Google plans for “the second phase of the display ad revolution” with a focus on smartphones and tablets

Google is known primarily for its work in search advertising. But it’s making an investment — a big one — in another area: display ads.

This month’s acquisition of AdMeld was only the latest in a series of moves that are positioning Google for “the second phase of the display ad revolution.” According to the Wall Street Journal, around 1,000 of Google’s engineers are currently working on display technology.

That’s not entirely surprising, given that growth in display continues to outpace search: In the first quarter of 2011, AdWeek reports, display comprised 33 percent of digital ad spend — an increase from 29 percent two years ago. (Search, on the other hand, declined: Q1 of 2011 saw 48.7 percent market share for search, a decline from 53.4 percent two years ago.) And Google itself, thanks in large part to its $3.2 billion acquisition of DoubleClick, is set to grab 12.6 percent of the U.S. display-ad market by the end of the year, up from 9.6 percent last year.

What’s especially noteworthy, though, is the extent to which display has become a focal point for Google — and, by extension, for the products it offers to news publishers. In the first quarter of 2011, Google bested Yahoo in display for the first time in 16 years, largely on the strength of its push toward small and medium-sized company display buys. As a promotional website puts it, “Display advertising really is at the heart of what we’re doing at Google these days.”

I had a chance recently to meet with some of Google’s top execs on display-ad strategy to get their take on how the sector is evolving — and what role they’d like to see Google play in it.

Fragmentation and friction

Display ads — banner, video, and mobile — currently comprise about a $25 billion market globally, says Neal Mohan, Google’s VP of product management for display advertising. But “we believe that the potential of the industry is dramatically larger than it is today,” he told me. In fact: “I believe the potential of the display market is something on the order of $200 billion over the course of the next several years,” Mohan says. The broad question he and his colleagues are focused on from a technological standpoint: “How can we help grow the overall pie — grow the overall industry — from the market that it is today to the $200 billion vision?”

The broad answer: improve efficiencies in the relationships between publishers and advertisers. Display advertising as it currently operates is “massively fragmented,” Mohan notes. As media outlets proliferate — and as the devices we consume them on proliferate, as well — the A-to-B link between advertisers on the one end and media companies on the other becomes increasingly disconnected.

“And as a result of this fragmentation,” Mohan says, “there’s tremendous friction” in the advertising process overall. Marketers and agencies end up using multiple types of interfaces, technologies, and ad networks to find the audiences they’re looking for among the mass of overall web users. “And what that leads to,” he notes, “is a destruction of value — a destruction of ROI, in terms of what marketers are looking to achieve, and fundamentally a destruction in the amount of revenue that a publisher can generate. So I believe that publishers can generate tremendously more revenue from display advertising than they do today. And our mission is to create the tools and the products and the technology that allow publishers to do that.”

“An end-to-end-platform”

Google being a technology company, “I think the way that Google can add value to this is by building technology for publishers and advertisers,” Mohan says. “Our vision is to build an end-to-end-platform for buying and selling display advertising, so a publisher doesn’t have to go to multiple places to manage its mobile inventory, its desktop inventory, its video inventory — whether it sells it directly or indirectly.” The platform may be plugged into other technologies, but it would also be, Mohan notes, a singular space: a one-stop shop for publishers and advertisers alike.

The platform Mohan’s talking about isn’t a single product — it’s more a series of incremental products that serve the broad goal of a friction-free advertising process. And though Mohan describes the platform in the future tense, Google has already begun rolling out its building blocks, testing out components with publishers. And the publishers have seen a 188-percent lift in revenue as a result of it, he says.

“I think we’re really in the first inning of what the implications of this technology are,” Mohan says. “You can imagine that if we’re seeing a 3x improvement just today, what that world will look like a year from now, two years from now, three years from now — and I think that’s the path to getting to that $200 billion vision.”

And a big part of that vision will play out on mobile devices, within apps.

