Full On Winston Wolfe Mode

Sorry for the lack of updates.  I’ve been in full on Winston Wolfe mode for the past week and a half as I got pulled into a time critical project to upgrade performance using Akamai for 15 or our websites, some of which I’ve never seen before.

The good news is that the Akamai DSA product is for real – an incredible boost to performance that requires very little work to set up and very real benefits.

This sums up my life for the past two weeks:  Winston Wolfe

The Wolf: You’re… Jimmie, right? This is your house?
Jimmie: Sure is.
The Wolf: I’m Winston Wolfe. I solve problems.
Jimmie: Good, we got one.
The Wolf: So I heard. May I come in?
Jimmie: Uh, yeah, please do.

WordPress 2.6 – It’s a CMS, Baby!

I remember when I first setup WordPress back in 2003, the old 1.x days, my comment was that “It’s just like a CMS (content management system) with most of the functionality removed.” Well, with the release of WordPress 2.6, I can finally eat my words. It’s now simply a content management system, and a darned good one at that.

That’s right, content management system. To call it a blogging platform is to sell it short. It’s now all the features I expect to see in a simple content management system, and two that we do not expect to see: it is both easy to use and easy to maintain.

Is it Enterprise level software? No, probably not, although it is certainly scalable and customizable. But that doesn’t mean it’s not in use at corporations around the globe. I know of many that now rather than calling their Interwoven contractor will fire up a new WP install for certain needs.

So here is a run down of the new features that make the difference for me:

  • Revision History: this was never a big deal to bloggers, as we generally are lone gunmen. However when you enter a multiple user environment, you need a fast and easy way to see who did what and when, plus the ability to revert to a previous version. This is a staple of the *big bad print cms editorial system* and has been a glaring hole in the WP system by my estimation.
  • Image Editing: The previous version hinted at the auto resize capability of the system by offering thumb, medium or large image sizes for anything you uploaded. Now I can select the exact width I want for the image, assign any of the data I want, link it as I wish, all within a neat little flash app. Image editing in WordPress.

    Image editing in WordPress
  • Image Resize: Now I can resize to any size I want (just upload the image, click “insert to post” then you can reopen the image by hovering over it in the editor, clicking the edit image that will appear on the image, and you’ll see you have complete resize options.
  • Add Style Code to Image: Also, now I can edit style code directly into the image editor. This is the main reason that you always see my images aligned on this blog to the right, I never took the time to add a padding-right: 3px; to the style sheet, so I didn’t like the way it looked. These styles can now be added directly in the editor.

  • Image Caption: Then there’s the image caption feature – again, I can just write in a caption and I’ve got an image caption. One of the little things, but it’s been missing from this (and many other cms systems) for a long time.
  • More Edit Info In Editor: I can now at a glance see the last save time, last edited by and word count info. Also, I have direct link access to see comments, manage comments, manage all posts, manage categories, manage tags, and view drafts. Basically the stuff I need if I’m a production editor working on numerous posts, is right there, so I don’t have to go looking.
  • Better Plugin Management: I love that they have separated my active plugins from my inactive plugins. Of course, it just highlights to me that if I am not using a plugin it should be removed.
  • Gears Integration: Typically when we start to add so much functionality via a browser, performance starts to drop. I haven’t seen any issues, but WordPress has added Gears support to handle this. Just click the “turbo” button in the far upper right hand corner.

The single biggest feature though, is one that will come in handy for the lone gunman blogger: they will now be able to do an automatic (single click) update for WordPress when a new version comes out. That’s a huge feature, and will help the less technical stay up to date and secure.

So far, the only issue I’ve seen is that my Tag Suggest Plugin appears to have stopped working. A very small price to pay. I was able to update the site in about 10 minutes, most of which was spent downloading and uploading files. For the first time I did an autoupdate on the recently updated plugins, which was sweet.

Congratulations to the Automattic team and happy Blogging Content Managing to all!

(An after thought a day later: I should probably mention that I’ve got 10 high volume multiuser sites running on WP, where we use it as a CMS, some getting over 10 million visits a month. This update brought in the final bits the system needed in my estimation...)

Yet Another Newspaper Outsourcing Post

Sean Pollay pointed out that the Boston Herald will be outsourcing printing and laying off up to 160 employees.  This from E&P:

The Boston Herald will layoff between 130 and 160 workers under a plan to outsource its printing operations to other locations within the state, the paper reported Tuesday.

