Ada Lovelace Day

About The Authors

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson is a social software consultant and writer who specialises in the use of blogs and wikis behind the firewall. With a background in journalism, publishing and web design, Suw is now one of the UK’s best known bloggers, frequently speaking at conferences and seminars.

Her personal blog is Chocolate and Vodka, and yes, she’s married to Kevin.

Email Suw

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. He has been a digital journalist since 1996 with experience in radio, television, print and the web. As a journalist, he uses blogs, social networks, Web 2.0 tools and mobile technology to break news, to engage with audiences and tell the story behind the headlines in multiple media and on multiple platforms.

From 2009-2010, he was the digital research editor at The Guardian where he focused on evaluating and adapting digital innovations to support The Guardian’s world-class journalism. He joined The Guardian in September 2006 as their first blogs editor after 8 years with the BBC working across the web, television and radio. He joined the BBC in 1998 to become their first online journalist outside of the UK, working as the Washington correspondent for BBCNews.com.

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

E-mail Kevin.

Member of the Media 2.0 Workgroup
Dark Blogs Case Study

Case Study 01 - A European Pharmaceutical Group

Find out how a large pharma company uses dark blogs (behind the firewall) to gather and disseminate competitive intelligence material.


free page hit counter



hit counter script


All content © Kevin Anderson and/or Suw Charman

Interview series:
at the FASTforward blog. Amongst them: John Hagel, David Weinberger, JP Rangaswami, Don Tapscott, and many more!

Corante Blog

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Print and digital: Managing the crocodile and the mammal separately

Posted by Kevin Anderson

I used to be a big booster of print-digital editorial integration, but I’ve had a change of heart for a lot of reasons, reasons which I’ll outline more broadly at some point. When I first got into online journalism in the mid-90s, to be honest, I probably was suffering from a little of resource envy. The legacy business just had a lot more money, but it also made a lot more money. However, I’ve changed my mind. Simply put, I think that print and digital are two entirely sets of products, and they often have different audiences. 

I was just summarising a Pew report on successful revenue models for local newspapers for Knowledge Bridge, the site that I edit for the Media Development Loan Fund, and I found this eloquent and excellent metaphor for managing media disruption from former Harvard business professor Clark Gilbert who is now head of Deseret Management Corporation, owner of The Deseret News in Salt Lake City. He said:

In Gilbert’s theory of media evolution, the Deseret News print product is the crocodile, a prehistoric creature that survives today, albeit as a smaller animal. He believes the News, which has already shrunk significantly, is not doomed to extinction if properly managed. Deseret Digital Media is the mammal, the new life form designed to dominate the future. Armed with graphics, charts and a whiteboard that looks like it belongs in an advanced physics class, Gilbert speaks with the zeal of the cultural transition evangelist he has become. He argues that the path ahead does not involve merging the crocodile and mammal cultures, but maintaining them separately.

That makes a lot of sense. It doesn’t’ guarantee success, but it’s a sensible starting point. The next step, he admits, is the challenging part, which is to execute that strategy, which involves a lot of wrenching cultural change. However, he’s already got some success to show for his strategy. Digital revenue has grown on average 44 percent annually since 2010, and it now makes up 25 percent of the groups revenue. For those on the crocodile side of the equation, while print revenue dropped 5 percent in 2012, at least circulation numbers are headed in the right direction. Circulation is up 33 percent for the daily newspaper, and it’s up a stunning 90 percent for Sundays, due in large part to a new national edition. 

It sounds like his excellent metaphor and smart strategy also is backed with some very good execution. 

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

News start-ups can’t survive on ads alone

Posted by Kevin Anderson

Reuters Institute fellow Rasmus Kleis Nielsen has a great post on the blogs at Reuters warning European journalism start-ups to avoid surviving on advertising alone. He backs up his warning with some stark examples of start-ups who have failed due to meagre revenue they were able to earn on ads:

Advertising-supported online news production did not work for Netzeitung in Germany (which in 2009 shut down its newsroom after nine years of consecutive losses), did not work for Rue89 in France (impressive and innovative as it was, the site never broke even and was bought by the weekly newsmagazine Le Nouvel Observateur in 2011), and is not working for Il Post (widely considered one of the most promising startups in Italy, the site generated revenues of just 35,000 euros in its first year of operation, resulting in an operating loss of more than 150,000 euros out of a total budget of little more than 200,000 euros). Why should we expect it to work for other startups when all these widely praised ventures, and many more besides, failed to pull it off?

