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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

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.

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

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Thursday, October 1st, 2009

New York Times: More innovation in commenting

Posted by Kevin Anderson

As I wrote recently, news organisations have only begun to scratch the surface in terms of innovative interfaces that could encourage readers to explore the rich content on their sites and also increase and improve reader interaction. When I wrote that post, the Washington Post had debuted a Django-based commenting system called WebCom that reminded me of ThinkMap’s Visual Thesaurs. WebCom reflects comment popularity, which can become a self-reinforcing cycle. I will be interested to see if they might add another layer to the interface that allows people to explore the conversation based on themes or topics. This could be easily achieved by using Thomson-Reuter’s Calais semantic analysis system to expose themes in the comments.

Now the New York Times has debuted a new visual commenting tool. It’s debut is being used to help people discuss and explore some of the issues regarding the healthcare (some might argue the health insurance) debate in the US. The boxes all relate to an issue in the debate, and a drop-down menu allows you to jump to that topic and see a brief overview of the issue. The relative size of the boxes reflect the number of comments, and hovering over the people icons at the bottom of the boxes allow you to quickly see a bit of the comment. You can also also easily jump to replies to comments that you have left. It appears that the topics aren’t generated organically by the discussion but are created by the New York Times editorial staff. In some ways, it’s a slightly advanced, and somewhat stilted form of threading. It’s almost more of a discussion system than it is strictly a commenting system. nytimesdebate.gif

At the time of writing this post, there are few comments so it’s difficult to see how it will work both conversationally and technically as the volume of comments increases. That will be the real test of the system because one of the reasons why news sites need interface innovation in commenting systems is because of the volume of comments on media sites.

Here on Strange Attractor, the comments tend to be more off-site, posts written in response to what Suw and I write. Very rarely do we have a high volume of comments on the blog, which makes it easy for us to manage and for our readers to engage with. We don’t write about politics or hot button social issues. Rather, we write about a very specialist, niche topic. The conversations tend to be pretty high level, and we love our readers because of the level of intelligence that they bring.

On news sites, the volume of comments on the posts is much, much higher, and it quickly becomes difficult for journalists and readers to follow the discussion and have any meaningful interaction. The comments tend not to respond to each other but rather are usually a string of unrelated statements. Most of the current solutions all have their drawbacks. Threading has its issues because it tends to fragment the discussion, which is what I fear this New York Times interface will do. Voting up, or down, Digg-style helps in some ways but suffers from the same issues of the self-reinforcing popularity that WebCom faces. Again, a few criticisms don’t mean I think these experiments aren’t worthwhile. Far from that, I think it’s great to finally see some interface exploration in terms of commenting and not just content presentation by news websites. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come. It’s long past time that news organisations realise that the volume of comments they receive requires something more than flat, linear comment threads below blog posts or articles. Done right, it will help increase participation, user experience, interaction and maybe even the quality of the conversation.

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Newspapers: A message from users in 68-foot tall flaming numbers

Posted by Kevin Anderson

As the great paid content debate of 2009 has played out, we’ve had a lot of assertions about what users should pay for without much clarity about what they would pay for or much about their habits. My gut feeling is that users will pay for certain types of content but that it will be extremely difficult to simply monetise existing content or attempt to create false scarcity by putting all content behind a paywall and drive readers back to print.

As a journalist who has chosen to make the internet my primary medium, my gut and quite a bit of my experience tells me that while I may be an early adopter, readers are moving more toward my habits than staying with or moving to print habits. However, I’m very careful not to generalise without data. My friends are all part of what I often refer to as the global geek collective. Our habits are our own and we shouldn’t assume that those habits are common to our audiences.

This week, however, new data appeared that made me feel slightly less like an outlier. The American Press Institute released the results of a survey of 2,400 news executives in the US. The event was invitation only, but Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism released the 80-slide presentation. It is a treasure trove of data and journalism bloggers have been slowing dissecting the data and the methodology all week.

Steve Outing highlighted a statistic that should give news executives and journalists pause. As Steve points out:

…the graphic shows that 75% of newspaper execs believe that if their content were no longer available on their website, online users would foremost turn to the print edition of the newspaper. Meanwhile, only 30% of online news users said they would turn to the print edition in such a case; the No. 1 choice (at 68% of respondents to a 2009 Belden survey) was to look to “other local Internet sites.”

Steve comes to the conclusion that “newspaper leaders remain delusional”. I might be a wee bit more generous and say that this is a clear message from users to newspaper owners in the US. However, not to put too fine of a point on it: This is a radical disconnect between the assumptions of publishers and the views of people who might have formerly been their audience.

