Mar 162015
 
Michael arrington became an unpaid blogger

Ten years after being founded YouTube is facing competition as new sites are being setup or existing video services start aggressively courting creators reports Variety magazine.

YouTube is the poster child of the user generated content movement where it’s largely unpaid contributors who generate the material that people  watch on the service.

This model works fine as long as it’s amateur cat videos people are watching but when as it becomes a big business the justification for not paying content creators becomes flimsy.

Google’s management recognised this some time back and started rolling out its own partnerships with creators to add more income than the often tiny advertising revenues most earn.

Now it turns out those popular video bloggers are being tempted over to other sites and for YouTube the cost of premium content is about to get expensive.

For the Silicon Valley businesses is requires a change of culture as they simply don’t like paying creators; in the tech startup view of the world it’s only coders, founders and few lucky support staff who get the rewards while the bulk of people who add value to the product are treated as commodity ingredients.

For a period it was difficult for media startups to get funding unless they had a free source of user generated content, as Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti revealed in 2012.

Tech investors prefer pure platform companies because you can just focus on the tech, have the users produce the content for free, and scale the business globally without having to hire many people.

The movie studios and record companies on the other hand have a culture of paying their artists and production staff, despite their reputation of exploitation and stinginess.

It may well be that we’re past the golden era of user generated content and the free lunch for the sites that depend upon free materials.

If it is, then standards on sites like YouTube can only improve even at the costs of Google’s profit.

Mar 122015
 
are corporations becoming the new Internet gatekeepers

Quartz magazine is held up as one of the most innovative news websites and one of the models for the future of online publishing however its president Jay Lauf suggested at the Digital Media Strategies conference in London yesterday that web users are increasingly shifting towards social sites to find their content.

This isn’t new, most sites have been dependent upon referrals from the popular social media services and companies like Buzzfeed have built their entire strategies upon traffic from Facebook.

Lauf suggests that sites like Quartz and Buzzfeed are increasingly losing control of their own audiences which raises risks for publishers and readers as they become dependent upon the social media gatekeepers.

Quartz’s traffic from LinkedIn is a good example of how a gatekeeper can control traffic with referrals falling away as the social site pivots into a publishing platform of its own.

It could turn out that control of traffic backfires however as people find those services deliver less value or relevant information.

Ultimately it may be the gatekeepers who suffer from restricting traffic as readers decide they aren’t getting the news they want.

Dec 282014
 
sensis-phone-print-phone-directory-dying-as-digital-takes-over

After twenty years the Yahoo! Directory closed down five days early reports Search Engine Land.

The rise and and fall of Yahoo!’s core product illustrates both the volatility of the web and how the underlying dynamics of the internet has changed; at the time Yahoo! Directory was launched, we were struggling the task of keeping track of all the information being posted online.

Even in those early days it was clear that task was becoming unmanageable and this was the problem Google set out to solve and its success destroyed the directory business along with a whole range of other industries.

Yahoo! Directories’ demise needs to be noted by today’s web and social media giants; just as these technologies are disrupting old industries, new businesses aren’t immune to those changes.

 

Dec 262014
 
IMG_1433.JPG

One of the ongoing tensions in the new media landscape is that between the demands of advertisers and content creators.

This isn’t a new thing as a 1959 interview between Mike Wallace and TV pioneer Rod Stering shows.

Sterling describes how pressures from networks and advertisers created often weird compromises along with a fair degree of self censorship among TV writers and producers.

Little that Sterling describes would surprise today’s online journalists, bloggers and social media influencers who find themselves subject to identical pressures today.

Oct 272014
 
the retail industry is cahnging with our shopping habits

For three months in 2007 Joe Fernandez had his jaw wired shut following surgery and found himself relying on social media for news and companionship.

Over that three months of sitting on the net Fernandez found he had become a social media influencer and the idea for Klout was born.

In many respects Klout is the classic startup in that Fernandez started with a series of spreadsheets with the algorithm being an Excel formula, something he now calls a ‘Minimal Minimum Viable Product’.

“It was super minimal,” Fernandez remembers. “When people would register for Klout, it would send me an email and I would manually download their social media data into Excel and run the algorithm and then I’d manually update their page.”

Today Klout processes fifteen billion accounts every day with data pulled from four hundred data points including 15 social media services.

Like all tools, Klout does have some limitations and Fernandez admits he gets frustrated with businesses giving priority to users with high scores, another area that concerns him is marketers who don’t examine the relevance of individuals to the business before making judgments on that person’s influence.

One of the key things that Fernandez is proud of is how Klout is spawning its own alumni in a similar way to the PayPal mafia that developed out of the payment service at the beginning of the Century.

“It’s really awesome to see people go on and take on big challenges and do different things.”

As social media develops, tools like Klout are going to become more important for businesses trying to understand how

Oct 192014
 
social media services like facebook have fan pages

The story of Whisper and the betrayal of its users continues to roll on, but the real problem is the way social media services are desperately trying to recreate the dead business model of print advertising.

Whisper’s problems with The Guardian continue as the company tries to salvage its reputation but the irony for the service is that it was trying to shoehorn its business to fit the print publishing model that the internet started to erode twenty years ago.

