Archive for May, 2008

Newspapers are just paper…

Howard Kurtz wrote an article in today’s Washington Post lamenting the recent layoffs in the newspaper industry (Post Buyouts Come With an Emotional Cost, May 26, 2008).  In any company in any industry, it is sad to consider the ramifications of layoffs and downsizing. These are our friends and colleagues, people we respect, admire, and enjoy. I’ve been there, trust me. But, Kurtz writes as if to say “you’ll be sorry.”  “If people want to tune out the news, no one can compel them to change their habits. We can be smarter, faster and jazzier in providing information, but we can’t force-feed the stuff. If newspapers wither and die, it will be in part because the next generation blew us off in favor of Xbox and Wii and full-length movies on their iPods.” Basically, those who abandoned newspapers for Wii and Xbox and YouTube will get everything they have coming to them when they wake up one day uninformed.

Kurtz writes “There isn’t a Web site around that can produce the probing work, such as the exposé of shoddy conditions at the Army’s Walter Reed Medical Center, that won The Post six Pulitzer Prizes this year.”  Yes there is.  It’s WashingtonPost.com .  Granted, Web publications haven’t quite figured out the revenue model yet, but they will.  The Web offers so many efficiencies and economies of scale in terms of production and distribution, and with the millions of eyeballs out there as potential users, don’t tell me there is no way to make money other than to charge 50 cents per paper.  People want information. That is clear.  They just want information that is interesting and relevant and delivered to them most efficiently.  It is much easier for me to get up, turn on my computer, and read 50 RSS feeds than it is for me to subscribe to 50 papers or go down to the corner newsstand and read everything there. Plus I get opinion, diversity, and an opportunity to engage.  I’m the customer, meet my needs.  Granted, I then have the responsibility of becoming media literate, but that’s nothing new. Remember, “don’t believe everything you read or hear on TV.”

It’s like saying please drive our cars from NY to LA because we in the auto industry are good, hard-working people, and we matter.  Don’t abandon us for those new-fangled airplanes just because they can get you there faster.

The Post’s new publisher Katharine Weymouth says “The ways in which we break news and tell stories will continue to evolve and change as technology and readers’ habits evolve and change. The challenge is at once daunting and thrilling: reinventing the newspaper — in some senses, the news itself — for a new century.”  Just like any other industry faced with increased competition and technological breakthroughs, the newspaper industry is going to change.  Journalists put their lives into their jobs. They perform a function that is critical to our democracy. And that is probably why they are taking things so personally. But, remember, it’s just business.

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Tips on PR 2.0

Tech Crunch once again features PR guru Brian Solis with an article on PR Secrets for Startups.  The article provides 12 tips for operating in a PR 2.0 world.  Here are a few choice quotes from the article:

“No BS. No hype. It’s an understanding of markets, the needs of people, and how to reach them at the street level—without insulting everyone along the way.”

“A blog is the voice and the soapbox for thought leadership, vision, solutions, milestones, and advice.”

Package the story for each influencer. “Yes, it’s time consuming. But this is about building individual relationships and not about broadcasting spam.”

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You Selfish Web Users

Web usability icon Jakob Nielsen has released a study about the changing habits of Web users. He found that users are more savvy about finding information on the Web, with about 75% reporting that they find what they need on the Web, compared to 60% in 1999. Users don’t like to dawdle on sites, they instead like to get what they want and get out. They don’t like widgets and applications that bog down sites. And, they don’t like to be lured via marketing or promotions.

“People want sites to get to the point, they have very little patience,” Nielsen said. “I do not think sites appreciate that yet,” he added. “They still feel that their site is interesting and special and people will be happy about what they are throwing at them.”

Personally, I think companies would be smart to consider more organic, community strategies for getting their messages out, because today’s users can tell a promotion or marketing campaign when they see one. They know that this information is biased. Companies need to find ways to use word-of-mouth, but more in a word-of-Web way. Marketing needs to embrace information, humor, entertainment. It’s way more than simply focusing on exposure.

Most don’t even like to go to home pages and drill down for information. They prefer to search and go directly to what they need.

Basically, it’s all about search. “In the long run anyone who wants to beat Google just has to make a better search,” said Dr Nielsen.

So, this makes Search Engine Optimization all the more relevant. And, then branding and usability become important when users get to any of your pages.

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30 Websites to Follow If You’re Into Web Development

FYI, I found this link highlighting some excellent Web development resources via Digg on sixrevisions.com. Since I don’t always focus on development, I wasn’t even aware of a few of these, but will definitely check them out.  Many of them provide tutorials, some are good for ideas and inspiration.  Of particular interest are Smashing Magazine, the Adaptive Path Blog, Ajaxian, and the O’Reilly Network.