Would the results be the same in the UK or other markets? I’d love to know. Suw and I often bemoan the lack of basic media research in the UK. In the US, the Pew Centers for the Internet and American Life and for the People and the Press do excellent basic research on internet usage patterns, attitudes towards the press and other media issues. The UK could really benefit from similar research.

Returning to the API-commissioned survey, the bloggers at Harvard’s Nieman Lab did an excellent job pulling out key bits of data from the survey.

Again, there is much food for thought. It’s important to note that the API commissioned the survey in the context of the meeting billed as the “Newsmedia Economic Action Plan Conference”, wherein the US newspaper industry tried to buy a clue as to how to survive the recession and rebuild a viable, sustainable business. Of course, Steve Brill and Co at Journalism Online have offered themselves up as the key to the glorious future of paid content online. They were one of several companies that provided proposals to publishers at the event.

Zach Seward provides this caveat about one of the companies responsible for the API survey, ITZ Publishing:

You’ll also want to apply a helping of salt because ITZ Publishing consults for Steve Brill’s pay-for-news firm Journalism Online, which just touted the results as an “API study” without noting its business interest.

The ‘frequency challenge’

The survey highlighted, yet again, what Steve Yelvington has been pointing to for years: The challenge of frequency for news websites.

In nearly all markets, newspaper websites receive 2.5 visits and 10 pageviews for each unique visitor.

Steve’s frequency challenge is this: High monthly (or even daily running average) unique figures for many websites obscure the fact that most of these visitors come infrequently and look at only a few pages. This is one of the reasons why, despite record numbers of visitors to news websites, it is proving difficult to translate this traffic into revenue. The recession and subsequent collapse in online and offline advertising is a slightly separate, but deadly, issue for news organisations.

As the survey found, the 2.5 visits and 10 pageviews a month figure is a pretty consistent figure across the industry. It’s grim, but it really highlights the amount of drive-by visitors coming to news sites via search engines and the high level of long tail activity on most news sites. The head of the tail is about 25% of readership, what the survey calls “core loyalists”. The survey found:

“Core loyalists,” who visit a newspaper 2-3 times a day for 20 days a month, comprise 25% of unique visitors. Not surprisingly, then, core loyalists account for 86% of pageviews and are “overwhelmingly local.”

Steve Outing’s and Zach Seward’s posts and Bill Densmore’s liveblog of the event are well worth reading for more context.

I’d like to see more demographic information about core loyalists. How old are they? Are they heavily weighted in older age groups? Is there evidence that these core loyalists are being replaced by readers over 30? Assuming that core loyalists are older - and there is evidence to support this - should newspapers focus on older readers? Unfortunately, we have good data that says that older readers aren’t being replaced. Focusing on a declining group of older readers is not a long-term strategy and it begs the question: Can news organisations provide compelling services that re-engage younger readers online or offline? Furthermore, if most of these services are digital, not an unrealistic assumption, can they build a business around these services?

The concept of ‘core audience’ as outlined in this study is difficult to translate to the British market because UK newspapers with national circulation don’t really have a loyal local audience unless one considers their London base as local. However, regardless of whether this data is relevant to the UK market, the pain being felt by newspapers, especially regional newspapers in the UK, is similar if not worse.

I’m still digesting these figures. I would say that they reinforce one of the points made by the Internet Manifesto out of Germany that has been making the rounds and some waves: “12. Tradition is not a business model.” As any journalist who gets out of the media bubble knows, the sense of importance, relevance and audience loyalty often expressed in the boardrooms of many news organisations is such happy talk that you have to wonder what’s in the tea and biscuits.

Reconnecting with audiences

Many of us have known for quite a while the problems that this survey flags up. Paid content advocates like Brill & Co will read into this that their promise to get 10% of online news audiences to pay for some kinds of content is achievable. However, this masks serious long term issues for news organisations. Our audiences are shrinking. They aren’t being replaced and while we have business-threatening short term economic issues we will have to quickly pivot to deal with these long term issues.

The biggest long term problem most news organisations have is declining trust and relevance. I have to agree with Michael Skoler, writing in the autumn edition of Nieman Reports.

Journalists are truth-tellers. But I think most of us have been lying to ourselves. … The news became less local and less relevant, and reporters became less connected to their communities. Surveys show a steep drop in public trust in journalism occurring during the past 25 years. … The truth is the Internet didn’t steal the audience. We lost it. Today fewer people are systematically reading our papers and tuning into our news programs for a simple reason—many people don’t feel we serve them anymore. We are, literally, out of touch.