“Speaking and breathing mobile”

“What’s really evolved over the past three or four years is this apps ecosystem,” says Clay Bavor, Google’s product management director for mobile display ads. Apps facilitate “these experiences that are highly customized for mobile devices and tablets,” he notes. And “they create these beautiful experiences that are really tailored to the features and functions of the device.”

While much has been made of smartphones’ and especially tablets’ effects on the presentation of publishers’ content, those effects, Bavor notes, are equally applicable to ads. For Google, he told me, one of the big challenges — and opportunities — is “making our products just speak and breathe mobile.”

Google has two primary goals for its mobile display ads, Bavor told me. On the one hand, it’s to “allow advertisers who are used to advertising on desktop to seamlessly extend their campaigns and metrics and measurements to mobile.” On the other hand, though, it’s to work with apps as their own kind of spaces and experiences — building ad formats that are native to the app environment rather than simply grafted onto it. Ads that are swipe-able, tap-able, rotate-able, and “that really make use of the unique properties of smartphones and tablets.” In May, Google rolled out a series of new HTML5-based ad formats that were, Bavor noted at the time, “built specifically for tablets’ larger, high-definition screens.”

But those tablet-native ad units aren’t just aesthetic propositions; they’re practical, as well. Go where the people are is as relevant to Google as to anyone else in and among the media; and where Internet users are, increasingly, is everywhere, rather than seated in front of computers. The first quarter of 2011 saw smartphone sales of over 100 million — an 85-percent increase from 2010. And traffic from tablets on Google’s AdMob network increased 300 percent between December 2010 and May 2011.

And “if you just look at the people using mobile ads to support their app or mobile content,” Bavor says, “that’s growing like crazy, too.” In January of this year, he notes, Google had about 50,000 developers and publishers using AdMob to monetize their apps and mobile websites. By May, that number had jumped to more than 80,000.

Which is a reflection of what Eric Schmidt, on behalf of Google, has been saying for some time now: The future is mobile — and it will play out on, and within, and through, smartphones and tablets. “That,” Bavor says, “is where we’re placing our big bets right now.”

Creativity and engagement

And that could also lead to a new kind of display ad, which could, in turn, “support the next big wave of content creation and application development and so on on the Internet,” Bavor says.

Bavor has been meeting with publishers to determine what both groups actually want from an ad platform. And one broad, if unsurprising, thing he’s heard repeatedly is the importance of direct sales. “If I get a call from Ford,” he says, “and they want to place an ad — help me manage that relationship. Help me help them create beautiful formats that look great in the context of our tablet app. Make that great and easy for me. And, to the extent possible, make it an extension of my existing tools.”

“Whether it’s direct sales or any other aspect of monetization,” Bavor notes, “the last thing any of these publishers want is yet another tool or workload to think about.”

What they do want, though, is ads that are both easy and, even more importantly, impactful. And Google believes that the path it’s on now will benefit publishers and advertisers — and, by extension, users. As Mohan put it in a speech to the Interactive Advertising Bureau earlier this month, “Display ads provide an incredible platform to engage, excite and inspire. If we as marketers, publishers and technology providers can deliver experiences that delight the user, we can take this industry to new heights.”

From @-reply triage to journalistic meme-tracking: How NPR may scale Andy Carvin’s Twitter curation

On a busy day, Andy Carvin gets 2,000 Twitter @-replies.*

Which, wow. We all experience, in some way or another, information overload; Carvin experiences it on a whole different level. And while he’s able to do the work he does largely because of the institutional leeway he’s given to do it, the work of curating the social web also suffers from a fundamental problem: @acarvin, the account, is run by Andy Carvin, the guy. The guy who, as smart and quick and well-sourced as he is, has a 24-hour-long day just like the rest of us.

Though Andy Carvin can’t scale, however, @acarvin might be able to. Which is an idea that Carvin himself, along with Jeff Jarvis, explored in an unconference session that just wrapped up at today’s MIT/Knight Civic Media Conference. A session titled, only slightly cheekily: “Leveraging @acarvin.”