It’s not just Whisper; almost every social media business from Facebook to Twitter wants to be an advertiser funded publishing company, just like the newspapers of thirty years ago.

A few weeks ago I wrote about LinkedIn’s pretensions of becoming a publishing platform and this week Forbes tells of Pinterest’s adventures at the Cannes advertising festival as it sells its marketing services.

Every social media service has some sort of angle that harks back to the golden age of newspaper publishing where print advertising was a deep river of gold. Most of them want to become publishers themselves.

It would be hard to think of a service less suited to being a media company than Whisper; but then there’s Yelp whose main business of reviewing eating houses and bars seems to be totally at odds with newspapers of yore.

On the Salesforce PayPal Media panel last week, Yelp! Founder Jeremy Stoppelman was asked if he saw the restaurant review site as being a media company, his response was “sure, it’s a blogging platform.”

So we have new media aping the old media business models where these platforms try to lock users into information silos; in the same way that a London Times reader would never buy the Sun.

The problem with that is the internet broke down the geographic barriers and today a Sun reader in London can just easily find celebrity gossip on TMZ and the broadsheet reader might find more thoughtful analysis in the New York Times.

Certainly someone browsing the web for restaurant reviews might find a better site than Yelp while a bride researching wedding dresses could just as easily find ideas on Facebook as much as Pinterest.

In reality, social media sites have nothing of the stickiness of the old fashioned newspapers in the days before the internet.

Of the social media services it might be that Facebook is the best placed to succeed as an old media publishing service with its advertising smarts pushing messages to its diverse and deep user base but that isn’t certain given the widespread user dissatisfaction with its news feed.

For the social media services much of the problem – -particularly for Facebook – lies in their contradictory aims; they are trying to be identity services, buying platforms, publishing services and advertisers.

For publishers that balance between content and advertising was always a delicate one; and one that shifted over time. For online services that balance is far more complex and the future far less certain.

One thing that is clear Is those contradictory aims aren’t going to be easy to reconcile and the quandary may prove to be insurmountable.

What’s clear though are the advertising models of the future are still waiting for a David Sarnoff moment.

Sep 232014
 
jeff-weiner-linkedin-ceo

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner believes the company’s culture and values are one of its most important competitive advantages, however moving into China has tested those strengths he told a conference in Sydney two weeks ago.

During the fireside chat Weiner went over the company’s development, the challenges he faced taking over from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman as CEO and the importance of the company’s ethical base.

“It’s important for companies to define what culture and values mean to them before they get to what the specific values and culture are,” Weiner said in an answer to an audience question.

Defining values and culture

“At LinkedIn we think culture is the collective personality of our organisation and it’s not only who we are but who we aspire to be and that aspirational component is really important,” Weiner continued.

“Oftentimes you’ll see company executives get onstage to introduce culture and values or talk about changing  culture and values and it’s not necessarily something the company already does and it loses the trust of the employees and the audience when that material being presented because people know is not necessarily true.

“If you allow yourself to include this aspirational dimension when defining the culture it gives everyone an opportunity to play up to where your setting that bar and I think that’s important,” stated Weiner.

“Values are the first principles upon which we make day to day operating decisions, that’s how we make the distinction.”

Culture as a competitive advantage

“I think once an organisation has defined for itself what it means by culture and values it’s then obviously important to codify its culture and the pillars of the culture and the specific values that it operates with.

“Its not enough to codify it, we went to the trouble of defining it and then putting it in our public registration when we filed to go public and that’s a good start but all too often we see people talking the talk with regard to culture and values and not walking the walk.”

For Weiner, that commitment to the company’s culture is the company’s strength in the marketplace: “Today, I’ll tell you it’s our most important competitive advantage.”

The China Problem

LinkedIn’s culture though has been tested by its entry into the Chinese market where its aspirations of being a content publisher met the limitations of the country’s censors.

When asked by this writer about the quandary LinkedIn finds itself in the PRC, Weiner reconciled this with the company’s mission to connect the world’s professionals.

“China’s one of our largest opportunities in terms of the value we can create for members in China and for companies in China.”

“One in five knowledge workers and students reside in China so it’s a huge part of connecting the world’s professionals and to achieve that kind of scale so we can create value for people who are living in China it’s important that we’re able to do business there.”

“At times means complying with law that forces us to do things that are very challenging and difficult and we always knew the importance of operating in China and for us we wanted to be extremely thoughtful in terms of how we did that.”

Favoring freedom of expression

“Obviously we are very much against the idea of censorship and very much in favor of freedom of expression but in terms of operating there and creating economic opportunities for what could be potentially a 144 million people from time to time we may have to make some very difficult decisions. That’s the reality of doing business there.”

In being asked if this creates a struggle with the company’s culture, Weiner answered “that was one of the things we took so much time on.”

“From the time we decided we needed to be in China and how important it would be in creating the global platform and adding value for members and the time we entered into China with the local language version of the site it was of the order of 18 to 24 months.”

“Discussions took place among our executives asking some very difficult questions in terms of our culture, our values and where we would be willing to compromise and where we would draw hard and fast lines and that will continue to be an ongoing process.”

For LinkedIn and Jeff Weiner the challenge of being a trusted global publishing platform and a leader in the Chinese market raises some serious ethical questions; it’s a challenge that is going to test the company more in coming years.