Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Content was King. Context is King. Long live the King!

The best solutions have always come from the best people using the best tools to solve the most interesting problems.

About 5 years ago, I had a brief conversation with a smart person. He said in "Web 2.0, Context is king." It sounded really smart at the time and kept rumbling around my head.

Recently there has been lots of buzz about newspapers getting people to pay for content. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the market for paid content is a very small niche, it keeps coming up again and again. The latest buzz was occasioned by Walter Issacson with his article at Time Magazine.

People have spoken. They will not pay for content on the web. No matter how smart the person who created that content is, or thinks he/she is. The NY Times, among many others tried it with their columnists. To the chagrin of some of the columnists, their words were judged not worth it.

There is an interesting discussion about the semantic web, over at the Next Newsroom Project.
John Cass started it by saying, in part
. . . One idea for the newsroom of tomorrow will be to use some of the online media mining tools developed for corporations to determine the stories that are of most interest to a community. The press would use monitoring tools to determine both what is developing, and what becomes relevant and important to the community, through, references, links and comments . . . it continues at the click.
Later in the discussion, I said,
I just wanted to share a notion about semantic tech. I think that in Web 2.3 , I think we're past web 2.0, it is context, not content that is king. The way I understand semantic tech might be seen as a way to automate context of an event. While that may happen in web 4.0, I don't think it works for the same reason that Search is still a very clumsy tool.

The functions trying to be automated are a journalist with a story to tell and an editor to make that story communicate to particular readers.

The error, IMHO, is the notion that the story emerges from the events. I think what really happens is that the journo has a story to tell and then fits in the events to tell that story. For example, the prevailing story about government is that it is wasteful, slow and stupid filled with self interested people. Most journalists for the last 10 years or so are telling that same story day after day after day.

The recent reporting on the Stimulus Package fits into the pattern. The process of making a law in this country and Politics in general is all about compromise. Yet the events that are happening are reported as the Republicans want to cut taxes, the Democrats want to laden it with pork. Obama has gone through his "honeymoon." Each event fits.

The election was told in the Liberal v Conservative story. Meanwhile, if one listened to his words, it was clear from day one that he is not a Liberal in any commonly understood sense of the word.

The news enterprise has three components. The one most amenable to automation is find out what happened. That's web 2.0. The next is using those events to tell a pre-existing story.

For years we've been told that a pre-existing story compromises objectivity. In fact it is only a pre-existing story that supplies context. The best journalists have pre-existing stories that are working hypotheses. They are the best because they are able to change their story when new events occur. Most journalists as most people assume a story and change them for various reasons, but not quickly upon finding new information.

From my limited understanding, one promise of the semantic web is to automate the context creating function. Long term it might work. Just as long term AI will get better and better. My take is that unique value add of a human being is the ability to Blink, in the sense that Gladwell uses the word.

If the semantic web is seen as a tool that allows the human to blink better, that makes sense. But if it is seen as a computer algorithm replacing a human's ability to have a resilient, but consistent story line, it's a solution that will have unintended consequences that are much worse than the problem it was meant to solve.
On the home page of the Next Newsroom, it says
. . .there are six principles we believe all newsrooms should embrace:
1. Place community at the center
2. Make innovation a priority
3. Publish to all platforms
4. Collaborate with others
5. Promote transparency
6. Create a sustainable business model
I would add, find and train people who have an interesting story that they are passionate about telling. Make sure that they have a native ability to change that story line upon the discovery of new facts. And make sure they have a great editor to transform the events imbeded into the story in a string of words that communicates to readers.


  1. Part of that business model must include stopping the practice of giving the content away. I agree that readers will not pay for content. So who pays? Banner ads obviously do not generate enough revenue. My suggestion is that if the Huffington Post, Drudge Report, Lucianne, google news and all the others want to link to the content a bricks and mortar newspaper created, then they must pay a fee.

    If a website would like to generate traffic and page views by using content paid for by others then they need to share the costs.

    How is that done? Beats me.

  2. I must respectfully disagree. The internet is not a money maker for anyone except Google and people who sell stuff. Google because of their vast reach and the largest server farms on the planet.

    People who sell stuff because the internet is the best way ever invented to sell stuff cheaper and faster than any other. Wal-Mart has put them both together. The busiest web sites last Christmas were Amazon, ebay and Wal-Mart.

    The problem for a small publisher is:
    1. Don't buy the internet blablablabalbalbal.

    2. Figure out anything that stands in the way of local advertisers buying an ad. It's usually not the money, it's the time and focus. Help them with that, and you've got it.

    3. If you have a website, think of your website as if it were a store. Their are passerbys, there are browsers, there are customers and repeat customers.

    The money for your website is attention. You put something out there. It attracts attention (clicks). That indicates that some people might be interested in "size 6, with the short sleeves" So, like any good retail, you put up a few more "size 6, with short sleeves." If it seems to get some traction, you start stocking sizes 4 through 10. More traction, you go to long sleeves and short sleeves."

    The main money comes from where it always comes from local advertisers. The strategy there is make it easy, easy, easy, for them to buy. Figure out the right incentives for your salespeople. Maybe comp them on how many stores they visited instead of the dollar amounts of sales.

    BUT, here's the really cool part, the long term upside: Invent Print products to sell to your repeat customers. POD printing is so simple that the marginal cost to a publisher is pretty much zero.

    Imagine the market for (I don't know your people...but) Remembrances of the local club, church, rotary, etc. You can now design and sell the book before printing one copy. Check out

    If you are doing your own printing, how about a special issue every week with special advertising and special distribution.

    The State of Local Community Business. Get the stats on openings, closing, rents, etc.etc.etc...

    I think this passes the "why wouldn't work test".

    But I would really like to hear back from you where I am merely drinking my own Kool-aid or am on to something...