Here’s what happened the last time audio producers got better data


This post is by Gabe Bullard from Nieman Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Podcasting is about to become more like radio. Nothing will change with the actual mechanics of podcasts — how they’re produced, how they’re distributed, or who listens. The change will come in what producers know about who listens, and when they stop listening. This fall, Apple will release new analytics for podcasts that will show producers how many people listen to episodes, how long they listen, and whether they skip ads. Previously, producers relied largely on the number of downloads to try to determine their show’s popularity, not knowing whether anyone listened to the files they downloaded. Some advanced data is available through other listening apps already, but since the majority of listening passes through Apple, the detail and scope of the new metrics will be unprecedented for podcasting. But it won’t be unprecedented for audio. This isn’t the first time audience measurements for audio have become more sophisticated. And Continue reading "Here’s what happened the last time audio producers got better data"

ESPN.com has finally replaced espn.go.com, and a tweet about Google SEO may be part of why


This post is by from Nieman Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




It isn’t quite our-long-national-nightmare-is-over level, but one of the significant daily reminders of the early web just disappeared. ESPN’s website, which had been hosted at espn.go.com since 1998, is finally now just at espn.com. Here’s ESPN’s EVP for digital and print John Kosner yesterday: And ESPN CTO Aaron LaBerge: “ESPN.com” has been the site’s branding all these years, even at espn.go.com’s launch: espn-1998 And people have been tweeting complaints about how old-timey the situation seemed for, well, as long as there’s been a Twitter. These are all six years old or older:

How to Measure SEO Success for Recent Content


This post is by Joel Abrams from MediaShift


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




This is a guest post by Joel Abramsproject manager for distribution at The Conversation – US. It’s a common question when working on search engine optimization at a content site: How much traffic is going to the “long tail” of the archive? The converse gets asked too: Are our efforts at SEO working to drive traffic to new stories? Answering these questions is not easy — there’s no set report in Google Analytics or Omniture. So I set out one day recently to try to answer it, and here’s what I found. The basic procedure is to get a list of your content by publication day and marry that to traffic data by day. Then you can find the proportion that’s going to recent stories.

Step One: Make a Spreadsheet of Recent Content

First, you need to set up a data table in the spreadsheet with your recent content. If
Make a spreadsheet with stories and publication dates.
conversation-image00
conversation-image03
conversation-image01
Continue reading "How to Measure SEO Success for Recent Content"

How much of your news site’s search traffic comes from Google News? Probably 5 to 25 percent


This post is by from Nieman Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




There’s Google and then there’s Google News. One tries to soak up the entire Internet, the other a curated selection of news sites. It’s easy to confuse the two, since you’ll often get “Google News” results at the top of a standard Google search page even if you never go near the url news.google.com. But they’re distinct parts of Googleland. Google and publishers have a fraught relationship, and plenty have given thought to what it would be like to pull out of one or both Google corpora. (Axel Springer found out.) But how important is each to your overall search traffic? Is it your site’s presence in Google that’s driving it, or its presence in Google News? That’s the question asked in this interesting piece by SEO consultant Adam Sherk. He used a tool to try to determine how much of 80 news sites’ search traffic came from general search and how much came from Google News. The answer: It depends. On the high end, you had Reuters and the Christian Science Monitor, which each get more than 40 percent of their search traffic from Google News — either from the Google News site itself or a search onebox. adam-sherk-google-news-top At the very bottom? BuzzFeed, with less than 1 percent coming from Google News. adam-sherk-google-news-bottom It’s hard to generalize too much from the data. The Christian Science Monitor, despite its somewhat old-fashioned reputation, is actually something of a SEO powerhouse, quite good at staying on top of Google Trends and posting webby copy that matches what people are searching for in the moment. It makes sense that Reuters, as a wire service, would do well for in-the-moment news searches. And that BuzzFeed’s search traffic comes overwhelmingly from the non-news side of Google makes sense, given its abundance of evergreen listicles. But you also have sites like Mashable (4%) and Business Insider (5%) in the low-from-Google-News category, and Bloomberg Businessweek (29%) and Newsweek (19%) on the high-from-Google-News end — each of which is the opposite of what I would have expected. So it’s more complicated than it might seem. But the broad majority of sites seem to be in that 5 to 25 percent range — meaning Google News makes up a significant but not overwhelming part of most sites’ search traffic. Check out Sherk’s post to see data on 80 major news sites — both raw totals and the News/non-News split.

