Back to the Future: True/Slant CEO Lewis DVorkin Moonlighting as Redesign Consultant at Forbes

A weird move that also makes sense: Troubled Forbes Media has brought in Lewis DVorkin, a former editor at the business publisher, as a consultant for a redesign of the Forbes Web site “and other editorial areas.”

That’s a bit weird because DVorkin already has a day job: He’s the founder and CEO of True/Slant, a news network/aggregator/publisher he launched last year.

And it makes sense given that Forbes Media is one of True/Slant’s financial backers. Employees there say COO Tim Forbes has been particularly enamored of True/Slant’s low-cost, high-frequency approach to content generation, so you can read into this move what you will.

DVorkin started showing up at editorial meetings this week, I’m told. I’m also told that both Forbes magazine editor Bill Baldwin and Forbes.com editor Paul Maidment are reporting to him. “All I know is that it means we failed to fix our own problems,” an employee there tells me.

Disclosure: I worked for Forbes for 10 years and worked closely with DVorkin for a couple of those years. He’s smart and a bit scary. His former colleagues at AOL (AOL), where he landed after his stint at Forbes, almost always describe him as “quite a character.”

Reached for comment, DVorkin referred me to a Forbes spokeswoman. But did want me to make clear that he’s still running True/Slant. “I’m the CEO and founder of True/Slant, and we’re having out best month ever.”

Here’s Forbes’s statement:

Lewis DVorkin will be consulting on a redesign of Forbes.com and other editorial areas at Forbes Media.

Though he will be devoting time to this assignment, Mr. DVorkin remains the Chief Executive Officer of True/Slant, an original content news network, which he founded in April 2009. Forbes Media is a strategic investor in True/Slant.

Mr. DVorkin brings to this assignment vast experience in both old and new media platforms and a history with Forbes editorial. He was the Executive Editor at Forbes magazine from December 1996 to April 2000. where he spearheaded that magazine’s redesign, managed the annual Forbes 400 Richest Americans list and created the Celebrity 100 list, both internationally recognized products of Forbes magazine.

During his career Mr. DVorkin was Page One Editor of The Wall Street Journal, a Senior Editor at Newsweek and an editor at the New York Times.

After leaving Forbes, Mr. Dvorkin was Senior Vice President, Programming at AOL, where he was responsible for News, Sports and Network Programming and played a significant role in the launch of TMZ.com.

Digg CEO Jay Adelson Steps Out

Digg CEO Jay Adelson has left the company he has run for the past five years, leaving founder Kevin Rose to run the social news site in the interim.

Statements from Adelson and Rose (below) do not shed light on what happened, though I imagine the picture will start coming together in the near future.

But I can start by noting that Adelson has long been said to be restless at Digg and that he and the company’s board of directors have reportedly butted heads several times. Adelson, who commuted for years between Digg’s San Francisco offices and his home in suburban New York, finally moved his family to the Bay Area last fall.

Digg used to be best known as a company that was always going to be acquired but never got acquired. Google (GOOG) got close to buying it in the summer of 2008, and then backed away from the deal during due diligence.

Meanwhile, Digg’s growth has flat-lined for a while. Here via comScore (SCOR) is what it has looked since October 2009 (click to enlarge):

Here’s the official word from Jay Adelson, followed by Kevin Rose.

Hey all,

Got some news. After five years, forty million users, and an amazing ride, I’ve decided to step down as CEO of Digg. With the new Digg getting ready to launch, Digg Ads doing well, our sales force growing, our hiring ramping, and the company maturing well beyond its startup phase, I feel that now is the right time.

The entrepreneurial calling is strong, and I am ready to incubate some new business ideas over the next twelve months. As the economy exits a very deep recession, I believe that it is an excellent time for new companies to develop. Of course, I will continue to serve as an
adviser to Digg. In the interim, Kevin has agreed to step in as Chairman and CEO.

I’d like to thank Kevin, the Digg staff and the Digg community for their support, insight and, most of all, their loyalty in turning Digg into the force that it is today.

–Jay

Update from Kevin:

I want to be the first to thank Jay for the last five years of amazing work. You’ve been a great friend and mentor, we wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for you.

While I’ll miss working with Jay day-to-day I am excited to be taking on the role of Chairman and acting CEO, driving Digg forward on our promise to enable social curation of the world’s content and the conversation around it. We’ve been super busy on the product side getting ready for the upcoming Digg redesign and delivering our mobile apps for the iPhone and Android.