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AEJMC “Best of the Web” Winners

San Marcos Online

I am happy to report that , not one, but two Graduate Student teams from the SJMC at Texas State are winners in the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s Best of the Web competition. San Marcos Online, created by Jason Cain, Irene Kosela, Marc Speir and Jordan Viator took 1st place in the Journalism category.

Thread Austin

Thread Austin by Kerri Battles and Dee Kapila received 3rd place in the Journalism category. These students took an Advanced Web Design course with me in the fall, and these projects were the culmination of that semester. In the class, the students worked with XHMTL, CSS, Flash, PHP, MySQL, Javascript, and advanced multimedia editing. I’m proud of the accomplishments of both teams, and I look forward to presenting their work at the AEJMC national convention in Chicago.

The Best of the Web competition recognizes outstanding work in Web design. Academic programs around the country submitted entries. The Journalism category is the most competitive in the competition. Other categories were Department or School Site, Teaching Site, and Creative Sites. More information on the program can be found at http://www.aejmc.net/ctec/txp/index.php?id=36

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Search and Social

Gee, I hate that Microsoft is one of my most prominent tags, but they are just in the news so much lately.  They announced yesterday a cash back plan for purchases made via their Live Search site.  Paying people is a nice idea.  I’ll take any money Microsoft has to give me, but is that really a meaningful substitute for innovative products?  Google continues to not only dominate the search space, but their share continues to grow. According to this article, Google’s share of search queries is 61.6%, Yahoo’s 20.4%, and Microsoft a piddling 9.1%.  Interesting quote from Citigroup analyst “As Google continues to take share, we continue to believe a deal between Yahoo and Microsoft would be necessary — though not sufficient — to compete effectively with Google.” Agreed.

Business Week has a special section on the Future of Social Networking. Definitely in my current interest area, as I look at the diffusion of social networks. There are several parts in this section, but the study that talks about the gender gap is fascinating.  Apparently, women dominant the social networking space, and women ages 35-50 are the fastest growing segment.  It’s the social aspect that made these “killer apps” for women.

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Microsoft’s Days are Numbered – Naturally

Today’s New York Times had a good article about the natural decline of Microsoft entitled The Computer Industry Comes With Built-In Term Limits (Randall Stross). Defining a phenomenon called the Single-Era Conjecture, Stross talks about the “invisible law that makes it impossible for a company in the computer business to enjoy pre-eminence that spans two technological eras.” Coming near the time that Bill Gates will retire from the company he created (check out the Bill Gates timeline in the new Wired, not yet available online), it seems appropriate to talk about Microsoft’s future.  Stross identifies that regardless of how prepared a company is for the arrival of new technologies, they will still lose market leadership.

What Stross fails to discuss, however, is why this happens.  He makes it sound like it is a natural law.  But, the elements of a mature company that in many ways has acted like a monopoly are the true culprits.  Once one invests heavily in a business model, and thus a way of life, it is difficult to steer the behemoth in new directions.  In Microsoft’s case, it was an operating system tied to a platform that became a commodity and shrink-wrapped, proprietary software that was delivered inefficiently to the end user.  It wasn’t hard for smaller, more nimble companies to come along and exploit those weaknesses.

Traditional media, particularly newspapers, are experiencing the same challenge, although they have enjoyed a stronghold for much longer than Microsoft.  The Internet just made old ways seem inefficient.  Why ship products when they can just be downloaded, why print on paper and distribute via trucks when we can just read online?  And, ultimately, why should we be bound to an inferior hardware and OS platform, when there are open source options?

Once a company is of a certain size, they must take a “head-in-the-sand” approach to these new things that threaten their livelihood.  If we ignore it, maybe it will go away.  If we insult it and make people fear it, the more likely it is to go away.  But, the Internet was a no-brainer.  It was pure potential, and had Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard in the 90s instead of the 70s, Microsoft’s roots would have been firmly ingrained in an online world.

So, does that make a computer company’s demise naturally inevitable? Sure, the origin of a company is married to the environment in which it comes up, but is its path pre-determined?  Companies like IBM (founded in 1888 as Tabulating Machine Company, became International Business Machines in 1924)and NCR Corporation (founded 1884) are still around.  And after many ups and downs, they are even considered somewhat successful. But, neither has the market dominance that they once enjoyed.  Companies like Compaq have been swallowed up by larger bloated behemoths (HP). They were once lauded for their ingenious business model of managing reseller partners, that was quickly unseated by Dell with their direct-to-customer model.  Was it impossible to see the ultimate weaknesses in that strategy?  Now, Dell suffers due to lack of innovation, not to mention being tied to the Microsoft Vista debacle.  We’ve seen Yahoo slip as our search engine of choice, while Google figured out a way to create a business model around it.  And, forget about tracking the diffusion of social networks, Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, Ning…

Money is part of the problem.  Companies rush to go public or sell to a larger company, then lose control of their destiny.  It all becomes about short-term profit.  Maybe it’s the market that we refer to when we blame “Mother Nature.”

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