Apr 192014
newspapers are dying as the media business models move online

Last week, Google’s share price slumped on news of poorer than expected revenue results and website Asymco has a detailed examination of how the company’s growth might have reached its limits.

Asymco’s warning to the online advertising industry is clear with the warning that revenues might start to decline in 2016.

That online advertising may have reached its peak means even an even more uncertain future for businesses rely on those revenues, and times have been tough for those sites in recent years as returns have fallen.

At the same time online ad spending seems to be peaking, print advertising revenues in the United States dropped a further 8% last year with income at now at 1982 levels. It seems publishers can’t win either way.

So its now wonder that online services like Google and Facebook are looking to payment systems and other ways to generate revenue, for online publishers things are even more problematic.

What is clear is the advertising driven revenue methods that work so well for the broadcast industry aren’t working for online publishers and quite possibly other internet based businesses as well.

The online industries need a David Sarnoff to figure out a model that works.


Mar 082014
engineer plans

The unseemly media scrum around alleged Bitcoin inventor Dorian Nakamoto has not been the press’ finest hour.

What’s more worrying though is a Business Insider interview with Sharon Sargent a ‘forensics analyst’ who was part of the Newsweek investigative team.

A systems engineer by training with experience in computing security, military protocol analysis, and artificial intelligence, Sergeant said everything she found converged on an individual with a background apparently similar to hers — and who ended up sharing a name with Bitcoin’s creator.

“I said, ‘I think I know this guy — he wears a pocket protector, he has a slide rule, he comes from that genre,’ which was very different from other characterizations,” she told BI by phone Friday.

He wears a pocket protector and uses a slide rule? Hell yeah, not only did he create Bitcoin but he’s probably a witch as well.

One hopes Newsweek have found the right man.

Picture courtesy of forwardcom through sxc.hu

Feb 032014

Last week, the viral news site Buzzfeed launched its Australian operation with a visit from Scott Lamb, the company’s Vice President for International operations.

As the “media company for the social age” in Scott’s words, Buzzfeed has led the way in ‘viral media’.

The viral media model revolves around audience reach, and revenue, being measured on the amount of sharing on social media services like Facebook and Twitter rather than how many people view or visit their websites.

Buzzfeed’s Cat problem

For Buzzfeed attracting this traffic mean cats – people love sharing pictures of cats on the web.

While Scott likes cats as much as any of his readers, he describes the industry as facing a ‘cat problem’.

“The cat problem is that we all love cats, but they’re also a barrier to taking the internet seriously,” Scott said. “It’s true for Buzzfeed and it’s true for a lot of other websites as well.”

Cats may be both a problem and a boon for Buzzfeed but there’s more to the business with Scott describing to the Sydney audience what he saw as the four myths of online media;

  1. Long form writing doesn’t work on the web
  2. Paying attention to clicks leads to lowest common denominator stories
  3. Social is merely a box you need to check
  4. Creating sharing content is easy and trivial

There’s no doubt that item four is hard, although how much harder re-purposing stuff found on the web is compared to creating original content is open to question.

Point three is a given for Buzzfeed given its business model and there would be few media sites that weren’t concerned about how often their stories aren’t shared on social media.

Being taken seriously though weighs heavily on Buzzfeed so it was the two first points that Scott emphasised in his Sydney presentation.

Long form journalism

Scott was proud to show off  BuzzRead stories like Why I Bought A House In Detroit For $500 or The Most Dangerous Sentence in US History to show the site’s credibility as a reputable, considered venue for long form journalism, just like the New York Times.

The problem for Buzzfeed’s aspirations though is the US Presidential story received 1,400 tweets and just over four thousand Facebook shares, the Detroit story gained five thousand tweets and 29,000 shares.

On the other hand, a quiz on what city should you live in received 578,000 shares and 26,000 tweets. For the record, I got London which is something I’m ambivalent about but certainly beats getting Murmansk.

That meme proved so good that Buzz Feed repeated it a week later with a what sort of job you should have quiz.

You can’t blame them for exploiting a meme, particularly one that gets half a million shares.

Scott though didn’t see the traffic mismatch between the worthy and the tabloid as being a problem; “we know we can’t equate an 8,000 world article to a quiz,” Scott said. “In terms of our business model our revenue isn’t tied to page views.”

“There is incentive for us to get as many a views for an 8,000 word article as possible.”

Riding the Facebook tiger

Regardless of the viability of 8,000 words articles, the real problem for Buzzfeed in its aspirations to become a virally shared New York Times is the site’s reliance on Facebook.

Relying on Facebook is path to disappointment, the service has shown it’s quite willing to burn partners, including advertisers, small businesses and users in the interests of its own corporate interests.

For Buzzfeed, the assumption the media site’s corporate interests will always align with Facebook’s is brave assumption.

Another problem for Buzzfeed is content, the bulk of the site’s material and what drives most sharing are posts that gather pictures from the web – primarily Facebook.

Using other people’s content lies at the core of viral sharing sites and most of Buzzfeed’s competitors shamelessly steal material from other websites, particularly Buzzfeed, in the aim to drive shares from gullible users.

Buzzfeed itself isn’t immune from that risk, with a photographer suing the site for $3.6 million over a photograph used in one of its lists.

Risks in the model

On the scale of risks to Buzzfeed not being seen as an viral version of the New York Times is quite low; the real risks are of being overtaken by a savvier competitor, falling victim to a Facebook change of policy, or simply turning out to be a transition effect in an industry that’s undergoing massive and rapid change.

