Friday, October 27, 2006

Google builds a search engine for me

I'm easily confused whenever anyone starts talking about vertical search. I know this stuff is important. And I know that databases full of "rich data" help pay the bills at many a B2B publishing company.
But the truth is that I'm a word guy, not a data guy (although I recognize that Adrian Holovaty is right to believe that the two worlds are merging into a new form of journalism.) And when someone starts talking about vertical search, my brain goes numb pretty quickly.

But even someone as uninterested as I am in the subject knows that something remarkable has happened in the last few days. Google has unveiled a new service called Custom Search. In a nutshell, it allows anyone to download a vertical search application for their site and then choose what it will include.

Russell Perkins, who runs InfoCommerce Group, is the king of databases and directories. In an email newsletter to clients, later posted on his blog, he said "Google Custom Search, which is built off the Google Co-op platform, in essence creates a filtered look at the main Google index, so you can combine the breadth of the Google search engine with your own expertise about which sites are most relevant to a specific topic. It’s a powerful combination, and did I mention, oh so easy. Google even remembered monetization this time: AdSense ads surround the search results, but Google will happily pay you a percentage: just check the box on the set-up screen."

Russell decided to give the Google service a try... and installed it in about 30 minutes.
Take a look at the InfoCommerce site. The new vertical-search box is on the left-hand side just below the first screen.
Matt Mullen, a B2B journalist and blogger, was even faster. He installed it in 20 minutes (no shame on Russell. Matt is younger)
Click here to see the box on the upper right-hand side of Matt's blog.

Heck, when something is that easy, and that valuable, how can someone not add it to a site? I may even build a search box myself if I can find a few free hours (I'm just being realistic about the time required. I'm older than Matt, and have a shorter attention span than Russell.)

For more on Google Custom Search, check out CNET's coverage here.
Click here to see what IDG's Colin Crawford has to say about the service.
Click here to read Rex's thoughts.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

What I didn't say

I'm back home at my desk after three days at the Folio: Show. And it hasn't been easy to readjust. My typical working day involves email and phone conversations interrupted by baby talk from my five-month-old daughter. But at the show I had real conversations, in person, with grown-ups that share my interests.
And I miss it already.

I co-hosted a session Tuesday morning called "Blogs, RSS and More: Editorial in the E-Media Age." I was pleased with how things went, and more than a little bit amused. I did a similar session at the Folio: Show two years ago, and fewer than a dozen people showed up. But this time the room was packed.
I doubt very much that I've gotten more interesting in the past 24 months, so I can only assume that more folks in the magazine industry are beginning to think about the sorts of things I like to think about.

As I've mentioned here before, I like to do a post-game analysis after a speaking gig. And last night I sat down with my note cards and realized that on Tuesday, unlike in many other instances, I was able to at least touch upon almost every subject I wanted to discuss.
Neither I nor my co-presenter Janice Castro did a formal presentation. Instead, we simply opened the floor to questions.
Most folks seemed most interested in basic, how-to information about content-management systems, multimedia software and writing for the Web. I used that as a chance to voice some of my key ideas for the session: best cheap thing to do right now (spend $40 on Soundslides), most fun way to understand online communities (join Second Life), the quickest way to learn RSS and become a better reporter at the same time (sign up for Bloglines) and the best subject for a debate back in the newsroom (Creative Commons.) I also managed to plug Mindy McAdams' book, Rex's blog and the good folks at J-Learning.

In fact, although I didn't get a chance to show some of my favorite sites or talk about some of my favorite journalists, there was only one major topic on my list that I didn't mention at all. No one asked about it. And I didn't raise the issue myself.
But that's not a problem. I tend to agree with the guest blogger at Read/Write Web that we still have some time to figure out what the effects of personalized news services will be on our industry. But time passes quickly these days, so I'll put the subject on the agenda the next time I speak.

For coverage of the keynote speeches at the Folio: Show, click here.
For coverage by the blog of NXTbook, click here.
For a review of Robin Sherman's dance routine, click here.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Going to the Folio: Show

The Folio: Show is next week here in New York City. I'll be attending every day, and I'm joining Janice Castro from Northwestern's Medill School on a panel Tuesday morning called "Blogs, RSS and More: Editorial in the E-Media Age."
If you're going to be at the show, drop me an email and let me know. I'm hoping to catch up with old friends, meet some online friends in the real world for the first time, and find some new friends.

If you haven't registered yet, it's not too late.

See you at the Hilton.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Redesigns, relocations and returns

Longtime readers of this blog know I haven't always been kind to Variety. In posts such as this one, I've said the Web site of the showbiz bible was a "a mess of cluttered design and poor taxonomy" that "crashes more than any other B2B site I visit."
But the truth is that in recent months the sites of Variety and sister publications Multichannel News and Broadcasting & Cable have gotten better and better. More material has been moved in front of the firewall. Links are more frequent. There are RSS feeds, podcasts, more Web-exclusive items and an overall general sense that the entertainment magazines of Reed Business are truly learning to love online journalism.
This shouldn't be a complete surprise. As I told the French, Variety has used blogs more effectively and more appropriately than much of the rest of the B2B world. And if you've ever heard me speak about online journalism, you know that I often use the Variety site as an example of compelling multimedia work.
But I always hesitated to truly embrace Variety because the site itself was ... well ... just plug ugly.
But everything old is new again. Variety has debuted a new look. And I for one am thrilled. Take a look. See if you agree that the 100-year old magazine has become a symbol of best practices in online publishing. (Disclosure: Reed is a client, and I played a very small role in the changes at Variety.com.)

