Do journalists need — or want — Publish2?

I had a feeling that my friend Scott Karp over at Publishing 2.0 was up to something, and now I see the fruits of his secret labours — or rather, I’ve read his description of what he’s been up to over at the Publish2 blog. The final pieces of the puzzle likely won’t come into focus until the site launches in beta, which Scott says is coming next month.

Like Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests, I’m a little fuzzy on what Publish2 is going to be exactly, or how it’s going to work — but I will say that Scott is a smart guy (with some smart backers such as Robert Young, Howard Weaver and Jeff Jarvis), and I am very interested in seeing what he comes up with.

It seems obvious from Scott’s preamble that Publish2 is based in part on a Digg-style model, in which journalists (and he appears to be defining that term broadly, as he should) submit and then vote for news stories. Publish2 will also apparently incorporate some of the social bookmarking features of sites like del.icio.us, and stored bookmarks may also feed into the service.

How the participants in the site will be chosen is a little unclear. It sounds as though it will begin with a selected number of journalists, and then spread out from there to journalists who are not part of a mainstream entity, and to what Scott refers to as “news bloggers.”

This reminds me of the model that Citizendium.com has been trying to use to fix what it sees as the flaws in Wikipedia, by using some form of “expert” sources. And it seems clear that Scott wants to use journalists as the core of his news aggregation engine in order to address some of the flaws of the Digg model.

Jason Calacanis tried to do something similar when he revamped Netscape.com, by using editors who select and highlight — and in some cases even report on — stories and content. And in Publish2 there also seem to be aspects of what Newsvine.com and Daylife.com (which Jeff Jarvis is also involved in) are doing, as well as Topix.com. Whether Publish2 can make it work better than any of these remains to be seen.

One of the first things I thought when I read Scott’s description was: “This sounds like exactly what newspapers should already be doing.” And part of what he implies in his post is that not enough journalists, and not enough publications, are really making use of social networking tools to improve the news generation or aggregation process. I would definitely agree with that.

Can Publish2 help to change that? I’m looking forward to finding out.

Facebook opening up — a little bit

Dave “I invented RSS” Winer says he has discovered some RSS feeds of Facebook data that contrast with the site’s reputation as a “walled garden” or “black hole of data.” But has he? Mike Arrington seems to think so, since he posted an item on it at TechCrunch.

But at least one feed that Dave mentions, composed of status updates from your friends, has been around for awhile now; I know that because I’ve been subscribed to it for months now, as have many of the commenters on Mike Arrington’s post, including Narendra Rocherolle of 30boxes, and commenters on Dave’s blog too (as he acknowledges).

I can’t say whether the feed of posted items from Facebook or the notifications feed are new (if you know, please enlighten me in the comments). Do these feeds mean that the site is opening up a bit? Yes. How far it will go remains to be seen. Justin Smith at Inside Facebook notes that there are still lots of things that Facebook isn’t open about.

Will VMWare start a parade of crap?

Lots to be excited about today, if you’re a VMWare shareholder — like EMC, for example, which paid about $600-million just four years ago for a company that is now valued at about $15-billion. And if you’re a venture capitalist or banker with some skin in the technology game, you’re probably salivating at the idea that the moonshot IPO might be back. My friend Paul Kedrosky has a look at what the strong reception for the VMWare IPO could imply.

garbage.jpgI haven’t taken an in-depth look at VMWare, but as far as I can tell there is no reason to be overly concerned about the company. Yes, the valuation may be overdone (particularly given the competition in the industry) but virtualization is a real technology and VMWare has some undeniable strengths. eWeek has a good overview of the company and interview with co-founder Diane Greene. But what concerns me is that the standing ovation for VMWare (live-blogged by Ashlee Vance at The Register and ably described by Eric Savitz at Barron’s) could help to open the flood gates and unleash a torrent of offal onto the markets like we haven’t seen since the days of Theglobe and Pets.com.

