Category Archives: business

Why The Daily Failed

About two years ago, when NewsCorp launched the iPad app and news organization called The Daily, I wrote a rather long post pointing out why it was misguided crap (even though I said it wasn’t) —  but, hey, it employed 100 journalists and was at least better than another really awful idea,  so if Rupert Murdoch wanted to throw away his investors’ money, what did I care?, I observed.

The venture failed. Surprise.

Many people are arm-chair quarterbacking the demise of the venture and coming up with theories that are, frankly, implying that it could have ever succeeded. It was doomed before it was ever even an idea.

Here’s the reason it failed: No one in something called “the audience” cared that it succeeded.  Let me put that more clearly: It did not matter to anyone who really matters when it comes to the success of a media business venture. Or any venture, for that matter.

No matter how seemingly brilliant any idea, or how deep the pockets of any backers, or even how talented and brilliant the people executing the idea — if it doesn’t matter to anyone called “audience,” or “user,” or “reader,” or my favorite, “customer,” then it really doesn’t matter.

Things that don’t matter to anyone called any of those things fail.

Check the history books, or Wikipedia. I’m sure you’ll discover that “not mattering to customers” is the leading cause of failure by multi-billionaires who believe any idea they dream up will succeed.

Why real people hate big corporations

I wish there were some magic pixie dust, let’s call it, say, “social media,” that big companies could sprinkle over themselves so that, suddenly, they would be loved by their customers.

However, I spent a few hours on Saturday  frustrated with a giant corporation who has an awarding-winning, best practices, does-every-possible-social-media-approach. But I still hate them.

With their marketing millions, they tell me they are people, just like me, who will drop everything to help me. But when it comes to a Saturday morning and their customer (me) wants to know why their product isn’t working, they become an impenetrable wall of barriers between me and the help I need.

Last week, Seth Godin, perhaps the most lucid mind and consistently insightful voice in marketing, used his gifted story telling skills and mighty platform to explain
why people hate big corporations
. His example was Progressive Insurance and the issue used as an example far outstrips the petty frustration I felt.

But, frankly, Seth’s example is too often the norm, and unfortunately, is not isolated to Progressive.

Says Seth:

“Corporations (even though it’s possible that individuals working there might mean well) … bet on short memories and the healing power of marketing dollars, commercials and discounts. Employees are pushed to focus on bureaucratic policies and quarterly numbers, not a realization that individuals, not corporations, are responsible for what they do….If someone in your neighborhood used this approach, treating others this way, if a human with a face and a house and a reputation did it, they’d have to move away in shame. If a local businessperson did this, no one in town would ever do business there again.”

I have pointed before to the research by the Pew Foundation that reveals American’s remarkably high regard for small businesses and their deplorably low regard for big corporations (see chart). Seth nails the reason why in the last sentence of that quote: “If a local businessperson did this, no one in town would ever do business there again.”

Here’s the thing. When institutions grow big, the people who run them stop acting like people and start acting like “entities.” They apparently don’t notice that when they start acting like entities, the people who are their customers start hating them.

Legally speaking (which I do as little as possible), U.S. law actually does, in many circumstances, consider corporations as collections of people, a legal concept called “corporate personhood.” (The principle behind the allowance of corporate donations to Super Pacs.)

But I’m not referring to this legal definition of whether or not corporations are people. I’m talking about the social compact we, as individuals, have with the institutions to which we have the choice to form relationships.

By my interpretation, I view this compact as being something like this: If a company creates the product I want, sells it to me at a fair price and then (and this is the part most companies don’t get) helps me accomplish what it is I wanted to accomplish when I purchased that product, then I’m their customer for a long time.

If they promote their product to me, convince me to purchase the product…and then disappear when I can’t accomplish what I purchased the product to help me accomplish, well, that’s when I start thinking of how I can avoid that entity forever.

 

How many curators does it take to curate a story about lightbulbs?

The concept of media curation has been around a long time. How long? Well, I can at least date it back to August of 2007, as that’s when I registered the domain CurationMedia.com, an address that re-directs to Hammock.com.

But somewhere along the way, the inherently-confusing metaphor of “curation” being applied to content on the web went from something like, “finding relevant content and pointing readers to it” to something like, “find content on other sites and simply re-write what they say and place it on our site and that’s okay, as long as somewhere you credit the source.”

During the first decade and a half of the browser-based web, there has been this back-and-forth war between two concepts (disclosure: I’m clearly on one side of this war). One side (the one I’m on), is summed up in a “rule” from Jeff Jarvis in 2007, “Cover what you know best, link to the rest.” The other side in this battle seems to believe they can re-create  what AOL was in the late 1990s — they want to be the internet. And anything on the real internet that might be of interest should be sucked into or “curated” into their world.

