Coming – But I Really Want Workflow

wordpress-logo_318-40291.pngWe’ve got another fairly interesting release from WordPress on the way – 3.6.  From Mark Jaquith’s post on features:

  • Post Formats:  Post Formats now have their own UI, and theme authors have access to templating functions to access the structured data.
  • Twenty Thirteen: We’re shipping this year’s default theme in our first release of the year. Twenty Thirteen is an opinionated, color-rich, blog-centric theme that makes full use of the new Post Formats support.
  • Audio/Video: You can embed audio and video files into your posts without relying on a plugin or a third party media hosting service.
  • Autosave:  Posts are now autosaved locally. If your browser crashes, your computer dies, or the server goes offline as you’re saving, you won’t lose the your post.
  • Post Locking:  See when someone is currently editing a post, and kick them out of it if they fall asleep at the keyboard.
  • Nav Menus:  Nav menus have been simplified with an accordion-based UI, and a separate tab for bulk-assigning menus to locations.
  • Revisions: The all-new revisions UI features avatars, a slider that “scrubs” through history, and two-slider range comparisons.

All good features.  However I would suggest that it’s time for WordPress to address the one major feature of a CMS that they have woefully ignored: Workflow.

At it’s basic level, Workflow is the movement of information or tasks through a work process. In our case, it’s content as it moves through the WordPress system. This might be as simple as the blogger opening the editor, writing his content, adding a couple pictures, and then clicking publish; essentially three workflow steps.  In a larger media organization, that general process becomes much more involved as more people perform separate and distinct tasks.  The workflow might look more like:

  • Editor assigns story and deadline
  • Writer researches story
  • Writer writes story
  • Writer archives story research items (not for publication but as resources that may be used later)
  • Copy editor edits story
  • Photographer takes photos,
  • Photo editor edits photos
  • Editor (or someone) adds photos to story

So our simple task now involves 5 people at least, as well as spanning 8 distinct workflow steps.  Now realize there may be several cases of back and forth, for example., the editor sends the story back to the writer for rewrite, or the photo editor realizes they need another photo, etc.  Similarly, these same people are each involved in multiple workflows at the same time.

How do we keep it all straight?

Basically, we’d need a way to provide a “To Do” list for each of the members of our team.  The items on that list all might have separate deadlines, which would then allow our editor to see the progress of the story, as well as adequately budget time for the various resources.  Obviously your photographer isn’t going to be at two ends of the county at once…thus the editor is able to “budget” his resources.  Now extrapolate that to including not just your human resources, but perhaps your equipment.  Perhaps you’ve got two events your covering and you want to film both with your Red Camera.  Problem is that you’ve only got the one, and the events are both at the same time.

For your human resources, they are able to get notifications when something is ready for them.  In the newspaper world, a copy editor would see the article appear in his “queue” (his task list) and then he’d proceed to edit it.  This article might be assigned specifically to him, or perhaps it might be generically assigned to someone with the role “copy editor”.

Perhaps this system also enables us to get notifications on things.  Such as impending (or worse yet, passed) deadlines.  Or new work that needs to be done.  And maybe that notification is can be made at several levels of urgency.  Level one just sends an email, whereas level 4 alerts you via sms, email, tweet, and probably also warns the editor to something such as a missed deadline.

…And then, magic happens.

So let’s think about those steps in our workflow again.  We’re assuming that all of these steps are human steps.  They probably aren’t.  You might have videos uploaded to the system, and perhaps once they have been edited, you have an automated step that sends then through a program (which isn’t part of WordPress) to convert them to various formats.  Or maybe you have a program that extracts keywords from a post and creates a summary post that gets automatically tweeted out.  Simple stuff…but important.

So that is sort of what I’d like to see.  In it’s core, WordPress works well as a CMS, but the management of people and work is sorely missing. Yes, it is possible to cobble much of this together, but in my mind, there is no reason not to provide it in the system itself.  Many of us would be working much more efficiently and the system would certainly get much more acceptance as a real CMS for Media and Enterprise.