In their discussion, Carvin and Jarvis identified two broad — and potentially contradictory — needs for the work Carvin does: efficiency and veracity. On the one hand, given the flood of incoming tweets he deals with, and the crucial information that some if not many of them contain, Carvin needs to find a way, he noted, to up his feeds’ signal-to-noise ratio — and to do it in a way that won’t find him constantly drowning in a sea of @-replies. And on the other side of things, he needs a way of tracing both truth and rumors as they travel along on the currents of the social web.

And NPR is thinking of ways to help him do both. Carvin, during today’s talk, mentioned some intriguing tools that he and his NPR colleagues are thinking of building in the service of “leveraging @acarvin.” Two of them:

Triaging @-replies. Given the thousands of reach-outs that come to Carvin’s feed every day, he needs a way of sifting through them to find the good intelligence. The solution could be the creation of an algorithm that would essentially cross-reference the people who reach out to Carvin on Twitter with the social graph of his existing sources.

That process would result in something like a Klout-like score for sources, Carvin said, but tailored to the real-time nature of his work. (Klout itself isn’t ideal for the kind of work he does, Carvin noted — which might find a protest participant with, say, 15 followers offering him the most valuable, and accurate, information about a given event.) What Carvin needs is a kind of transitory Klout for potential sources: “Do they have influence with the people I’m interested in at this particular moment? Have they geolocated their tweets? Do their tweets have links to a YouTube video or a Flickr photo or a Twitpic?” All of those could potentially be factors in determining @-replies’ immediate relevance to him, Carvin said.

“And the output for this, I think, would be a series of Twitter accounts,” Carvin noted — which would mitigate the need for, say, designing a new Twitter client. “And so, if [the algorithm] is churning out all these people it thinks I should be paying attention to in the @-replies, I could just subscribe to that as a Twitter list or a Twitter account” — and then access that source list across platforms.

That algorithmic assist wouldn’t mitigate the need for the kind of hands-on sourcing Carvin does in his work; but it would add much-needed efficiency to that work’s process.

Meme-tracking tools that are tailored for journalism. There are some that are already out there, Carvin said, “but none that I’m aware of that are specifically targeted toward journalists.” During the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008, Carvin noted, a rumor spread on Twitter that terrorists were using social media to coordinate their actions — and there was a rumor on top of that that the Indian government had told its citizens to refrain Twitter. “So there was a period of several hours,” Carvin noted, “where some of the best eyewitnesses got skittish.” From what we can tell, he said, the rumor likely started on TV, and found its way to Twitter. “But in situations like that,” Carvin said, “I’d want to be able to know, in real time, ‘Who started this?’”

Same deal for, in Libya, the recurrent rumors that Muammar Quaddafi is dead. “Is it wishful thinking on someone’s part?” Carvin asked. “Is there a group of people, or a single person, who’s constantly putting this out there?” While questions like that aren’t always hard to discern — most of the disinformation that Libya and other states put out “is so flagrantly obvious” in its falseness — “at some point, they’re going to get more sophisticated.” It would be great to have a way of tracking the proliferators of rumors, he said.

So those are two approaches, notional but exciting. For all the enthusiasm surrounding the idea of scaling the work Carvin does, the question of how to do it tends to get stuck on a persistent problem: the fact that @acarvin’s power as an agent of newsgathering is based on Andy Carvin’s power as an agent of newsgathering. Carvin’s rich knowledge of the Middle East — the sources he’s been able to cultivate based on a pre-existing network of friends and acquaintances in the region — aren’t things that can be easily taught, or transferred, or otherwise replicated. But it’s good to know that NPR, like many media watchers, is considering questions of scale when it comes to Carvin’s work.

“None of these are emergency hacks at the moment,” Carvin noted. Rather, “these are things that would help over the long run — and that I think would help others.”

