Thursday, November 30, 2006

Too late. The future is now the past

I had some computer problems last weekend. It was nothing major, and I got things fixed pretty quickly. But there was a brief period of time when I had to use a back-up laptop that I have sitting under my desk.
I'm glad I did.

I booted up the old laptop, logged on to the Web, and promptly got a message about upgrades from Microsoft. I agreed to accept the upgrades, and within a few minutes I was looking at the new version of Internet Explorer.
Now I've written about the new IE before. I loaded the beta version on my other computer several months ago. And I warned then that it was time for B2B publishers to make sure their sites were compatible with the new version. More interestingly, I noted that the beta version of IE 7 had RSS functionality built in, just like the Firefox browser. And I warned that billions of computer users were about to find that out that RSS was a remarkable way to consume information and that "when IE 7 starts appearing on desktops around the globe, you don't want to be the only publication in your space that users can't access through RSS."
Now IE 7 is here. And time, it seems, has run out.

For information on other new stuff from Microsoft, click here.
For more on RSS and how to use it, click here.
For an interesting look at how a reporter uses RSS to monitor his beat, click here.
For a look at yet another development that "will drive the adoption of RSS without the user needing to know what the heck a feed is," click here.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Eye on the new prizes

Not that we need any more evidence that the world of multimedia journalism is here to stay ... but it is sort of fun to make note of each new development.
Consider if you will the implications of the announcement that the Pulitzer Prize Board will now accept videos and graphics from newspapers as part of their entries.
Or take a look at the submissions to the National Press Photographers Association's first ever contest for multimedia stories.
Or check out the American Society of Business Publication Editors, which is now offering prizes for blogs, newsletters and multiplatform products.

But if it's so clear to so many that online journalism -- marked by interactivity, sound and video, links, usability and conversation -- has arrived, then why are there still so many B2B sites that are simply awful?

For Angela Grant's take on the NPPA awards, click here.
For an earlier post of mine about B2B publishers that don't understand online journalism, click here.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

They think you're a whore

Hey...remember that problem a few months ago when VNU began running ads inside its stories? Well VNU backed away from that offensive practice after I complained. (If you missed that incident, please go back and read the post I wrote that day as well as the comments from readers.) But it appears that other publishers are willing to trade their integrity for pennies.
According to today's Wall Street Journal, "some mainstream journalistic Web sites, like those of News Corp.'s Fox News, Cox Enterprises Inc.'s Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Hearst Corp.'s Popular Mechanics magazine" are using the same, offensive "in-text" ad links as VNU did.

The Journal article is predictable in its arrogance and its shortcomings -- pointing a finger at B2B journalism and blogging, but failing to discuss VNU's decision to pull the ads: "Still, in-text advertising is gaining traction, in part because it appeals to many sites on the Web that don't focus on hard news, such as feature magazines, trade publications and blogs."

But try not to be too offended by the implication that we in trade publishing are ripe for the whore's life. Instead, get angry. And get ready. Because if the Journal is right that this in-text-ad foolishness is gaining traction, then we can expect more offensive behavior from some of the more offensive folks in our industry.
And we're going to have to fight that.

For more of my thoughts on this issue, as well as a link to Folio magazine's coverage of the VNU scandal, click here.

Update: Bill Mickey at Folio magazine is also offended by the in-text ads.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

My past is the model for the future, according to the Atlantic

I was looking at the blog of my friend and fellow B2B blogger David Shaw, and saw a post that links to an interesting article in the Atlantic about the future of newspapers. That article's author, Michael Hirschorn, offers "a modest proposal for reinventing newspapers for the digital age."

There's nothing shockingly new in Hirschorn's piece, but it is well-written and it's not defensive. And those two characteristics make it far superior to much of what the print world has written about the Web world.

But my favorite part of Hirschorn's essay is when he suggests there is already a model for the new style of newspaper site he envisions: "In fact, there’s a rough model for this emerging already: it’s called, a desperately unglamorous site that features hundreds of freelancers who can tailor their part of the site to the needs and desires of their users. The (New York) Times bought it last year for $410 million, and it is currently the company’s primary growth area."
Longtime readers of this blog know that I was once a producer at About and later an executive at the company that bought it, Primedia. And my job involved overseeing all the B2B sites in the About network. And as I said in a comment to David's post, "even back then we knew we were on to something. And yep, even back then we knew we were "desperately unglamorous."

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Getting religion about agnostic links

When I visit a Web site for the first time, few things make me feel better than seeing agnostic links. A site that links to rivals and competitors is putting me -- the user -- first.
But if you're a longtime reader of this blog, of if you've attended one of my speaking engagements, then you know I've often felt like some sort of lone crackpot when I've made the argument that "journalists have an obligation as journalists to point to information of value no matter where they find it."