(If you’re interested in how you can setup a system with this level of functionality let me know – I’ve already got some of this working right now)

The 2012 New England Boat Show – Video Edition

This year, we pretty much only shot video, using my Evo 4g with an 8 mp onboard camera.  It’s really  the first time I’ve edited one of my videos down for release, and I can see a few obvious problems, such as the horizontal vs. vertical issue which has got to be as rookie as you get.  Still, I think it came together well enough to share.

So without further ado, the 2012 New England Boat Show in 4 minutes…

Boat dealers, you’ll remember where the comments section is below from the past couple years…  Everyone else, I look forward to your thoughts on this video effort vs. the print reviews of the past few years.

Other Links…

The 2011 Boat Show
The 2010 Boat Show
The 2009 Boat Show


You Want Fries With That? Journalism in a Changing World

<This article was written in early September, and I can’t remember why I didn’t publish it then.  Must have had more to say, but I can’t remember it now…>

A look through my archives here will show you that I used to cover a lot of the downward slide of the newspaper industry.  It’s been a long time since I even bothered to write about Journalism and the not-so-slow downward spiral.

This morning a few things sparked my interest.  I picked up a copy of the Worcester Telegram, the rag I used to write for, and I have to admit I was shocked…in the way one is shocked when one sees an old friend riddled with cancer, gaunt, and hollow, and barely clinging on.  The weight of the newsprint, the general thinness, it was the mere shell of my once proud and noble friend.

Then I had my attention drawn to this article from Forbes the other day, in which Jeff Bercovici discusses layoffs from Slate.com the other day.  Normally I don’t even waste my time pontificating on journalism layoffs anymore.  This is different…this is an online flagship dismissing some of their top names.  The statement it makes is truly horrifying…

So I’m bummed about this. And I also found something Shafer said to the Washington Post rationalizing his layoff to be telling. He said:

The Washington Post has done this. The New York Times has done this. It doesn’t necessarily mean a huge, unsolvable crisis. It just means we have to economize. Many publications have to right-size themselves in this current economic environment.

Shafer could just as easily have said “Gawker Media has done this” and that would have been true. But the comparison to newspapers was more apt. With an editorial staff of 40, Slate (which is owned by the Washington Post Co.) is a fraction the size of those papers, but it’s built on the same model: a general-interest publication that tries to hit all the news people are interested in every day.

The thing is, this isn’t a boring broadsheet laying off, it’s an online property, the kind that were supposed to be eating the lunch of the newspapers, magazines and any old media that happened to get in their way.

We’re proving that online doesn’t exactly pay either.  If Slate.com can’t make quality journalism pay, then who can?

Have we conditioned readers to expect free content at the expense of quality journalism?  I hate to think so, but the case is clear.


A Few Coherent Thoughts on Murdoch Blocking Google

Yesterday Rupert Murdoch, Chairman of News Corp, said that he was going to have Google blocked from all New Corp. websites.  That means something

From EditorandPublisher.com:

The Chairman of News Corp. said in an interview with Sky News Australia (reported here in MediaWeek U.K.) that once the newspapers get their paywalls, News Corp. plans to pull its content from the likes of Google and others.

Murdoch said: “We’d rather have fewer people come to the Web site and pay. Consumers shouldn’t have had free news all the time — I think we’ve been asleep. It costs us a lot of money to put together good newspapers and good content. No news Web sites anywhere in the world are making large amounts of money.”

Immediately the web went all a flutter, myself included, predicting that that Murdoch would rue the day.  Joe Mandese at Mediapost.com noted:

According to an analysis of Google-generated traffic released late Monday by Experian’s Hitwise service, Google and Google News currently account for more than 25% of the daily traffic to the Wall Street Journal‘s WSJ.com site.

That’s an awful lot of traffic to put at risk.  Now the other side of the coin is that Murdoch knows that showing tons of traffic low cost network ads begging them to Punch the Monkey or telling them they just won a lottery is the absolute path of least resistence.  You go there when you have nothing else to possibly do… Continue reading “A Few Coherent Thoughts on Murdoch Blocking Google”

The Death Knell of Paid Posts

Yesterday the Federal Trade Commission issued it’s first change the policy on endorsements in over 30 years.  From this point forward, if you accept any form of payment for a post, you need to disclose it.  PCWorld.com sums it up:

Bottom Line: If you receive gifts, money or any other type of compensation from a product manufacturer or service provider you have to disclose it.