“This is new psychological territory, working for publishers within publishers within publishers”


This post is by from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




The Awl’s John Herrman, always smart on the ebbs and flows of online publishing, wrote a smart piece about the increasingly powerlessness of websites in the social media era. His hook is the great Metafilter, one of the web’s earliest community sites, which has to lay off staff because a change in Google’s algorithms turned off a chunk of the site’s traffic. Herrman (emphasis mine):
Metafilter came from two or three internets ago, when a website’s core audience — people showing up there every day or every week, directly — was its main source of visitors. Google might bless a site with new visitors or take them away. Either way, it was still possible for a site’s fundamentals to be strong, independent of extremely large outside referrers. What’s so disconcerting now is that the new sources of readership, the apps and sites people check every day and which lead people to new posts and stories, make up a majority of total readership, and they’re utterly unpredictable (they’re also bigger, always bigger, every new internet is bigger). People still visit sites directly, but less. Sites still link to one another, but with diminishing results. A site that doesn’t care about Facebook will nonetheless come to depend on Facebook, and if Facebook changes how Newsfeed works, or how its app works, a large fraction of total traffic could appear or disappear very quickly.

Of course a website’s fortunes can change overnight. That these fortunes are tied to the whims of a very small group of very large companies, whose interests are only somewhat aligned with those of publishers, however, is sort of new. The publishing opportunity may be bigger today than it’s ever been but the publisher’s role is less glamorous: When did the best sites on the internet, giant and small alike, become anonymous subcontractors to tech companies that operate on entirely different scales? This is new psychological territory, working for publishers within publishers within publishers. The ones at the top barely know you exist! Anyway, internet people, remember this day in five years: It could happen to you, whether you asked for it or not.

Are publishers overselling social traffic at the expense of search? A dialogue with Danny Sullivan


This post is by from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




You may have seen my column yesterday on the rise of content designed for social sharing — a category that for me includes everything from pure-viral outlets like Upworthy to more newsy but still sharing-optimized sites like Quartz.

This was my basic argument: It’s easy to be put off by viral headlines — even in the exact moment you’re clicking them. And I get that. But I argued that even the most Upworthyesque headline is a welcome sign that media companies are getting more comfortable creating content meant for digital platforms — not just taking old forms (the newspaper article, the TV news segment) and shoving them awkwardly into a new medium. Even though there’ll be missteps along the way, I think it’s healthy and a net good that we’re seeing content forms that stray further from what came before.

But one of the other things I mentioned in the column was that, broadly speaking, social traffic was growing in relative importance to publishers, taking over some mental turf that previously belonged to search traffic:

Online news organizations spent the 2000s focusing a lot of energy on search engine optimization — tailoring their content to the needs of Google. Many outlets found that a third to a half of their readers were coming from Google searches, and there was no shortage of consultants promising to boost your stories to the top of those rankings. That led to a lot of journalists sitting through boring SEO training and a lot of keyword-clotted headlines aimed at capturing any stray “I’m Feeling Lucky” it could…

…search declined in importance as a traffic driver because something rose to take its place: social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other networks built their businesses around person-to-person sharing — of what you had for breakfast this morning, yes, but also of news and other online content. Every day, social’s share of online news traffic grows as more and more people get headlines from Twitter on their phones rather than a news website at their desks.

