Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Scoble: Let me tell you a bit about journalists…

You can always tell a really, strong argument when it’s based on the premise “A lot of the people I talk to”…

A couple of days ago, Robert Scoble posted this argument, arguing in favour of full-feeds and against a post made by fellow-Australian Duncan Riley, who has consistently argued in The Blog Herald that you can’t build a blog business using RSS feeds.

Firsly, it was nice to see Scoble actually post something of significance on his blog! It was actually a pretty well-argued and thoughtful piece, despite being fundamentall flawed.

To quickly paraphrase, Scoble admits that RSS advertising sucks right now, but it will get better and that some time in the future, a commercial model based on RSS advertising will eventually arise and the world will be a shiny, happy place. However, he’s managed to formulate an argument as to why you should use full-feeds today and it’s based on this line:

“You see, when I get together with journalists their RSS usage is WAY WAY WAY higher than the rest of the population. Journalists are like me. They sift through lots of information looking for the gems for their readers. That’s how they build audiences. RSS lets people read about 10 times the amount of content than if you just use a Web browser. That’s why journalists, connectors, bloggers, geeks who care about productivity, etc use RSS. It’s also why advertising in RSS isn’t yet working. These people aren’t good targets for loosely-targetted advertising.”

My business makes coin by providing information services to journalists and providing information about journalists to the marketing communications industry, so for once I can actually claim to know what I’m talking about here. And let me tell you, Robert, the first thing about journalists is that, unlike yourself, they’re not about to blackban a blogger simply because they don’t provide full-feeds. Journo’s don’t have the luxury of being precious about their information sources, like Scoble.

I can just see the scenario:
EDITOR: “How the f*ck, did you miss this story, Sim, you’re supposed to be all over this beat. What the f*ck am I paying you for”.
SIM: “Sorry boss, the story originated from a blog that only offered partial feeds, so I refuse to read it anymore. No links for them, I say!”.

Have a look at most journalists reading lists. Fifty bucks they’re all sources of authority (I’m sorry but journalists don’t read 855 blogs from people who in the end amount to Nigel Nobodies). RSS feeds are great for very quickly checking out what your competitors do or if people in positions of authority are saying anything interest. And you can work that out with one paragraph and even a headline if need be. Journalists very quickly develop an ability to sum up whether a piece of information is going to be of any use within about 3 seconds of opening it.

And let’s face it, how many people are going to get a story picked up by traditional press, anyway. If you do have a story on your blog that’s worthy of note in the New York Times, I’d highly suggest rather than posting a full-feed and hoping that one of their journalists has plugged you into the RSS feeder, that you send them an email and let them know why it’s important. I can guarantee you have a ten thousand percent better chance of having your little gem picked up because you know for certainty that each and every journalist reads their inbox.

Scoble signs off:

But, what do you think? Are content providers going to gain anything to tell connectors, journalists, bloggers to screw off?

What does Squash think? A really, good connector is someone who can connect you to people, places, ideas that you’d not have come across otherwise. Like a journalist, a really, good connector shouldn’t be precious about their information sources.

P.S. Any by the way, if you’re a blogger and you can’t get the primary gist of your article across with a headline and the first couple of pars, then go out and buy a Journalism 101 book. Tell me any professional media site that doesn’t rely on those two elements to let readers decide whether content is relevent or not. 

Filed under: Blogs, Feeds, XML/RSS/Atom

“Most people are morons”

My ‘old media’ mates think I’m a raving, lunatic radical. My ‘new media’ mates thing I’m a closed-minded dinosaur. For our part, how anyone can not understand that Squash is clearly the voice of reason, is quite simply beyond us.

However, the torrent of comments that my recent post Why RSS will never “break through”, showed me once again that people who have worked in the mass media and those who work in ‘new media’ are generally worlds apart.

A bunch of you, the new media one’s reckon I’m a goose or as Chuck Houghton put it in his blog “[Squash]’s taking a pretty good beating in the comments”.

Kevin Leversee, of Web 2.0 consulting company Pandora2 said:

Phil, man what an arrogant statement, bro. Get out of the stoneage. RSS and other technologies that support the remixing of information to that user’s selection and relevance is exactly the whole meme behind what we are all doing…

Of course, Kevin would say that.

Kai Turner made an interesting point..

Whether or not people ‘get’ the technology is a moot point. The technology will be integrated behind the scenes and people won’t notice the difference… I think your assertion that ordinary people don’t need media filtering is a bit short-sighted. You’re speaking in terms of the text/blog space. When downloading television programmes and movies becomes commonplace, people will want to tweak their feeds as part of the discovery of “what’s on tonight”

While ‘drx’ argued:

RSS has already broken through in this field, even people who don’t use a newsreader read information edited by people who do so.

Meanwhile, all the people I know who work in the mainstream media and who dropped by with comments agreed.

For example, Simon Sharwood commented:

The problem with so much of this debate is that we assume Everyone is Like Us.
But not everyone is… Tabloids and “current affairs” shows… that’s where the audiences are in truly significant numbers. There’s little evidence [average consumers] are interested in trawling the blogosphere to find weight loss technqiues or tales of plucky kiddies beating the odds. Until online media meets their needs, most of Web 2.0 will remain avant garde.

Indeed, as David Flynn noted:

Interestingly, I believe it’s journalists like Phil (and Simon and myself) who have enough experience in dealing with the ‘real’ world (rather than a more closed-circuit community of peers) that we can balance our own RSS rapture against the reality that for most people, rabid world-changing RSS consumpion just ain’t gonna happen.

I think the ‘real world’ experience David is talking about, relates to the reality that it is almost always harder than anyone ever expects to effect change. How many entrepreneurs actually hit those numbers they put in their business plan. How many editors manage to grow circulation by the numbers they originally forecast. Dot Com Episode I surely showed us that.

