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Month: December 2009

2009: The Top Ten Posts of the Year

And so 2009 prepares its exit, and what an interesting year it has been. I’d be hard-pressed to describe it as a good year, but at least it wasn’t as bad as 2008, by virtue of not having something really traumatic happen. But a year that has seen titles close, many colleagues find themselves redundant and the whole industry adopt a siege mentality is not something that could be described as “good”.
That said, conversely, it has been one of the most satisfying of my working life, as I’ve been heavily involved in a much more wholesale effort to retrain people within RBI for the new era of publishing, and more directly involved with allowing some titles to set their strategy for the recession and beyond. And it is satisfying to be in a company that didn’t stick its head in the sand as to the changes that were coming. 
More than that, though, this is the year that the changes moved from “coming” to “here”. Things that I, and many bloggers like me, have been predicting for several years are starting to come true. Social publishing and use of social media is a significant part of our business now, and it is deeply impacting all forms of media. Being right, even in horrible times, can be surprisingly satisfying. Just call me “Cassandra“. πŸ™‚
But really, the big issues of the year can best be captured by looking at the posts that were most popular this year…
My Most Popular Posts of 2009
1. NUJ: “effin’ blogs – the post that kicked off a blog storm. I post something that I saw in my referrer logs, and within a week The Guardian are talking to me about it, people are questioning my professionalism, and trying to pull the conversation into closed mailing lists where they can (and did) insult me personally without public view and accountability. I came very, very close to leaving the union over this. 
2. Dean Street Fire: Most Recorded Yet? – I republished a YouTube video of the fire, and sat happily near the top of Google searches for “Dean Street Fire”. I linked through to some other coverage. The traffic just kept coming. 
3. The Day Twitter Destroyed a Gagging Order – a quick summary of the Trafigura incident with links to full coverage and details elsewhere. Much-tweeted. 
4. NUJ: Stil Not “Getting” Social Media – the post that led to the “effin’ blogs” incident – in which I register my disgust with the way people within the NUJ responded to a colleague’s post. 
5. The Content Paywall Ostriches – one of the first of a series of posts where I picked at the shallowness of the debate around content paywalls that dominated journalism blogging towards the end of 2009. Not Tweeted much, but linked to a great deal. 
6. This Is A Bad Time To Be A Journalist If… – I’m not a great one for “list blogging” despite all the reputed traffic benefits of it. This one just begged to be written, though, and had a “zombie” life when, several weeks after it was first posted, a whole new bunch of people picked up on it and started tweeting it. 
7. We Never Sold Journalism – An earlier blast in the paywall discussion, in which I make my first attack on the elephants in the room in the debate. Linked to by The Telegraph, which helped the traffic quite a bit…
8. The WordPress Attack, Competition and Blogging innovation: My only post about new publishing tech that hit the top 10. My disquiet about the dominance of WordPress in blogging software feels much the same as my worries about Windows in the late 90s. I draw that analogy here, which, rather gratifyingly, kicked off several discussions amongst coders about alternatives and ways of developing their own platforms. 
9. The Times versus Nightjack: Destroying Journalists’ Reputation – A post triggered by an e-mail from an old student magazine colleague, who asked me what I thought of this situation (a blogger being “outed” by a national newspaper). Pretty disgusted, was the answer. Lots of people seemed to agree.
10. What Publishers Need To Understand – Another “oh, for goodness’ sake” post from the end of the year. And it’s just quoting a comment on another article. Linking FTW.
1. Twitter matters. In the latter half of the year, Twitter was the biggest single driver of traffic to my most popular posts. If people start retweeting you, the impact on your page views can be staggering. 
2. Say something new. If there’s a big debate going on, look for the things you’re thinking, but you can’t find anyone else saying. Or, instead, things that move the thought process beyond the immediate reaction to an event.  An original and insightful contribution to the debate will work wonders.
3. User content is popular. Two of the posts in the top ten are me pointing to something really good someone else has created elsewhere, which deserved to have attention drawn to it. This is aggregation at its best. Many of the other posts include an element of aggregation. Link. Link. Link. And then – link some more. 
4. People want explanation. There is a big market for posts that explain a situation and link through to more detail. Journalists are pretty good at reporting on things as they happen, but sometimes we need to sit back and create a quick summary for people new to the events. 
5. Debating in open spaces beats debating in closed spaces. It keeps people honest. 
For interest, here’s last year’s Top 10 posts
Have a great Hogmanay, and see you in 2010!

A Prediction: 2010, Social Media & Snake Oil

I made a small mistake this evening. I broke my self-imposed social media exile to retweet something by Alan Patrick, that linked to this post on his blog. And suddenly, I found myself besieged by unhappy social media pros that I respect.