Ouch. Nielsen makes the broader point that the journalism start-ups are simply mimicking US models, when the US market is massive both in terms of population and ad spend compared to European markets, but he also makes some excellent points about how a glut of digital content has pushed down ad rates and kept them low. Those low rates aren’t just hitting start-ups but even established players. 

A lot of journalists are trying their hand at start-ups as they leave or are pushed out of the stable of big media. When I left The Guardian two years ago, Suw and I thought about pursuing a journalism start-up. We decided not to do it for several reasons, with the major one being, our start-up dreams were over-taken by media consultancy work. However, we thought long and hard about the revenue streams that would fund our start-up. We knew that ads alone wouldn’t cut it. 

Nielsen suggest that journalism start-ups look to how other non-content start-ups are diversifying their money mix by adding “digital subscriptions, donations, consultancy services, live events, event planning and e-commerce”. Honestly, I think for certain types of content, you could even mix consulting and content, although I know from personal experience that gets sticky. Journalism quickly meets the requirements of client confidentiality.

Regardless, if you’re launching a journalism start-up, make sure your content dreams are leavened with some thoughts of business reality. If you don’t have business planning experience, get some. Freelancers have always had to learn about marketing and the business side of journalism. It might feel a little weird at first. Just remember, you’re not working for the Man. You’re fighting for your own survival. 

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

Plain English fail

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

I wrote a post about jargon the other day, and in the comments someone asked me what I thought the worst bit of social media jargon was. I realised then that individual terms, even quite jargon-y ones, can be used in such a way that they can easily be understood because of the context. Equally, terms that by themselves don’t seem too bad can be brought together in a such a concoction that they immediately lose all meaning.

I discovered such an example today, via John Moore (via someone who Tweeted it). John blogs about the Dachis Group’s attempt to explain what they mean when they use the phrase “Social Business Design”. John said:

I tried explaining/defining the term to a friend the other day but did it poorly. (I think I know what it means, but I don’t.) It’s about using online applications (like ‘social media’ tools) to help businesses improve communication across all departments inside the company and communication across all vendor partners and customers outside the company to create a more efficient and more coordinated way of doing business.

At least that’s what I thought. After reading Dachis Group Managing Partner Peter Kim’s short explanation of what Social Business Design is, I’m totally lost.

And, at risk of basically reproducing John’s whole post (you totally have to go over and read the comments though, some of them are just fabulous), here’s Peter Kim’s definition:

Social Business Design is the intentional creation of dynamic and socially calibrated systems, process, and culture.

Its goal: helping organizations improve value exchange among constituents.

Social Business Design uses a framework of four mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive archetypes: ecosystem, hivemind, dynamic signal, and metafilter. This model can be applied to improve customer participation, workforce collaboration, and business partner optimization. Doing so provides insight to help measure and manage business to produce improved and emergent outcomes.

Some of these words are perfectly fine all by themselves, but put together they are meaningless. “Collectively exhaustive archetypes”, anyone?

This is a perfect example of a company pulling together complex-sounding jargon and complex and hard to parse sentences to make themselves sound cleverer than they really are. It reminds me very much of one of my earliest consulting gigs. A company wanted me to help with their communications and one of the things I needed to do was get a good idea of what they did. We spent several hours in a meeting trying to come up with a way to describe their focus without using any jargon. It turned out that they just couldn’t find ways to talk about their work without resorting to neologisms that would have been utterly confusing to anyone outside of their industry.

They, like Dachis Group, suffered a total plain English fail. In my opinion, no business should use language which obscures meaning, but for a company like Dachis Group that is supposed to be encouraging communication and collaboration, it’s a double fail.

