Monthly Archives: December 2010

2010 by the numbers, at two sites

Wordle for Underoak

From @mybxb: “What was your site focus in 2010 & what are you hoping to build up in 2011? #mybxb

It was just one simple Twitter question, likely from Michele McLellan, an expert on small local news sites. The Twitter account asked the same question of quite a few people on New Year’s Eve eve.

It led to a little excavation for me.

I won’t be able to answer the second part of this question immediately. But here’s a start on the first part of the question, after a quick look at the numbers.

I focused on two sites in 2010, neither of which were commercial endeavors and both of which were solo experiments. I stuck Google ads onto one of the sites late in the year as an experiment, but the cost to appearance likely means those ads won’t last. Finding my focus, for me, means looking at the numbers to see what I produced, not just what I intended.

Underoak (Merry Oaks neighborhood information):
39 posts, the least since 2006, when it was 22
An average of 885.25 page views per month
Best return per post by month: October, averaging 372 page views per post, with four posts during the month
Topics: Local stories involving animals, art, nature and “green” stories, advances and coverage of local events and traditions, civic events and issues, development and business.
Quick conclusions: An audience exists for local civic information in Charlotte. Archives of event coverage help make later coverage easier. You don’t have to file three times a day, every day, to generate decent traffic. You do have to focus on headlines and what keywords people are seeking. A niche of 2,000 people or so is likely too small to reach the kind of numbers that would generate decent online ad revenue. The minimum audience size is likely closer to 20,000 potential readers, or about the size of typical zoned print sections of legacy media.

Global Vue (About journalism and technology):
About 45 posts
An average of 408 page views per month
Best return per post by month: July, averaging 60 page views per post, with 17 posts during the month (heavy posting was an experiment as part of a Peer 2 Peer University class).
Topics: Journalism of all sorts, from ethics to business models, with one peach thrown in for good measure.
Quick conclusions: We need more demos and fewer memos, but it’s nice to have a place to think out loud, even if it means sharing with a tiny group. It also is nice to have a linkable, updated online biography, beyond Facebook, LinkedIn and similar services.

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Click locally and originally: Linkjacking, fair use, RSS, autofeeds and ethical linking

chains from Andy Ciordia

The shop local campaigns are everywhere. Let’s apply it to the link economy.

I link a lot, on Twitter, a private company that yes, is using my volunteer labor to help curate online information.

But Twitter is incredibly useful as a way of using humans to filter the onslaught of online information. Long ago, it replaced my daily practice of sitting down with a daily newspaper. I count on links, keywords and well-written headlines to help filter information (sometimes even on Facebook). I love the art of a well-written headline and tweet in all forms.


But I’m fed up with linkjacking and algorithm-using automatic feeds that clutter and slow my search for information.
I’m especially fed up with faux local companies that aggregate the work of others and do no reporting or human curating themselves. They’re stealing traffic and sometimes advertising revenue from the original, local sources who add value by real work. Some are also trying to take the money of local people through dubious franchise agreements. Most follow the letter of the law, but they push boundaries, and if we all embrace the idea of shopping ethically and locally and supporting local businesses, I’d like to ask people to click ethically and locally to support real journalism and information.

Don’t get me wrong: I respect the value of a quality aggregator that uses human filtering to add news judgment to feeds. I’ve been a fan of outside.in for years. I suspect that sooner or later, a business model and more jobs will emerge for such organizations. Such a function existed in the past: Wire editors and news designers and copy editors helped people navigate through the onslaught of information, which has always been overwhelming but was curated and focused for readers. Those traditional jobs are fewer these days, but the need for the function remains.

I also greatly appreciate those who retweet and point to the originators of content and I try to reward those who find and curate the best stuff, no matter how deeply buried it might be on originators’ website. @acmunn, or Andy Munn, has done a great job of sending focused links to local development news in the Charlotte area, no matter the source. And he was rewarded eventually with a new job, at Ingersoll Rand.

But certain practices that add only clutter should end. Consumers of links and news online can help by choosing carefully and being mindful. Ethical consumption and linking means clicking and pointing to the people who are creating value and not those who are merely repackaging in machine-generated blobs.

Ethical, mindful consumption and creation of links can help, over time, by rewarding those who are producing valuable information. The more of us who are mindful of how we consume information, the faster we’ll evolve new models. The more of us who put our money on those who do real journalism or who produce unique, trusted information, the better our information will become.

And a caution to those who want to become the media: Some national and international companies are offering franchises to local people, selling the idea that they can create local services to generate traffic and ad revenue, with little to no time spent on reporting or curating. Caveat emptor. Journalism, whether it be reporting or curating, takes time and skill. You can learn and do it yourself, but don’t assume it will be easy without work of your own.

