Tag Archives: AOL

41 key moments in the history of online journalism {now 45} – have I missed any?

July 7 bombings image

A key moment in recent journalism history: Adam Stacey’s image taken during the July 7 bombings

In the history chapter of the Online Journalism Handbook you will find a timeline of key events in web journalism. While working on the forthcoming second edition I recently revisited and updated the timeline. Below are the 41 key events I have settled on — but have I missed any? Let me know what you think. Continue reading

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20 recent hyperlocal developments (June-August 2011)

Ofcom’s Damian Radcliffe produces a regular round-up of developments in hyperlocal publishing. In this guest post he cross-publishes his latest presentation for this summer, as well as the background to the reports.

Ofcom’s 2009 report on Local and Regional Media in the UK identified the increasing role that online hyperlocal media is playing in the local and regional media ecology.

New research in the report identified that

“One in five consumers claimed to use community websites at least monthly, and a third of these said they had increased their use of such websites over the past two years.”

That was two years ago, and since then, this nascent sector has continued to evolve, with the web continuing to offer a space and platform for community expression, engagement and empowerment.

The diversity of these offerings is manifest in the Hyperlocal Voices series found on this website, as well as Talk About Local’s Ten Questions feature, both of which speak to hyperlocal practitioners about their work.

For a wider view of developments in this sector, you may want to look at the bi-monthly series of slides I publish on SlideShare every two months.

Each set of slides typically outlines 20 recent hyperlocal developments; usually 10 from the UK and 10 from the US.

Topics in the current edition include Local TV, hyperlocal coverage of the recent England riots, the rise of location based deals and marketing, as well as the FCC’s report on The Information Needs of Communities.

Feedback and suggestions for future editions – including omissions from current slides – are actively welcomed.

AOL needs to be patient with UK’s Huffington Post

Expect a lot of sniffy reviews of the Huffington Post today. That’s par for the course: a short, odd-looking interloper is bursting into a roomful of graceful, if elderly brands. Scrappy-Doo at a cocktail party.

It’s a tough crowd. With The Guardian having long ago signed up a number of leading voices to its Comment Is Free platform and niche networks, outlets from The Telegraph to the New Statesman having signed up many other major bloggers, and remaining high profile bloggers having enough traffic and profile to no longer need any help, HuffPo UK looks like it is fighting for scraps.

In the US Arianna Huffington was well known, and HuffPo positioned itself as a liberal alternative to a homogenous mainstream. It was an early mover – and still attracted enormous criticism, with the launch widely seen as a flop.

But success is in the eye of the beholder.

HuffPo UK is launching with a small and relatively low-profile staff, which puts it under less pressure financially and gives it room to look like a growing company.

It is focused on building a news platform from a network, rather than the other way round, which still makes it relatively unique.

And while there are plenty of similar networks covering niches such as science and technology, no one has yet attempted this at a mass market level. There may just be a gap for an effective networked aggregator in the notoriously competitive UK market.

The missing piece of the jigsaw is how much ad sales muscle there will be behind the site. There are some obvious economies of scale in selling ads through staff at both AOL UK and the US Huffington Post, but that approach has flaws. If HuffPo UK comes undone anywhere, it may be at the hands of a competitive UK advertising market.

But its major weakness – the fact that it doesn’t have much of a history – might also be its biggest advantage. The only baggage it carries is the acquisition by AOL. That is not insignificant, but neither is it insurmountable. It is free to build an identity around its users – and if it’s sensible, that’s what it will do. It can no longer pretend to be the outsider it once was.

Launching without a community manager in post is a problem on that front, but it also suggests that they take the role seriously enough to be prepared to take their time in finding the right person. They’ve done well to recruit dozens of bloggers without one, but they need a dedicated staffer on that front fast.

Without that person their approach to bloggers can seem slapdash, with little care paid to explaining why a blogger might want to sign up to the HuffPo UK project, what that project is, or who the people are behind it.

Building that brand, and those relationships, is going to take time. If HuffPo UK is going to work, AOL will need to allow for that, and not expect instant results.

No, blogging for free is not feudalism

Image by jimmiehomeschoolmom

Image by jimmiehomeschoolmom on Flickr

The sale of the Huffington Post has sparked another raft of posts about how we’re all suckers for building up the value of these companies through giving away our content for free.

The New York Times’s David Carr is typical, describing users as “A Nation of Serfs” and quoting Reuters’ Anthony De Rosa’s similar soundbite “a world of digital feudalism”.