Om Malik has just one example of what could be waiting in the wings: Classmates, a pop-up-ad-flogging, spam-marketing Web 1.0 service that was acquired by ISP United Online and merged with some other craptastic company, is being taken public in what Om speculates is a rushed offering that reeks of opportunism, right down to the special voting shares.

And if Facebook goes public, as everyone including my dentist figures it will? Better get out your hip-waders.

Freakonomics gives trolling lessons

Want to get lots of traffic to your blog, and hundreds of comments from readers? Post something in which you speculate about how terrorists could attack the U.S. — and then ask your readers for their own suggestions. Better still, post this at the New York Times website.

I missed it when it originally happened last week, but that’s pretty much what the two Steves — that is, Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt — did over at Freakonomics, which recently became part of the NYT web operation (I wrote about the fuss over them adopting partial RSS feeds here, a topic that was later taken up by my friend Mike Masnick at Techdirt).

Levitt, who is a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, wrote about “what I would do to maximize terror if I were a terrorist with limited resources.” After laying out some of his thoughts about different approaches, he said: “I’m sure many readers have far better ideas. I would love to hear them. Consider that posting them could be a form of public service.”

Almost 600 commenters didn’t see it that way, however. Dozens wondered what on earth the subject had to do with economics, while others said posting such ideas was reprehensible. The post generated an editorial in the New York Post, a scathing blog entry by my friend Rachel Sklar at The Huffington Post and a follow-up post in which Levitt tried to explain himself (a little). The latter has so far gotten about 300 or so comments.

Damn — I wish I’d thought of that 🙂 I’m sure there will be those who believe this was a deliberate strategy to boost readership, but I doubt it — I think Levitt is just like that, which is part of what makes the blog so thought-provoking. Meanwhile, Jeff Jarvis uses the post as part of an argument for why he thinks blogs should be affiliated with newspapers rather than “owned.”

Are newspapers totally screwed?

Henry Blodget — who used to be a Wall Street analyst and now runs a content hub called Silicon Alley Insider — recently wrote a provocative analysis of the online newspaper business entitled Running the Numbers: Why Newspapers Are Screwed, which ran at the Insider as well as Blodget’s personal blog, Internet Outsider (I guess he’s an insider and an outsider).

Henry’s point is a relatively simple one: publishing content online costs a lot less than publishing it on paper, and therefore newspapers can save a lot of money by running their stuff online. Unfortunately, online content also generates a lot less revenue than printed content does, so newspapers actually wind up worse off if they move online.

To justify this line of argument, Henry looks at the New York Times — presumably because if the New York Times can’t make the math work, no one can. Using (for the sake of argument) the idea that the Times immediately stops publishing in print and moves entirely online, here’s what Blodget says would happen to the company’s bottom line:

Revenue drops by more than half, 40%-50% of employees get fired, and the company still loses money. Using the NYT’s Q2 numbers and these assumptions, for example, revenue would have dropped from $789 million to $285 million.

More importantly, EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) would have dropped from $118 million to -$64 million.

Not a great picture, is it? But there are a number of problems with Henry’s analysis, as several people — including my friend Mark Evans, who has posted some thoughts on the subject, and Seamus McCauley of Virtual Economics. Seamus in particular takes issue with many of Blodget’s assumptions.

Among other things, Seamus makes the point that a proliferation of online content actually makes certain kinds of content more valuable — particuarly content that has been verified by trusted sources, which he believes is the true core competency of mainstream media organizations (Jack Trout has some ideas about what makes newspapers valuable here, while others think a paper’s most valuable asset is its useability).

Are Blodget’s projections unrealistic? Pretty much, yes. Obviously, printed newspapers aren’t going to vanish overnight, nor is online advertising going to remain static. But thinking about what might happen if they did is definitely a worthwhile exercise.

Whose bandwidth is it anyway?