When I talk about best practices in online journalism, one of the places I point to is the Web site of Reinventing College Media. I've loved that site since it debuted a year ago. I find there's something compelling about watching the people who teach journalism as they learn new forms of journalism. But RCM appears to be gone. And the folks who founded it have changed names and URLs. Take a look at the new site, and make the appropriate changes to your bookmarks and news readers. (Disclosure: RCM is a service of College Media Advisers. I serve on a CMA professional advisory board.)

And as long as I'm talking about changes at B2B Web sites, let me take a second to say "welcome back" to David Shaw. David's business is thriving. And that has made it difficult for him to find the time to post to his blog. But he's back. And I'm thrilled.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Plagiarism's pain

Back in the early days of the Internet boom, I was an editor and producer at CNNfn.com, the online operation of CNN's financial news network (The network is gone, but the Web site continues on as CNNMoney.com)

Lou Dobbs was the boss. He ran the TV network and the Web site as well as hosting two TV shows. And he had a reputation for being a little on the nasty side.

One day a reporter from the Wall Street Journal called. He was upset, albeit in a low-key and professional way. He claimed that one of our reporters had plagiarized his work. We did a quick investigation and found he was right. One of our staffers had placed her byline on a Wall Street Journal story, and we had published the stolen story on our Web site.

We fired that reporter.
And then we braced ourselves for a meeting with Lou.

We gathered in a conference room near Lou's office. There was nervousness among us. We felt a sense of collective guilt. One of us had committed an unpardonable sin. We expected yelling from Lou. We worried that others would be fired for having failed to uncover the plagiarism ourselves.
But what we got was quite different.

Lou didn't raise his voice. No one was fired. Rather, Lou just seemed sad. And that sadness wound up filling the room ... displacing the anger, the fear, the guilt and whatever else we felt.

In the end we published an apology. And I think it was Lou who later called the Journal to express our regret. But even before I left that conference room I knew that in some unexplainable way we had all become better journalists -- not because of the plagiarism, not because we had fired the offender, not because we would be on guard in the future, not because we'd survived a scandal or learned a valuable lesson.
We were better journalists because Lou had reminded us that the appropriate response to plagiarism by one of your own isn't anger, it's pain.

I thought of that day again when I heard that Computerworld had been victimized by a plagiarist.
I know that the folks there have become better journalists because of what has happened.
And I know that because I see it in every word in this remarkable editorial by the magazine's editor-in-chief Don Tennant. Please give it a read.

(Special thanks to Martha for pointing me toward Don's editorial.)

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

More change for the better

I'm feeling positively giddy.
Take a look at this story on the Web site of Crain's Investment News. Or look at this one. Or this.
Notice anything? Each of them is attributed.
Just two months ago I used this blog to complain that Investment News engaged in the annoying and unprofessional practice of not disclosing the sources of news stories. Investment News, apparently frightened that someone might actually read another publication, used the phrase "according to published reports" every time it summarized an exclusive story from Bloomberg, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or any other publisher.

I don't know the inside story of what prompted the shift at Investment News. I sent an email to editor Jim Pavia yesterday morning. But I haven't received a response.
Nonetheless, it does seem Investment News has had a change of heart. And that has gladdened my heart.
(Now it's probably too much to hope for .... but I will hope that Investment News will eventually learn to link to the sources of its summaries and to source material for its original stories.)

The change at Investment News comes a little more that a week after my complaints led VNU to end the use of inappropriate advertising links. And it was just a few weeks ago that BtoB magazine, also a Crain publication, began using external links in its copy -- something I'd been pushing it to do for a long time.

So with all these changes -- each of them making for better products and an all-around more professional environment in B2B journalism -- is it any wonder that I'm giddy?

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Folio looks at the ad-edit issue

A little more than a week ago, VNU pulled a series of inappropriate ads from the editorial section of its magazines after I pointed out that the practice violated our profession's ethics.
I was pleased that VNU made the right decision. And I applaud the company for doing something that can be very tough -- backing away from a bad move.

This month's issue of Folio magazine takes a look at the line between editorial and advertising, and uses my thoughts about VNU as a starting point. Take a look.

I read the Folio piece with a heavy heart. Because it reminded me that many people in B2B publishing seem to have a difficult time with the easiest of concepts -- be good. In particular, the Folio article quotes an unnamed publisher, referring to ethics and online publishing, as saying “It’s like the Wild West out there.”
That's nonsense.
More to the point, that's wishful thinking by people who are willing to cut ethical corners.

The Folio piece gives a detailed and thoughtful look at new forms of marketing material that are available on the Web, including "online advertorials, sponsored areas, micro-sites and vendor-generated content."
Those are all valuable forms of content. And each of them is perfectly appropriate on the Web site of a B2B publisher.
But there is nothing about those types of material -- NOTHING -- that exempts them from the rules of ethics. Or, as I've told B2B journalists a hundred times: the rules haven't changed online, and you shouldn't let them.

Consider if you will one of the most basic of our profession's ethical guidelines -- make it clear what's an ad and what's not. The American Society of Magazine Editors puts it this way: "If any content comes from a source other than the editors, it should be clearly labeled. A magazine’s name or logo should not be used in a way that suggests editorial endorsement of an advertiser." The American Society of Business Publication Editors has this to say: "Special ad sections and supplements should be clearly labeled with the word 'advertising,' 'advertisement,' 'sponsored by,' or similar designation. The words 'advertorial' or 'infomercial' confuse the readers about the nature of the material, and should be avoided."

Or to put it more simply -- if someone paid for something on your site, make that clear to the reader.
Don't call ads a "resource center." Don't call them "special services."
Be clear. Be honest. Be ethical. Be good.
Those are simple rules for all of business, and all of life.

And remember, no matter what anyone else says -- you work in journalism, not in the Wild West.

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