At first, the idea behind media curation (or “content curation”), was really good, and worked for all involved: In our busy and chaotic lives, we all have too little time so wouldn’t it be nice if someone (or some technology) went out and gathered up all the good stuff we might be missing. But since “reporting” or “editing” was not what some people (newspaper and magazine reporters and editors)  believed such content gatherers were doing, they felt a word was needed that sounded different from editor (but not as bad as “link collector”) thus the term “media curation” (or content curation) was born.

Curating (and its equally confusing co-joined twin, “aggregating”) was a great thing, back in the early days of “user-generated” publishing. Old-school curators like Drudge or Instapundit or Metafilter, heck, even Fark.com, would provide little more (or only) links to a blog post, and the resulting traffic could equal the traffic a blog like mine might typically receive in a month. Back in the day, blogs like Dave Winer’s Scripting.com was a model for me, as it was (and still  is) a great source of links to eclectic and interesting items he’d find on other sites. That became a model for how I blogged early on. (It’s also why Dave’s continuing work with developing ways to bookmark and distribute “curated” content via feeds reminds me of what was so good about early blogging — and why I’m glad he’s let me learn about what he’s doing by using it to create my own “LinkBlog“).

In the days when the term curation was still competing with its co-joined twin term , aggregation (I’m sure there are those who could split hairs on how they are different, but it’s just that — splitting hairs), I wrote a blog post daring to suggest that the word “curator” should be a term reserved for professionals with the skill to do things like stage art exhibits at the MoMA. Perhaps, that term, I dared to observe, is a bit too presumptuous to use for the act of sharing links on Twitter — something very kind and thoughtful to do, though it may be. Of course, my daring suggestion was ignored. (And, note the comments, rejected out-rightly.)

Over the past three or so years, the term media curation has evolved in its meaning to being less-and-less an act of help and service and more and more a term that’s used to add lipstick to a pig of a business model that is based on something like the following: “go re-write stuff you find elsewhere that’s about whatever is trending on Google and bury a link to them somewhere towards the end of the story” so we can claim it’s not merely re-writing their story.”

These websites may (or may not) have their own staff of writers (example: the Pulitzer Prize winning Huffington Post does have a staff, a member of which won a Pulitzer Prize that enables them to say, “the Pulitzer Prize winning Huffington Post”). Be they staffed with writers or not, these sites still are primarily manned and womaned by individuals who re-write stories that appear on other sources  (example: the Huffington Post, when not winning a Pulitzer, is busy re-writing New York Times articles, or re-writing blog posts with words found on the trending topics of Google and Twitter .).

While I believe “curation media” (did I mention I own the URL, CurationMedia.com?) can be a helpful service to readers, the act of writing a story that rehashes another story — without adding some insight or background — is a disservice to all involved.

Ironically (or obviously), some of the best curated media around is from news sources that the most offensive fake-curators re-write,  New York Times reporters who use Twitter and point to stories both in the NYTimes and other sources they are monitoring, including blogs and competitors. (Best example I follow: NYT assistant managing edit Jim Roberts is a rock-star curator on Twitter: @NYTJim)

(Self-promoting side note: If you follow @R on Twitter, you know that linking to things I find interesting is at least 80% of what I do there).

But there is nothing good about, nor is it “curation,” to simply re-write, with no additional insight or context or response or added wisdom, another individual’s or organization’s story. (Heck, I’m happy to let most sites re-use my posts than re-write them.)

If this re-writing thing keeps proliferating, then we’ll see more of the kind of absurdity I ran across on Wednesday evening, reproduced at the top of this post. Apparently, the “writer” of the story did nothing more than rewrite a blog post that was a list of ideas the blogger re-wrote (and turned into a slideshow) from ideas he picked up from a book. No doubt, the ideas found in the book, were “curated” by the author.

Again, I’m not suggesting that the act of sharing articles you run across is anything but good. I’m not even suggesting that websites like Huffington Post or Business Insider are nothing more than re-writing services. (I’m not “suggesting” it, as it’s well known.)

This is the bottom line: To be of any value (or to prevent you from appearing foolish), your curation needs to be more than merely re-writing something that has already been re-written one or two times.

If you feel the need to do that, just link.

There is bad curation: Re-writing someone eles’s re-write.

And there is good curation: Using your expertise to find great content,  and find new or helpful ways to point others to it.

Five Reasons Domains Are Still Important

what dot

This post, including the title, is my reaction to a blog post from Evan Williams, titled, Five Reasons Domains Are Getting Less Important.

Ironically, I agree with everything he writes, except one: the title. So this isn’t a negative reaction, or even a disagreement with what he writes. Just that title.

He should have titled it, “Google’s secret plan to kill domain names” as, in a clever “wink-wink, how can I say something without really saying it, throw-away line, he writes: “Note to self: Start a conspiracy about that.” Note to Ev: If you’re the creator of Twitter and Blogger.com and former Googler, you get lots of tea-leaf-studiers and conspiracy-theorists analysis when he you say something like that.