Three case studies:

The @charlottelocal Twitter account: This account aggregates headlines from Fwix for Charlotte, spitting out tweets and links about every 20 minutes, using other people’s headlines. Links send you to the Charlotte Fwix site, which excerpts headlines and tops of stories, which then link to the original sources. That’s a good thing for generating traffic for originators, but the volume and lack of human value in trimming the firehose or in refocusing headlines is a drawback. Lag time appears also to be as much as three hours between the time original content is posted at the source and the time the headline is sent out. The account now has 1,679 followers on Twitter. Experience from some legacy news organizations has shown that firehose Twitter accounts attract fewer followers than accounts with more curation and personality: See @ColonelTribune, @ajc and @theobserver for examples. @theobserver account has 8,875 followers; its firehose counterpart, @charobs, currently has 1,167 and appears to have stopped on Nov. 8.

PaidContent and those who rip off its tweets and keywords: PaidContent covers the business of digital content. Its Twitter account is focused, targeted and adds value by its dependability, sending out a link to a news summary every morning, with the same headline, “The Morning Lowdown.” Readers get a fast, focused summary with one click over their morning coffee. But others have seen that value and have begun to rip off the key phrase “The Morning Lowdown” on Twitter, generating their own links to their own sites, which then click through to PaidContent. And guess what? Those links seems to generate few to no clicks, and certainly little to no value, only cluttering the stream. There’s little that PaidContent can do when the linkjackers are pointing back to Paid Content after routing it through their own sites. But readers can do something by refraining from clicking on links that do not point directly to PaidContent. Advertisers can avoid those sites that linkjack. Other copycats for other content generators are likely out there; click carefully and give your traffic to the originators.

Those who count on RSS feeds from curators or originators to make their own money at their own sites, without linking back, and then whine when the originators’ RSS disappears: I’ll be a bit vague on this one, because I don’t want to call someone out without all the details. But I’ve heard that some creators of content espouse taking down their own RSS (real simple syndication) because it makes it too easy for others to repurpose content for their own gain without some kind of return to the creator. That’s sad, because many consumers count on the RSS to make their reading and photo viewing more efficient. It’s difficult to blame content creators and curators for ditching RSS when they see their work reused at other sites with ads and with appeals for donations. One site currently is hiding behind a fair use statement for content gleaned from other sources, all the while taking Groupon ads and donations, and then whining about a broken RSS feed from a real curator who actually pays the sources of its content. I’m getting out my tiny violin.

To close, and repeat: Aggregators with human involvement add value. But we’re in a link economy, and copycats proliferate. Consumers can exercise their power by clicking and linking responsibly and rewarding quality creators and curators. Be mindful about who your clicks and links are rewarding.

Photo credit: Andy Ciordia, through Flickr, using Creative Commons

Strengthening North Carolina’s media ecosystem, from the ground up

weeds

Fiona Morgan and Ryan Thornburg issued a call to arms for citizens to become the media in today’s Raleigh News and Observer. Thornburg expanded the idea with a list of steps that communities can take to fill the gaps in news as legacy institutions operate with smaller staffs.

The call to action is remarkable in these respects: It comes from two people in academia, without financial interest in seeing more citizen participation in the media, and it calls for journalistic thinking from ordinary people. It also focuses on North Carolina and local civic news.

When news organizations, local governments or new marketing websites ask for participation from ordinary people these days, many folks react with cynicism:

“Oh, they just want free content.”

And for coders who can help parse data, the cynicism is even greater. These folks get paid to code, and we’re asking them to work for free?

But the call to action from people outside the media shows the civic pain at a time when distrust of institutions runs high. Morgan and Thornburg also bring theory down to specifics.

Their ideas echo projects proposed through the Knight News Challenge as well as the mission of the newly named Knight School of Communication at Queens University in Charlotte.

What I don’t want to see from their call to action: Yet another conference. We have plenty, even in North Carolina, planned for 2011.

What I would like to see: Specific projects or small meetups, with cross-discipline teams, aimed at small slices of the news ecosystem that are uncovered now.

Demos, not memos. Or even blog posts.

At the same time, we have to find ways to pay ourselves for the work. Foundations and nonprofits can jump-start projects, but finding business models is part of the challenge.

Background:
Fiona Morgan’s study of the news ecosystem in the Triangle. The report is long, but worth at least skimming for an understanding that news comes from a complex system rather than one place.

Making it from Scratch: A Knight News Challenge proposal

scratch logo

Scratch, my proposal this year for the Knight News Challenge, is submitted. This link is to a backup version, as the news challenge website can get overloaded. Version 1.0 is there too if you dig deep. Thanks to Lisa Williams, Leslie Wilkinson and Paul Jones for early feedback.

And by the way, someone should hire Leslie, soon to have an MBA in May 2010 or so. She sliced and diced the first proposal, and she ought to be a VC.

Later thoughts will come if time from this proposal, not the least of which is an examination of the early vision from leaders of CCI. They were willing and even happy to sell their knowledge and build a cadre of superusers outside their company. Long term, that strategy seems doubtful. Shorter term, it caused almost a revolution in how newspapers are produced. At the time, the vision was meant for good. Longer term, results remain to be seen.

Anybody want to be a CTO? From Charlotte?