An Internet storm has been brewing for some time now, and the latest bit of bad weather comes from across the pond in Britain, where a number of Internet service providers are warning the BBC that its new iPlayer streaming-video application had better not suck up too much bandwidth, or the ISPs will be forced to restrict the use of it, or charge customers more. Not that long ago, Google was getting a similar message from Verizon executives.

traffic_jam.jpgThe storm in question goes by many names — including “net neutrality” — but the reality is that it stems from a clash of two forces: the Internet providers whose pipes we all have to use, and increasingly bandwidth-intensive applications such as Bit Torrent and Joost. Internet providers have been selling the idea of almost unlimited bandwidth for years, but as more people try to use it the ISPs are finding their networks overloaded (and/or the “peering” fees that they pay are skyrocketing). That’s why almost all of them use some form of bandwidth or packet “shaping” to give some kinds of traffic priority over others.

If you’re an Internet user, this is going to strike you as an obvious cash grab. If you’re an ISP, however, the kind of ultimatum that British providers are giving to the BBC no doubt seems completely justified. As more than one observer has pointed out, streaming-video providers in particular are effectively offloading the cost of bandwidth onto ISPs — and that can only continue for so long.

At Last100, my friend Steve O’Hear makes the point that if it wasn’t for bandwidth-intensive applications like video, people wouldn’t need the high-speed accounts that the ISPs have been making so much money selling. And Om Malik makes a similar point in his post. Perhaps this one falls into the category of “Be careful what you wish for.”

Update:

Speaking of Joost, one of the problems with peer-to-peer streaming video apps like Joost and Babelgum is that they depend on users with fast upload speeds, and Jackson West at NewTeeVee notes that in the U.S. in particular this is a major issue. Meanwhile, one UK Internet provider has distanced itself from the iPlayer story.

Days of Our Lives, the blogosphere edition

I guess it wouldn’t be a weekend without some kind of pissing match or emotional upheaval in the schoolyard blogosphere, and the current candidate is a high-profile sparring exercise involving Jason “Mahalo” Calacanis and Dave “I invented RSS” Winer.

In a nutshell, Jason got up at Chris Pirillo’s Gnomedex conference and talked a lot about Mahalo.com, his “people-powered search” startup. No surprise there — Jason is a promoter’s promoter.But some people took offence at the promotional flavour of his remarks, including Dave (although Dave has pointed out that he wasn’t the only one, and Wired notes that Chris Pirillo himself made similar comments on Twitter).

If you want to catch up, there’s Jason’s response to Dave on his blog and Dave’s initial response and follow-up. Stowe Boyd has some thoughts about how Dave tends to be a loose cannon at conferences, as Blake Ross (ex of Firefox) and others can probably attest.

As I know from personal experience, Dave is notoriously thin-skinned — kind of surprising for a guy who has been blogging since most of us were in kindergarten, but still a fact. He even takes Steve Hodson to task at Winextra for describing his remarks at Gnomedex as being “pissy.” Robert Seidman, meanwhile, goes with the term “chucklehead.”

Dave maintains that his comments were all about how Mahalo isn’t a platform that developers can work with, and seems upset that everyone focuses on the tone of his remarks instead of the substance. But there’s an easy solution to that: don’t be so pissy about it in the first place.

Update:

As always, my mesh friend Loren Feldman at 1938media has a way of putting everything into perspective with his Gnomedex Thoughts video (thanks to Allen of Centernetworks for the link). And it seems that Jason and Dave have made up, according to a Twitter post — I refuse to call them “tweets” — from Jason, in which he said: “Accepted Dave… and as always I respect your ideas greatly and am always open to hearing how you think any product can be better. “

Dave has apologized (at least sort of) here, but in true Wineresque fashion, he apparently couldn’t let things rest and so has posted a number of suggestions for Jason on how he could apologize as well. Classic. Still can’t get enough of this topic? There’s more at Wired’s Epicenter blog.

Partial Freakonomics feed = bad idea

I’m a huge fan of the Freakonomics guys, and a subscriber to their RSS feed, but I didn’t realize until I saw a MediaPost item on Techmeme that they had been “acquired” by the New York Times. I also didn’t realize until I read through the item that they have switched to partial RSS feeds, which I absolutely loathe.