For the record, it’s always been my policy that if there’s any possibility of conflict of interest, I disclose, as do others.  Obviously, I work for Namemedia Inc. and when I write about our sites or services, I am going to be slightly biased, but here, the voice is mine and I write about what I want.

A month or so ago, my wife asked me to write a post about a company she had a good service experience with, honestly I forget who it was.  I turned her down…much to my later chagrin.  I did offer to give her a login so that she might faun over them under her own byline.  The truth is that I couldn’t recommend a business I had no experience with, even if my own wife told me to.  Yes, the view from the dog house is quite lovely this time of year.

The timing for this ruling could not have been better, coming right after the Izeafest show in Orlando, which is a celebration of the sponsored tweet.  I’ll make the statement right here and now, sponsored tweets will be one of the things that will kill Twitter.  That and the inevitable move to niche real-time web services.  The minute you begin to appear as not genuine in social media, you’re on a down hill slide.

It’s just sad that the FTC had to actually put into regulations that which we, as bloggers, marketers, etc. should have known all along.

Has the Public Library Killed Book Publishers?

As I was in the local public library picking up a little something to read on Saturday, I realized there was an interesting parallel between that and Internet file sharing.

What does the library do after all; it loans books for free to people.  The same books which both publishers and authors base their entire commercial livelihood.  Thus if the picture the music industry draws of the dire future for music if file sharing is allowed continue were really a concern, every book publisher and author in the country would have gone bankrupt long ago.

Instead, the public library is a place where publishers want their books to be.  They realize that by having them there, people will read them, then talk about them, thus causing other people to want to read them.  And some of those folks will actually buy the book…or even people who read the book at the library may decide they want to own a copy (yes, I have done this…).  Why would the recording industry or movie industry expect anything different for them?

In fact, many libraries also carry dvds of the same albums and movie which the recording industry is trying to protect, and loan them, for free…

Let’s here what you have to say on the issue…comment away!

Newspaper Tipping Point: Current Events

My 11 yo daughter called me while I was driving home last night, to ask me to pick up a newspaper so she could start her weekly current events assignment for school.  Without thinking, I told her “you don’t want a newspaper for that, you need to get the information of the web where it’s up to date.”

Now I’ve worked with newspapers on and off since my days atthe  University of Vermont, and I worked for Atex where we engineered newspaper publishing software for close to a decade.  My grandfather was a linotype operator.  For me to tell her that the print edition of newspapers weren’t the place to go for current events was a huge step.

The revelation: the print edition is all old news, yesterday’s news, in fact.

However, it was also particially incorrect.  She’s certainly be getting newspaper content for her current events brief.  It just won’t be from the print edition.

Strangely enough, I realized as I drove to the office today that the best way for her to put together her little weekly assignment would be to do the whole thing electronically.  That way she could link back to the original content, using only a summary so as not to violate copyright and run afoul of the AP and their army of revenue enhancement lawyers.  Now that would truly be a skill that all kids should be learning in school today.

So there it is, the point at which I realize I have no use save bird cage liner for the print edition…it is now as useful as would be one of those old linotype machines that were once state of the art in type setting.

The Advent of the Micro-Celebrity

Admit it...you want to be the object of attention!
Admit it...you want to be the object of attention!

Welcome to our brave new world…it is a place in which style triumphs substance, and appearance supercedes truth.  A place where the personal myths we create become truth, and are rechristened as “personal branding.”

We are in the age of the micro-celebrity. The era in which we don’t need to be fully rounded individuals, where simply being the “thought leader”, guru or expert in a certain online niche is enough.  Warhol was right, we indeed will all have our 15 minutes of fame.