*This graph initially said that Carvin’s @-reply rate on an average day was 2,000 — and that, after getting a big media mention, that number would jump to 10,000. I misunderstood him, though; he’d meant that, with the increased media attention on it, his account (which currently gets 2,000 replies on a busy day) has the potential to garner 10,000 @-replies — which is why he’s thinking about scaling it in the first place. Sorry about that; I’ve removed the mention of the 10,000 replies in the post.

Image by personaldemocracy used under a Creative Commons license.

This Week in Review: An iPad web block, a new set of news innovators, and aggregation’s legal victories

Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

The New York Post’s iPad block: News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch has developed a reputation for draconian policies toward paid content and the web, and he furthered that pattern this week when News Corp.’s New York Post blocked access to its website from the iPad’s Safari browser in an effort to sell more of its iPad apps. A subscription to the app runs $6.99 per month; access to the website would be free.

The reaction on the web was overwhelmingly negative: Tech pioneer Dave Winer accused the Post of “breaking the web,” paidContent’s Staci Kramer called it “one of the most poorly conceived paywall efforts I’ve come across,” and business journalist Adam Tinworth called the move “dictatorial.” As Kramer and Examiner.com’s Michael Santo noted, the Post left plenty of workarounds for users who don’t want to pay up, through alternative browsers like Skyfire. Kramer and Engadget’s Dana Wollman also suspected that Murdoch is attempting to recreate the Post as an app-based tabloid like his other major effort, The Daily. (Both are skeptical about the prospects of that plan.)

News Corp. does have some good news on the iPad front this week, though: The Post and The Daily are the two highest-grossing publishing apps on the iPad, ranking well ahead of the next-most-lucrative apps — two comic-book apps and Conde Nast’s New Yorker and Wired.

Poynter’s Regina McCombs talked to three other iPad app publishers — CNN, the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record, and Better Homes & Gardens — about how they put their apps together. And the Columbia Journalism Review’s Zachary Sniderman compared the iPad’s adoption process to that of print periodicals before it: The iPad’s sales, he said, “mirror a long trend of historical adoption rates and cultural attitudes: initial enthusiasm for a new platform, slow adoption, and then gradually increasing sales as the population gets habituated to using the new technology.”

A fresh round of news innovation: This week was a big one in news innovation, as the Knight Foundation (one of the Lab’s funders) announced the 16 winners of the last round of its five-year Knight News Challenge competition. The Lab’s Joshua Benton gave a good annotated roundup of the winning entries, which will get a total of $4.7 million: There are a few names many people will recognize, including former New York Times/ProPublica project DocumentCloud, the AP’s (and the Lab’s) Jonathan Stray, and the crisis text-mapping service Ushahidi.

I would expect profiles of several of the winning projects over the next week or so, and the Lab’s Justin Ellis provided the first with a look at the Chicago Tribune’s PANDA, which aims to help newsrooms analyze data more easily. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram noticed the data journalism theme running through the winning entries, and elsewhere, the Daily Dot’s Nicholas White opined on the importance of data in journalism.

Benton’s post also included a glance at what’s next for the News Challenge, as well as highlights of what has and hasn’t gone well over the News Challenge’s short history from a recently released internal review. Some of the main challenges: Underestimated difficulty of citizen journalism and news game projects, problems with accurate cost budgeting, and a slow timetable. Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman also looked back at some of the lessons learned from the News Challenge.

The Knight Foundation also announced a three-year, $3.76 million investment in MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media, which named Berkman Center researcher Ethan Zuckerman its new director. The Lab’s Andrew Phelps talked to Zuckerman about where the center is headed, and Zuckerman looked at his goals in a post of his own. Mathew Ingram wondered whether the center can help with the ongoing reinvention of local journalism.

Two legal wins for aggregators: Rulings were handed down this week in two cases that probably only media-law nerds have following, but both have big implications for online news aggregation and link journalism. In the first case, a federal court ruled that a financial site can publish analysts’ stock tips immediately, a blow to a legal principle called the “hot news doctrine” that protects certain facts (“hot news”) from being republished for a short period of time. (Here’s a great explainer of the case from last year.)

