Friday, March 07, 2008

Top 5 things I would do if I were in charge of Wikipedia

Hypothesizing about a probable Wikipedia Educational Foundation, during a break from his busy schedule (yeah, right), my good friend Jayanta Bhattacharya listed out five things that he would do if God (Or, some rich person with tonnes of hard cash lying around - Jonty mentions that Anil Ambani might be a good fit) intervened, buying out Wikiepdia, and conveniently putting my fantasy-prone albeit highly- learned friend in charge.

A small Todo list that emerged from our talks:
1. Allow every single person to make their personal pages in Wikipedia along with their achievements (or non- achievements) in life.
2. They will be charged a 5-dollar entry fee. That money would go towards the funding of schools in poor countries.
3. Bring out hard copies of Wikipedia to distribute amongst poor populations.
4. Allow sponsorships by the way of banners etc for a premium from companies. (no Google Adsense) and then use the money for purely benevolent purposes, primarily on education - education is empowerment.
5. If there is a lot of money in the coffers, Jonty would like to start the Wikipedia Educational Foundation, opening schools and knowledge centers around the world, running educational satellite channels etc. The education would be free and the schools will not be affiliated to any boards but a central WEF board.

This way, general education around the world would be of the same standard, but different countries would have different history, civic and law syllabus.

Bonus: And make Wikipedia the primary search engine on the Internet.

What would you do if you were in charge of Wikipedia?

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

How (not) to create a new media empire

Having religiously covered the three Gs of blogging topics so far- namely, Gossip, Gadgets and Girls, Nick Denton, the owner of Gawker media group knows what sells in the news business. His approach to New Media Empire building is bearing good, hold on, stupendous results.

Nick has just posted a chart showing how Gawker is the fourth largest online media empire.

But, is Nick Denton's way the only way? According to the chart, Gawker is behind the New York Times, USA Today and Washington Post, ahead of Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal.

We keep reading about the trouble the newspapers are in - the layoffs are an obvious point of coverage. But, we should not forget the amount of money these news brands have invested in the best reporting talent, especially in the service reporting field - going out there and reporting the best the reader is concerned about.

It takes real money to go out in the field, say Iraq and bring out the stories.

Is Gawker Media taking the armchair route to media empire success?
This is the question for the media experts to answer.

Supporters (there are many) of Nick's scrappy approach to New Media empire building will say that the New York Times 'subsidizes' its serious reportage with earnings from its Food and Lifestyle coverage and from

By that token, shall we expect Nick Denton to fund a serious journalism kind of initiative? I won't bet my meagre collection of Sachin Tendulkar posters on that happening.

Related story: In the valley of smut: the new Valleywag story

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In the valley of smut: the new Valleywag story

I feel disappointed by the smutty direction lately taken up by Valleywag. From the time when Nick Douglas started as the first writer for Valleywag (he has left for Gawker), I admired Valleywag's gumption when it provided the anti-dote to the Web 2.0 pied pipers, my name for the likes of Techcrunch and its copycats.

I still remember when Valleywag punched holes in the Second Life story when everyone else considered it be the next Microsoft, sort of.

Now that is no more, we needed Valleywag more than ever to poke more holes in startups' strategies, pick out research analysts posing as Einsteins, and find the real story behind all that navel gazing nonsense that passes as normal in the Valley.

Till date, none of the big web 2.0 blogs has managed to completely upgrade to service reporting. Techcrunch will report any startup news it can get its hands on. ReadWriteWeb will continue its high-theme, analytical approach. Mashable is building upon its lists and Gigaom is somewhere in the middle but no web 2.0 blog has managed to do it all.

We needed Valleywag to present the other side of bland storytelling on all those web 2.0 blogs. Techcrunch, the erstwhile 'pied piper', has managed to do some 'serious' reporting of late.

Things have changed at Valleywag. I think the writers over there are not being able to cope up with blog moghul Nick Denton's “Traffic-at-all-cost” dictat.

Result: smut is all around.
Geeks and their love life - that is all the rage.

To analyze Valleywag's current editorial direction, I put Monday's Valleywag page through a Tag Cloud generator. A brief look at most popular terms:
porn 5 (mentions)
meghan asha 5
meghan 9
Julia allison 9
sex 3
geek love 3
gay porn 2
girlfriend 3
sucks 3
jimmy wales 11
The only useful entry that came nearest:
google health 4
I should not be disappointed. It was Valleywag's destiny.
After all, it is supposed to be the Silicon Valley's favorite gossip rag.