Carr misses the point entirely: that this is not “people working free” (sic) but an exchange. A user exchanges demographic details and content for the functionality offered by Facebook. They put their photos on Flickr because they benefit from the network, access, and tools.

This is nothing new: we do not criticise telephone companies for being built on people ‘giving away their content’ in the form of the billions of conversations that take place across those networks. Or the demographic data we hand over when we sign up. Oh, and we pay them.

It’s a symptom of journalistic egocentrism that it should seem odd that other people hand over their content ‘for free’ (and of being a little threatened?).

Another symptom is to see the likes of Twitter and Facebook as content platforms, rather than communication networks.

Even the Huffington Post is a network as well as a content platform – the interesting problem for that site in selling to AOL is that while some people will have been happy to contribute for the network benefits (access to likeminded individuals), some will not.

But here’s where feudalism is no comparison to make. Serfs didn’t have a choice. Huffpo bloggers can leave – as indeed, many left similar operations before (Anthony De Rosa‘s analysis is sophisticated enough to recognise this). One of the questions occupying my mind at the moment is whether the current domination of Facebook will turn out to be a stepping stone to other forms of blogging, or if the social network will be enough for most people.

The fundamental point is that this is a marketplace, and if the exchange does not feel fair, users will move on – as they did with MySpace, and Friendster before that.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a wider problem around corporatisation of the public sphere, but don’t insult millions of people by calling them serfs.

What would Google do? AOL has the answer: the algorithm as editor

AOL is making plans for its post-Time Warner life that show just how news could be organised if you started with a blank canvas and two words: user data:

In December, when it becomes a stand-alone company, AOL will begin to tap a new digital-newsroom system that uses a series of algorithms to predict the types of stories, videos and photos that will be most popular with consumers and marketers.

The predictions, it says, are based on a wide swath of data AOL collects, from the Web searches people make on its site to the sites visited by subscribers to its Internet services.

The system is designed to track breaking newsand trends and identify the best times to write about seasonal events, such as Halloween or Monday Night Football.

Based on these recommendations, the company’s editorial staff, which totals about 500, will assign articles to a network of free-lancers across the country via a new Web site called Seed.com. AOL says it now works with about 3,000 free-lancers, but it is hoping to sharply increase that number through the Web site, which is open to anyone looking to submit a story.

It’s brave stuff. For years we’ve heard traditional publishers state flatly that, while user data is useful, they would never think of handing over the editorial agenda. Whether that’s pride, vanity, professionalism, or all three, AOL doesn’t have it.

And I lied: it’s not two words on that blank canvas, but 4: user and advertiser data. The article goes on:

AOL says it will pay free-lancers based on how much its technology predicts marketers will pay to advertise next to their articles or videos. It says that will range from nothing upfront, with a promise to share ad revenues the article generates, to more than $100 per item.

In addition to selling standard ads to run alongside the story or video on a Web page, AOL says it will offer custom content. For instance, AOL says, if its algorithms show consumers are searching for information about the Zhu Zhu Pets robotic hamster, a retailer could pay AOL to sponsor an article about where to find the hot toy. Some traditional media outlets, including magazines and TV studios, offer similar services.

This is Google’s auction-based contextual advertising model applied to journalism, essentially matching supply and demand from readers and advertisers to set the market rate. The one variable that is notable by its absence is the supply of journalists: AOL don’t say whether payment rates will go up if no one decides to volunteer their writing for a mere ‘share of ad revenues’ (I’m guessing in that instance one of AOL’s editors will have to write it themselves – but at least they’ll be being paid. Hopefully.)

Indeed, with an upper rate of ‘more than $100 per item’ you wonder how large the supply of writers will be – yes, there’s lots of people writing for nothing online, but they generally write out of choice and for pleasure, not based on the arbitrary demand of an algorithm. And clearly, based on the number of editors they look set to employ, AOL are not expecting writers with great knowledge and talent (the payment of journalists also sounds similar to the content factories of the search engine optimisation industry).

Ryan Singel points out that Demand Media are already doing something similar. That’s true, but AOL have access to data that Demand could only dream of, along with a number of growing brands.

Ultimately, it’s a clever idea, but one that looks like it has already been taken to an extreme too far for advertisers who like to see their brand next to quality journalism. A lot rests on whether AOL can manage the churn of contributors, and the bottleneck of editing, long enough for advertisers to get used to the model. It’s a peculiarly new media model, with its own downfall built in.