One important step that we need to take to rebuild our businesses is to rebuild our relationship with our audiences. This is why I embraced blogging as a journalist and have continued to embrace more recent forms of social media. I saw an opportunity to improve my journalism and, by opening up to a conversation with our audiences, I saw an opportunity to reconnect with audiences and build a sense of loyalty. It is why I stress when I speak to journalists and editors that it is a mistake to believe that social media is fundamentally a technical problem for news organisations. I’ve seen excellent technical solutions that still fail because journalists won’t engage with their audiences. More journalists will need to take responsibility for rehabilitating this relationship. It’s not just about building a personal brand. It is more importantly about rebuilding trust. Without that, the economic solutions are meaningless short-term fixes.

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Friday, September 4th, 2009

New news business models can’t ignore new economics

Posted by Kevin Anderson

Normally, I would just add this to our (almost) daily collection of links, but Vin Crosbie has said something so succinctly and clearly that it deserves a post and a full reading. At ClickZ, Vin says:

…today with newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters who clamor for the “missing” business model that will allow them to stay in business doing what they’ve always done. It will never be found because continuing to do what they’ve done no longer makes sense. There are more quick and efficient ways to produce and disseminate information.

Anyone looking for the silver bullet business model to save their old business needs to read what Vin has to say.

The internet has fundamentally changed the economics of information. Digital distribution has ended information scarcity, and much of the new talk of paywalls isn’t about making money but attempting to recreate scarcity. I seriously doubt this will work, and I seriously doubt that trying to squeeze revenue out of much of the existing information output will work. There is no business model that will allow journalists to simply continue doing what they have done. Journalists, editors and publishers need to accept this and re-make their businesses.

Chris Anderson of Wired points out that the journalism businesses of the 20th Century was built on scarcity and monopoly rents. Newspapers were once the most efficient ways for advertisers to get their messages to the public. This created media empires that could fund huge staffs of journalists. Howeveer, beginning in the 1970s and accelerating with satellite television and the internet, people had more choices for entertainment and information. As I’ve often said, information isn’t the scarce resource now. We’re fighting for attention.

This leads to a host of questions. These are just a few.

  • Accepting that information is no longer scarce, what value can journalists add for our audiences?
  • If we’re not adding value, why are we doing it? What are we going to have to stop doing?
  • What new services can we create that will support journalism?

We really need to be thinking beyond business models to support our existing business and our existing ways of doing journalism. I used to think that the efficiencies of digital production would help existing journalism organisations to jump the chasm. I’m no longer confident that this is possible.

After a very busy summer, I’ve got a backlog of blogging here on Strange Attractor and a backlog of thoughts. In addition to considering the issues of over-supply, I agree with Dan Gillmor, we’ve got a problem with the demand for news. As per usual, Dan is asking some very important questions. I am starting to think of ways that we can stimulate demand by actively working to engage our audiences. I’m excited to be plugging back into the discussion about what we journalists do next, and Suw and I are looking to move this discussion beyond the talking and into doing.

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Douglas Adams on the internet in 2009

Posted by Kevin Anderson

Twitter has become a polarising service. I’m one of the millions of people who find value in Twitter, mostly because I’ve built a network of new media and digital journalism professionals, many of whom I am lucky enough to call friends. As I’ve said before, my network is my filter, and my Twitter network provides me with an incredibly valuable filtered feed of content that I have to know as a social media journalist. It’s better than any single site. I generate an RSS feed just of the links that friends post in Twitter to keep on top it.

However, for all of the people who find Twitter useful for social or professional reasons, there is now an equal and opposite reaction from members of the media and members of the public.

Regarding this animosity, Kevin Marks, who recently joined BT but was with Google as a Developer Advocate on OpenSocial, said to Suw and me (via Twitter):

the rage and vitriol against @twitter is classic outgroup rejection see

The link goes to a talk Kevin gave asking: “Why are we bigoted about social networks?” In terms of outgroup rejection, here’s a useful definition courtesy of Wikipedia:

In sociology, an outgroup is a social group towards which an individual feels contempt, opposition, or a desire to compete.

The latest example of this contempt and opposition is British BBC Radio 4 icon John Humphrys. I would be generally shocked if Humphrys said something positive about anything, and he strikes me as the kind of journalist who feels that paper is too new fangled and ephemeral and that really the importance of journalism deserves the permanance of stone.* It’s of little surprise then that he says of Twitter:

Why shd everyone try everything? Some (like underwater ironing) too daft to try. Stop counting letters. Get a life instead.