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Requirements for success

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

I have been reading over some of the material that I’ve written for clients past and gathering some of the more widely applicable pieces together for a new client. A lot of my advice hasn’t changed from when I first wrote it, other than sometimes the names of tools. Anyway, I’m going to chuck a few bits and pieces up here for your perusal in an act that feels a bit like the blogging equivalent of finding a tenner down the back of the sofa.

There are a number factors that are required for success. These include:

Data safety: Users must feel secure that their data is safe, and that regardless of what happens, their data will be both saved and made accessible. This isn’t just about data recovery in case of fatal server loss, but about knowing that the data won’t be randomly deleted at some point in the future. There must be a guarantee that, even if the tool changes, the data will be preserved.

Service stability: Tools must be reliable and have very little downtime. Scheduled maintenance that requires a tool to be taken offline must be publicised in advance.

Senior management endorsement: Social tools need both grassroots and senior management adoption. Many people take their cues from senior management. Having senior figures both use and approve social tools will provide a sense of security for the rest of the company and will improve uptake.

Peer acceptance: Endorsement from senior managers by itself is not enough to ensure that people feel comfortable spending time learning and using new tools. They must also feel that their peers accept the tools and their use of them, even if those peers are not using the tools themselves to begin with.

Support on demand: Whilst most social tools are very simple to use, there is still a learning curve and users will require some support. Lightweight, on-demand support that can be provided on an ad hoc basis is the best way to ensure users feel able to experiment.

WYSIWYG editing: The closer social software applications are to providing the same editing environment as common word processing applications, the easier it is for people to learn to use them. Software that requires any specialist knowledge, such as wikis that require people to learn wiki mark-up language, will be harder to introduce to a non-IT community.

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Readers must perceive ‘real value’ to pay

Posted by Kevin Anderson

PHD Media, a division of media and ad giant Omnicom Group, has released a new study that feeds into the paid content debate, reports CNBC. Julia Boorstin of CNBC highlights a few ’surprising factoids’.

  • The bottom line: consumers are reading more print content online, but the only way they’ll pay for it, is if they perceive a real value and when comparable free content isn’t readily available.
  • Another surprising factoid: consumers don’t care about the brand, they care about the content. (Except when it comes to sports)

Frankly, I don’t find the last one that surprising, especially when you factor in the study found that 44% of respondents in the study accessed a publication website through a search engine. Search is a fundamental shift in information consumption. People don’t browse for information but use search to seek it out and also rely on recommendations from friends.

As I’ve often said publicly, my reading habits are voracious and promiscuous. My reading habits tend to be subject led, not publication led. I seek out information. I am a little cautious of extrapolating my behaviour more broadly because I’m a journalist. I am paid to read, research, report and write. I’m also very digitally focused. I get most of my information via the internet or my mobile phone. However, recent studies such as this one show that I’m not unique in my habits.

This study reinforces my view that news organisations need to focus on developing services and products that deliver value to readers and not simply focus on building infrastructure to charge for existing content. Another take away from this study is that “just small a fraction of the 2,400 adults polled, read both the print and online versions of the same publication”. That leads me to believe that the products that we develop must serve the needs of digital audiences, and we should be careful about trying to focus digital development on services to appeal to print audiences.

The debate rolls on

The Great Paid Content Debate of 2009 rumbles on. On Tuesday at the Paley Centre, Stephen Brill on paid content services provider Journalism Online LLC said on Tuesday that people had been paying for print content for decades and that they just needed to get back into the habit online.

However, I tend to agree with Vivian Schiller, president and CEO of US public radio broadcaster NPR, when she commented at the event:

To think that we are so smart that we can retrain the audience, that’s an awfully elitist, condescending, and frankly old perspective.

Trying to bully consumers into behaving a certain way, especially in a way that is contrary to their current habits, doesn’t have a track record of success.

To be fair to Brill, he is not advocating putting all content behind paywalls and is working with news organisations to determine what content will become paid. However, I reject his basic premise, which he has stated over and over, that this is a matter of getting users accustomed to paying for content online. I do agree that to continue to support journalism, news organisations are going to have to develop new sources of revenue, digital and otherwise.