The publisher attributes the action to the fact that some of their newspapers have presses that are more than 50 years old, which one would expect are a maintenance nightmare.  This one directly affects the unions:

“Some grim-faced union leaders declined comment as they emerged from a meeting with Purcell in his office late this morning,” the Herald added. “Purcell described the meeting as ‘somber,’ even as he praised union leaders for all they’ve done over the years to keep the Herald in operation.”

Some 10 unions would be affected by the printing move, which is expected to start in late September or early October, the paper reported. Workers include pressmen, mailers, engravers and paper handlers.

In the long run, we’re going to see more papers doing this.  Arthur Sulzberger Jr. suggested last year that he could see The New York Times not printing it’s own papers within 10 years.  Think of print as just one delivery means for a newspapers product, and at that, an extremely costly one, and you’ll have a good idea of where this may lead.


Newspaper Deathwatch: OC Register Tests Outsourcing Editing to India

When Reuters did this 6 years ago, we all laughed at them. “Want curry with that?” Now respected American daily The Orange County Register has begun a test using a New Delhi firm for editing tasks. From BusinessWeek:

Orange County Register Communications Inc. will begin a one-month trial with Mindworks Global Media at the end of June, said John Fabris, a deputy editor at the Register.

Mindworks’ Web site says the company is based outside New Delhi and provides “high-quality editorial and design services to global media firms … using top-end journalistic and design talent in India.”

So what’s it mean? In the short term, nothing. In the long term its just one more bit of evidence that the print publishing model for newspapers isn’t going to work forever. In fact just minutes ago The Washington Post posted this:

…We wonder and worry, too. Anxiety has intensified this year with an accelerating decline in newspaper advertising, and it has hit home for us in a particularly painful way this spring, first with the early retirements of scores of colleagues and then, this week, with Len Downie‘s announcement that he’ll step down Sept. 8 after 17 years as executive editor.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg last week noted that The New York Times has seen it’s biggest Ad Revenue drop of the year during May.

Ad sales at the News Media Group, including the New York Times and Boston Globe, fell to $130 million, the company said in a statement today. Total sales declined 6.6 percent to $227.5 million as increased circulation revenue couldn’t offset drops in national, retail and classified ads.

The deterioration in May advertising mirrors drops at other U.S. newspaper publishers. Gannett Co., the owner of USA Today, reported yesterday that newspaper ad sales fell 14 percent in May. Those declines follow the industry’s worst quarter on record in the three months through March, according to the Newspaper Association of America.

“Expectations were that 2008 would be similar to 2007, but clearly things have gotten worse,” John Morton, an independent newspaper industry analyst in Silver Spring, Maryland, said in an interview. “Classified is in a tailspin, and there’s no hope for newspaper advertising until they win back some of that revenue.”

Meanwhile, in the This Week In Media Podcast this week, Alec Lindsey suggested that 2010 was the year that the model would break for the broadcast television market, stating that it would probably be the first year in which a revenue decline would be seen in the Upfronts. So, Mr. Television, your time is coming…

The real message here is that the traditional media model is utterly broken, and while it may be too late for print, television might still have time. My money is on the new online media providers and the networks slowly cutting their affiliates and the cable outlets out of the loop.

The Newspaper Decline – The Side We Don’t See

We’re generally quite happy to say it’s the online revolution that’s killing print media. Sure, it’s had it’s effect, but the truth is that there’s (as there generally is with all things) more to the story.

You see the downturn for print also came at a time when big print publishers (aka “newspapers”) were starting to get a whole lot more information to deal with. They had invested in systems that allowed them to get into some very extensive data modeling which allowed them for probably the first time to get a real picture of their subscriber base (readers) and that understanding caused them to do what any prudent business owner would do, prune out the non-profitable distribution means and concentrate on the most profitable areas.

What happened was that the papers realized that the increased cost of distribution for outlying areas wasn’t worth it, due to the fact that these areas tended to have a much higher cost of reader acquisition (the cost the paper incurs getting you to sign up) and a much higher Churn Rate (the rate at which customers drop subscriptions).

There’s been a lot of mastication on this issue around Blogykistan, but I can tell you this as a point of fact: newspaper system vendors put a lot of time and money into developing newspaper circulation business intelligence systems, and they did play a roll, no matter what anyone says to the contrary. I was a witness while I worked at Atex. It was the grand plan to “high grade” the readership and “treat your best customers best.”

Deep inside this is the real motivator: as time goes on, it becomes harder and harder for newspapers to make a profit delivering papers. Fuel costs rise, unions push for more money and slowly, it becomes economically unfeasible to to deliver to more and more areas. Meanwhile, they have pressure from the web where there aren’t the same costs. If gas costs go up, they have a more subtle effect, via energy costs (and believe me, data centers use energy) as well as the pressure for employee cost of living raises.

