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”

Money for Nothing and Your Chicks for Free…

( Disclosures: I work for Namemedia, who is technically a competitor of Internet Brands, owners of vBulletin.  I also run several sites that use vBulletin and spend a significant part of my work week working in vBulletin code…)

Over the past month, there’s been a slowly erupting feud in the vBulletin community over the new pricing structure that was announced for vBulletin 4.0 by Internet Brands.

You see, back in the day, the original vBulletin license cost $185 (originally $160 I think) and could be renewed for a yearly fee of $60.  With the new version of the software (which has not been released yet) they are moving to a license per major level release, rather than what might be best described as a yearly fee structure. New licenses will cost $195.

I’m going to say right here, right now, that I don’t get why people are so up in arms about this.  We want Internet Brands to be able to develop excellent software, right?  We want to use the best, right?

Well that won’t happen if they don’t get paid for their software.  Ford does not upgrade your car for free.  Microsoft did not upgrade your Vista operating system to Windows 7 for free, so why the expectation that Internet Brands will offer perpetual free upgrades?

I know part of the complaint is that it’s going to get expensive if you have a bunch of vBulletin sites.  My answer is this: if your sites don’t earn enough to pay for the license upgrade, then perhaps you shouldn’t be running so many sites!  If it isn’t earning then by all means you ought to be running open source software.

The plain truth is this: many of us would pay MORE for vBulletin if we could get an enterprise level support agreement.  Those of us who have mission critical vBulletin installations would love to be able to get preferred support from them.  So perhaps some level of tiering in pricing might work.

The bottom line is this: I have no problem paying good money for good product.  I don’t expect free, and neither should you.  There are plenty of free open source bulletin board solutions out there, if you can’t pay, I suggest you try using one of them.

Sad to say, but the world of vBulletin has far too much drama about it.  Perhaps we will be better off without the complainers…

A few WordPress sites you might not have seen…

I’ve had a few launches recently and a few of them are worth mentioning.

  • domainersavantageThe Afternic Domainer’s Advantage – this is a knowledge center for use by Domainers, which is fully integrated with the AfternicDLS.com site.  For those who aren’t aware, Afternic is the world’s largest premium domain marketplace with over three million domains available for sale. The Domainer’s Advantage site is a fairly standard WordPress installation that makes use of several fairly standard plugins.  Special features:
    • Integrated news feed of domain news
    • Slide Share integration
    • Homepage featured content block
    • Single sign on integration with Afternic
    • Full design integration with the parent site
    • Design by Mark Hentschel – a real design rock star.
  • blogPhotoNetBlog.Photo.Net – photo.net is a site for serious photographers to connect with other photographersexplore photo galleriesdiscuss photographyshare and critique photos, and learn about photography. The blog is maintained by Josh Root, the community director for the site, and is used to provide a taste of the vast content available around the site as well as to post industry news, events, etc.
    • Full design integration with the photo.net site
    • Standard WordPress installation
    • Twitter feed

What is the next Wave?

Google Wave - a chance for us to rethink Social Media?
Google Wave - a chance for us to rethink Social Media?

For some time, I’ve been looking for the next compelling thing in social media sites. For that next development that transforms the way we interact, that re-envisions forums, chat, photo galleries, articles, etc; in fact a redefinition of the way in which we communicate online altogether.

For the past couple years, I’ve watch as vBulletin, my favorite forum software, basically did minor incremental releases, remaining essentially the way it was in 2001.  Wordpress has done better, yet still, the fundamental blog/cmslite experience remains pretty much as it was 4 years ago.  Photo gallery software, chat, etc. all remain pretty much as they were when they burst on the scene.

The user experience on most sites now is very segmented.  Comments are in one spot, while forum posts over here.  Most sites  don’t integrate chat, as it tends to remove us from the page view model on which our revenue streams are so often based.

We’ve patched together separate systems, and in virtually all cases, the seams are showing.  Clear lines of demarcation block logical points of information transfer.  Most of what happens isn’t real time, or anything close to it.  It’s a post then wait and click refresh experience for most of what we do.

That’s the point of entry for Google Wave, the new open source project that launched in private beta today.  It has real time communications, chat has both private/public components, that can take on the threaded view of a forum with real time updates, that can be presented as a forum, or a blog, or whatever you imagine.

You see the important thing here for a developer is that they’ve built the basic tools, but we can add whatever we want via their api.  To demonstrate this, they added Google maps integration.  Yet that bit could be a video, or even better a live video stream or a recorded application view (think Webex presentation), live photo gallery, or all of them.  All of which can be manipulated and edited real time by multiple users.

So what is this Google Wave, really?  It’s opportunity for us to FINALLY break out of the box, to really do something new and different, to for once rethink the way we do our sites.

I can’t wait…

Check out the abridged version of the video from the I/O conference to get a taste of what I’m talking about.

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.

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…

A Grand Diaspora – The “Conversation” Disappears in the Ether

One of the things that is most missed in the Social Media rush to “join the conversation” is that in many cases, by offering a plethora of places to get our content, we’ve turned the tables.  Our readers who used to find us now expect us to find them.  Even though I write on my blog, I’ll often get the comments for that post on my Facebook page, or via FriendFeed or Twitter, or on some other blog somewhere that quoted from my post.  So instead of my comments coming to me, right alongside my post, I need to schlep out into the great wide web and find them.