Thank you very much for your on-going support of Digg, I’m truly excited about the next five years, big things coming!

-Kevin

Can NewsLabs Give Laid-Off Journalists Another Chance?

So you used to write stories for a newspaper and now you’re out of work? Odds are, you are going to have to find something else to do.

But some of you may be able to transform yourselves into one-person news factories, says Paul Biggar, who wants to make money while helping you do that.

Biggar is a co-founder of NewsLabs, a start-up that promises to create a business around the work of individual journalists. The idea is that the writer writes and NewsLabs does everything else: Ad sales, “community management,” promoting the work on Google, Facebook, Twitter et al, and so forth. In exchange, the company wants a 20 percent cut of all revenue.

In other words, Biggar and co-founder Nathan Chong want to become publishers with an all-freelance workforce.

NewsLabs just graduated from Y Combinator’s three-month bootcamp and has been working with a starter group of journalists for a couple months. So it’s still mostly theoretical at this point. My concern is that the help NewsLabs says it can offer doesn’t solve the real problem: The economics of Web publishing are brutal, and in most cases they only work on a Google- (GOOG) or Yahoo (YHOO)-size scale.

Biggar tells me that NewsLabs won’t solely be dependent on ad revenue, so that’s good. But all of the ancillary businesses that can support a Web-based journalist–conferences, job boards, and the like–also require either great scale or a very, very specialized niche. So Biggar and co-founder Nathan Chong have their work cut out for them.

Here’s Biggar’s extended pitch, via an interview I taped with him this week at Y Combinator’s Demo Day presentations:


[ See post to watch video ]

Google (Finally) Finishes Swallowing Up DoubleClick, Announces That It’s Serious About Display

Google announced plans to buy DoubleClick for $3 billion three years ago and finally closed on the deal a year later. Now the search giant has finally overhauled the display advertising company to its liking. Get ready for big stuff.

That’s the translation behind Google’s announcement this morning that it has upgraded its ad-serving platforms for publishers, by combining two related businesses: Its home-grown Google Ad Manager and Doubleclick’s Dart system.

Google’s statement (full text below) doesn’t have a lot of details, and those that are there won’t mean much if you’re not in the ad tech world.

If you are, the news that Google has fully integrated DoubleClick with its infrastructure will be meaningful because you can expect innovations and features to start rolling out in future weeks and months. Neal Mohan, Google’s VP of product management, says his team has already invested “thousands and thousands of engineering hours” in the upgrade.

In the near term, Google’s announcement also has a direct impact on start-ups like Rubicon and PubMatic, whose core business is built on helping publishers sell their inventory to multiple ad networks.

Google (GOOG) has more or less ignored that business for some time, but now the company is boasting that it can handle those duties in addition to a suite of other services. Translation: That’s a cute business you guys have built over there. We’ll be taking it now.

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence, then, that Rubicon made an oblique announcement last week that was more or less an attack on Google.

Here’s the full text of Google’s announcement:

Google releases its next-generation ad serving platform for publishers

Key points

  • Google announces upgraded ad serving platform, DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP)
  • Part of a full suite of products to help publishers maximize online advertising revenues
  • New DoubleClick logo unveiled

Today, as part of its efforts to help online publishers maximize advertising revenues from their website content, Google announced its upgraded ad serving platform for publishers–DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP).

DFP is a single platform that upgrades and will replace Google’s existing ad serving products: DoubleClick’s DART for Publishers and Google Ad Manager. The upgraded DFP combines Google’s technology and infrastructure with DoubleClick’s display advertising and ad serving experience.

For larger online publishers, managing, delivering and measuring the performance of ads can be a hugely complicated process. Major online publishers (including social networks, entertainment sites, portals and news sites) use ad serving to manage the complex process of how and when the ads they have sold appear on their websites.

Neal Mohan, Vice President of Product Management at Google, said:

“Google wants to help online publishers make the most money possible from their content. The upgraded DFP is part of our suite of products that are designed to help online publishers maximize their advertising revenues. Ad serving is the machinery that powers the online advertising world, so improving that technology can put a lot of money in publishers’ pockets. This upgraded platform is another major milestone in our continuing investment in the display advertising ecosystem.”

The upgraded DFP is part of Google’s suite of products–also including AdSense and the DoubleClick Ad Exchange–to help online publishers maximize their advertising revenues across all their ad space, whatever their size and however they choose to sell their ad space.

