FTC moves to regulate paid blog endorsements

On July 28, 2005, I blogged this: “I say podcasting won’t officially be mainstream until it has its first payola scandal.”

I thought of that short post (these, days, such a short post would have been relegated to Twitter) when I read this headline on AdAge.com:

FTC Cracks Down on Blogger Payola

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) — The Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on blogger payola.

The agency, which protects consumers from fraud or deceptive business practices, voted 4 to 0 to update its rules governing endorsements, and the new guidelines require bloggers to clearly disclose any “material connection” to an advertiser, including payments for an endorsement or free product.

Wasn’t it like about a week or so ago when blogs were the mosquitos of media?

(Disclosure: This blog is one big advertisement for me. I pay myself to endorse those things in which I believe.)

Remembering Katrina: And thoughts on why Twitter is not a blog shrunk down to “micro-” size

I can’t go through these few days each year without thinking back to 2005 and how I anticipated Katrina approaching the gulf coast leading up to August 29 and then gradually realized the severity of what was taking place. By reviewing my blog posts, I can see that even I did not understand how bad things were until late on the 30th or early on September 1. By September 2, I was doing all I could to point to Nashvillians and web-based efforts responding to the human needs caused by the aftermath of Katrina.

As Katrina is now seared into our consciousness as being one of the worst natural disasters in American history, it is helpful to me to glance through my posts over those few days — as I used this blog more as “a diary” then than perhaps at any other time over the past nine years. I can see how I (and collectively, “we”) went from being concerned to “shocked” at what was taking place.

For example, it was not until September 3, that I wrote a a short post called “Sinking in”:

Perhaps symbolic of the collective delay in responding to Katrina has been how Amazon.com has responded. Universally praised for turning over its front page to tsunami relief almost immediately, Amazon.com did not add a donation link of any size (noted by Jason Kottke) to its front page until three days after the hurricane. Today, six days after, the dominant position of the Amazon.com front page is finally devoted to Katrina relief. This is not a criticism of Amazon’s response, rather a curious observation of how there was an apparent initial disbelief by lots of people that an unprecedented tragedy of historic proportions was unfolding. (I’ll reserve my criticism for Apple, who has hyped the Mighty Mouse in the dominant position all week.)

Having a blog can help me recall how my colleagues and I at Hammock, on September 14, adopted a magazine in New Orleans called Louisiana Cookin’ after learning their staff had been evacuated to places all over the country. Our assistance was more technical and “holding hands” and becoming friends than anything, but it lasted a few issues and I’m happy to see the magazine is still being published today (and I just renewed my subscription).

Because I have a blog, I can review and recall the impact on me and my then 15-year-old son (and photos) of spending a couple of days working in coastal Mississippi with a volunteer group from our church six months after Katrina. And then, almost a year after the storm and aftermath, how he and I travelled to New Orleans to finally meet our new Louisiana Cookin’ friends and join them in celebrating some outstanding young chefs who were (and still are) committed to continue making the region home to some of the most wonderful food in America.

Because I blog, I can look back and read at how that trip both made me realize a part of New Orleans will likely never return, while marveling how another part of it came back to life almost immediately:

While an incomprehensibly broad swath of neighborhoods are still struggling through the very earliest stages of coming back to life, and may never recover fully, — and these range from inner-city to affluent neighborhoods — such a tourist-iconic spot as Jackson Square was stunningly beautiful when I strolled through it Monday. And all those seedy joints on Bourbon Street are still seedy — in a touristy, seedy way.

As I reflect on all of this now, I wonder how much of this blogging would have been relegated to Twitter if Katrina struck today. I guess I would be able to reflect back on what I “tweeted” using FriendFeed*, but having a calendar view or archive of a period of time, or the use of keywords, categories and tags to help me recall and reorganize my impressions — would they be available to me? No.

Using Twitter is something I do with frequency and I believe it and other means of real-time expression can play a vital role during future events like Katrina (or in not-so-important-events as, say, while watching a football game). But tweeting (or what is often called “microblogging”) is not blogging. It’s not even microblogging, now that I think of it. Something called “microblogging” should have archives and tags. It’s something else, completely. And that’s not bad — indeed, it’s good. And as I’ll always admit, I don’t quite get Twitter — but that’s not going to stop me from using it. But the more I use it, but more I realize it’s not just a blog shrunk down to “micro” size.

Sidenote: Here’s a hack to address my concerns with “losing” the chronological context of tweets. As Twitter does have the blog-conventions of RSS and permalinks, you can set up a Tumblr.com account and stream all of your tweets into it. You’ll at least have a nice archive of your tweets.

9 things I’ve learned about magazines from blogging

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As people who read this blog know, a regular topic I write about is the magazine industry. That should make sense, as Hammock Inc. publishes magazines for several associations and corporate clients.

For their August issue, the business-to-business magazine Publishing Executive invited me to write a guest column about things I may have learned about magazines from nearly a decade of blogging.

As most of what one reads about magazines and blogs tends to place the two media in adversarial roles, what I wrote for the magazine may surprise you.