Being the Valley's beacon for truth was never the agenda, huh?

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Will Scrabulous make India's first web 2.0 millionaires?

Chances are India may see first homegrown web 2.0 millionaires in form of Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla of Scrabulous, the hugely popular but controversial online game.

According to the Calcutta-based brothers, Scrabulous makes $25,000 a month or $300,000 a year in revenue. This puts their valuation anywhere between $3 million (10x multiple) to $6 million (20x multiple). However, according to reports, the Agarwalla bothers are holding out for valuations in tens of millions of dollars.

The Agarwalla bothers are faced in a legal tangle with four big companies - Electronic Arts, RealNetworks, Mattel, and Hasbro. Realnetworks in particular has shown interest in buying the brothers out.

It would not be hyperbole to suggest that Facebook made it possible. The Scrabulous site has been up since 2005. It had 20,000 registered users and then Facebook opened up its platform and the rest, as they say, is history. The Facebook Scrabulous application is one of the top 10 applications on Facebook, having been added to more 840,000 user pages and 500,000 daily users playing it.

If the Agarwalla brothers do manage to get a deal to their liking, an eventuality I would like to think is possible; they will be India's first totally homegrown web 2.0 millionaires.

Among previous millionaire, Indian entrepreneurs, we have Sabeer Bhatia leading the way, who sold Hotmail for hundreds of millions of dollars to Microsoft, and who was working in the United States at the time and even today he is treated like a favored son by the media around here. The other notable web 1.0 millionaire, Rajesh Jain, who sold Indiaworld to Satyam for about Rs. 500 crores ($13 million) continues to lead a quiet and productive life, compared to the entrepreneurial, always-managing-to- be-in-the-news Mr. Bhatia who has morphed into a serial entrepreneur of sorts.

The Agarwalla brothers' success will also put into perspective the millions of dollars US investors have put into me-too web 2.0 startups in India. On a personal note, I will be please, knowing that someone other than blog spammers is becoming a web 2.0 millionaire.

Update 12/3/2008:
Upon reading this post, a friend asked, "what about people who have received funding for their web ventures? Aren't they millionaires?"

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Can Blog Posts drive people to suicide?

This is the question we are asking ourselves in wake of the suicide by Paul Tilly, who was only 40 years old when he jumped down to his death from a hotel floor in Chicago.

According to the New York Times, Mr. Tilley, Creative Director of ad agency DDB Chicago, supervised teams that created the “I’m Lovin’ It” campaign for McDonald’s and the “Dell Dude" for Dell.

Commenters on two apparently sharp-tongued blogs written by ad industry insiders, AgencySpy and AdScam, say that Paul Tilly was driven to commit suicide because he was troubled by some recent articles on these two blogs which criticized him for how he handled his job, among other things.

One post in question advised Paul Tilly to “go back to management 101”.
However, the Times story quotes a friend of Mr. Tilly saying, "it’s certainly not because of blogs".

Whatever the reason behind this extremely sad episode may be, it is true that Blogs (and social networking), being free-er by nature, can go to the edge, taking 'the subject/target' to the edge as well.

We saw this happening in Kathy Sierra harassment episode. We also must not forget Megan Meier, a 13-year-old Missouri girl who took her life in 2006 after being the target of insults on MySpace.

I suspect some bloggers will revisit Tim O'reilly's proposed Code of Ethics for Bloggers. Without going into the merits of a code, as free bloggers, we all must keep in mind that "With freedom, comes great responsibility".

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The end for Bloggers vs. Journalists idea?

Going by current evidence, the bloggers vs. journalists fight is dead. When they will explain this in future Media History Classes, it will be said that slowly but surely, bloggers and journalists picked out the best practices from each other, and at the same time they managed to stay true to their respective ethos.

Without having to give up their reporters' hard work ethic, journalists are learning to take themselves less seriously, opening up to outside views and opinions in the comments below their blog posts. Forever proud of their freewheeling, hugely personal styles, bloggers are looking to reporters to do more reportage that is original and provide breaking news for their blog properties.

For more, read this in Mediashift and find out more about how mainstream news organizations are launching blogs for their reporters and blog network owners are hiring big name reporters to beef up their news operations, doing their best to more Service reporting.

It will not be a futile exercise if we looked forward to more news and more writers.

Graphic courtesy Blogumentary

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