That brought Danny Sullivan to the comments. If you don’t know Danny, you should: The site he runs, Search Engine Land, is the single best source of information on the world of search and a valuable, reported window into what Google is up to on any given day. He didn’t like some of what I wrote:

We had a good back-and-forth in the comments on that post, and so that others can see it, I’m republishing it below.

Danny Sullivan: Social media didn’t rise to take the place of search. That’s a common fallacy, and it’s really one that should be stomped out. It’s the rare publication that will find that its search traffic has dropped over the years.

No, what’s usually the case is that social has emerged as an entirely new source of traffic alongside search and, which for some publications, may drive more traffic than search.

But that didn’t mean search somehow went poof.

Think of it as a pie of traffic. In the past, we have a 6 inch pie that was mostly full of search, maybe 75% of it was search. Social made that pie get bigger, maybe 12%. The “slide” of search as a percentage of the pie might be smaller, but that doesn’t mean the actual amount of traffic dropped.

It’s also a terrible, terrible journalist who comes away thinking that SEO is “boring.” The core part of SEO is understanding how your audience is seeking your content and writing in the words they are searching for.

If you’re writing a story about an important person, subject or concept and fail to use the words that your audience is seeking, you’re potentially missed that audience.

But hey, if people want to think that it’s all about the “you won’t believe” headlines and you can ignore search, there are plenty of search-savvy publications that will gladly take their traffic — along with the social traffic, too. Because you don’t have to be exclusive to one or the other.

Joshua Benton: Danny, I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying. But a few thoughts:

— In most news organizations I know of, SEO gets less emphasis than it used to. Part of that is because the lessons they’ve learned over the past few years still work — they don’t need to keep relearning them. Part of that is that news orgs are putting more emphasis on social and, as a share of *organizational effort* (if not a share of *traffic*), social is up and search is down.

— I think there’s a broad perception in news orgs that social traffic is *more valuable* than search traffic on a pageview-by-pageview basis. If I’m a business selling widgets, I love search traffic, because that’s coming from people specifically searching for widgets — likely with an intent to purchase. But if I’m a news site, a reader “converting” likely doesn’t mean “reader purchases widget.” It means “reader signs up for our daily email,” or “becomes a repeat visitor,” or “signs up for our paywall,” or “follows us on Twitter.” For that kind of a “conversion,” social traffic is more likely to align the user’s interest and what the news org can provide. In other words, search traffic is still quite substantial, but I think most news orgs value it less than they used to.

(There are, of course, exceptions, e.g. Demand Media and others with similar strategies.)

— It’s also just a matter of momentum. Social is growing rapidly. Search didn’t go poof, but it isn’t growing at the same rate as social, which is why it gets more emphasis.

But your points are very well taken. (Although I do still think that a news web optimized for social rather than for search is one I prefer. It’s not an either/or world, but I think social’s ascendancy has, on net, been better for journalism than search’s.)

Danny Sullivan: I see it more like this. It’s not that search is about the person seeking widgets, for a news publisher. It’s for a person seeking content about a specific subject, as opposed to social which is more about discovery.

To put it another way, the search and social readers are like this:

Search: What the hell just happened! Or, I’m interested in some topic and would like to know more. In short, they are active readers.

Social: I’m bored. Entertain me. Oh, that’s interesting. In short, they are passive readers.

I don’t know that social / passive readers convert better than search / active readers. I’ve seen articles that go both ways. If conversion means getting sign-ups to come again, I can see social working better, since someone might want discover more entertaining content from a particular publication, versus the active searcher who might not care what the publication is from day-to-day but just wants the answer.

I also don’t know that news is “optimized” for either search or social. News is optimized for humans, and both the search and social platforms are trying to appeal to the humans that use them. That’s expressly what Google’s algorithms are trying to do — match real human beings with the content they seek, using signals that they think equate to what humans like.

The bulk of what you’ve highlighted here has been more about headlines — and there, you bet, you can have headlines that are more search-oriented than social-oriented. Until recently, those actually could work together. A search-oriented headline didn’t mean shoving in every keyword under the sun. It meant making sure your headline was both compelling from a clickthrough standpoint and also containing descriptions so people understood what it was about.