Think about where your content appears.  It may start on your blog, then it shows up on a myriad of social media platforms in which you participate, each with their own means of commenting or discussion and even, in some cases, yet another email function.  Let’s face it, in many cases, those commenting functions are ratholes.  You may not even see them for days or weeks, at which point, why would you even bother responding?

Look at the previous post here.  I had a great comment that came in via my Facebook account, but I had to do a cut and paste to pull it into my blog.  How 1998 that functionality is.

How about:

  • If social apps offered a “redirect comments to original publishing platform” option?
  • What if we had a function like a ping back that used xml-rpc to import a comment when it was made on your Facebook, or on another blog.
  • How about if readers thought to try to comment on the original article, instead of the summary?

I love comments, I love forum discussions.  The problem I have is that when you start to spread them out acrross many separate and distinct platforms, their value decreases.  The “conversation” is affectively split and disjointed, and we end up with a grand, yet failed, experiment.

Reel-Time.com Updated

rt_sshot1Over the past couple months, I’ve been working nights and weekends to get Reel-time.com updated and running on WordPress.  The project, while far from complete, reached critical mass this week and I was able to go live Tuesday night.

This site has been around since 1995, and frankly, if you knew where to look, it was showing it’s age.  The homepage was left justified, which is something designers haven’t been doing since around 2001.

There were a lot of challenges.  First off, a lot of the content was gnarly hand-coded html of varying quality, which for the most part has had to be moved by hand.  That task will no doubt continue for a while.  Secondly, I didn’t have call on a designer.  As such, what design work had to be done, was done by me…and if you could see how I dress, you’d understand humor in that. A few of the high points:

  • WordPress is my CMS – Yes, I’ve been running a number of sites on a version we’ve customized at Namemedia, Inc., but this is the first time I’ve gone with an out of the box installation.  All customization for the site is done by plugin or theme.  Absolutely no changes to WordPress code whatsoever.
  • Comments, Sharing, etc. – Reel-Time never had comments on articles before, so now it does.  A small change, but actually one that will help to extend the community from the forum out into the  site.
  • Syndicated News Feeds – In the past, we always avoided sharing the link love.  No longer – we’re running feeds of pertinent content on our landing pages which gives us more great content from around the globe and shares our link juice, being top in Saltwater Fly fishing rankings.
  • Landing Pages – We’ve started doing pages by article category, so now we can present a dense, targeted page on any topic in our vast arsenal of content.  Add to that feeds of content similarly tagged from our forum, and the syndicated feeds, and you’ve got tons of content on any particular subject.  I only have a handful of these pages up, but rest assured, if it swims in saltwater and fishermen like to catch it, it will eventually have its own page.
  • A Standard Theme – I went with a base theme from the WordPress Theme Gallery then customized.  It saved time, and honestly, without it, I doubt this project ever would have happened.
  • A Classified Ad System – I’ve thought this was one of the big missing functions on the site for a long time.  Now we have one.  The question is, are we late to the game?
  • Vimeo Videos presented in high definition – Everybody has small videos, so I went with really LARGE video presentation.  It looks great, although I need to get more ads on the page.
  • New Content – for the first time in a long time, we’ve got new articles coming in.  I have no budget for this stuff, so I asked our community.  They have responded.
  • More Social – I put in links to our Facebook Group, Facebook Fan Page and to the Reel_Time twitter account.  Again, there is a lot more to do here.

I still have a lot of stuff to do.  If you read this blog closely, you’ll know that I had a quandry about what to do with our fishing reports section.  I think I have a solution to that, which I’ll be working on next.  Also on my list:

  • Develop a Content Team – me working 30 hours a week won’t happen anymore.  The work must be spread around the community.
  • Import All the Content – about 50 stories remain to be imported.  From there I have old fishing reports with valueable intro sections by some of the best writers in our sport (many started out writing for us).
  • Get More Community Happening – I’ll hold this one close to the vest for new.  I’m well aware that this blog is read by some that participate in my niche, so no need to tip my hat here.

Remember, one of the salient points here is that this was a nights and weekends project, only a 2 days of actual “work” time went into it.  Also, the an important round of thanks to the moderators for the site, Bob Parsons, Sam Riley, Ray Avitable and Shaun Ruge who were of immense assistance in the planning and as always, in providing a firm sounding board for potential ideas.  Without them, the site, I fear, would crumble to dust.

Okay, there was one other MAJOR change and no one has commented on it.  Can you?

Web Development: A Blog to Watch

If you’re not a developer or ever spend time in the engine room of the Internet, ie. working with servers, move on, there’s nothing to see here.  On the other hand, if you do, I’ve got just the blog for you.  Over the past couple months, Matt Sheilds, System Administrator extraordinaire, has resumed blogging at a new site, SysadminValley.com.  

If you want quick access to the tips and tricks that will make your Linux servers or MySQL databases hum along at peak efficiency, this is the place for you.  Sheilds delivers in spades.  For example, the other day I needed info on how to do a SED search on a server to replace multiple instances of some text within a bunch of files.  So off I went to Matt’s site and I found exactly what I was looking for.  While there, I also found a neat MySQL tuning tool which helped us diagnose some of the problems we were having a on one of our sites.  That’s the kind of Twofer I can use!

He’s building the site out with information on things he comes across in his day to day work with the 900,000 domains Namemedia has under management (disclosure, I too, work for Namemedia).  He’s a guy I rely on, and you should as well.