John, I’m disappointed in your. Demeaning yourself with text speak? However, he doesn’t stop there. In a comment on the Today programme website, he says:

I’ve never tried morris dancing, never tried incest – does that mean I should try them?

I would expect Morris Dancers to be lodging a formal complaint.

But in all of this non-sense, Gordan Rae flagged up this gem from the late and very much missed Douglas Adams. Apart from a few technical references of the day, it feels as if was written today, not 10 years ago.

It starts:

A couple of years or so ago I was a guest on Start The Week, and I was authoritatively informed by a very distinguished journalist that the whole Internet thing was just a silly fad like ham radio in the fifties, and that if I thought any different I was really a bit naïve.

Honestly, I heard the same opinion expressed often by newspaper journalists and editors at that time. It’s one of the reasons why newspapers are in decline. Apart from the odd visionary, this was a pervasive opinion amongst newspaper journalists. Reading the FT, they highlight this cogent bit of research:

Alarmingly, the (newspaper) 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.

I was working at the BBC at the time, and I was fortunate. My colleagues said to me on a daily basis that my job was the future. Working in radio and television, they didn’t have the same anti-technology bias because technology was so much a part of what they did.

In seeing how little has changed, Douglas Adams even refers to ” Humphrys Snr., I’m looking at you”. To Humphrys Snr and many others, he says:

Because the Internet is so new we still don’t really understand what it is. We mistake it for a type of publishing or broadcasting, because that’s what we’re used to. So people complain that there’s a lot of rubbish online, or that it’s dominated by Americans, or that you can’t necessarily trust what you read on the web. Imagine trying to apply any of those criticisms to what you hear on the telephone. Of course you can’t ‘trust’ what people tell you on the web anymore than you can ‘trust’ what people tell you on megaphones, postcards or in restaurants. Working out the social politics of who you can trust and why is, quite literally, what a very large part of our brain has evolved to do. For some batty reason we turn off this natural scepticism when we see things in any medium which require a lot of work or resources to work in, or in which we can’t easily answer back – like newspapers, television or granite. Hence ‘carved in stone.’ What should concern us is not that we can’t take what we read on the internet on trust – of course you can’t, it’s just people talking – but that we ever got into the dangerous habit of believing what we read in the newspapers or saw on the TV – a mistake that no one who has met an actual journalist would ever make. One of the most important things you learn from the internet is that there is no ‘them’ out there. It’s just an awful lot of ‘us’.

The internet just celebrated its 40th birthday. The internet is not so new, but what Douglas Adams wrote 10 years ago now still seems as fresh and relevant as if it was written on 29 August 2009, not 1999. It also explains why Douglas Adams is so missed and his early death was such a loss. Read the full article. It really is worth your time.

We need to think about the internet critically, but too often I fear that an acidic and unsophisticated cynicism is confused for a healthy dose of scepticism. The media may not be able to have an intelligent, nuanced discussion about the internet (or much of anything else), but that’s all right, the discussion goes on and has been going on, as Douglas Adams shows, for quite a while.

* Footnote: In the interest of disclosure, despite the fact that John Humphrys is a national treasure here, I’ve never actually been able to listen to an entire one of his interviews, mostly because it takes me 30 seconds to get bored with his badgering. You can listen to full 5 minute interviews of his where the interview subject might get in three words if Humphrys is feeling generous. One comes away knowing what Humphrys thinks in great detail but absolutely no idea what the interviewee thinks. I’m probably going to get deported for dissing a cultural treasure of Middle Class Britain, but I’m too busy to listen to someone badger and bloviate ad nauseum. The verbal jousting may be engaging to some, but it’s of no use to me. I need to know what I need to know, and Humphrys and Co can’t touch the meme per minute density of my RSS feeds and social news filters.

I guess it’s fair in the end. Humphrys doesn’t have time for Twitter, and I don’t have time for him. I now await a swift deportation.

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Social filters have replaced professional ones

Posted by Kevin Anderson

Chris Anderson, of Long Tail and now Free fame, is obviously getting peeved at the questions he’s getting from journalists. He says as much in this interview at Frank Hornig at Probably the most important line in this rather tedious interview is when Anderson says:

I read lots of articles from mainstream media but I don’t go to mainstream media directly to read it. It comes to me, which is really quite common these days. More and more people are choosing social filters for their news rather than professional filters. We’re tuning out television news, we’re tuning out newspapers. And we still hear about the important stuff, it’s just that it’s not like this drumbeat of bad news. It’s news that matters. I figure by the time something gets to me it’s been vetted by those I trust. So the stupid stuff that doesn’t matter is not going to get to me.