Upworthy has broken some of that. “Clear Your Next 10 Minutes Because This Video Could Change How Happy You Are With Your Entire Week” doesn’t tell me anything about what’s going on. The chances of it ranking for anything it’s related to a pretty bad — I mean, what the heck is it about?

That’s fine for Upworthy, which probably doesn’t care about the search traffic — unless it turns out that the social traffic dries up. Then it becomes a bigger issue.

And then, as it turns out, that article/post could easily have had a headline that worked in search and a headline that still got the clickbait in social.

Overall, I don’t know that the shift toward social is somehow inherently better for journalism, especially as it might pull away from the focus on good evergreen content that can also do well long-term in search. But I also don’t tend to think we’re writing stories for either / or.

We’re producing journalism which is distributed through channels, as opposed to publications. That’s the fundamental change and the key to understanding how to survive the change.

It’s not “right, here’s how to write for social” any more than it’s “here’s how to write for search.”

Instead, it’s getting that there’s a huge audience out there which wants to consumer news content not by going to a particular publication each day, at a given time, but instead will encounter your journalism through channels you don’t control but can tap into and optimize for.

That means your story needs to be told through YouTube. And written to attract on Twitter. And maybe you want to use Tumblr. And perhaps you need to be better designed for Flipboard. And how can you ensure you are doing better in Google?

That’s what’s to me, potentially good for journalism. That good stories can potentially reach larger audiences than ever before. As you say, it’s healthy that the old formats are being broken. But it’s not healthy to think the new format is somehow “the web” or “social” or “search.” It’s that the new format is always going to be changing, because the new format is wherever the audiences are and how they want to consume.

At the risk of taking the last word (it’s not really the last word, since there’s a comments box below):

— I think it’s absolutely true that news can be optimized for search or for social (or both). “What time is the Super Bowl?” is optimized for search. “Just In Case You Need Help Figuring Out Whether A Dude Is A Real Man, Here’s A Handy Chart” is optimized for social. And that goes beyond headlines, too: Think of how many social-friendly stories are just a single chart or a single paragraph with a video embed. Danny’s right that the two don’t have to conflict by definition, but it certainly seems to me that optimizing for social is where the energy’s at for most publishers I know.

— I think this from Danny is very smart: We’re producing journalism which is distributed through channels, as opposed to publications. That’s the fundamental change and the key to understanding how to survive the change.

— The key missing word in this discussion is mobile. Here’s a single datapoint: A far greater share of my web browsing goes to Google search on desktop than on mobile. I’m far more likely to come across news on my iPhone via a social platform (Twitter, mostly) than in Safari. And while that’s just me, I don’t think I’m alone. Part of the reason is that Twitter/Facebook/et al fit the mobile paradigm so much better than typing URLs or search terms; part of it is the growth of push notifications. If I’m right, the broader push toward mobile devices for content consumption is likely to lead to greater relative social growth vs. search.

— If there’s one thing I do disagree with Danny on, it’s this: Most SEO training in news organizations is really boring. SEO as a subject can be really interesting, at least to nerds like me, but I can’t tell you how many journalists I’ve spoken with whose least energizing day in the newsroom was the day they were told to cram lots of keywords into their headlines. (I remember sitting through one terrible one in 2007 — and I’m into this stuff!) There could be many people to blame for that — bad trainers? curmudgeonly reporters? poor SEO advice? — but I don’t think it’s something I’m making up.

What do you guys think? How do you see the emphasis on search or on social playing out in your news organization? Am I wrong about SEO training being boring? Is your phone changing how much of your browsing is via search or via social? Let us know in the comments.

Photo of Danny Sullivan by Michael Dorausch used under a Creative Commons license.