As Ken Doctor notes in his blog, the newspapers he dealt with:

offered the “cutback to quality circ” argument and said they’d cycle through that within a year or so. In Year Four, it seems like less compelling a reason. Just how much how low-quality circ is out there, anyway, or is the definition of it a rolling phenomenon?

Welcome to the brave new world, the newspapers are going to be riding that horse into the ground. You see, once you start making decisions based upon certain metrics, it becomes incredibly hard to stop.

So really, it isn’t just online that’s managed to hurt newspapers, its a confluence of many factors. Think of it as a “Perfect Sh*t Storm.”

One place it looks like they’ve actually made the transition is at IDG, where their trade magazines have made the transition from print to online. From the NY Times:

Across the company, the remaining print publications still typically play a vital role, but a lesser one — physically smaller and financially diminished. In 2002, 86 percent of the revenue from I.D.G.’s publications came from print and 14 percent online. These days, 52 percent of the revenue is from online ads, while 48 percent is from the print side.

Last year, print and online publications accounted for 70 percent of I.D.G.’s $3 billion in revenue, with the rest coming from its conference business and its technology research firm, I.D.C.

Of course, numbers can be made to lie, and the statements they don’t make leave an awfully big whole in the story.

  1. Has overall media revenue increased, decreased, remained the same?
  2. What’s the comparision of Ebita for the past few years?
  3. What’s the net affect on employment – more or less jobs (I’m guessing less…)?
  4. In short, is I.D.G. really doing better now than they were in say 2002?

I don’t mean to sound snarky – I am really and truly hoping this is working as well as the NYT would have us believe. Yet, it doesn’t offer a complete roadmap for newspapers, as I.D.G. is really in the tech news sector, and let’s face it, none of us are willing to wait over 30 days for a full print cycle to get our tech news. We want to get it now, and that’s why they’ve got to deliver online.

David Churbuck has a good take on what’s going on at I.D.G. on his blog.

What I saw was a company in the throes of a difficult transition from decades of print excellence to the more ephemeral but pressing world of online news. Print and online dichotomies were tough, but in the end it was the red ink that pushed the print legacy to one side (InfoWorld went online only) and broke down the old artificial barriers between print and online editorial staffs.

(Disclosure: I was webmaster for Atex, a leading system supplier for the print industry for 7 years where I worked with top minds in circulation and data modeling like Nettie Angotti, Betsy Hofflin and Arnie Korshin, and did contract work for I.D.G. subsidiary CXO Media)

Another Post on the NameMedia Launches

Tom Willmot of EdgeDesigns, one of our team lead developers posts on the launches of www.hotcars.com and www.dreamwheels.com last week. He succinctly sums up the niche social networks for those not familiar:

A niche social network is simply a social network aimed squarely at a niche interest, be it wine or geeks. You take the classic social network components: user profiles, friends lists, user messaging, forums and groups; and then you tailor the experience towards your intended niche. Throw in expert articles, regularly updated content and a strong multimedia element and there you have it.

Read it all here.

(Note: I am a senior developer with NameMedia, and worked on these projects)

The New Yorker proclaims newspapers “Out of Print”

Okay, I hadn’t seen this when I posted my previous bit.  All in all its a very bad day for the print media. 

Quoting from Eric Alterman’s article:

…trends in circulation and advertising––the rise of the Internet, which has made the daily newspaper look slow and unresponsive; the advent of Craigslist, which is wiping out classified advertising––have created a palpable sense of doom. Independent, publicly traded American newspapers have lost forty-two per cent of their market value in the past three years, according to the media entrepreneur Alan Mutter. Few corporations have been punished on Wall Street the way those who dare to invest in the newspaper business have. The McClatchy Company, which was the only company to bid on the Knight Ridder chain when, in 2005, it was put on the auction block, has surrendered more than eighty per cent of its stock value since making the $6.5-billion purchase. Lee Enterprises’ stock is down by three-quarters since it bought out the Pulitzer chain, the same year. America’s most prized journalistic possessions are suddenly looking like corporate millstones. Rather than compete in an era of merciless transformation, the families that owned the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal sold off the majority of their holdings. The New York Times Company has seen its stock decline by fifty-four per cent since the end of 2004, with much of the loss coming in the past year; in late February, an analyst at Deutsche Bank recommended that clients sell off their Times stock. The Washington Post Company has avoided a similar fate only by rebranding itself an “education and media company”; its testing and prep company, Kaplan, now brings in at least half the company’s revenue.