[From Who needs newspapers when you have Twitter? | Salon News]

Like Anderson, I have developed filters to tune out much of what is in the media. A few years ago journalists were decrying the loss of the all (self-)important gate-keeping function that they said they performed. I got to a point where I thought that if that is what journalists think is their unique selling point then they’re doomed because they are doing a lousy job of determining what is really important.

I spend a lot of time sifting through, while ignoring, much of the garbage produced by media to find a few, small nuggets of information that are useful. I can afford to do that. It’s my job. Not only can I not imagine most people doing this, I think they stopped quite a while ago. They realised that the signal-to-noise ratio was so low that they were better served by just tuning out.

I can ignore most of the childish nonsense that obsesses the mainstream media. Honestly, if it weren’t my job, I would pay to filter out much of this noise. I don’t need to read the professional trolls aka columnists who try to tell me what I should be outraged about. I can figure that out for myself, thank you very much. I do pay for insightful analysis. Most of what obsesses the media is remarkably juvenile, and as the media’s fortunes have waned, they have becoming annoyingly shrill in trying to reassert their role in society. Watchdogs? Defenders of democracy? I wish. Mostly of the media operate as little more than professional gossips and hypocritical scolds.

For the last several years, I have said that the network is my filter. Through blogs, social bookmarking services like Delicious, Twitter and even simple things like email newsletters, I am passed incredibly relevant and high quality information. It’s not that I think professional journalists are superfluous. I just find that social filters are providing an extremely valuable service in recommending the best, most relevant information available.

We’re coming to an economic point where we as journalists have crossed a Rubicon where we can’t do more with less, we’re simply going to have to do less. We just don’t have the resources to create redundant content that provides little value to our audiences. We need to start looking to ways to filter the best information. We need to do it soon. We’re running out of time. Our audiences ran out of patience long ago.

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

The long view in building news businesses

Posted by Kevin Anderson

Google News Timeline

When Google Labs released their News Timeline feature, it prompted Mathew Ingram at Harvard University Nieman Journalism Lab to call for more creativity from news organisations. Mathew wrote:

One question kept nagging at me as I was looking at this latest Google effort at delivering the news, and that was: Why couldn’t a news organization have done this? … Isn’t delivering the news in creative and interesting ways that appeal to readers what we are supposed to be doing?

In the comments, people pointed out projects that news organisations had done such as the a graphic visualisation of recent news at NineMSN in Australia. I pointed out time-based navigation at El Comercio in Peru. Mark S. Luckie who writes the excellent blog about journalism and technology, 10,000 Words wrote:

It’s kind of sad showing off innovative technologies over at 10,000 Words, knowing it will be years before most newsrooms adopt them, if at all.

Another commenter, Dan Conover, said, “I wish it wasn’t this simple, but the truth is that the newsroom culture is, and has been for years, overtly hostile to the geek culture.”

Getting past the frustration, how do we bring more innovation to news organisations? It’s something that Suw and I write about frequently here at Strange Attractor.

