Friday, June 15, 2007

The Web needs more Journalists Entrepreneurs – Part 2

Owen Thomas, who was earlier at Business 2.0 magazine, has joined as Editor of snarky Silicon Valley blog, Valleywag, which is part of Nick Denton (another former Journalist who rose to become a ‘Blog Moghul’). Owen Thomas, a snarky journalist himself, famous for raising questions will lead a team including talented writer Nick Douglas, who has his own take on snarkiness.

Enough of snakiness, what I wanted to say about this latest move is the phenomenon of a ‘single talented journalist’ (Scott Carp’s phrase) can run a focused blog aided by a team of talented, often freelancing journalists, covering the stories they like, in the way they like.

You will notice that Valleywag, famed for pointing fingers at all things the Valley likes in abundance, Web 2.0 for example, is basically now run by snarky, forever questioning, ‘digging the dirt’ journalists.

Focus eventually brings you its won rewards – most importantly, a brand.

Once you have an online brand fully set up in its niche, you can look at various options other than advertising income – special PDF/Print on demand versions, On-demand & appropriately formatted compilations, paid video tutorials, and maybe in the end, horrors, a print version itself.

Isn’t this what any ambitious journalist wants?

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Dave Winer’s Innovation Wish List

Writing on the BBC website, Dave Winer, the old warhorse credited many to have pioneered Blogging and RSS lists out four technologies he would like someone to work at in future:

1. Improving podcasting: e.g. more like blogging, with comments
2. Two-way broadcasting
3. Perpetual hosting: A favorite. For instance, what will happen to our blogs after we die?
4. Interplanetary data storage: Wouldn’t it be cool to send your Klingon essay to the nearest planet with intelligent life one day, long after we are gone?


Thursday, June 14, 2007

The web needs more journalist entrepreneurs

After Om Malik, Rafat Ali, Jason Calacanis and Nick Denton, who?
Which journalist will break out from the pack, build his own media brand, doing stories that only he/she likes?

Noting that this is a great time to start new media projects, Dan Gilmore wants more young journalists to break free from the defeatist thinking of old media CEOs, go out and create the best of traditional media, mixing that up with the best of new media.

Eventually you might end up with valuable brands in the print, TV, radio and online spaces.

Exhorting young journalists to become part of a dynamic new generation, Dan says,

( generation that) figures out how to produce and, yes, sell the journalism we desperately need as a society and as citizens of a shrinking planet."

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What is the purpose of Digg? Let's count the ways

On any given day, an estimated 15 million blog posts are being made, out of which 6000 or so are submitted to Digg, not more than 20 posts get any respectable attention – the rest are just spam, at least that’s how the big users see them as – lame, incorrect, these are some of the most common epithets being ascribed to buried stories.

Now, what is the point of existence of sites like Digg?

1. Is it outstanding journalism?
If that is the case then I think the likes of New York Times, Washington Post, Economist, Christain Science Monitor and others are better served by a new digg-like system, which only aggregates stories from the top 100 news outlets in the world.

Digg as the modern version of the supermarket tabloid with a geeky edge is not far off the mark.

The Top Digged stories of today are:

Find out what (American) accent you have. (very short quiz)
911 refuses ambulance for woman dying in ER waiting room; nurses dont help
China Threatens War Over Bush Handshake
Gizmodo: Digg Spam Sucks
Teach the controversy: Pi = 3.0 (textbook stickers included!)
11 Worst 007 Gadgets
Judge suing dry cleaner cries over pants in court
Iran moves to execute porn stars
BBC: World Now in America // pics
Hilton's parents skip line on jail visit -unfair

2. Or, is it allowing a few blogs to come out and becoming mainstream news outlets themselves?

This seems more the case. The charm of Digg as a source of traffic is not what it was before. Randfish at Seomoz complained that the site was not getting as much digg traffic as before.

Harry Maugans did a study and found that only 15 or so sites have dominated Digg while it has been existence – so Digg as a champion of open source, web 2.0 style, anything style articles is surely out of question.

I was not surprised to know that big blogs such as Lifehacker have their own policy of putting dig buttons only on exclusive and original stories – these blogs are not blogs, but aspiring big-ticket magazines and Digg is their path to glory.

For example, have a look at Lifehacker’s official Digg Policy.

3. Is it letting users discover better news?

For that you must compare all the big sites – Slashdot, Nytimes, BBC, Metafilter, Newsvine, Reddit and others and find out for yourself what you have been missing. Other than the Paris Hilton story in 2005, I haven’t come across a ‘unique – only-on Digg’ story. The Virginia Tech story got faster home page traction on Newsvine than Digg, where it got stuck in the middle pages.

For tech stories of depth, Slashdot is any day better. But if if you are in for boobs and gadgets maybe Digg is fit for you..

If you are patient enough, you might find gems while browsing tag on the quiet but effective

4. Is it making Users happy?
If there is one category of users that Digg makes happy is that group of 14-24 year olds who make snap judgments on the merits of a story about Obama’s Kennedy like appeal (By the way Diggers are heavy on someone called Ron Paul), decisions that make or break many an online entrepreneur’s short-term fate.

These guys may be good coders but does that mean all coders are all-around Mensa geniuses? I don’t know. But i bet the judges during the inquisition period in Europe took a little more time.