It includes a wide variety of key features that will help enable publishers to get the most value out of their online content:

  • A new interface that has been completely redesigned to save time and reduce errors.
  • Far more detailed reporting and forecasting data to help publishers understand  where their revenue is coming from and what ads are most valuable.
  • Sophisticated algorithms that automatically improve ad performance and delivery.
  • A new, open, public API which enables publishers to build and integrate their own apps with DFP, or integrate apps created for DFP by a growing third-party developer community (apps under development today include sales, order management and workflow tools).
  • Integration with the new DoubleClick Ad Exchange’s “dynamic allocation” feature, which maximizes revenue by enabling publishers to open up their ad space to bids from multiple ad networks. Dynamic allocation is described in this document [pdf].

DFP comes in two flavors, tailored for different publishers’ needs:

  • DFP–for larger online publishers, to which current DART for Publishers customers will be upgraded over the next year.
  • DFP Small Business–a simple, free version designed for growing online publishers, to which we will be migrating Google Ad Manager customers.

To reflect Google’s continued investment in DoubleClick’s products and the central role of DoubleClick’s technology products within Google’s display advertising business, Google is also today unveiling some changes to the DoubleClick logos–including typset changes, incorporating a new “by Google” theme, and retiring the “DART” brand.

Is That a Real New York Times App or a Fake? Apple Doesn’t Want to Know.

fake timesHas the New York Times finally started charging people to read its news online? Not yet.

But it sure looks like the Times is charging online readers if you visit Apple’s iTunes Store, which is selling two different New York Times (NYT) iPhone apps at 99 cents a pop.

The Times has nothing to do with either app, both of which are called the “New York Times Mobile Reader.” And both are supposed to do the same thing: Spit out the paper, along with other Web content like podcasts, in iPhone-friendly form.

You’d think the Times would want Apple (AAPL) to remove the miniprograms, if only to protect the value of the paper’s own app, which is both free and very good.

When I pointed out the apps to a Times spokeswoman on Tuesday, she asked around and later confirmed that the two apps “are not authorized and our legal department is looking into the matter.” But as of Thursday morning, the apps are still there, ranked No. 14 and No. 18 on Apple’s list of top paid news apps.

As Josh Quittner notes, hijacking publishers’ names and content and turning them into paid apps isn’t uncommon at iTunes. I count at least eight such offerings among the top paid news apps at the online store.

But it shouldn’t be that hard for Apple to put the kibosh on this stuff. For instance: It ought to be fairly obvious that developer Chad Rivoli, who has produced one of the “New York Times” apps–along with ones that boast brands like CNET, Fox News, the BBC and the Drudge Report–is not authorized to do so.

But Apple’s approach to this is weirdly passive. Here’s the statement I got from Apple PR’s Trudy Muller yesterday:

As an IP holder ourselves, we understand the importance to developers of protecting their IP. We have a process in the App Store for developers to alert us to possible IP infringement. When we’re notified, our policy includes the removal of the infringing app until a resolution is reached between the parties.

If this approach sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a lot like the one Google (GOOG) takes toward YouTube copyright complaints: Put it up, then take it down if someone complains.

In Google’s case, the company claims it has no idea what people are uploading to YouTube–anyone can throw anything up there. And that approach may well be protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (we’ll see). But Apple knows exactly what it’s selling via iTunes because it approves every new app individually.

Maybe the Times isn’t hell-bent on griping to Apple because it has other priorities, like working with Apple on something for the upcoming wondertablet. And maybe every other publisher whose stuff is getting repurposed for profit doesn’t want to bother Apple either. Hard to believe there is really big money being made here, after all.

All I know is that this situation wouldn’t last long at all on the regular Internet: Good luck starting a “New York Times” Web site and charging people to visit–or even just linking to the paper while using its iconic “T.”

What’s different about iTunes?

UPDATE: At least two other publishers are aware, and unhappy, about unauthorized apps. CNET tells AdAge that it has asked at least one of the developers using its stuff to take it down, apparently without success.

And Fox News says it complained directly to Apple in December, says MediaWeek. In that case, though, it seems to had at least some effect:  “Mobile News Pro — Fair & Balanced” is still available in the app store, and still aggregates Fox News content, including radio feeds. But the app’s description does note that it has “removed FOX wording per FOX request.”