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29 posts from November 2006

USAToday on Newspaper Solutions

Kevin Maney's column in today's USAToday should be required reading for anyone in the newspaper business.  He polls several tech experts for their recommendations on how to fix the newspaper industry.  My favorite excerpts and thoughts:

No one, for instance, proposed that newspaper websites, which generally look more crowded than a Mumbai flea market, pare down to a single, clean Google-esque local search box.

I tend to agree that most newspaper sites are way too busy, but I think going to the Google extreme would be taking things too far in the other direction.  That said, I do think newspaper sites need to get into the customization game, which leads me to...

Make it personal -- you can see that now with The New York Times...the Times and some other newspaper sites have a feature that lets people rearrange the website to their liking.

Amen!  I can customize Yahoo to become MyYahoo.  Why can't I do the same and create "MyIndyStar", which I might add, doesn't exist?!  We're talking about customization options that have been available for many years now.  What's it going to take to get all the newspapers to buy into it as a basic feature?  OK, I know some people won't want to go to the trouble of setting up a custom view.  Fine.  Let them live in the overcrowded site as it currently exists.  Then again, why not offer up some pre-made custom views for them to consider?  Or, why not let readers share their views with others in the community?

Local newspapers would want to assimilate and link to local bloggers and get readers to network with each other through topic areas.

I don't see much of this happening today.  It seems like the newspapers still view the blogging community as the enemy and refuse to embrace it.  What a shame.

Local papers should buy up local online entities (e.g., local blogs).

Hey, let's not get too carried away here, OK?  There are far too many here-today-and-gone-tomorrow blogs.  Plus, like the old expression goes, why buy the cow when the milk is free?  Just incorporate and offer links to local blogs.  That's free and would be a huge step in the right direction.

Although I don't think buying a bunch of local blogs is a good solution, I do think newspapers ought to consider offering free blogging services to the community.  Think of TypePad or Blogger, but hosted by your local paper.  No charge to users...totally free.  It wouldn't cost the papers much to run/support this and they'd get not only more local, community-driven content but also add to the inventory of content pages they could offer advertisers.  Would I switch from TypePad to a free service, with all the same features, but hosted by the Indianapolis Star?  You bet!  Then again, I'm always looking for a good reason to abandon TypePad, so maybe I'm not the best test case.

YouTube: Friend or Foe?

"YouTube Won't Cannibalize TV?"  Ha!  Funny one.  Actually, that's the title of a ZDNet blog post by Donna Bogatin.  She sounds as skeptical as I am about this.  Btw, be sure to read this YouTube article in the latest issue of Wired -- the Ball State sportscaster video cited in the article is highly entertaining.

The latest YouTube debate seems to be whether they can really introduce a more lucrative advertising model to their platform without alienating all their current users.  Although you see banner ads on the site, pre- and post-roll ads are thought to be the only way to truly monetize the traffic.  I disagree.  Why not simply reserve the top 20% or so of the video area itself for some sort of embedded banner advertising?  It would either overlay the video itself or push the screen down a bit.  YouTube could create an algorithm that splices in relevant ads on the fly, just like they do with AdSense today.  Besides the obvious benefit of not forcing people to wait for the "main attraction", it also presents the advertising message along with the content itself, likely leading to a much stronger impression.  It's just like all those crawlers you see on CNN and other cable networks -- we're so used to them that we don't really mind them anymore, but they represent an excellent piece of real estate for online video advertising.

Bogatin's blog post goes on to talk about how YouTube really lends itself to "short bursts of content" rather than full-length shows.  That's true today but I seriously doubt it will be a long-term limitation.  Why couldn't YouTube host 20-, 30-minute (or longer) videos?  My attention span while I'm online does seem to be shorter than when I'm watching TV, but not by much.  We'll definitely see longer videos on YouTube in the future, especially once they get that advertising model in place.

I also expect to see an explosion of custom channels on YouTube.  You'll have channels for every niche imaginable.  That will also lead to more video links being embedded in blogs and other websites.  For example, if there was a good publishing/media channel on YouTube I'd be interested in including a widget-like link to it from my blog.  Again, the advertising model comes into play.  Think of Google's AdSense, but for video.  If you insert a custom channel on your blog, everyone who clicks and watches a video contributes to your income.  I tend to think the click-through rate for that sort of object on the screen would be much, much higher than the click-through rate for the typical AdSense block.

If you're in the TV/video business and you're not working on a strategy to either work with or compete with the Google/YouTube juggernaut, you're kidding yourself.  They're coming and they have all the weapons to be very successful, at your expense.

Amazon Editors' Top 10

Bestof2006_75x75_v37338262_ Our team at Wiley managed to get two of the books in Amazon's "Top 10 Editors' Picks" for 2006: Naked Conversations, by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel and Professional Ajax, by Nicholas Zakas, Jeremy McPeak and Joe Fawcett.  Congratulations to Jim Minatel, the acquisitions editor behind both titles as well as the authoring, editorial and production teams on both books.

Crowdsourcing 101

First off, kudos to Chevrolet for even trying.  As this Wired article explains, the GM brand was innovative enough to try crowdsourcing as a way of renewing interest in Tahoe SUV.  I realize SUV's tend to be some of the more high-margin vehicles out there, but was this really the best test of the crowdsourcing model?

Despite the state of denial some car manufacturers seem to be in, it's fairly clear that SUV's aren't exactly the most exciting, innovative products out there.  Sure, the price of gas isn't approaching $3 a gallon right now, but it's still not cheap.  Further, according to this article, and it seems to be a consistent message in other reports, "the SUV market in the U.S. now appears to be in long-term decline."

It seems to me that the best product to feature a crowdsourcing initiative around would be one with the following characteristics: new, sexy, innovative, not widely known about, etc.  I don't think any of these apply to an SUV.  Why wouldn't Chevrolet try this with something more edgy?   Oops.  I forgot.  We're talking about GM.  What hot new vehicles have they produced in the last 10 years?  Anyone?  Anyone?

Bottom line: I think this sort of ad creation technique will become very popular.  It's an inexpensive way for advertisers to encourage and let their customers speak for them.  It's a blow to the ego of any ad executive, but the smart ones will figure out how to make it part of their portfolios.