Some of the Digg users are happy making pithy comments but if it is valuable comments you are looking for, Slashdot, Techcrunch are more worthy places to be at.

At the end of it all, Digg is mostly about a select group of people, putting a select group of blogs and news outlets on top while the most blog posts are discarded to oblivion.

People have long debated the merits of social news, about the possibilities of better Digg-like systems; however, little has been done on this front so far.

The situation of all those eager bloggers and all those posts going nowhere doesn’t make you happy.

The whole world is not crap or ‘lame’ as a digger might put it.

There may not be 15 million original blog posts a day but there may be thousands and in the way it deals with most submitted stories, Digg is no better than a web 2.0 baiter such as Andrew Keen who believes that it is all amateurish trash.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

How revolutionary is the iPhone? Let's count the camps

There are several camps of thought on the revolutionary capabilities of the iPhone.

1. The first camp is of the true believers who say that the killer app. is the phone itself, which is simple to use (has only one button to reach home screen), has a fast response unlike other phones that are slowed down by ‘bloatware’.

This camp constitutes the core fan group of the Apple brand and is willing to forgive Apple for choosing a carrier with slow speeds, not allowing any Keyboard add-on, and no memory card expansion slots either– simplicity at times can be blinding.

2. The second camp believes that mere hard disk space and Safari web browser do not a revolution make – with the in-built hard disk, you can use the Safari browser on your browser to download ringtones and other mobile content without having to use the mobile operator’s gateway.

However, all this depends upon the success of the Safari browser beyond the Apple platform – can it be a Firefox?

The operators’ walled garden will be a one to break through.

3. Camp #3 is excited that the announced iPhone Web kit framework, which allows developers to develop Web 2.0/ajax applications for the iPhone, through the Safari browser.

4. However, Camp #4 that was expecting full-fledged SDK kit from Apple, which is not the case till now. As Gizmodo says, ‘the iPhone's potential as an amazing computing and communication platform will never be realized. And because of this and no matter how Apple tries to sell it, the iPhone won't make a revolution happen’.

5. Which brings to Camp #5, which believes in true independence – freedom from the vagaries of the mobile operators’ jail-like system that is suffocating the truly liberating spirit of mobile communications in the United States and beyond.

A: The Wireless operators control the software on your phone. The nifty new phone you just bought has no use if the operator doesn’t support it. Try taking your address book, ringtones, music, video from your mobile phone to other device and you will agree it is a painful process, putting it mildly.

B: The only third party players the operators allow are the content producers, the operators hoping to extract every penny out of the system.

C: A full-fledged SDK would enable developers to add new functionalities to the phone.

Think VoIP, Wimax, P2P data transfer.

People are waiting for the day when the mobile phone is as hackable and open-ended as the net-connected PCs of today.

The hopes of this camp are with the hobbyists who will hack away at the iPhone anyway, making their their own mini-apps.

Short of anything revolutionary, but a start nonetheless.
That is what I also think about the iPhone.

A roundup of Mobile phone, iPhone and revolution articles can be found here.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Making money blogging, India Edition

Apart from the fact that a $400 a month job is pretty good out here in the sub-tropics, there isn’t much hope-inducing action on blogging as a career in India.

The New York Times has written about the dismal state of blogging jobs in the United States.
What's up in India?

Print Journalists who are not satisfied with their pay have looked at blogging for some adsense dollars, but I am yet to see anyone feeling happy with the ‘Time versus Money’’ aspect of the exercise. The boom in Electronic media, what with more than 30 news channels and numerous local channels, means that people working there have not given Video Blogging a serious look so far.

There are well-funded blog networks that rewrite stories and make money from advertising.

There are bloggers who want to replicate Amit Agarwal’s success, going the Lifehacker Route and writing about latest productivity and software tips & tricks.

Then you have aspiring gadget bloggers eager to hop on to the gravy train that adsense is for Gadget and Gossip sites – hopefully, some may be able to make $100-$500 a month depending on the amount of time bloggers put into it.

My friends who work for a local blogging network make anywhere from $400-$500 a month writing 300-400 posts a month.

Some people I know I have tried freelancing for myriad SEO houses and spammers and have left the job with mixed feelings.

Some are taking the Steve Rubel route, building up a personal brand online, hoping to garner some consulting work down the line.

This incidentally is the best route to benefit from blogging in India – start a blog on your industry, write short, incisive posts on issues that matter. This gives faster traction to job promotion prospects and may also get you offers from bigger companies who will take a shine to your punditry on the lite.

As for myself, I have been busy working on my startups, living off my savings while I get things going. I have gone for job interviews at some big companies here and I can tell from experience that they don’t give a hoot about my writing on a blog, – in fact; most HR guys here don’t seem to know what web 2.0 is, their eyes glazing when I bravely put forth on the merits of two-way conversation.

Maybe it is my limited understanding of technology, media and what have you.

By the way, and I am not sure how this goes in the United States, what’s with all these straight-out-college kids as HR interviewers, who don’t move much beyond the obligatory ‘Tell me about yourself’ routine - as if that will give these seers a whole view of the capabilities and experience you have on offer.

In India, Journalists and other keyboard warriors realize that people working in marketing, banks, real estate, retailing and telecom pays much, much better.

Related: Deep Jive Interests has covered Offshore blogging. It is worth a look.

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