This was one of those rulings where everyone declares victory: The court actually upheld the validity of the hot news doctrine in the Internet/aggregation era, but said it didn’t apply in this case — the analysts are newsmakers and the website is the news breaker, the judge wrote. As Dealbook noted, the lawyer for Google and Twitter (who filed anti-hot news doctrine briefs) called it “a great decision for the free flow of information in the new media age,” while the pro-hot news AP called it “a victory for the news media and the public.” But as paidContent’s Joe Mullin argued, it looks as though this decision will ultimately weaken the hot news doctrine.

In the other case, the copyright enforcement firm Righthaven had its lawsuit on behalf of the Las Vegas Review-Journal dismissed. Righthaven had sued a message-board user for reposting a 19-paragraph Review-Journal editorial, but the judge ruled that the posting was protected under fair use because the editorial only contained five paragraphs of purely original opinions and because it was posted for noncommercial reasons.

A renewed debate over anonymity: There have been a handful of streams of discussion regarding anonymity online over the past few weeks that converged a bit this week, and I thought it might be helpful to summarize a couple of them briefly for you. Two weeks ago, a supposed lesbian blogger in Syria was unmasked as a middle-aged American grad student, prompting thoughtful responses from people like the Berkman Center’s Ethan Zuckerman and on the role of participatory media and the Guardian’s Dan Gillmor and the Berkman Center’s Jillian York on the continued need for anonymity.

And last week, a couple photographed kissing in the streets amid riots in Vancouver was identified online and making the mainstream-media rounds within days, prompting questions about the end of anonymity by writers like the New York Times’ Brian Stelter and Salon’s Drew Grant. Meanwhile, former NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard decried anonymous online commenting, calling it “faux democracy” and urging news organizations to require commenters to use their real names.

GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram drew on several of those developments to echo Gillmor’s and York’s defenses of anonymity, arguing that it’s been a key part of healthy democracy, allowing people to speak to the powerful without fear of reprisal. (The AP’s Jonathan Stray called it “the digital analog of right to free assembly.”) “We shouldn’t toss that kind of principle aside so lightly just because we want to cut down on irritating comments from readers, or stop the occasional blogger from pretending to be someone they are not,” Ingram wrote.

Reading roundup: Here’s what else happened at the intersection of journalism and technology this week:

— Outgoing New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, who’s done a fair amount of Twitter-tweaking over the past month or so, gave an interview to Reuters in which he said the idea that he’s opposed to social media is a misconception. But sociologist Zeynep Tufekci took issue with his idea that social media use leads to less time with “real-life” friends, and when Keller asked for evidence, she let him have it. The Knight Digital Media Center’s Amy Gahran also defended social media’s usefulness to journalists with some new Pew data.

— This Week in AOL: Two more former employees gave their own horror stories about working there — one a writer, the other from sales. AOL CEO Tim Armstrong also said he’s considering paid content as part of the company’s continued revamp, the Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum pondered the AOL Way and the journalistic “hamster wheel,” and Poynter’s Steve Myers said comparisons between the Huffington Post and the New York Times are unfounded.

— Another potential player in the ongoing long-form nonfiction renaissance, Byliner, launched this week. The Lab and Poynter ran previews.

— Finally, the interesting pieces on the FCC’s recent report on the future of local news continue to trickle out. Here’s a pointed analysis by the folks at Free Press and a two-part Columbia Journalism Review interview with the report’s lead writer, Steven Waldman.

I happen to have that research right here, Mr. Keller: The day sociologist Zeynep Tufekci dropped a bundle of knowledge on the New York Times’s Bill Keller (with help from Twitter and a whole lot of scholarship)

Last month, The New York Times’ outgoing executive editor Bill Keller trolled all of Twitter (including plenty of journalists at his own paper) by posting a single tweet: “#TwitterMakesYouStupid. Discuss.” Today, Reuters’s Anthony De Rosa posted an interview with Keller where (among other things), De Rosa asked him about it.

