Archive for the ‘Web Culture’ Category

tombstone2

Life Magazine and Infoworld will cease to exist as print magazines. The announcement in Business Week and Network World might come as a surprise to many, while ‘industry watchers’ try to determine whether this is a “short-term slump or a deepening systemic problem”.

“I’m reluctant to say that a single data point is a trend,” said Barry Parr, a media analyst at Jupiter Research. “But those are scary numbers, especially when we’re not in a recession.”

Barry doesn’t remember that the N.Y. Times publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, said last month that there may not be a print issue of the N.Y. Times in five years. It appears to be more serious than a short-term slump as I’ve reported on the issue in January in a piece titled The Fall of the Paper Newspaper.

This isn’t the first death for the print version Life Magazine as reported by Business Week;

Originally launched in 1936 as a weekly, Life was suspended from regular publication in 1972 and brought back as a monthly in 1978. It was suspended again in 2000, then brought back as a newspaper supplement in 2004.

This might suggest that Life Magazine simply isn’t relevant for the current generation of readers but the N.Y. Times reports that print ad revenue is down for even the largest papers, like USA Today, while Gannett, USA Today’s owner, reports an ad revenue drop of 3.8% in February.

The small markets aren’t faring much better;

Even papers in smaller markets, which are shielded from some of the forces buffeting some of the bigger metro dailies, saw losses in February. Ad revenue for the publishing division of Media General, which owns The Tampa Tribune, The Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Winston-Salem Journal, were down 5.8 percent.

With costs up and revenues down, print media will simply have to find ways to adapt. The discussions about ‘short-term slumps’ need to cease. It’s not a short-term slump. It is a steepening of a gradual decline that has been evident for the last five years and much worse over the last two.

What market can absorb an influx of old print media corporations that have finally decided to embrace the online world? Take a long look at that cell phone hooked to your belt or tucked in your purse.

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Blogs are a decade old, or at least Cnet is saying that blogs turned ten, so the search is on to find out who created the first blog. Not surprisingly, the quest centers around defining exactly what a blog is.

So who was the first blogger? Justin Hall, Carolyn Burke, Jorn Barger or Dave Winer? The answer? Probably none of them. I recall seeing ‘online diaries’ way back in the BBS days. Of course Winer says that “Lots of people made weblogs what they are today’, but then goes on to say that “The first blogs were inspired by this blog”. “This blog” meaning scripting.com which is of course, his. Yeah, whatever.

Trying to find the first ‘blogger’ will be like trying to find the first person that milked a cow. In fact, even the age of ‘blogs’ are in doubt. But hey, if a few people want to make some unproven claims, what better place to make them than on the Web?

You may have noticed last week one particular post here received quite a bit of attention. On February 6th, Five Things To Do With A PC When You Have No Internet Connection was submitted to Digg. I didn’t submit the story, but I did notice a small influx of traffic coming that afternoon and evening. When I checked my stats at around 3 a.m. on the 7th, there were over 17,000 referrals from Digg. The piece had been made popular at shortly after midnight CST. So I checked Digg and saw that the story had over 500 Diggs. The odyssey had begun.

First, let me say that when you first see the traffic flooding in from Digg that it’s hard not to simply sit there and keep refreshing your stats. Then it is hard not to keep refreshing over at Digg to watch the Digg number increase. And the comments begin flooding in, and I do mean that it is a flood, both at Digg and at the blog.

Much has been written lately about the quality of Digg traffic and what happens after, these are my observations on the Digg Effect.

The first thing I noticed was that the Digg traffic almost immediately propelled the blog to the front page of WordPress.com for most popular site of the day, most popular post and fastest growing blog. More traffic.

Second was that the Digg visitor comments were generally polite, and after reading some of the experiences written by others, I was expecting to get slammed for the blog template, content quality, etc.

Then I noticed the pingbacks, and the links from other blogs and this was at 4 a.m.

Other news aggregators started sending referrals and then del.icio.us traffic started coming in and then traffic from places like monitor.hr, popurls.com and Google reader. This is a modest little blog, two-three hundred uniques a day.

Emails started arriving, asking to translate the post into other languages. requesting typo fixes for comments, introductions, etc. The Digg count kept climbing. I was ecstatic when the Diggs topped one thousand.