But time passes. Things change. And the same ideas that were rejected by nearly everyone in B2B publishing just a few years months ago are now being adopted by the smarter folks in the industry.
Take a look, for example, at this story on Prism's Registered Rep magazine. Scroll to the bottom and you'll see external links to stories by Bloomberg and the New York Post.
Or even better, take a look at the newly redesigned Web site of JCK magazine, a Reed publication that covers the jewelry industry. Scroll down the home page a bit and you'll see an entire section of agnostic links called "Jewelry related news from around the Web." Drill down a bit and you'll find links to stories by competitors such as National Jeweler. Follow a link to National Jeweler and you'll find that it too has decided that the readers come first. That magazine launched a redesigned site earlier this month and promises to provide stories "whether they come "from National Jeweler, other trade magazines, newspapers, online services or the consumer press."

Time passes. Things change. And in this week of Thanksgiving, I want to offer my thanks to everyone who has come to believe, as I do, that the way to keep a reader is to serve him.

(Disclosures: I was once an executive with Prism. Reed is a client. And I'm a longtime fan of Whitney Sielaff, the guy who runs National Jeweler.)

To read about how the newspaper industry has learned to use agnostic links, click here.
To hear a podcast about how an old-time magazine brand has learned to embrace new media, click here.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Writing about the future from the past

I read an article yesterday in the most recent print edition of BtoB magazine about how "B-to-b media executives at the forefront of the digital revolution say they are adopting Web 2.0 as a philosophy as well as a growing group of technologies."
It was a pretty good piece. And I got a kick out of it ... but largely for personal reasons. Because when the reporter went looking for people "at the forefront of the digital revolution" she found Prescott Shibles, the smartest guy who ever worked for me, as well as executives from IDG and Reed Business, both clients of mine. And I like to think that I've played a role in getting these folks to embrace community and interactivity and to accept that the philosophy of Web 2.0 leads to superior forms of journalism.

So last night I sat down to write a post about that article and several others that appear in a BtoB special report on Web 2.0. But when I reread the article online, I found myself shaking my head rather than smiling.
Because I couldn't stop thinking how utterly silly this stuff looked on the Web site. There were no links. There was no feedback function. And the subheads were in the same font size as the rest of the copy. This was shovelware, pure and simple and ugly.
In other words, these are articles about Web 2.0 in a publication that continues to struggle with Web 1.0.
(Take a look at what I mean here, here and here.)

Regular readers of this blog know that I applauded Crain, publisher of BtoB, when it introduced links in BtoB's online copy several weeks ago. But that foray into a more interactive style of publishing seems to have died a premature death. I did a quick scan through more than a dozen recent stories on BtoB last night and found nary a single link.
I don't know what has changed. I don't know why BtoB experimented with links; I don't know why it has abandoned them.
But I do know this: you don't have to be one of the people "adopting Web 2.0 as a philosophy" to understand that writing for the Web is not the same as writing for print. And although links, comment functions and a cursory knowledge of design are not the ultimate goals, they are a start.
And mid-November of 2006 is awful bloody late to start.

To read an earlier post about a positive change that another Crain publication has made, click here.
To read about a scandal at another Crain publication, click here.
To read an earlier post of mine about linking, click here.
To read what Scoble says about what comes after Web 2.0, click here.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Letting our sources speak for themselves

Last week I posted something to this blog about a presentation I'd seen by Jason Brightman of Harris Publications. And in that post I mentioned briefly that Jason's XXL magazine "does many of the things that I urge B2B publishers to do," including "hire outside experts to blog on your site."

Well this weekend a reader of this blog pointed out that Multichannel News, one of the Reed Business publications I've praised of late for making a number of positive changes online, now features blogs by industry experts. Take a look at the home page. The blogs appear on the left- hand side of the page, and the authors read like a who's who of the cable television industry. Among those now blogging for Multichannel are Henry Schleiff, the chief executive officer of Hallmark Channel; Kyle McSlarrow, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association; and Gerry Laybourne, CEO of Oxygen.

Now don't get me wrong. The Multichannel blogs aren't flawless. For example, I have yet to see a link of any kind in any post. And that's just silly. Also, there seems to be no central location on the site where I can find all the blogs.
But I don't want to get all nit-picky. The bottom line is that I love this feature. And I expect it will only get better as the industry bloggers and Multichannel's editors grow more familiar with the process and culture of blogging. (DISCLOSURE: Reed is a client. And I've discussed the idea of outside bloggers several times with Reed editors and executives. But I can't take credit for the decision to add the bloggers to Multichannel News.)