  1. Journalists, editors and senior managers need to learn about the software development process.  
    I often say that journalists think that technology is like Harry Potter. Many believe that developers need only to wave a magic wand and voila, faster than an editor can drain a cup of coffee, we have a new interactive feature. Web and software development is more like the Matrix. It’s a rules-bound world. Some rules can be bent, but others cannot be broken. Also, just like in life, some choices preclude others. Web technology is not a blank canvas. A good, dedicated developer can do amazing things, but no developer can do magic. They can’t rewrite the rules, rewrite a programming language or rebuild your CMS in a day.   
    Most editors don’t need to learn how to code, but editors do need to learn the art of the possible. Some things can be done quickly, in a few hours. Other projects take more work. A basic understanding of what is possible on a daily deadline is essential.
  2. Develop a palatte of reusable digital elements
    When I first started doing online journalism, we often built one-off projects that took a lot of time and had a mixed response from our readers. We were still learning, not only how to execute digital journalism projects, but also we were learning what type of projects people found engaging. We soon learned that ‘evergreen’ projects often were best, things that had a life-span much longer than most news events. Besides, there are very few editorial projects that merit huge one-off investments, and most news orgs can’t afford this in 2009.
    At the BBC, when I started, we had a limited palette of things that we could add quickly to primarily text-based news stories. The News website was still very young. But over time, we built on that limited palette. Our Specials team built things, and they tried to determine what worked and what didn’t. The things that worked were added to the ongoing list of elements that journalists could add to their stories.
    Modular interactive elements are easier in the Web 2.0 era. For instance, we often build maps, not just locator graphics but actual maps that draw on data (for instance one could create a map using data of the H1N1, swine flu outbreak). More news organisations are using Twitter and other third party services that call external APIs and cache the results.
    If you’ve got limited resources (and who doesn’t), you must think in a joined up way. Think of elements that will add value to your entire site not just to a certain section. Think of elements that will work in many areas of coverage.
  3. Interactivity is a state a mind and doesn’t always require technical development
    Much of this isn’t even about software development. It’s about a state of mind. Interactivity isn’t just about the web. It’s still about letters and phone calls. It can be about text messages. When I worked for World Have Your Say on the BBC World Service, Americans called or sent emails. Listeners in the UK mostly called, and Africans sent text messages by the hundreds. The first and most important step isn’t about developing a technology strategy but about developing a philosophy of collaboration with your audience.
    Everything will flow from that philosophy because there are many non-technical ways to get your audience involved. One of the most powerful things on World Have Your Say was getting people around a microphone in Africa to talk to Americans who had called in. The marriage of mass media and social media can be an extremely powerful combination.
    Add to all of this no-cost of low-cost web services, and you can do many things on a daily deadline.
  4. Strategic projects require long-term vision
    When I was writing the post for the Guardian about Google News Timeline, I found out that Google had begun creating a historical archive of news content in 2006. News is ephemeral, but as news is the first draft of history, news stories put in context can be a fascinating look at history. Google decided that archiving this content might have some value.
    There are a lot of things that take a strategic decision and not only long-term development but also a long-term commitment from a news organisation. I think that geo-tagging is one example. It’s a choice that takes a bit of development but actually more commitment from editorial teams, but the addition of a small bit of structured data generated by journalists creates a lot of opportunities, some which might have revenue.

Taking a long view is difficult as news organisations face very serious short-term challenges, but the lack of long-term thinking is one of the things that got a lot of news orgs into this mess. Developing a long-term, multi-platform strategy might have goals five years out, but that doesn’t mean developing the perfect five-year plan. It means setting some strategic goals and getting there one day at a time.

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Community Conference 2009: Jake McKee, How to build a community that’s crazy about your product

Posted by Kevin Anderson

Jake McKee begins by talking about ’success by a thousand paper cuts’, which is thinking about the smallest thing possible you can do without approval to get you closer to your goals. He also said that we’ve talked a lot about community, but what we’re really talking about is ’social engagement’. Just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s difficult.

Rather than talking about building a community that’s crazy about you or your product, he talks about how to throw a great party. We already build relationships with people in our lives. Parties connect, excite and engage. He lists ingredients to create a great party:

  1. Your party needs a reason to be. What is this thing? Is your party a 12-year-old’s birthday party or a cocktail party with friends.
  2. What’s the higher calling? What are we here to connect about? What is the need we are addressing? What problem are we trying to solve?
  3. Your party needs good planning. Every good social effort starts with good strategy. Prep for scale. Make it simple and flexible so you can constantly evolve. Keep in mind the 1-9-90 principle.
  4. Your party needs a host. We need leaders in social groups. It gives direction to where we’re going in this social group. It gives accountability and direction, and it builds the culture.
  5. Your party needs a few introductions. It doesn’t happen often enough. In the early days of Flickr, every new user was introduced by one of the staff. Every single person who signed up and posted a picture was introduced to others with similar interests. That might not be possible when you’ve got 200 sign-ups an hour, but Flickr had established the culture.
    Not enough communities have mentors, volunteers who welcome people and help them find their way around.
  6. Your party needs an invitation. The site needs functionality and tools that make it easy for members to invite other people. Make it portable such as the share this buttons for Facebook or Twitter. Be explicit with the invitation.
  7. You need social norms. Guidelines and rule are important. Guidelines are guiding principles. How do we translate guidelines into something that people will pay attention to? He points to Flickr’s community guidelines: “Don’t be creepy. You know the guy. Don’t be that guy.”
    It is about building culture, not blocking content.
    It creates collaborative ownership. It’s clear and fun. In online environments
  8. Your party needs a bouncer. “Be nice until it’s time to not be nice.”
  9. Power in n00bs and nerds. It’s so easy in a social group to get caught up in the history and the legacy.
  10. You need your attendees to pitch in. People want to be heard, but they also need a something to do.
  11. Your party needs you. These things don’t get outsourced.
  12. Everybody goes home happy. This is what it all boils down to.