On that point, I’ll just re-iterate something that I’ve said before. In the Great Paid Content of 2009, some journalists and news executives have been playing fast and loose with facts (gasp, shock, that never happens), and one thing that I’m hearing with too much regularity is that newspapers can’t make money online, that digital is just some money pit that will never support quality journalism. I’ve heard this before in the late 1990s. To which I would say, just because your news organisation isn’t making money online, it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to make money on the internet.

Suw and I were in Norway recently, where media conglomerate Schibsted has an online classifieds joint venture with several local newspapers. In a prescient move, Schibsted launched the site, Finn.no, in 2000. It has grown into Norway’s largest classified site, and it’s a money spinner for Schibsted. The newspapers that will survive will realise that they are in the news not the newspaper business.

Progressive, forward-thinking news organisations made the shift from print to a diversified, multi-platform business before the Great Recession, and there are examples of  information products and services that news organisations could sell to help support journalism. Sadly, most news organisations didn’t make this transition. From the Financial Times:

Alarmingly, the industry has also so far “failed to make the digital transition”, according to a report last month from Outsell, a publishing research firm, which found that news organisations’ digital revenues were just 11 per cent of their total revenues, compared with 69 per cent for the broader information industry, which includes legal and financial data providers such as Reed Elsevier and Bloomberg. 

When we were in Norway, one of the comments that really struck me was a comment from a member of the Norwegian Online News Association who said that there had been plenty of editorial innovation in the last decade but not enough commercial innovation. To support the social mission of journalism, journalists will need to overcome their professional distate for the business side of the operation and lend their creativity to developing products and services that readers value. It’s not only possible but essential that we do this.

Friday, October 9th, 2009

AP’s Curley v Curley and News Corp’s Rupert v Rupert

Posted by Kevin Anderson

The newspaper industry has woken from its slumber, and they have realised the enemy is not the internet. The enemy is actually you and me, those of us who use the internet. According to the CEO of the Associated Press Tom Curley, “third parties are exploiting AP content without input and permission”, and:

Crowd-sourcing Web services such as Wikipedia, YouTube and Facebook have become preferred customer destinations for breaking news, displacing Web sites of traditional news publishers.

I’m linking to this on one of these third parties sites, Google News, which has a commercial hosting agreement with the AP. Those bloody paying parasites!

Curley was speaking at the World Media Summit in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. Does Curley know who added those links to Wikipedia, shared those stories on Facebook or uploaded those videos to YouTube? Internet users, you, me and millions of others around the world. For Mr Curley, the internet is a “den of thieves“, says Jeff Jarvis.

Jeff offers his argument against this view of the world. However, I’d like to stage another bit of a debate, one possible through the virtual time travel of the internet. Let’s get ready to rumble! In this corner, we have the Curley of 2009, who argues:

We content creators must quickly and decisively act to take back control of our content.

With that jab, a slightly younger, slightly more optimistic Curley of 2004 lands a right hook: “The future of news is online, and traditional media outlets must learn to tailor their products for consumers who demand instant, personalized information.” The Curley of 2004 instead sees this future from his own past:

the content comes to you; you don’t have to come to the content so, get ready for everything to be ‘Googled,’ ‘deep-linked’ or ‘Tivo-ized’.

Ouch Tom 2009, that looks like it hurts. Next up in our virtual cage match is a spry 78-year-old, Rupert Murdoch! Let’s start with the Rupert of 2009:

The aggregators and plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the co-opting of our content. But if we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid content, it will be the content creators — the people in this hall — who will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs who triumph.

Fighting back is the fighting fit Rupert “The Digital Immigrant” Murdoch of 2005:

Scarcely a day goes by without some claim that new technologies are fast writing newsprint’s obituary. Yet, as an industry, many of us have been remarkably, unaccountably complacent. Certainly, I didn’t do as much as I should have after all the excitement of the late 1990’s. I suspect many of you in this room did the same, quietly hoping that this thing called the digital revolution would just limp along.

It’s a shame to see this come to blows. These guys should really talk to each other. With Rupert 2009 on the ropes, Rupert 2005 delivers this shot:

What is happening is, in short, a revolution in the way young people are accessing news. They don’t want to rely on the morning paper for their up-to-date information. They don’t want to rely on a god-like figure from above to tell them what’s important. And to carry the religion analogy a bit further, they certainly don’t want news presented as gospel.

