Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Running out of time, not ideas

Almost every time I give a presentation to a group of publishers or journalists, I run out of time.
Maybe I try to cover too much. Maybe I like to talk too much. Or maybe I'm just disorganized.
But whatever the cause, as the clock ticks down at the end of a speech, I often must discard items I'd planned to discuss.

After a speaking gig I do a little post-game analysis. I go through my notes. I ask a few folks what they thought. If my presentation was recorded, I listen to the tape or watch the video.
And I look again at the items I skipped and try to decide if I made the right cuts as time ran out.

Three times in recent presentations I dropped plans to talk about an idea I'd come across for user-generated content and community building. It wasn't the most interesting part of my speech (which is why I found it so easy to cut), but it is kind of fun.
So I want to make amends by talking about it here.

Take a look at Cool Hunting, a Web site that markets itself as a "daily update on stuff from the intersection of design, culture and technology." But that's just a fancy phrase for what Cool Hunting does -- find stuff that's cool.
The site has a number of regular contributors, just like many a magazine site uses freelance writers. But Cool Hunting also has an unusual, user-generated feature worth noting.
Scroll down the Cool Hunting home page and in the center column you'll find a section called "Reader Contributions" -- a feature that allows readers to participate in the hunt for cool things by using the bookmarking tool. (Instructions on how to participate are here.)

Hundreds of thousands of people use But I haven't seen any B2B publication attempt to do what Cool Hunting has done -- urge its community to participate and share the results with other readers.
Certainly any Web site can make use of -- whether or not the publication seeks the help of its readers. Rex Hammock, for example, provides a feed of items of interest to folks in the magazine industry. And Make magazine uses to point readers to cool items. And of course I'm free to tag any item that I find interesting with "rexblog" or "makemagazine" or "coolhunting."
But I find the Cool Hunting approach compelling. I can't imagine an easier way to get a reader to "contribute." Little work is required; the process takes only seconds. More ambitious users can still create more elaborate contributions -- articles, graphics, etc. -- that they store on their own Web sites and "share" with a simple tag.
And the only thing that's required is that you ask your readers for their help.

For a look at the history of and the Wall Street "quant" who created it, click here.
For some of Matt McAlister's thoughts on tagging and social bookmarking, click here.
For more of my thoughts on community building and user-generated content, click here.

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  1. Paul,

    Great post.

    Over at NXTbook Media, we've added a LINK button to our tool bar, so users can easily save digital edition content to either their own account or post it on Digg.

    You're right: it's critical that publishers find ways to build community.

  2. This is somewhat tangential to this post, but at the trade publication where I'm the online editor/reporter, we're trying hard to push reporter-driven blogs, and there's very limited buy-in. What I find astounding is that people who WRITE for a living claim they "can't write in a blog" or insist that they are "reporters, not bloggers."

    What do you think it will take to change this mindset? How can I convince people that they NEED to change their mindsets? Teaching by example is not working.

    (name withheld -- but we can talk offline)

  3. Hi Anonymous,
    I wouldn't worry too much about reporters who won't buy in to blogging. The truth is that many ... perhaps most ... reporters make awful bloggers. They don't have the ease with language that makes a blog compelling. And nothing seems to make for a worse product than forcing a reporter to write a blog. The B2B world is filled with these things -- crappy, infrequently updated products where the writer is trying very, very hard to be snarky and witty.
    Consider hiring an outside blogger -- the best choice is an expert from the industry you cover, i.e., a well-known and well-spoken source.
    On the other hand, I have no patience for reporters who won't buy in to multimedia storytelling. A guy who won't learn to upload a photo because he's a reporter, not a photographer, has to be fired. The same is true of reporters who can't fix an error on a Web site because they haven't learned basic html; or the guy who hasn't been able to find an hour any time in the past two years to learn to record an audio file. And the guy who can't insert a link by now should just be shot.
    In other words, much of multimedia should be learned by every journalist. But some things -- writing a blog, hosting a video program, etc. -- are simply far beyond the skillsets of many of the people in a newsroom.
    I'd love to talk more about this and to hear some of your specific challenges. Drop me an email at

  4. Marcus,
    I just now got around to checking out the new link feature in NXTbook. I have to admit, I like it. Good work.