That loathing appears to be shared by dozens of commenters and formerly faithful readers who left their thoughts on Stephen Dubner’s post about the move to the Times. Many have said they will be unsubscribing from the blog, which will hopefully make the NYT smarten up.

I realize that — as Tish Grier points out on the MediaPost item — the Times is looking to make their content pay, especially if they decide to lose the Times Select pay wall (as has been rumoured), and getting readers to click through to the website is probably one way of doing that. But I still think it sucks.

Some of the reasons are enumerated in this comment on the Freakonomics post. The bottom line is this: if I wanted to click through to the website, then I would just go to the damn website in the first place. Partial feeds defeat almost the entire purpose of reading RSS feeds in the first place. Bad idea, guys.

Update:

Mike Masnick at Techdirt has a post on the topic, in which he describes how full-text feeds can actually lead to more page views. And the Freakonomics guys have posted an update on the RSS issue that is somewhat less than reassuring.

Google and MSFT need to try harder

Storage news from both Google and Microsoft today: The former is giving you the ability to upgrade your combined Gmail and Picasa Web Album storage, in what could be a precursor to a full-fledged Gdrive storage offering, and the latter has launched its news Windows Live Skydrive.

Both are defective, in my opinion. I realize that these are just betas, but Google is way off base with 6 gigabytes of combined Gmail and Picasa storage for $20 a year. The early-bird (or more likely mistaken) price of $1 made a lot more sense to me. Storage is virtually free, and Google knows it — and as more than one person has pointed out already, Yahoo Mail is unlimited, and Flickr.com has unlimited storage for $20.

Windows Live Skydrive, meanwhile, starts with the clunky Windows Folders interface and design and 500 megabytes of storage. What the heck is that all about? I have photos that are 500 megabytes in size (okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much). Mike Arrington of TechCrunch is similarly unimpressed.

Microsoft is going to have to work a little harder than that, and so is Google. Storage options like JungleDrive that are built using Amazon’s ultra-cheap S3 storage service — and others like the ones described at Read/Write Web — look pretty good compared to either one at the moment.

Google wants newsmakers to write the news

Although Mike Arrington seems less than impressed with it, I think Google’s plan to allow comments on Google News stories — but only from people involved in a news event — is actually a pretty interesting idea. There’s no question that it’s going to be a lot of effort, and that it may in fact fail as a result, but I think the impulse behind it (as described on the Google blog) is a valuable one.

In effect, this is a step towards “crowdsourcing” of the news, but in a very focused way. Instead of allowing anyone to comment on a news event or story, Google’s plan is to only allow comments from those who are a part of the story (although how the company plans to verify that remains to be seen). I think — as Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests does — that this has the potential to expand the journalistic process.

For many newspapers and other news organizations, a story has a limited lifespan, unless it is one of a small number of big headliners that get followed up day after day, or month after month. Whoever responds in time to get their comments included in the story makes it into print, and those that don’t are rarely heard from.

I found it interesting that in the Wall Street Journal story on the new feature, a professor of pediatrics who was asked by Google to comment on a story in which he was quoted said this:

“I’ll do a 15- to 20-minute interview, and two sentences will appear about what I’ve said… So the Google feature is really a chance to flesh out those two sentences and to include some more of what I ordinarily talk about in a 15- to 20-minute interview.”

Google’s proposal has the potential to allow unheard-from participants to make themselves heard, and thus make news stories more complete — as pointed out at Poynter Online and by my mesh friend Mike Masnick at Techdirt — and I think that would be a great idea, at least in principle. In any case, it will be interesting to see how it turns out.

Update:

As Mike notes at TechCrunch (courtesy of Gabe “Techmeme” Rivera), the terms of service at Google News prevent anyone from crawling the site and aggregating any of its content — but this doesn’t seem very kosher if Google is now effectively creating (or expanding on) the news. And Danny Sullivan has some responses from Google to questions about the new feature.