He was asked what it takes to be a good community manager. He says it’s all down communication skills.

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Community Conference 2009: Tommy Sollen, social media manager Visit Sweden

Posted by Kevin Anderson

As I said, the Community Conference 2009 in Copenhagen is a mix of business, media,

Tommy Sollen talked about how he set up a community for Visit Sweden. While he did this, he set up a WordPress blog to talk about the development of the community and the site. He was working in the open. Tourism organisations across Europe and in Canada, which helped in the development. They developed Community of It focuses photos and stories. The main goal is to help the members of community to inspire each other. It’s built on the EPiServer content management system.

They have tags on all the content including geo-tags and activities. One of the things I liked is that they also have a tag for the seasons. He talked about how they encourage people to tag photos because the titles provided too little information to properly index. Photo sharing has surpassed their expectations, and they now have more than 12,000 photos (the site was launched in late 2007). He highlighted some of the photos and said that they could easily create an online magazine just with user-generated photos. If they use a photo in their print magazine, they give full photo credits to who uploaded the photos and offer to buy the photo.

One of the users, from Italy, had taken a photo that their print magazine editor thought was perfect for an article. They contacted him and offered to pay him for the photo, but he refused to accept payment.

They do no marketing for the site, but they now have 6,300 registered members, 12,000 photos and more than a thousand travel stories. They have a community and the development blog, but they wanted to know what came next so they integrated Community of more tightly with the Visit Sweden website.

They have also created Sweden pages on Facebook and a Sweden channel on YouTube. “It’s about placing ourselves in the social media sphere,” he said. They also have created widgets that allow people to add these to their blogs, sites or social networks.

He was asked about the issue of people on Facebook saying that they would come to an event but didn’t. The person asking the question asked if they had tried to offer a coupon to encourage them to turn out. Tommy said that he wanted events but hadn’t got the budget yet for it, but he believes that events would help support the community.

He was asked about how 6000 users was seen as a success. He said that people have spent not just minutes, not just hours but days on the site and had ‘created ambassadors for Sweden’.

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Community Conference 2009: Lois Kelly, Communities and business

Posted by Kevin Anderson

I’m at the Community Conference 2009 in Copenhagen. The audience is a mix of media, government, NGOs and business folks.

Lois Kelly of Beeline Labs talks about how she got into the field. In 1992, she became involved in the AOL miscarriage community. “This is what the internet is about. It is about creating ways to connect people.”

In 1998, she launched her own consultancy. She found Alan’s Forums, a community for consultants to help each other with tip on how to market each other and build your business. People were all over the world. People helping people.

In 2001, she and her neighbours joined together to save a local landmark, an old bridge. People wouldn’t show up for meetings or sign petitions. People would go online at night and voice what they wanted.

In 2005, Ning makes communities free. It’s so inexpensive and easy to use that almost anyone could start playing comunities, 900,000 communities in February 2009. There are 4000 new communities a day with almost 40% outside of the US.

Tribal behaviour has been here forever. We want to connect with each other. The biggest challenges are how to attract people and get them engaged. Only 40% of the communities set up on Ning are active.

What makes communities successful:

  • Communities need a purpose. They need a clear purpose
  • The community needs deeply felt or widely felt issue
  • Help and get help. Trust.

People do not trust businesses or governments. They do not want to be marketed to. A Nielsen study found Denmark had low levels of trust in advertising, only 28%.

What drives people’s use of communities

  • Ability to help people
  • Ability to connect with like-minded issue
  • Community focused on hot topic issue

The value of communities to businesses and non-profits is for market insights or research. She gave the example of an ‘employee community’ that saved $5m a year through insights gained in the community. They were little ideas not huge complicated ones.

The unexpected value of communities from a case study:

  • Insights and Ideas. The case study company said the community had become ‘an unlimited source of R&D’.
  • Sales. They had higher average sales per community member ($1200) compared to a typical customer ($500)
  • Customers are creating their own marketing in the community.
  • They could cut down their PR or even get rid of their PR.

She suggested the people ask 5 simple questions that businesses need to ask before creating a community:

  1. Why are we doing this?
  2. How will people (not the company) benefit?
  3. Do people care enough?
  4. What do we expect to get? (There needs to be business value, which is tied to the first question.)
  5. How do we measure?