Deep down, we all really want to be the Paris Hilton of our own personal fiefdom.  We’d all like to have red carpets rolled out for us, to have a tribe of fauning syncopants to “me too” our every post.  We want everyone to realize what utter geniuses we really are.

The problem is that in online communities, like sewerage treatment plants, it is not only cream that floats the the top.  It is easy, at least for a time, for the poseur to assume a position of stature within a community.  The good news is that over time, and as the community matures, the fraud is generally identified, the true experts eventually become evident.

So how do we become that micro-celebrity in our online community?

  • Be a good citizen – it’s not all about getting involved in the latest falderall.  Take the time to welcome newbies, answer the simple questions, and generally be available.
  • Correct The Incorrect – I see oh so many “accepted truths” that are absolutely incorrect.  Perhaps they fit for one situation, but not for the one in question.  Don’t let it pass, but do so in a way that builds the corpus scientia, without starting a flame war.
  • Discuss and Accept –  We don’t know everything…and we’re learning all the time.
  • Give Credit – It’s easy to do, and everyone likes to be appreciated.

I’m tempted to add a list of what not to do, but instead I just offer this advice: before you are the teacher, you must first be the student.

News Has Always Been Free…

Image couresy of WSJ.com

I read an interesting post this morning by Michael Hickins on The Faster Times that posit that “Internet Isn’t Killing Papers, We Are“.  His basic premise: that the tech industry, and the web in particular with with the dotbomb era and sky high salaries and insane stock packages, inflated journalist salaries well beyond their regular levels.

Why? Because salaries had to be adjusted for the stock options that artificially inflated the potential compensation packages offered by the dot-com start-ups. How could Walgreen’s compete against Drugstore.com without compensating for the stock options that could make someone an instant millionaire? They couldn’t. The dot-com bubble burst threw some people out of work for a short period of time, but did nothing to bring salaries back into line.

So all of a sudden, in 2001, I went from making $45,000 for the print publication to $60,000 per year for the online version while working for the same publisher, Conde Nast. Not that I complained. At my last full-time position, I made $90,000 per year working as an editor at Ziff Davis Enterprise – and had reporters working for me who earned well above that. It’s public knowledge that Walter Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal earns over $1 million per year.

I posted the link via Twitter and was quickly reminded by Stephen Hadley that “…Most of my reporter friends who are losing their jobs aren’t overpaid. It’s just that the papers they work for no longer are able to sell advertising to support their staffs. Ad dollars are moving.”

That, to my mind is the crux of the matter. You will definitely spot other problems throughout the newspaper industry, but the real problem right now is ad revenue going away.  This doesn’t mean that there aren’t a myriad of other compounding issues here, such as circulation declines, outdated technology, Jurassic management, etc., and certainly those are all factors.  But the real problem comes down simply to a matter of dollars not coming in the doors.

Brian Carr pointed me towards the AnnArbor.com launch – a Michigan newspaper opened a new site, using 54  staff members. (according to their site masthead)  Ponder this: 54 newspaper folk took a couple months to launch a site using what appears to be a bog standard MoveableType installation.  Frankly, given part of a weekend and a 12 pack of Mountain Dew, I could have outdone them.  Seriously…

The big problem for journalists is this: even though Hickins may tell us that the web got us big salaries back in the day, the sad truth is this: the prevailing thought on the Internet today is that content is free.  As content originators, that means our work isn’t under valued, if FLAT OUT ISN’T VALUED.

Back in the day, I got $500 for a blog post.  Granted, those were some excellent blog posts, but right now I do basically the same thing for free.

Look at the fiasco a few weeks back when Chris Anderson, of Long Tail fame, and EIC of Wired Magazine lifted huge sections of wikipedia articles for his new book “Free: the Past and  Future of a Radical Price” (and yes, he’s talking about free content…). If a Wired Magazine editor can’t even manage to properly cite Wikipedia, what does that say for his view of the value of content?  Oh, right, I guess we should re-read the title of that book…

The real problem inherent in all of this is that after we’re done killing off all the reliable primary news sources, such as newspapers, television news, or even magazines, is that we’ll find we’re left with a gaping void.  The thought is that blogs will take over.  unfortunately, while blogs are generally interesting sources of commentary and opinion, I see very few that provide anything like news, and when and where they do it, they generally do not do it reliably.  You can’t count on today’s source to have good info, or any info, tomorrow, and you definitely should not expect extensive enough general coverage that will allow you to get a good picture of the world, or any small part of it for that particular piece of time.