There’s clearly an issue here. πŸ™‚

So, let’s make something clear and then make a prediction for the coming year.
The Clarification
I am not saying all social media professionals are snake oil salesmen. For the last three and a half years I have earned my living exclusively by teaching people about social media. I am, by any definition, a social media pro. I may have been indulging in some Christmas “cheer”. but I have no desire to shoot myself in the foot. πŸ™‚
The fundamental problem is this: the rise of Twitter and the social networks has made creating the veneer of social media proficiency easy. There are simple ways of building large follower bases without actually accumulating any genuine influence. The article I retweeted illustrates this exponential rise of carpet-baggers, self-proclaimed gurus who are happy to take people’s money for largely illusory return. And, in the meantime, those with genuine skills in this area find themselves marginalised by the charlatans.
The Prediction
So here’s the challenge for those of us who have a record in this space, who have genuine experience to share and have results to back up that learning:
We have to find a way to differentiate ourselves from the snake oil salesmen.
And let’s face it – it shouldn’t be hard. We have networks, and influence and page rank and all the tools that we have spent years developing. We should be able to do this. Sure, most of us are busy doing the damn job, but this is important. If we don’t fight back – if we don’t reclaim the name from those who abuse it, we’re going to create problems for ourselves in the medium term.
If we fail in this then the very words “social media” and the concepts that underlie them run the risk of being debased by the get-rich-quick merchants. And that’s a situation that will take years to recover from. 
Here’s my prediction: this fight is going to get more acute in the year to come, and a whole lot more vicious. 
But it needs to be fought.
And now, here’s a picture of a bird just to lighten the mood:
The Church Watchman
Tweet, tweet. πŸ™‚

Merry Christmas

Christmas Decoration Wishing all my readers a Merry Christmas. As you've probably noticed, I'm taking a wee break from the blog right now, but I'll be back before New Year with some reviews of the year… In the meantime, have a great festive season.

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What’s Going On With Twitter and #uksnow?

Snow has come to London:

Those of you on Twitter may be seeing tweets like this in your stream:

#uksnow SM2 4/10

What the heck’s that all about? Simple. It’s a crowd-sourced method of tracking snow levels across the country that came into its own back in February, when the really heavy snows hit. All those tweets are being compiled onto a map to give a visual and rapidly-updated picture of what the snowfall across the country looks like. Neat, huh?
The #uksnow map
So that tweet is made up of:
  1. #uksnow – the hashtag that allows identification of relevant tweets
  2. SM2 – the first half of my postcode, allowing geolocation of the information
  3. 4/10 – a measure of the heaviness of the snowfall, where 0 is none at all and 10 would be a whiteout…
A neat little mash-up by Ben Marsh

Time to Kick the Controversy Habit

At a meeting this morning, I told a prospective newbie blogger that intentional controversy was often a massively over-rated virtue. In the light of this, I couldn’t help but find myself nodding vigorously in agreement with this piece by Umair Haque:

To play the opinion arb game, news publishers have to stop seeking
simply the most controversial opinions. They’re abundant: every talking
head can churn one out, and faux “news” of every kind is already chock
full of ’em shrieking at one another. Instead, successful opinion
arbitrageurs must seek the most informed opinions, gooey with
expertise, thick with real value for readers.

Those opinions are worth the most — and they’re what readers will pay for.

Elephant in the room #2 when it comes to paywalls: you might have to change the nature of what your write and publish to make them work.

A Day in the Life of a Blog Platform

One of the nice things about having system admin rights for the Movable Type install that powers the 150+ blogs we’re running right now is that I can see all comments as they come into the system, and guage what’s attracting attention.

Makes me think back with amusement to the days when journalists would tell me quite sincerely  that nothing serious could be done on blogs…

Le Web: Finis

And that’s it. Le Web 2009 is done and dusted.

The End is Here
By far the best organised Le Web yet, and plenty to enjoy in the schedule. Some quibbles, to be sure, and I’ll get to those in a later post. But all in all, a success and well worth a few days of my time.
Bon nuit!

Le Web: Chris Sacca on Douchebags, Pr0n and Lube

Chris Sacca
Three more words, but this time for 2010 (and quite rude) from Christopher Sacca of Lowercase Capital:
“I’m optimistic about the demise of the douchebag”, says . There are millions of them online, and they disrupt online conversations. In the early days they seized controls of the web. The real time web brings us authenticated identity systems – so we’re verified against a real community: the real web! (Especially with location information). And we’ll get more collaborative action from that. 
I wish I could say I’ve never seen a man getting excited about graphics before, but I have. I work in publishing. But actually, he’s talking about data – and all the platforms are offering more and more data. And that is eventually going to enrich the services we provide. 
Amazon and iTunes have made it so easy to purchase things and they’ve removed so much friction from it that people develop “habits”. Web services need to remove that friction. Posterous allows you to just e-mail stuff to them without any account creation. They provide value first, and then you can encourage them to sign up. 

Le Web: Kevin Marks’ Words that Define the Web

Kevin Marks
Great presentation from Kevin Marks about the words that help to define the understanding of the way the web is changing things. Some negative, some positive and some neutral. 

Rather than information being pushed to us through a decisive act like sending an e-mail, we receive it in a flow of activity from following people. We need to learn to live (adapt?) to the flow.

We expect the personal, and the personalised. A large part of our brain is about faces. 

“If there’s someone you have a model of in your head, someone you know, you do care about what they had for lunch, that they’re in Paris.” You can follow someone without them agreeing it it first. 

Semi-overlapping publics
There are many public – everyone on the web sees a different world (a point danah made earlier). When we follow people we collect a peer group to interpret and make sense of the world. And then they become filters.

Small world Networks. 
It’s easy for information to flow through them, because there are both short range and long-range links. 

People decide that other people don’t belong. It’s analogous to countries. 

People who connect – the “life and soul of the party”.