Still wasn’t 9 a.m. By nine a.m. the post had 72 comments at the blog and around 90 at Digg.

Later, the story was submitted to Lifehacker, picked up by Gizmodo, Netvibes was sending traffic, poil.ca, and on and on. Backlinks were still piling up. Currently, the little article has garnered 2057 Diggs.

Quite a lot has been written about the quality of Digg traffic, most of it not positive. Here are my thoughts;

First, I need to dispense with the word ‘traffic’, it is real people showing up, not bots. These people are just like you and I, they have diverse interests and they use the Web. They like to be heard and they aren’t afraid to voice their opinions.

Here’s what I noticed.

Digg visitors are focused on the article at hand, they don’t click around much. That post got 73,169 views that day. The next most popular post received 69. Yep, 69.

What about outbound clicks? Here are the top 10 outbound clicks for that day:

enginepuller.com/engines/114/Thomas%2… 466
feeds.feedburner.com/SpeakingFreely 106
catb.org/hacker-emblem 104
blogburst.com 23
home-office-guide.com 20
newstons.wordpress.com/2007/02/07/6-t… 19
10e20.com 18
learningcenter.sony.us/assets/itpd/re… 17
wolf-howl.com 17
seo-theory.blogspot.com 16

The EnginePuller site is linked from a comment on the post. That next stat is interesting, that’s the subscription button for my feed. Compare that to the Google Reader stat for that day: google.com/reader/view 788

What about after the Digg visitors start tapering off?

Here’s the total referral info since the 7th.

75,865 on the 7th

20,503 on the 8th

3,815 on the 9th.

Google reader for the 8th, google.com/reader/view 753

Google Reader For the 9th, google.com/reader/view 124

Alexa’s rather humorous chart: http://www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details?q=speakingfreely.wordpress.com&url=speakingfreely.wordpress.com

I haven’t finished looking at backlink data, but I do know that I stopped counting at over 300 hundred and that the number of backlinks is still climbing.

Is there value in getting Dugg? Certainly is. Some of that value resides in the experience itself but the most tangible value is the increase in exposure and the connections that are made. I’m still trading emails with people that I would never have met, I’m finding blogs that have useful information that I may have never seen and virtually meeting the people that write those blogs.

What have a learned about Digg visitors? They stay pretty focused on the reason they arrived, they like to comment and while they may not read many other posts on the site, they certainly read the article they came to read. Do some of them miss the point or disagree with what you wrote? Sure, but that happens at every forum I’ve ever participated in and in every conversation that has more than one person talking. ; )

If nearly 75,000 people show up in one place, there’s bound to be some differences of opinion and a little chaos. The experience is certainly worthwhile though.

If anyone would like to see more comprehensive stats, shoot me an email and I’ll send what I have.

Last week I reported on a conversation I had with the media manager of a local newspaper in a post entitled The Fall of the Paper Newspaper. This week, Eytan Avriel reports that Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times has a new goal:

“I really don’t know whether we’ll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don’t care either,” he says.

Sulzberger is focusing on how to best manage the transition from print to Internet.

“The Internet is a wonderful place to be, and we’re leading there,” he points out.

The Times, in fact, has doubled its online readership to 1.5 million a day to go along with its 1.1 million subscribers for the print edition.

Sulzberger says the New York Times is on a journey that will conclude the day the company decides to stop printing the paper. That will mark the end of the transition.

Five years is a long way away, and I have to wonder if by the time they make the transition to the Web, that everyone else will have made the transition to mobile.

If you had any doubts about print advertising in newspapers being in serious decline, Sulzberger’s comments should end them. Related

Hat Tip to Threadwatch

Windows Vista finally launched to a lukewarm reception, PC prices are at the lowest point they’ve been in years, even laptops are available now for under $600, but I haven’t spoken to a single teenager that’s interested. What are they interested in? Smart Phones, and yes, the newly launched iPhone.

As I’ve reported before, teens are more connected than ever, but not to a PC. This fact hasn’t been lost on marketers. In 2005 advertisers were looking at cell phones as the emerging medium to explore.

A few factors are driving the interest. Increasingly, cell phones are becoming more data oriented and PC-like. Consequently, there is now space that advertiser can use for marketing. “Cell phone screen size is certainly not optimal but it does provide companies with room to advertise their wares,” said David Chamberlain, senior analyst at market research firm In-Stat.