This was also the subject of the entire “This Week In Tech” Podcast with Leo Laporte which came out this morning.  Some very salient points were made:

  • Although we decry the bias of media, in many ways we are moving towards a model that actually limits the information we get.  In other words, we’re gravitating towards media/information selections and communities that limit the information we get to that which we wish to get.  Basically, the opposite of the long tail may be happening here.  Instead of a real diaspora of information, we are being given choices and choosing less rather than more. 
  • Leo Laporte makes the point that newspapers are absolutely necessary, as primary sources.  Bloggers, like myself, generally aren’t or are at best, poor primary sources.  The newspapers due to clout, training and access are the ones to do the investigative journalism we need.
  • Although it’s an easy judgement to make, print newspapers aren’t dead – and they won’t be for a long time, if ever.

Listen to the full podcast here (The Innovators Dilemma – episode 138).  It’s a wonderful commentary…and I can’t wait to hear with the This Week in Media crew have to say later in the week.

Alan Mutter at Reflections of a Newsosaur had this on Saturday, dissecting the decline:

Despite the repeated promises of publishers to recast their struggling franchises as signficiant online entitites, last year’s interactive revenues amounted to no more than 7% of total newspaper industry sales. This meager performance was achieved in spite of the fact that print sales, which represent the vast bulk of the denominator in this ratio, fell by 9.4%.

Further, the 18.8% jump in online revenues at newspapers was only three-quarters of the size of the 25% annual sales increase that powered over-all online sales to a record $21.2 billion in 2007. So, newspapers are trailing considerably in online market share at the same time their traditional print advertising business is melting down.

David Churbuck has a bit on this as well:

I want to see the percentage state of online revenue in the newspaper industry — that last paragraph infers a decline in online revenue for newspapers, which I know is not the case in the UK at least.

I’ll post more in the coming days as I ruminate more on the issue.

Newspapers Lose Most Ad Revenue in 50 Years

The NAA (National Association of Newspapers) has revealed that newspaper ad revenues are off 9.4% to $42 Billion in 2007 vs. 2006.  That’s a huge number, even for the sinking fortunes of print media.  And one we’ll surely eclipse when the next round of figures are released next year.

I have worked with newspapers for years, and frankly, I don’t often pick them up looking for ad info anymore.  If I want to look at used boats, I go to CraigsList.com, for my news, I go online, or movie times, I go direct to the theater site (which is a link in my Iphone so I don’t even use the computer. 

I like to sit down on Sunday and read the Sunday Boston Globe and the New York Times.  I didn’t do that this week, and I didn’t do it last week, and I don’t particularly miss it. 

Events calendars in papers work for me, otherwise, I think they’ve got to start embracing alternative delivery models.  I said this last year and I’ll say it again:  someday the papers will outsource their printing and delivery functions and become information generation centers.  It’s what they do best.  And they should used every delivery mechanism that can work (financially) for them

Communication Breakdown

Apparently much of my email from the weekend has gone into the ether…I’ll try to reconstruct later.  Also, for those trying to contact by phone, it pains me to relate the untimely demise of my cell phone, which was the victim of a Sunday afternoon trip through the rinse cycle of the Maytag.  If you need me by phone, try using 4092 instead of the standard 4091 for the last 4 digits.  Of course, I’m in a building which is the cell phone equivailent of a black hole, so service is spotty, at best.

Sun Buys MySQL

An interesting move – and for most of you thinking “this doesn’t affect me” I can tell you you’re dead wrong. You see over the past couple years, MySQL has become the back end database for a good deal of the web. If you’re CEO doesn’t have his own Gulfstream, chances are that some of your mission critical applications and quite probably your own website is using MySQL for something, if not everything.

I’ll withhold judgment on the whole thing for now. There’s more important issues here.

You see, we’ve come to the point that Open Source solutions, the LAMP solutions are winning out over enterprise solutions. The days when you needed an Interwoven or Vignette CMS system, constructed over an incredibly expensive Oracle database, running on servers the size of refrigerators are over. IBM realized this and embraced PHP. Sun has bought MySQL. The message is out.

Back in the day, the open source stuff was consider the province of the bootstrapper. Now the bottom tier is reaching up and its pressuring not just the middle level systems, its challenging the staid old favorites of business. MySQL 5.0 has many of the features that had kept the earlier versions out of the enterprise, such as stored procedures.

If you are running a business, you owe it to yourself to keep an eye on open source solutions, especially before buying any big, proprietary system.