But I digress. Back to the non-conspiracy starting parts of his post.

He writes, “While I’m still a sucker for a clean .com, it does seem less important, and it will continue to become less important, for at least five reasons.”

His reasons are (and you need to click over to his blog to read his explanations):

1. Google (is how we get to lots of sites)
2. Auto-complete address bars (guess what you’re typing in, anyway)
3. Mobile web browsers and hidden address bars
4. Apps
5. Alternative success stories for non .com domains

The top four reasons are certainly factual, nothing to disagree there. The fifth reason is sort of off-topic because the post was about “domain names” and not .com domain names, but still, no question what he says is a fact.

I even agree completely with his Conclusion:

“Names are more important than domain names. While a good .com name is still worth a lot, it’s not as crucial to success on the internet as it used to be. And the forces that have made it less important will continue to make it less important over time (especially the mobile-related ones). I’d still opt (and pay up) for a nice, clean .com if I could get one, but I wouldn’t consider it a must have. Product and brand names, on the other hand, are just as important as ever (or more so in an increasingly crowded internet). Too many startups have suffered a stupid name to get the domain that fit. Hopefully, entrepreneurs will feel less pressure to do that as the world becomes more auto-complete/app/mobile driven and less-dot-com biased.”

What I don’t agree with is that title.

Those five points don’t add up to domains not being very important.

Here’s what I mean.

I often forget my wife’s phone number because I have it on speed dial, but does that mean she doesn’t need a phone number? What about all those people who don’t have her on speed dial?

If I sold flowers and I couldn’t get 1-800-FlOWERS, should I not get a phone number? No, having a phone number would be very important. Even if, say, 80% of my business came online, wouldn’t I still want as good and memorable a phone number as possible for the 20% who want to call me.

Like I said, I agree with everything Ev says — I think things are heading that way (however, much slower than those of us who use technology on the edge think).

So, I’ve decided to list (without much explanation) five reasons domains are still very important — non-controversial reasons that, we can all agree on (except Google), but that argue why we don’t want domains to go away — or, indeed, why they won’t.

1. A domain name provides you with control over your identity and destiny (not like pointing people to your Twitter account)

2. Domain names can be adapted to provide all sorts of marketing and administrative gateways to your business, like, for example: business.twitter.com or blog.twitter.com or status.twitter.com. And just think, as great as Twitter is, using a domain name allows Twitter to use three different platforms (including Blogger.com, which Ev created), to communicate with users who think they are going to the same place.

3. Auto-filled address bars won’t send you to blog.twitter.com unless you visit blog.twitter.com a lot.

4. Apps need domain names if you want to sell plush toys like Angry Birds does.)

5. When domains are dead, the biggest winner is Google (although Twitter and Facebook could come in a close second and third

When words CEOs and CFOs use sound too good to be true

election2008.jpg

[Note: See update at the bottom of this post.]

For many years, I’ve heard radio ads in which the announcer repeated the phrase, “People judge you by the words you use.” The ads touted a program that would help you beef up your vocabulary so that smart guys at the beach wouldn’t kick sand in your conversations.

According to new research into the words CEOs and CFOs use, it can be especially important to judge the words they use — as their pronouncements can be filled with words that are poker tells indicating they have a losing hand.

A Stanford Business School accounting professor and a Stanford Ph.D student have been researching the way CEOs and CFOs at publicly-traded companies use words that are, in essence, bold-faced lies. According to a story today on NPR’s Morning Edition, the research indicates that when they are lying, “CEOs tend to use a lot of words that express positive emotion — things are fabulous and fantastic and extraordinary.”

I’m not surprised.

An awesome exception to the rule.

That’s because I’ve read the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four a few times and grasped the concept Orwell was trying to convey with his version of such language perversion called newspeak. That’s also because, when I was growing up in the 1960s, my favorite Superman comic book episodes involved Bizarro World, preparing me for a world in which people often say the opposite of what they mean.

However, I should warn you to disregard this theory when it comes to listening to at least one CEO, Steve Jobs. While I haven’t listened in on too many of his conference calls with analysts over the years, I can’t imagine him not using one of the words the researchers have likely discovered means “un-awesome.”

While I might have some differences with his approach or philosophies regarding certain things, over the years I’ve observed that when he says awesome, it actually means awesome most of the time.

Update: Strange timing, this post is. This afternoon, Steve Jobs made a somewhat rare appearance on Apple’s quarterly earnings conference call. Apple, by any measure other than analyst iPad sales estimates, blasted a centerfield homerun with their report, but Jobs used his visit on the call to pronounce the coming crop of competitors to the iPad “Dead on Arrival. While I personally give Jobs every benefit of the doubt when he’s talking about how great Apple products are, I think when he goes shrill about the competitors, he may be demonstrating a tad bit of whistling past the graveyard. That said, I’m not worried about Apple’s foreseeable future.