Instead, they want their news on demand, when it works for them.

They want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it.

Ouch. Can’t you guys make up your mind? Has the Great Recession changed consumer internet behaviour and media consumption trends? Or did the industry’s complacency finally catch up with it?

Friday, October 9th, 2009

The curse of social media jargon

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about jargon, especially in the field of social media. As someone who’s watched the social media market grow up over the last seven years, I’ve also watched the field-specific terminology flourish and I’ve seen it frustrate and flummox people too.

Early in my social media career I had a client who could not explain what their company did without using huge amount of what was then brand-new terminology. It was a problem, because if you can’t explain to potential new clients what you do and how you do it in words they can understand, it can make it difficult to close new deals.

On the other hand when you are talking about new technology, ideas and concepts, sometimes you need new terms. There was no way to get around using the word “blog” (or “weblog”), for example, because existing terms like “website” or “web page” do not mean the same thing - a blog is distinctly different from a website or web page.

So where do you draw the line? A good social media consultant keeps specialist terminology to a minimum and explains new concepts when they crop up. In real life, of course, sometimes one can get a bit excited and the odd neologism can slip out, but it should be such that the context provides enough information that the listener can understand what’s going on.

Specialist terminology doesn’t just describe new technology and concepts, it also acts as a community identifier - talking about RSS and blogs and wikis and social networks marks me as a member of the social media community. It creates an “in-group” - people who all understand what I’m talking about because they are part of the same community. Of course, as soon as you create an in-group, you also create an out-group - all those people who haven’t the foggiest what I’m on about.

In-groups and out-groups are everywhere and we are all members of both sorts of groups in different context. I’m a member of the kitten in-group, but the puppy out-group, for example.

The job of the social media consultant is to act as a bridge between the social media in-group (developers, designers, community managers, other social media experts, etc) and its out-group (clients). At my best, I take the ideas, concepts and examples of social media and I express them in a way that I hope out-group members can understand.

Increasingly, I’m seeing social media consultants who are taking the specialist terminology to a whole new level by creating complex jargon to obfuscate meaning. Instead of bridging in-groups and out-groups, they are creating stronger linguistic barriers around the in-group, excluding more people. The people they are excluding aren’t just random strangers, they are clients. One would expect a good consultant to take their clients on a journey from the out-group into the in-group, rather than to park them firmly on the outside of a wall of jargon.

In some ways, this is a sad but reliable indicator that the social media market is maturing. Demand is high, supplier of competent and experienced consultants is low, and companies lack the knowledge to accurately assess the actual level of expertise of the individuals or agencies they are considering engaging. Thus they choose to work with those individuals or agencies who sound most impressive. (I’m sure they also look at track record, but for many that is either absent or not a reliable indicator.) Thanks to a widespread corporate culture that values unintelligible jargon, it’s the talkers who get hired, rather than the walkers.

It seems to me from casual observation that those people who understand social media, are pragmatic about it’s capabilities and who talk about it in plain English are now falling into a new out-group in opposition to the in-group of jargon-spouting charlatans. This is something that’s been coming on for a while. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s taken this long.

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Follow The Digital Immigrant’s lead at your peril

Posted by Kevin Anderson

Roy Greenslade (who also blogs at the Guardian, where I work) pierces Rupert Murdoch’s air of invincibility.

Now, amid the recession, Murdoch is facing up to an uncomfortable reality. His company lost £2.13 billion last year, doing much worse than analysts had predicted. Most of those losses were directly attributable to his company’s acquisition of the Wall Street Journal and its clumsy move into digital media.

In my view, Murdoch is a 20th Century figure. He understands the mass media models of the 20th Century, but he never seems to have grasped the internet. In fact, Michael Wolff of Vanity Fair says that Murdoch has declared on the internet.

Murdoch can almost single-handedly take apart and re-assemble a complex printing press, but his digital-technology acumen and interest is practically zero. Murdoch’s abiding love of newspapers has turned into a personal antipathy to the Internet: for him it’s a place for porn, thievery, and hackers.