While repeating some of the stranger accusations he’s previously leveled at his critics (“My view of social media is that it is a set of tools, not a religion”; “digital evangelists and cyber-puritans… treat any hint of skepticism as heresy”), Keller also spelled out what he thinks social media is (and isn’t) useful for:

At the Times, we embrace social media, we use it, we experiment with it. We have a staff dedicated to figuring out new ways to make the best journalistic use of it. We have staff seminars on social media. I encourage reporters to look at Twitter and Facebook and to figure out if there’s a way these services can be helpful to them. Like many tools, Twitter will fit some people’s toolkits more naturally than others, and will be used more skillfully and creatively by some people than others…

The point of my column was that most technological progress comes at a price, and it’s okay to consider the price along with the progress. For some people, Facebook is a way to engage more openly with the world. But there’s an opportunity cost. The time you spend keeping up with your 200 Facebook friends is time you are not getting to know someone really well in person. Twitter is all the wonderful things I said above and then some, but Twitter is mostly reductionist. It does not lend itself to deep, rich conversation, with context and persuasion. It CAN be a stimulus to serious discussion, but that is not the nature of the tool, which is reach rather than depth.

In case you’re wondering, by the way, I do not believe that Twitter literally makes people stupid. If you read the column, you know that I posted a hashtag — #twittermakesyoustupid — followed, please note, by the word “discuss.” The point was to throw out a subject for discussion, and see how the medium dealt with it, which was pretty much the way I expected. (A hashtag is a topic, not an argument. ) I think Twitter can encourage distraction, superficiality, short attention spans, bumper-sticker-level discourse. It can make you SOUND stupid. But, no, I don’t think it makes you stupid.

Now, the long-standing, well-known rule of thumb on the web is “Do Not Feed the Trolls.” In other words, when an Internet user posts something with the deliberate intention of starting a fight, don’t give them what they want. “#TwitterMakesYouStupid. Discuss” has all the telltale marks of a troll. Even Keller says that the argument went “pretty much the way I expected.”

But in this interview, Keller doesn’t seem to be looking to troll the web, but asking for a different kind of engagement. I don’t think he was expecting that different kind of engagement to happen on Twitter. But that’s exactly what happened.

[View the story "I happen to have that research right here, Mr Keller" on Storify]

[If you don't see a Storify embed above, click here, then come back.]

No one on Twitter is going to let any one person set the conversation agenda. But still, we all hope Mr Keller responds. Whenever he’s ready. We know that just like us, he’s a busy man.

Update: Keller responds. And yes, he and Tufekci are both very busy. (Good thing there’s a popular medium for very short messages written by busy people.)

I happen to have that research right here, Mr. Keller: The day sociologist Zeynep Tufekci dropped a bundle of knowledge on the New York Times’s Bill Keller (with help from Twitter and a whole lot of scholarship)

Last month, The New York Times’ outgoing executive editor Bill Keller trolled all of Twitter (including plenty of journalists at his own paper) by posting a single tweet: “#TwitterMakesYouStupid. Discuss.” Today, Reuters’s Anthony De Rosa posted an interview with Keller where (among other things), De Rosa asked him about it.