Here are nine things I’ve learned about magazines from blogging. The full column, which explains what I mean with each point, can be found on the magazine’s website:

1. Magazines and blogs are made for each other.
2. People in the magazine industry are consistently inarticulate in their attempts to describe the qualities of the magazine format.
3. No one will ever collect NationalGeographic.com.
4. The people who say print is dead don’t actually mean print is dead.
5. Successful magazines succeed for three reasons: a passionate niche, they are required reading for that niche, great design.
6. More magazines play a role in a non-publishing business model than in a publishing business model.
7. A digital magazine will never replace a printed magazine.
8. The magazine format can contain content that is “journalism” or it can contain content that’s anything but journalism.
9. Make lists end on a random number other than 10.

Again, some of these won’t make sense without reading the entire column.

Later: By auditioning a link to this column on Twitter, I’ve discovered that some people really like #3, which is a short version of my description of the common-sense observation that a physical magazine is not a digital website, and therefore, the two platforms that share the same brand should be and are different.

3. No one will ever collect NationalGeographic.com: OK, here is my suggestion to those in the magazine industry who haven’t figured out how to compare magazines with the Web (see point #2). The magazines we love are not merely things we read and enjoy; they are expressions of who we are. We display them on coffee tables and desks the way people wear designer labels on clothes or purchase one model of car over another. People collect magazines, trade them and display them on decorative racks or in frames hung on the wall. Magazines provide us with mementos of our life’s journey. They allow us to savor our passions and save special moments. The magazines we love are so important to us, they make us feel guilty to consider throwing them away. The Web is a wonderful thing when you want to drink information from a fire hose. But the magazines people love are like bottles of fine wine: Even if you have to wait a little before opening it, there’s something a bit exciting about the anticipation.

First, I’d like to blame the media and bloggers

In Tennessee, a state senator resigned late yesterday in the final stage in a political scandal scenario that has become such a cliche that I developed a nine-step, fill-in-the-blanks version of it two years ago:

1. Politician _______s.
2. Rumors circulate that politician ________s.
3. Politician denies rumors.
4. Politician caught _____ing.
5. Politician says, “I did not _____, it was a misunderstanding.”
6. Politician blames media and bloggers.
7. Past partners, victims or witnesses show up to prove politician _______s all the time.
8. Politician admits he’s __________ed.
9. Politician apologizes to his family and to those who trusted him, blames it on alcohol and enters rehab.

(Please note: every scandal has its nuance — the nine-steps are merely a “framework” for ridicule and not a scientific formula.)

In this current Tennessee case, the state senator’s resignation came at the end of a boilerplate scandal: “family values lawmaker gets blackmailed by boyfriend of the intern with whom the lawmaker is having an affair.” (I apologize if I got some of the specifics of the scandal wrong in that description, as I make it a practice to tune out all but the beginnings and ends of any “news” related to lawmakers and interns, blackmail or hikes along the Appalachian Trail.)

I mention this resignation only to note how he followed step #6 even after the resignation, but then caught himself in recognition of the irony of blaming “the media and bloggers” in the context of a confessional. From the Nashville Scene, here’s a quote from the resigning senator’s on a radio talk show:

“I think a lot of people express frustration with the changing professionalism of journalism. That is, journalists used to have to verify sources and verify information before they put it out there. I guess with the blogosphere and just more people being engaged and the advent of the Internet, people get on the Internet or the airwaves or whatever and just say whatever, and I think they need to be more cognizant of they way they treated …

At that point, the lawmaker apparently recognized how ironic he was beginning to sound.

One last thing — a prediction.

The next politician who resigns will include “Twitter” in his list of things to blame.

Later: Upon reflection, I’ve decided to suggest to lawmakers they skip trying to keep up all the different web-based channels of expression they should blame and just blame “the media and every damn fool with a computer or an iPhone.”

The Pushbutton Web

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In a high-level tech-philosophic fashion, the ever-thoughtful Anil Dash writes about The Pushbutton Web, and the technology pieces, approaches and standards that must fit into place for “real time” to become actually “real time.”

Quote from Anil:

“Pushbutton is a name for what I believe will be an upgrade for the web, where any site or application can deliver realtime messages to a web-scale audience, using free and open technologies at low cost and without relying on any single company like Twitter or Facebook. The pieces of this platform have just come together to enable a whole set of new features and applications that would have been nearly impossible for an average web developer to build in the past.

I love Anil’s use of the word “pushbutton” as a metaphor for what is taking place. For me, it works so much better than “realtime” or, please no, Web 3.0. It not only implies speed, it also implies “ease” — the speed and ease we are moving towards whereby anyone can express themselves in any number of ways — and in a fashion that flows throughout the web, but within a context of community, conversation and collaboration.

The first time I ever heard the word “pushbutton” used in a way that relates to the web was when the web service Blogger.com (before Google bought it) used the word in describing their service as “pushbutton publishing.”

On June 11, 2003, I wrote this (#5) the following in a post called “reflections on blogging”:

“‘Push-button publishing’ is a great phrase from Jason Shellen of Blogger to describe the technical phenomenon that enables bloggin. I used to call the smallbusiness.com platform a content management system for user-generated content. I later marveled at the simplicity of weblog platforms like Manila. I am convinced (philosophically, not as an investor, however) that the marriage of simple push-button publishing tools and incredible search technology will be as significant as anything we’ve seen so far in the Internet. I think the marriage of those two streams of development will bring into reality what we were trying to do at smallbusiness.com.

I understand now why it is important that not just one company should control anything as vital as “the pushbutton web” — but I think I started on a journey of comprehending what exactly that means many years ago.