In addition, cell phones are quite popular among a prime advertising Email Marketing Software – Free Demo demographic: youth, including college and high school students. Many college students have abandoned wired connections for wireless ones, and a survey by The American Advertising Federation (AAF) found that 69 percent of high school teens own cell phones. The youth market tends to be quite interested in products with short life cycles, such as music and movies. These products generate a lot of advertising because companies need to quickly create a buzz as new products arrive.

As phones became more like PCs, teens and college students began to abandon the PC for the portability of the cell phone. One key component that was missing from the mix was storage space. Cell phones just didn’t have the space to allow for music and video storage.

Seagate just changed that with the introduction of 10-20 Gig wireless storage devices.

Simply streaming content isn’t working for consumers or businesses, Pait said, so providing lots of space to hold downloaded media is the way forward. Splitting storage from the handset guarantees plenty of space and phones that stay small and stay cheap.

While resistant to advertising, especially on cell phones, the teenagers I’ve spoken to admitted that if monthly rates were reduced or more minutes added to their plans, they’d be willing to use an ad-supported cell plan. Screen size? For a generation that grew up with the Gameboy, the small screens on cell phones aren’t an issue.

While I’ve been busy finding out what teenagers are doing on the Web, Emily Vencat from the Daily Herald has been finding out what people 50 and over have been doing:

Like millions of teenagers around the world, Sue Bloom spends several hours socializing online every day. She posts pictures, meets new friends, updates her blog and runs a popular online photography group with almost 500 members. The only thing is, Bloom isn’t a teenager or a twentysomething college student — she’s a 58-year-old art historian. And the brand-new site where she hangs out, Eons.com, is for baby boomers (and older) only: You have to be at least 50 to join.

Vencat reports that currently, only 1 million of the 215 million registered networkers are older than 50, but that number was exected to increase to 20 million by the end of the year according to an upcoming report from global analyst, Deloitte.

Why is that exciting? Well, teens may be the next generation of consumers, but the over 50 crowd already has buying power. It may well be worthwhile to start analyzing the silver industry.

Jaime Sarrio of the Tennessean reports that teachers are seeing keypad shortcuts creep into classwork.

Sometimes it seems like kids are using another language. And sometimes, they are.

Call it “text speak,” or “Web slanguage.” No matter how you label it, if you were born pre-Internet era, odds are you don’t understand it.

This shorthand style of writing omits vowels and punctuation in favor of numbers and abbreviations.

I know from watching my daughter and her friends that they can ‘text’ as fast as I can type. I also know that Jessica ends up making quite a few edits to her posts here because of the text effect.

Vanderbilt University is studying texting;

Vanderbilt University is analyzing data from a three-year study of how adolescents age 13 to 15 use instant messaging and Web logs to communicate.

Preliminary findings show that the way kids socialize online is similar to the way they do off, said Kevin Leander, associate professor for teaching and learning for Vanderbilt’s Peabody College.

Just as adults’ speech differs from the bar to the boardroom, children know there is a difference between text speak and proper English.

After watching my daughter and Jessica send text messages, the ‘gaming’ effect was pretty clear. It’s all about the thumbs. If the phones don’t have full keyboards, some letters require three button presses. I know from trying to browse the web using my old cell phone that it’s a tedious process. The teenagers don’t seem to think so. The rate at which they send messages is astounding.

With teens in a rural farming community averaging 68 text messages per week, texting is one of the top three forms of communication, beating out messaging online simply because of the freedom available via cell phone.

Of primary importance? The speed of replies. Teens that don’t respond to text messages quickly, or ignore them, end up outside the circle of communication. Removing cell phone privileges is tops on the list of disciplinary measures. Ground me, but don’t take my phone!

It’s a new era and I can’t wait to see the influence the tech-savvy teens will bring to the Web.

Jessica recently mentioned that 21% of the people in her class subscribe.

Since debuting in North America on November 23, 2004, World of Warcraft has become the most popular MMORPG around the world.

Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. announced today that World of Warcraft®, its subscription-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), is now played by more than 8 million gamers around the world.