While repeating some of the stranger accusations he’s previously leveled at his critics (“My view of social media is that it is a set of tools, not a religion”; “digital evangelists and cyber-puritans… treat any hint of skepticism as heresy”), Keller also spelled out what he thinks social media is (and isn’t) useful for:

At the Times, we embrace social media, we use it, we experiment with it. We have a staff dedicated to figuring out new ways to make the best journalistic use of it. We have staff seminars on social media. I encourage reporters to look at Twitter and Facebook and to figure out if there’s a way these services can be helpful to them. Like many tools, Twitter will fit some people’s toolkits more naturally than others, and will be used more skillfully and creatively by some people than others…

The point of my column was that most technological progress comes at a price, and it’s okay to consider the price along with the progress. For some people, Facebook is a way to engage more openly with the world. But there’s an opportunity cost. The time you spend keeping up with your 200 Facebook friends is time you are not getting to know someone really well in person. Twitter is all the wonderful things I said above and then some, but Twitter is mostly reductionist. It does not lend itself to deep, rich conversation, with context and persuasion. It CAN be a stimulus to serious discussion, but that is not the nature of the tool, which is reach rather than depth.

In case you’re wondering, by the way, I do not believe that Twitter literally makes people stupid. If you read the column, you know that I posted a hashtag — #twittermakesyoustupid — followed, please note, by the word “discuss.” The point was to throw out a subject for discussion, and see how the medium dealt with it, which was pretty much the way I expected. (A hashtag is a topic, not an argument. ) I think Twitter can encourage distraction, superficiality, short attention spans, bumper-sticker-level discourse. It can make you SOUND stupid. But, no, I don’t think it makes you stupid.

Now, the long-standing, well-known rule of thumb on the web is “Do Not Feed the Trolls.” In other words, when an Internet user posts something with the deliberate intention of starting a fight, don’t give them what they want. “#TwitterMakesYouStupid. Discuss” has all the telltale marks of a troll. Even Keller says that the argument went “pretty much the way I expected.”

But in this interview, Keller doesn’t seem to be looking to troll the web, but asking for a different kind of engagement. I don’t think he was expecting that different kind of engagement to happen on Twitter. But that’s exactly what happened.

[View the story "I happen to have that research right here, Mr Keller" on Storify]

[If you don't see a Storify embed above, click here, then come back.]

No one on Twitter is going to let any one person set the conversation agenda. But still, we all hope Mr Keller responds. Whenever he’s ready. We know that just like us, he’s a busy man.

Update: Keller responds. And yes, he and Tufekci are both very busy. (Good thing there’s a popular medium for very short messages written by busy people.)

PressForward: A new project aims to rethink scholarly communication for the age of new media journalism

How journalists communicate has been radically changed by the Internet. Is it time for the academic world to catch up?

Today, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University launches PressForward, a new discovery portal and publishing platform for scholarship and intellectual discussion on the web.

The big idea of PressForward is to create a digital-first alternative to the cumbersome mechanisms of traditional gatekeepers — academic journals — while keeping main benefits of print publication and peer review: their ability to concentrate a community’s attention around the best emergent writing and research. The project is bankrolled through a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Digital Information Technology program.

It’s not the first time the Center has tried to crack a long-standing scholarly problem with a big new digital venture. CHNM is probably best known for developing open-source software tools for researchers and cultural institutions, including the citation manager Zotero and Omeka, a publishing platform for online collections and exhibits. The center also inaugurated THATCamp, “The Humanities And Technology” unconference for humanities computing pros and enthusiasts modeled on software programmers’ BarCamp and Foo Camp. And like those two “camps,” THATCamp workshops are now happening almost every week all over the world.

What’s unusual about PressForward, at least for a university venture, is that it both draws inspiration from new media journalism and seeks to include it in the new wave of digital scholarship. As CHNM’s Dan Cohen writes, “the web has found ways to filter the abundance of online work, ranging from the tech world (Techmeme) to long-form posts (The Browser), which act as screening agents for those interested in an area of thought or practice.”

With those examples in mind, PressForward’s genesis was animated by two questions: “What if we could combine the best of the scholarly review process with the best of open-web filters? What if we had a scholarly communication system that was digital first?”

Innovating through shocks to the system

The team behind PressForward is likewise a blend of researchers, journalists, and publishers, spanning science, business, and humanities — all equally at home in the worlds of scholarship and the web. Besides CHNM’s Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt, PressForward’s advisory board includes two journalists: The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal, and Adam Aston, former editor at BusinessWeek and The Economist.