She suggested the businesses creating communities need to be customer-centric versus product-centric. Focus on ‘behavioural tribes versus demographic segments’. She pointed to how a scissors company had created a community not based on scissors but rather based on how people used scissors, in this case scrapbooking. She also said that companies need to foucs on ‘networks versus channels’. IBM created an internal community called beehive. Employees were able to connect with each other. Employees with really good ideas started promoting their projects. Instead of going through usual channels, employees were going through this network to promote their ideas. People also thought they could get ahead faster - ‘climbing’. She had interviewed a 27-year-old employee who said she was able to advance more quickly because she used the intranet to show off her skills. “Before this, she would have been anonymous,” Lois said.

It allows great talent to network and share.

She found that many companies do not have internal networks but will create their own through Facebook (or LinkedIn, I would say).

She said that businesses with communities need to measure against business goals. New product ideas? Earn customer confidence? Reduce customer service costs? Awareness in category? Reduce training, education costs? Change perceptions? Get votes, get sales? That will help drive design.

Communities are a lot of work. If you want a successful community, you have to put the resources in.

She also said that some companies need to be more ’social’ but don’t necessarily need a community. She showed how had created customer reviews and recommendations. She compared a number of social strategies - badges, tagging, Twitter and communities. Communities take investment and resources to be successful, but there might be simpler social strategies to achieve your goals rather than creating a community.

There was an interesting question about Facebook. They need to pay for the service but communities are resistant to advertising or marketing messages.

Lois: In the US, a lot of us think that Facebook is over and we’ve all moved to Twitter. We’re nomadic tribes. Last year, it was Facebook. This year is Twitter. I don’t know what it will be next year. Value needs to be there for a payment value. (She talked about some of the features that Twitter is considering as a business model including adding a service for business ala Yammer.) Advertising model still has value.

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day: Tribute to Suw Charman-Anderson

Posted by Kevin Anderson

For Ada Lovelace Day, it will probably come as no surprise that I’m choosing to blog about Suw, my wife and mad ninja geek soulmate. Suw came up with the idea for Ada Lovelace Day because she often went to conferences where no women were on the panels, even though she knew plenty of incredibly talented, intelligent women who would contribute to the discussion about technology and social media.

As she said when she launched Ada Lovelace Day:

Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised.  

It’s not necessarily a lack of women in technology that Suw was mourning, but a lack of visibility.

Suw also wanted to highlight the contributions of women in technology and science so they can serve as role models for girls. I’m from the US, and it’s long been known that girls start school with strong math skills but lose interest in their tweens, mostly due to social pressure. Suw said that the situation is similar here in the UK.

One of the reasons I chose Suw is because I think she’s a great role model for girls who want to study technology and science. When Suw and I first started dating, I remarked to a friend that she was probably the first woman I dated who out-geeked me, and while that might sound like typical male insecurities, I love her for it. Being a geek is not just about skills and knowledge but also about passion, and she has a passion for knowledge, not just in terms of computers and the internet but for all kinds of knowledge, whether it was the geology she studied at university, physics or psychology. Her curiosity is limitless, and if we share a common failing it is that we’re so curious about nearly everything that we sometimes find it difficult to focus on just one thing. She is a keen observer, and she quickly turns from noting a trend or a pattern to asking deeper questions about the underlying causes and motivations driving that trend. She wants to understand the world around her.

She also is a pioneer. I felt like a blogging charlatan when I met her. I started blogging in 2004 at the request of my editor at the BBC. I quickly fell in love with it, but Suw had been exploring blogs and other forms of social media long before. She set herself up as a ‘blogging consultant’, and many people told her that she couldn’t make a living with it. But she has, largely because she was years ahead of the curve of blogging and social media consultants that have sprung up in the past few years, and she remains ahead.

One of the things that keeps her ahead of the curve is not just her knowledge of the technology but also a deep understanding of people’s relationship to the technology and how social motivations influence our use of technolgy. I think the psychology of social media is fascinating, and I think Suw’s understanding that the fundamental human need to not only express ourselves but to communicate drives so much of the current trends online and on mobile.

She’s also a doer, and I think that Ada Lovelace Day proves it. She realised that highlighting women’s contributions in technology is important, and instead of getting frustrated, she did something, something that she hopes to build on. For all these reasons and more, that’s why I have chosen to blog about Suw Charman-Anderson, my wife and someone who I think is not only inspirational to girls looking to become tomorrow’s technology leaders but someone who inspires me.