Don’t write off search traffic just yet


This post is by from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Marshall D. Simmonds of Define Media Group has a useful counter to the idea that social is zooming past search as a source of traffic for publishers. That is how the trend lines are moving, but changes in how Google search gets reported as referrer traffic also play a role in how the numbers are moving.

In essence, taking the fact that most mobile search traffic was incorrectly attributed as “direct” for the majority of 2013, the search numbers above should actually be even higher than we’re reporting here…

Not only is organic search alive and well, but it’s more important than any other external traffic driving source…

Are publishers investing less time in SEO? As the data shows, no. Are publishers investing more time in social? Of course – they’d be foolish not to as social traffic is growing fast. We’re not saying social isn’t growing. Clearly it is…

It’s fair to note that Define Media Group sells SEO services; they do not enter this fight dogless.

What time was the article talking about “What time is the Super Bowl”?


This post is by from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Robinson Meyer had a piece up before last night’s Super Bowl detailing the history of what started as an SEO coup and became a Media Twitter #injoke — “What time is the Super Bowl?”

On February 5, 2011—Super Bowl Saturday—Craig Kanalley noticed that a set of queries were peaking on Google Trends. They were all along the same lines: “what time is the super bowl 2011,” “superbowl time” and “superbowl kickoff time 2011”…

Kanalley worked at the Huffington Post. His title was Trends and Traffic Editor. In those proto-social days, one of Kanalley’s jobs was to watch Google Trends and identify what people were searching for. He then leveraged that information by writing stories about those topics—stories designed to appear near the top of Google’s search results for those popular queries.

He was one of many online writers that year furiously playing the search engine optimization (SEO) game, trying to answer the questions that people were googling about, and, in doing so, getting articles to the top of Google’s major result pages. Hit the Google Jackpot—land a top placement on a result page—and users flooded your page, so many users they sloshed into the rest of the site.

It’s a good story, but I was most intrigued by how Google eventually reacted to the annual spate of what-time-is-the-Super-Bowl queries: by answering the question itself, displaying the right answer above any news outlet’s writeup of it:

I thought of a post I’d written back in 2011 about some comments from Google boss Eric Schmidt about Google’s preference was to provide rather than link to answers.

Some [searcher questions] are complex enough that Google probably wouldn’t be able to give a single definitive answer, the way it can with a database of census data. But it’s not hard to imagine it could provide a Metacritic-like look at the summary critical opinion of the My Morning Jacket record, or an analysis of customer reviews of Malick’s DVDs at Amazon. It could dip into the growing sea of public data about government activity to tell you what happened at city council (and maybe figure out which parts of the agenda were important, based on news stories, community bloggers, and social media traffic). It could gather up articles from high-trust news and government sources on NASA and algorithmically combine them into just as much info as the searcher wants. It’s a shift in the focus of Google’s judgment; websites shift from competitors to be ranked against each other to data sources to be diced and analyzed to figure out an answer.

These things aren’t right around the corner — they quickly get to be really complicated AI problems. But they all point to the fact that Google is working hard to reduce the number of times searchers need to leave google.com to get answers to their questions. For all the times that Google has said it’s not in the content business, it’s not hard to imagine a future where its mission to “organize the world’s information” goes way beyond spidering and linking and into algorithmically processing for answers instead of PageRank.

It’s in this context that I think you can consider Ezra Klein’s new Vox startup a sort of next-level SEO play. (That’s far too limiting a frame to put on it — it’ll be much more than that — but work with me.) When its job listing says rather than letting its “reporting gather dust in an archive, we’ll use it to build and continuously update a comprehensive set of explainers of the topics we cover,” one way to think of that is: We’re going to build answers to questions more complex than what Google can answer.

Whether it’s Twitter (whose Twitter Cards aim to have you look at pictures or watch videos mid-stream) or Reddit (growing in size but sending less traffic) or Google, it seems that every platform that built an audience around the content of others now wants to command a larger share of your attention. For publishers, that may mean it’s time to think about a different kind of search engine optimization.