“We believe journalists have been ahead of the curve in thinking about the changes that the digital realm implies for publishing,” Cohen told me. “Scholarly publishing is far behind the experimentation that is going on in digital journalism… Academic publishing has been far more static, likely because it hasn’t faced (yet? to the same extent?) the economic pressures to change that, say, newspapers have felt.”

At GMU’s THATCamp, Cohen led a session (that I attended) titled “What Can Digital Humanities Learn From Journalism?” Even though the handful of journalists in the room immediately put a huge asterisk next to the proposition that news organizations had digital publishing figured out, we quickly agreed that there was more overlap than not between the two communities.

Both journalism and academia are reeling from systemic shocks. Both are trying to innovate without losing the resources and values it’s taken decades or centuries to build. Both are figuring out how to solve practical publishing problems, like developing new tools and interfaces for representing data. And increasingly, new media journalists are producing material that looks more like scholarship, and scholars are producing material that looks more like journalism.

Broadening a narrowed field

Journalism, though, has benefited from having fewer barriers to entry. It’s easier for people at the margins of traditional journalism to quickly start their own ventures, or even to move towards the center. “Academics [need] to recognize that ‘good is good’—regardless of the credentials of the author,” Cohen says. “The example I often bring up is the case of Nate Silver, the baseball-statistician-turned-political-commentator, who, in a prior era, would never have cracked into the top ranks of commentary (and is now working for The New York Times after having started his own blog). There are many intelligent, knowledgable, independent scholars who currently feel uncomfortable submitting to academic journals but have much to add to the conversation.”

That’s what PressForward is for: Like THATCamp, it’s about getting professors, journalists, librarians, technicians, museum curators, independent researchers, and students together without the cruft of hierarchies to see what they can do together.

Even though Cohen’s hoping that his scholars will benefit from contact with journalists, I’d argue that journalists might benefit even more from contact with scholars doing innovative digital work.

For instance, I asked Cohen what value he thought a journalist or reader of journalism might get out of having access to a site like PressForward. When I wrote the question, I was thinking in relatively narrow terms, like making it easier to find expert sources, or being able to browse open-access archive that might substitute for Lexis-Nexis or other databases in a pinch.

Cohen didn’t even blink: “I think journalists could set up their own field-based publications using our system —aggregating and curating stories and commentary.” Not bad, guys. Not bad at all.

James O’Shea: Chicago News Cooperative is a new “town square”

Editor’s Note: Our sister publication Nieman Reports is out with its summer 2011 issue, “Links That Bind Us,” which focuses on the role community plays in journalism. We’re highlighting a few entries that connect with subjects we follow at the Lab, but go read the whole issue. In this piece, James O’Shea comments on his work at the Chicago News Cooperative to “create communities organized around an interest in the news.”

Nieman Reports summer 2011 coverWhen I was a young reporter for The Des Moines Register, an editor sent me to Fort Dodge, Iowa, to follow up on a tip about a cover-up of a local police scandal. The Fort Dodge police, of course, didn’t want a Register reporter snooping around trying to unearth details about trouble in the ranks. In fact, the police had done a good job keeping the scandal under wraps, confining it to rumors swapped over late afternoon long necks at the local saloon.

When hours of attempts to pry loose some details failed, I retreated to a coffee shop to grab a late lunch and considered calling the state desk to report that I would need another day. Then the community spoke to me. “Did you hear about the police scandal?” one man at the lunch counter said to another. His friend replied: “I didn’t see anything in The [Fort Dodge] Messenger this morning. I’ll look at the Register tomorrow. They’ll have it.”

I can still hear the confidence in the man’s voice about the newspaper where I first worked as a daily journalist, and I can still feel my guilt at even thinking about giving up on a story that my readers clearly wanted. The Register called itself “The Newspaper Iowa Depends Upon,” and generations of journalists had delivered on that pledge.

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