For a long time I've been telling B2B journalists that they now face competition from the least likely of places -- their own sources. In a world where blogging software allows everyone to be a publisher, the journalist's role of gatekeeper has lost some of its value.
One way to maintain our importance to the industries we cover is to take steps to ensure that we become a part of the new conversations that emerge among our readers, sources and competitors. And one way to do that is to ask our sources to blog in our communities.

To read about a new magazine that's using outside bloggers to help build an online community, check out this piece in Folio about ReadyMade.
And lest you think that I only like magazine blogs when they're written by folks from outside the magazine, check out what I've said elsewhere about the blog run by ReadyMade's competitor, Make magazine.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Why pay for what's free?

Until yesterday I'd never seen the Web site of hip-hop magazine XXL. That may surprise some people, given how well known it is that I'm as hip and fashionable as a 47-year old can be. Nonetheless, hip-hop isn't on my radar.
But yesterday I attended Folio's E-Publishing Strategies seminar in Boston. And one of the speakers was Jason Brightman, director of Web and emerging technologies at Harris Publications, parent of XXL.

Jason walked us through the site. And much to my delight, XXL turned out to be a sort of poster boy for how I think a magazine Web site should work. I won't steal too much of Jason's thunder. You should try to catch him yourself the next time he speaks (The E-Publishing seminar will be given in December in Chicago. I'm not sure if Jason will be there.)
But suffice it to say that XXL does many of the things that I urge B2B publishers to do, chief among them:
1) hire outside experts to blog on your site;
2) use Flash for your video; and
3) avoid overlapping your Web and print content.

But what I find most interesting about XXL is that it's built with WordPress -- the free, open-source software popular with bloggers.
As luck would have it, I've been doing a lot of arguing of late about content-management systems. Almost everyone I know in magazines is using some sort of overpriced dinosaur to put their stories on the Web. And when I suggest that it may be time to dump their existing CMS and use a free system, people tend to freak out.
No one seems to believe that free software can do a better job than the something that costs tens of thousands of dollars. And even though there are millions of examples of great sites running on WordPress, I haven't been able to point them toward a great magazine site that uses the system. (Note: there are examples of top-notch publications run on other open-source systems. Check out the Onion, powered by Drupal. Or look at anything owned by Prism -- all its sites are run on a modified version of Bricolage, which was originally built to run Salon.)
So I'm just thrilled to have an example of a gorgeous site with millions of page views that runs on WordPress, which happens to be my all-time favorite piece of publishing software.

For more on using WordPress as a CMS, click here.
For a comparison of existing CMS systems, click here.

(Addendum: 1/24/08 -- Last year Jason Brightman left XXL and joined the staff of IDG, one of my clients.)

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Penton and Prism are one

I just saw a copy of the internal memo announcing that Penton has been acquired by Prism Business Media. There's no official announcement yet (at least not that I've seen), but the deal has been rumored for quite some time. So I don't think anyone is surprised. (ADDENDUM: It's official.)

For some folks, the most interesting thing about the deal is the continued transformation of Bruce Wasserstein into a B2B media mogul (he owns ALM and has a stake in Hanley-Wood in addition to owning Prism.) And not to take anything away from Bruce, but I'm far more interested in some of the smaller players in this deal.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I was once the vice president for online content at Primedia Business, the predecessor of Prism. And I've heard over and over again in recent months that it's the folks I worked with there in the new-media department that have become the key to Bruce's plans.

So congratulations to Prescott and Pete and Rob and all the rest of the crew. Take a few minutes today to pat yourselves on the back. Because although the money may belong to Bruce, the accomplishments are yours.

For David Shaw's take, click here.
For Folio's coverage of the sale, click here.
For BtoB's coverage, click here.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Here comes daylife

I've started a few businesses in my time. And within a few weeks I'll be helping an old friend and client launch an online news service. The debut of a business can be a stressful time. It seems as if everyone is watching, and it can feel as if everything is going wrong.
But the truth is that my business debuts have been quiet affairs. At no time have I done anything that was as closely watched as what Jeff Jarvis and Craig Newmark are about to do.
And for that, I'm grateful.

According to Paid Content, daylife will soon see the light of day. The distributed news platform was founded by Upendra Shardanand; but Jeff is an adviser and Craig is an investor and everyone in the media world will be watching it.

Daylife may turn out to be remarkable. Or it may not.
But what it won't be is unnoticed.

For Dan Blank's thoughts on the upcoming launch, click here.

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