“I see this as the next CNN”: Jason Calacanis’ Inside.com aims to solve news on mobile devices


This post is by from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




In the 13-plus years since the original ahead-of-its-time Inside.com launched, it’s been part of a Steve Brill mashup, a dead domain, a planned flagship brand that didn’t happen, and a dormant asset waiting to be exploited. For most of that time, tech publishing entrepreneur Jason Calacanis wanted it. He was finally able to snag it from its most recent owner, Guardian News & Media, popping up a placeholder that stayed up longer than expected. Today, the placeholder came off and Inside came back in a guise few would have predicted: a mobile-first general news app and companion site based on OPJ: Other People’s Journalism.

inside-logoIt’s an evolution for Calacanis, whose own history illustrates the past decade’s shifts in tech journalism and the startup culture. He founded Silicon Alley Reporter, hit the blog wave by cofounding and selling Weblogs Inc. to AOL, founded the startup-centric Launch (conference, subscription newsletter, and podcasts), became an angel investor, bet on SEO-centric Mahalo and lost to Google’s Panda update, and then spent two years trying to figure out how to build a Google-proof business.

The new Inside is his multiple-choice answer to that quandary, his theory about the future of news and a desire to leave a media legacy. Calacanis, never a stranger to ambition, wants nothing less than to build his own CNN, but without journalists — save online news vet Gabriel Snyder, the new editor-in-chief.

It’s built on the corporate frame of Mahalo Inc., keeping the investors and the capital structure, but it is not a relaunch of that site. Mahalo.com and its YouTube channel stay in place, generating about $1 million a year without much effort, according to Calacanis. He asked the investors, which include Mark Cuban, Sequoia, News Corp, Burda, CBS, and Elon Musk, whether they wanted their Mahalo money back. They let it ride on Inside. Calacanis says he has enough runway for three years and enough on hand to run Inside as a free app sans advertising for two years without raising more money.

We spoke at length while he demoed the new Inside during the ramp-up to the launch. Here are some lightly edited highlights from that conversation.

Jason Calacanis: We think the majority of consumption of news is going to occur on smartphones in the future, so that means we have to make the world’s best app for news. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

inside-feedTwitter has the tweet as their atomic unit of content. We have something called an update. This is an editorial format I’ve worked on for the past over a year, actually, at Launch Ticker. It then has about 300 characters, or 40 words, which is just enough to fit on a smartphone screen. About 10 facts is what we shoot for. And we aim to link to the best journalism in the world. We have a team of curators summarizing the top 1,000 stories every day [covering] over one thousand topics. Everything is done in a feed format.

Staci D. Kramer: What’s the organization base?
Calacanis: Basically we’re working from the news backwards. What we do is we put each story into what we think is the most obvious topic for it, then we’re saying, “What other two topics would people most interested in drilling down on in this story?” Of course, you can click on any of these and go to the original source.

We don’t see ourselves as the destination. We see ourselves as the curator of the best journalism in the world, so we’re very specifically only linking to the original journalist. We’re training our curators to understand The Huffington Post or Business Insider, which might do 70 to 80 percent aggregation of other people’s content and 20 to 30 percent original, and how to know the difference. So if Business Insider pulls a quote from The New York Times story and we find it on Business Insider, we’re actually going to wind up linking to The New York Times. We see ourselves as an antidote to the sort of middleman role and people rewriting other people’s content. We’re going to really actually do the work to figure out who came up with the original story.

So if you’re somebody who just reblogs everything out there, you’re probably not going to wind up on Inside.com. But if you’re someone who does original journalism, we’re going to drive a lot of traffic to you.

Kramer: The default view for topics now is “All Topics,” alphabetically listed, right?
Calacanis: Yes, it’s not a hierarchy yet. We may as we go on build a hierarchy, like entertainment → movies → independent → documentaries. We’re going with a flat taxonomy to start, because we’re basically tagging each update three times. I would say we’re not going to get that granular. I would say we’re doing the fat tail and the mid tail, but maybe not the longest part of the tail yet.
Kramer: You say you’re going to link to the best journalism. Who’s deciding what’s the best journalism?