I wonder how many hours of play time that translates into? If 8 million subscribers only play half an hour a day, that’s still 4 million hours of lost time each day. What could be done with 4 million hours a day? What could be accomplished? Boggles the mind.

Professor Andrew McAfee, from Harvard Business School, wrote an article last week entitled, Wising Up About Dumbing Down. I have read many similar observations about ‘dumbing down the web’ in the past so I didn’t feel compelled to comment at first. But I went back and read the article again a day later. And again, a day after. Finally, after fours days, I felt that I had to comment and hoped that by doing so I would no longer feel compelled to keep returning to his article.

Two days later, I find myself writing about it. Most of what he had to say resonated. I found myself nodding in agreement as I read along;

First of all, there’s the stuff that that appears to be the product of a truly feeble mind. As the introduction to Time’s Person of the Year story put it: “Some of the comments on YouTube make you weep for the future of humanity just for the spelling alone, never mind the obscenity and the naked hatred.” Like most of us, I’ve many times stared slack-jawed at my screen, amazed that someone took the time to click the ‘comment’ button, type away, and pass the CAPTHCA, yet couldn’t find the time to be aquaint themselves with any linguistic, grammatical, or cultural guidelines for self-expression.

I agree with nearly every point he made but something was troubling me about the overall premise of the article. So like a tongue with a freshly chipped tooth to ponder, I kept returning to reread his thoughts.

Last night, at 2:23 AM, it hit me. While Prof. McAfee made his points about Shakespeare and Borat and how content creation tools “aren’t eroding two very deep-rooted human capabilities: the desire and ability to create complex works, and the desire and ability to consume them“, it’s the unstated but logical assumption in ‘wising up about dumbing down’ that is in error. No person or group is ‘dumbing down the web’.

No person or group is dumbing down the web. This is especially true given that Prof. McAfee is talking about the influx of user-generated content. ‘Dumbing down’ assumes intent and governance. A group must be identified that needs dumbed down content. Then ‘smart’ content needs to be made easier for the poor populace to digest. That’s not what is happening.

What we’re seeing is a reflection of society. No one is taking the Canterbury Tales and turning them into some monosyllabic, easily digested stories for the masses. War and Peace isn’t being turned into Dick and Jane. Instead, we get Dick in a Box.

Libraries have known about this sort of ‘dumbing down’ for years. That’s why they carry one copy of Animal Farm and forty copies of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

The truth may be far more frightening, as a society, we’re simply not as advanced as we’d like to believe. With a world of technology at our fingertips, videos of drunken, nearly naked pop stars dominate  our search for enlightenment.

If you visit Pompeii you won’t find ancient graffiti or engraved directions pointing to the ancient libraries or universities, but you will find phallic symbols still pointing the way to ancient brothels long since vanished.

I like to know when I’m being marketed to. Ads for a Toyota, or an iPod or the latest and greatest razor never make me recoil in disgust. I might listen to your pitch for Ginsu knives or Crest toothpaste or I might change the channel but it’s doubtful that your ad will leave a bad taste in my mouth.

But, if I read a glowing product review on your blog and find an affiliate link to the product, that makes my left eye twitch. I suddenly trust you less than I trust the guy hawking Oxyclean. I know the guy selling Oxyclean is honestly trying to sell me a product, but you, well you and I were just having a conversation right up until I discovered you were trying to sell me something.

Scott Karp sums up my feelings beautifully;

It feels like we’ve reached the point where good old fashioned, in-your-face, BUY THIS advertising is starting to look a whole lot more authentic than all of the fake “authenticity” that the hyping of authenticity has engendered.

Blog reviews became popular because people trusted the individual. People liked that the marketing agencies were outsiders in the blog world. They wanted the objectivity that bloggers could provide.

Now many of the same bloggers that were hyping ‘transparency’ are pretty vocal about their displeasure with ‘disclosure‘. Some of them are making comparisons to television or other media. We’ve had a long time to digest and understand other media. We know that actors are paid to endorse products. We expect hyperbole on TV and radio. We don’t expect it from bloggers, nor do we expect them to market to us on the sly.

And again, Scott Karp says it well,

Ads are annoying. Fake conversations are deceptive. I’ll always opt for the former

My apologies Scott, for my blatant theft of your title. I simply couldn’t think of a better way to say it.