At the moment, a revolutionary is happening – down in this corner of the world. One day, the rest of the world may catch up. I just won’t be holding my breath for it to happen – I value my oxygen far too much.

All, of which can be summarised by Matthew Ingram’s brilliant comment:

True, Phil. But that’s because most people are morons

Amen.

Filed under: Big Media, Feeds, New Media, XML/RSS/Atom

Why RSS will never “break through”

The meme today about how RSS may or may not “break through” is the perfect example of the new media vanguard not having a clue about real media. (Dave Winer opines on how RSS can break through, Scoble says it already has, Dion Hinchcliffe thinks it can but it has to be easier to use)
Reality Check: People who use RSS readers to any degree will always be “edge cases” simply because your average person doesn’t consume enough media or care enough about their media to go to the trouble of building their own reading lists or even consuming somebody else’s reading list. What they care about is finding a small number of sources, and usually it’s one or two ‘big picture’ sources plus a couple of specific-interest sources, who they can trust and who reflect their general outlook on life.

Think about almost anyone you know who is an average media consumer. They may have have a newspaper they read and a couple of magazines they buy about their special interests. That’s typical media consumption levels. (In fact, these days just being a newspaper reader almost makes you an edge case because so many people will simply rely on their favourite television news broadcast).
One of the first things you learn as a journalist, is that the last thing your typical reader notices is the byline. The assumption that your RSS crowd makes, is that people give a damn as to who you are and why your opinion matters. And that people actually want to be that much more informed.
Try this experiment. Set up the computer of your nearest and dearest who isn’t actually a geek with an ideal RSS environment. Find all the feeds they might be interested in and pull it altogether for them. See if it catches on. I bet it doesn’t. Your best hope is if you choose one or two RSS feeds and feed it into something they already use like like GMail. That push facility is quite useful to remind a user to consume media but it doesn’t mean everybody is suddenly going to want to aggregate dozens of sources.

Another reality check: How many non-techie do you know, who even consume media via email, which is the medium RSS is supposed to be replacing?

In media land, you’ve already had your rabid consumers and your average consumers. Your rabid consumers like to be informed. They like to think they know more than the bloke next door. They’ll probably use RSS in one form or another. However, your average consumer actually doesn’t need, or want to be, that informed. Television news flashes are enought to satiate their information requirements. And it’s not a technology issue. It’s a media consumption issue.
This is why reading lists will never catch on. If you’re a sophisticated enough media consumer, you’ll want to build your own. If you’re not, you won’t want a reading list at all.

Filed under: XML/RSS/Atom

Structured Blogging drives me to tiers

Having just read a couple of very insightful and thoughtful piece on Google Base by Bill Burnham, I’ve totally altered my position on structured blogging and I’m now convinced that we’re set to see a two-tier publishing model arise very quickly that separates the “data” from the presentation mechanism.

In brief, Burnham argued in his original piece that Google Base really represents the big G’s desire to have people feed content directly into its database via RSS, and therefore what Google Base really represents is the world’s biggest XML database that will enable the company to launch in the not too distant future a whole series of vertical search services.

This follow up piece posits that this is going to represent a massive threat to “walled garden” recruitment, real estate, auction and dating sites. I think Burnham’s very much on the money with his thoughts here.

However, I think it’s much more than a Google issue. A lot has been made of Google not allowing other robots to spider its site and so that in effect it’s a walled garden itself, as one of the comments in Burnham’s blog points out. If you follow Burnham’s theory then the act of aggregating the millions of user’s various RSS feeds is the real achievement and goal behind Google Base. The fact that Google is hosting the data as well as aggregating it, on one level just means there are less RSS feeds it needs to ping.

However, on another level, the data hosting represents Google’s attempt to control the content and give itself a leg-up on other companies who will no doubt in the future want to build the same kind of vertical search services that Google no doubt is looking to roll out.

Attempting to wall off that data is surely doomed to failure. If ever there was a need for open standards, it’s here and the structured blogging initiative is probably what we have to look to. As an aside. I think the people behind Structure Blogging have made a dreadful mistake giving it that name. Tying the idea so tightly to what people understand to be blogging, to me, really limits how people will approach the whole concept (it certainly limited my original understanding of what was possible). Surely, structured syndication or structured feed would have encouraged people to think about what is trying to be achieved in far more general, wider-reaching terms.

But back to the main gist. Where I think we’re heading here, is that every user will in the not-too-distant-future own an XML online data store, which will adhere to standard XML schemas for the many different information types (classified, blog post, contact information, calendar entry etc) you may want to publish.

These will almost certainly be free data stores based on throwing up ads to you, while you submit your information. Certainly, power users and businesses will be willing to pay a subscription to a provider that can ensure their data and subsequent feeds are always available. Uptime will be everything on this front.

From there, we come to the presentation layer. As a blogger, I’ll be able to shift the presentation of my blog to which every provider I choose, probably the one that offers me the most revenue-generating widgets that I can plug into. Then of course, you’ll have the aggregators who take my content, add it to other like-content and build vertical search, content or e-commerce businesses on that front. (I’d suggest all bloggers will be both publishers and aggregators, because those widgets I talked about will do things like aggregating related-items for sale).

In this world, pretty much anyone could build their very own Monster.com. The much-vaunted and prized “network-effect” is nullified. I’m still not exactly sure who wins in this scenario. Certainly, the bikkies are broken up into much tinier pieces, probably into crumbs, which can only be a good thing for bloggers and independent content producers.

Filed under: Blogs, Google, Structured Blogging, XML/RSS/Atom

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