Okay, I’m sure one of you is thinking now about the Iranian Election a few weeks ago, and how it broke on Twitter.  In fact, it would have broken on major news outlets as well, but it got bumped for the MJ Media Circus.  Even so, Twitter may be many things, but it’s not a reliable primary news source.  Yes, it may provide a lead here or there, but any good journalist knows, that’s just where the story starts…not where it ends.

Getting back to the original theme here, I think now that we can see that news generation was a loss leader for newspapers.  It took a lot of effort to do it right, but it was something they could monetize through ad revenue.  Today, we need to forget about how content gets delivered, and remember that content generation is still a valuable and necessary product.  When we rediscover a proper way to monetize it, the world for journalist and everyone will be a better place.

Because none of us wants to work for free…

5 Lessons from a Social Media Campaign Gone Horribly Wrong

Jim Louderback of Revision3.com has a great article up at JackMyers.com entitled “Murphy-Goode Wines Social Media Campaign Goes Horribly Wrong” about the companies recent trip to the Internet woodshed over their handling of I-celeb Martin Sargent during a recent online spokesperson ballot.

While the specifics are generally quite funny…Jim gives us an excellent list of 5 takeaways that any of us who might consider a Social Media campaign ought to commit to heart:

Respect the Wisdom of the Crowds: If you’re going to solicit entries from the internet, and then ask people to vote, then you need to at least pretend to abide by their selection. Murphy-Goode built a framework that would have let them finesse this. All they had to do was put the top ten vote getters into their top 50. Even if they had zero intention of ever giving Martin or the other nine a job, they should have – at a minimum – given them some recognition for winning the popular vote.

Know Your Web Stars: You may have never heard of Martin Sargent. But he’s an extremely powerful web celebrity – both because of his own following, and his influential friends. If John Stewart, Tom Brady or Britney Spears had entered – or even Wine Spectator editor James Laube — you can be sure they would have been treated with kid gloves. Martin got snubbed and snubbing sucks. But Martin was powerful enough to get a (well deserved) revenge.

Monitor Constantly: While running a social media campaign, keep a close eye on what the social-sphere is saying about your brand. Use Twitter search toolsTweet DeckTrendrrbacktype – among others – to keep track of how your campaign is doing. And when you notice something going awry…

Fix it Fast: As soon as “Martin-Gate” began to spread around the web, Murphy-Goode should have jumped in and fixed it. Perhaps they could have added a 51st finalist to the list. Or maybe they could have expanded the competition to end up with two winners, a winery choice and a people’s choice. Rapid action could have saved this campaign. Even an apology and am “I’m Sorry” would have gone a long way to repairing the winery’s reputation. Instead, company representatives responded with lame platitudes like “You’re too famous” and called Martin overqualified for the job. That just served to fan the flames – particularly because one of the top ten finalists was Rachel Reenstra, former Animal Planet and HGTV show host.

Don’t be half-assed: But here’s the biggest slap to the face of everyone who created, watched, voted and even paid attention to this online kerfuffle. As the story got out, it turned out that some of the candidates for the temporary position were actually sourced by recruiters, who told them that “the online votes were relatively unimportant.” That’s the worst thing that ever could have gotten out. Today’s engaged social network users are no less passionate than the millions of Iranians that flooded the street when their votes were ignored. And they’re far more connected as well. Be honest, be authentic and be real. Murphy-Goode, alas, tried to pull a fast one. But on the internet, it’s extremely hard to be opaque.

I think the big thing here is this: if you’re going to do a campaign that is designed to look and feel “democratic” you better be prepared to accept whatever the results from the people are.  Otherwise you’re going to have a lot of people feeling very disenfranchised, and in the end, that’s worse than not having done the campaign at all.