The aspiration of Buzzfeed becoming a New York Times is probably irrelevant anyway, most Facebook users don’t care about long form journalism – they like cats.

In an era where the public wants animal pictures and celebrity scandals – who needs to be the New York Times?

Perhaps the cat problem isn’t a problem, but the future for media channels like Buzzfeed.

Jan 062014

Out of the last six months of travelling, a new project has been born. Networked Globe is intended as a clearing house for news and opinion on the Internet of Things, Machine to Machine and all the technologies that surround these industries.

The intention is to have a daily update on industry news along with two or three feature pieces a week to start with. If gets legs, and an income, then we’ll be looking at extending the coverage.

Finding things to cover certainly won’t be a problem, equipment vendors and telecommunications companies are pouring into the space and security issues are already becoming a major concern, as this story on the vulnerabilities of home automation illustrate.

Hopefully this blog won’t be neglected as the focus shifts to Networked Globe, although there’ll probably be more posts about the usual rollercoaster ride about setting up a business.

Jan 042014
google glasses and wearable technologies

Media hype is normal in the tech industry, it’s common for a new product to receive swooning coverage in its early days but when the press falls out of love with a device, it can be a harsh breakup.

Google Glass is suffering one of those harsh breakups with with writers and bloggers who were formerly gushing over the product now being publicly unimpressed with the product.

First out the blocks was Wired’s Matt Honan who described his year as a ‘glasshole’.

Honan is enthusiastic about the future of wearable devices but doesn’t see Google Glass as being ready for prime time.

Which is to say, I’m really, really excited about where Glass is going. I’m less excited about where it is.

Adding to the anti Google vibe was tech maven Robert Scoble who after his year of using the device decided it was too expensive and clumsy.

Scoble’s point is the current generation of wearable tech is too clunky and user unfriendly to solve the problems it hopes to address.

Daring Fireball’s John Gruber — who wasn’t one of those gushing over Google Glass — points out this is the exactly why Windows XP tablets were such a failure in the marketplace.

Gruber also points out another similarity between Google Glass and Microsoft’s attempts at a tablet computer. Each company’s staff were reluctant to use them.

When your own employees don’t use or support your product, the problem is with the product, not the employees.

The eating your own dog food mantra cuts both ways; if your own staff find your products unattractive, then you can’t expect customers to warm to them.

In some ways it’s ironic that Google are receiving press scorn as the company plays the tech media like a violin with privileged insiders getting early access to products create an aura of exclusivity.

Glass was a classic example of this with a small group of tech journalists getting access to the product, unfortunately those insiders are turning out to be less than impressed.

Even if it turns out the Google Glass is a failure, it will have been one of the company’s brave moon shots and no doubt what they’ve learned in usablity and mobile data will be very useful to other parts of the business.

Dec 042013
vacuum tubes predated the computer chip and transistor

“We treated Bitcoin as a tech story but now it’s become a much more serious economic story,” said a radio show compere earlier today when discussing the digital currency.

One of the great frustrations of any technologist is the pigeon holing of tech stories – the real news is somewhere else while tech and science stories are treated as oddities, usually falling into a ‘mad professor’, ‘the internet ate my granny’ or ‘look at this cool gadget’ type pieces.

Defining the world we live in

In reality, technology defines the world in which we live. It’s tech that means you have running water in the morning, food in the supermarket and the electricity or gas to cook it with.

Many of us work in jobs that were unknown a hundred years ago and even in long established roles like farming technology has changed the workplace unrecognisably.

Even if you’re a blacksmith, coach carriage driver or papyrus paper maker untouched by the last century’s developments, all of those roles came about because of earlier advances in technology.

The modern hubris

Right now we seem to be falling for the hubris that we are exceptional – the first generation ever to have our lives changed by technology.

If technological change is the measure of a great generation then that title belongs to our great grandparents.

Those born at the beginning of last century in what we now call the developed world saw the rollout of mains electricity, telephones, the motor car, penicillin and the end of childhood mortality.

For those born in the 1890s who survived childhood, then two world wars, the Spanish Flu outbreak and the Great Depression, many lived to see a man walk on the moon. Something beyond imagination at the time of their birth.

It’s something we need to keep in perspective when we talk about today’s technological advances.

Which brings us back to ‘it’s only a tech story’ – it may well be that technology and science are discounted today because we now take the complex systems that underpin our comfortable first world lifestyles for granted.

In which case we should be paying more attention to those tech stories, as they are showing where future prosperity will come from.

Nov 302013

In a local shopping centre over the weekend this business was selling massage tables using the fact they’d been mentioned on TV to enhance their reputation.

Citing an appearance on TV in the hope of improving your credibility is very much a mid-20th Century way of doing things. In the 1960s or 70s an enthusiastic mention from a TV host was the way to get the punters beating a path to your door.

Today, things aren’t quite the same. TV was on a decline as a trusted medium – despite the successes of talk show hosts like Oprah Winfrey – long before the internet arrived. The web bought social media and now buyers can consult their friends and peers before deciding to buy.

What was interesting about the sign was there was no indication of a social media presence or web page and that in itself showed how old school this business’ advertising was.

For the business owner, it would have been hard work getting a mention on TV. Space isn’t cheap to buy and getting a mention on a current affairs show requires either the services of an expensive PR agency or many hours of bugging producers and not a small degree of luck.

Then again, maybe a complete lack of online engagement didn’t matter. The shopping centre I was in would have an average customer age well over forty and, most of the market the business was aiming probably comes from the sizeable retirement village across the road.

How this business ignores modern communication channels is instructive about the generational change in business and society, particularly on how different age groups find their trusted sources.