I’ve never seen him make a smart internet move. (Ok, I’ll cede that Hulu is smart and getting smarter.) He was late to the party in the 1990s, and by the time he took the dive it was on the eve of the crash and he dove headfirst into the dead pool. He pulled back with a vengeance, slashing and burning his digital divisions as he went. Rather than using his significant revenues to build for the future, he retreated into the past. After Google’s rise, The Digital Immigrant took another dive with the purchase of MySpace, but the social network was almost old news the moment he bought it. Now, he’s being portrayed as a paid content pioneer by terrified lemmings in the industry. They say: “Rupert has always been right in the past. He must be right now.”

Blindly follow Murdoch’s lead in digital at your peril. He’s a 20th Century visionary who has yet to display any vision in the 21st.

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Paid content: Real scarcity versus artificial scarcity

Posted by Kevin Anderson

Mathew Ingram at the Nieman Journalism Lab has an excellent post looking at the issues of paid content in general and micro-payments in particular. It’s a really useful post because he rounds up quite a number of posts and points of view on the subject. One thing really leapt out at me. Mathew writes:

Does that mean newspapers can’t make any money? Not at all. I think Mike Masnick has done a great job of pointing out how a media business can make money even if it gives content away for free — his company Techdirt does it, plenty of musicians and artists do it. And they do it by using the free content to promote the aspects of their business that have *real* scarcity rather than artificial scarcity.

After the Great Recession, news organisations are all seeking news sources of revenue and a more diversified revenue base so that we’re not as dependent on one highly recession-sensitive revenue stream, advertising.

As we look for new revenue streams, journalists need to get real about what adds value and need to be brutally honest about real scarcity. Currently, too much of the paid content discussion is obsessing over the societal value of journalism and not about rebuilding a revenue bundle that supports the socially valuable work that we do. Non-niche news has always been subsidised by other content and revenue streams. It is not dirty and it doesn’t devalue the social mission of journalism to think in terms of what other services and products we will need to develop to support that social mission. I’m more than happy for lifestyle news and food blogs to pay for investigations and bread-and-butter daily journalism. In many ways, it’s the simple recognition that our audiences are interested in many things, not just hard news.

Last week, speaking at the Norwegian Online News Association annual meeting, one of the points made by my fellow panelists was that news organisations have created a lot of innovative editorial projects but not many innovative commercial products. There are a lot of opportunities for news organisations to develop niche news and information products, but we best move quickly. Niche sites and services have already set up a dominant presence in many key content verticals. We also best move quickly on developing mobile apps, desktop apps and other tools to distribute our content and allow for easy recommendation. Steve Outing, for one, sees a lot of possibilities in mobile news and information services. What possibilities do you see to help pay for the social mission of journalism?

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Only 5% of UK readers willing to pay for online news

Posted by Kevin Anderson

As I wrote in my post from earlier today, I didn’t know if the statistics from the American Press Institute about paid content held up for the UK market. As if on cue, paidContent.co.uk (owned by the folks who pay my bills at the Guardian) have commissioned a survey in the UK by Harris Interactive that track very closely with the US numbers. According to the figures from API, a 2009 Belden survey in the US found that if content was no longer available for free on a newspaper website that 68% of respondents would turn to “other local Internet sites.” The Harris survey in the UK found even worse figures: 74% would turn to another free website.

Robert Andrews at paidContent.co.uk has a thorough run-down of the numbers and looks at age, demographics and geographical differences in the data. One thing that leapt out at me is that London had the highest figures for those willing to pay if their favourite news site began charging, but even in the media capital of the UK, a scant 17% would be willing to open up their pocketbooks.

Another statistic that I found interesting is that 16-24 year-olds were much more willing to pay than any other age group. It’s still not a high percentage, 13%, but it is much higher than the 1-2% of anyone over 35. Is that because younger age groups value the internet as an information source more or because they are more accustomed to paying for content online or on their mobile phones? The survey doesn’t answer these questions although it might be contained in user interviews that are not discussed in the post.

I am sure that people on both sides of the paid content debate will look at these figures and find in them data that supports their position. However, it is difficult to use these numbers to posit a case where paid content online becomes a major source or revenue that will replace the declining revenue in the traditional print business.