Calacanis: That would be Gabriel Snyder. That’s going to be his call, ultimately. He’ll be looking at what the curators do and saying, “Yes, this is the best take on this story.”

We don’t want to have a Techmeme issue — 30 people commenting on a story about Marissa Mayer firing her COO. We want to find out who did the best original coverage of that, and if that’s Kara Swisher, we should be able to discern that with a little bit of work. We’re not going to be able to do that 100 percent of the time. We hope that Gabriel and the team will get it right 95 percent or better of the time, and then when we make a mistake, we hope we get called out in the comments.

That’s why I brought Gabriel on. He’s a much better editor than I would be. I was planning to be editor-in-chief, chief content officer. After showing him as a friend to get his advice, he was really drawn to it and he felt like this was the future of mobile news and that someone needed to build it, get people to the best stuff — as it were, the Pandora of news, the Twitter of topics.

We have 15 full-time people in the company and they’re all technology/product, and we have dozens and dozens of freelance contributors who we call curators.

Kramer: How much time do they put in?
Calacanis: We don’t give out exact details, but it would be part-time.
Kramer: Are they responsible for identifying the sources, or do they work off a list of topics?
Calacanis: We’ve tested a bunch of different ways. We try to hire people who are obviously news junkies, and some of them you don’t have to tell these are top sources. If they have some depth to their news knowledge we bring them on the team. We do also have an ongoing discussion with everybody in the chat room about best sources. Sometimes they can work from a list of our 10 favorite sources for political news, 10 for cool products and architecture — other times we leave it up to them.

That will be Gabriel’s function in the company, to round out and polish the source list and make sure we’re covering. Even without the direction of an e-i-c, we’re two-thirds of the way to having what I’ll call perfect coverage — anything perfect or awesome. That last third is going to be Gabriel’s job, to make sure those stories, as they’re bubbling up, we get them quickly.

We have to get to the story quickly, so we’re actually tracking our time to a story versus CNN’s or Gawker’s or Business Insider’s or The New York Times’. We’re looking at these things in terms of how quickly can we get to something. We have a big advantage in that we’re not doing the original reporting, so we don’t have to write the story about the Boston bombing — we just have to know who got to it first and point to the best sources.

Kramer: You recently switched Launch Ticker, which was an editorial sandbox, to subscription. Is Launch Ticker again the canary in the coal mine?

Calacanis: The Launch Ticker is a very specific audience of people — I would say maybe 100,000 people who are so in to the technology startup business that they need it. And we’ve already reached 700 subscribers on that — so already $70,000 (at $100 a year) of subscription revenue in just a couple of months. I think there is a chance to do this type of curation in a vertical and make it a standalone product. That’s what I was testing with that product — but that product also had native advertising in it, so that might be a better canary in the coal mine for Inside.

But Inside is general news, right? We will get deep into Bitcoin on inside.com/bitcoin — that was part of the reason I coveted the domain name so much and I pursued this domain name for 10 years. It’s a very definitive URL. There are very few chances to have a definitive brand like Inside.

When you think about a topic like Bitcoin — if we did inside.com/bitcoin 18 months ago when it first started coming up, if we had that, we would have had the definitive URL for Bitcoin news. Inside.com/bitcoin would be the place that’s very easy to remember. We also have @inside on Twitter, using the Twitter handle to interact with the audience and again direct people to the best journalism in the world.

We don’t feel there’s a problem with there not being enough good journalism. I personally believe there’s too much bad journalism. If you can get people a view of the best journalism in the world, they’ll have more than enough good stuff to consume. The problem is they have to weed through the five stories on Business Insider or Huffington Post that are kind of slideshows and link-baiting headlines and just plain false headlines to get the one good Nicholas Carlson story.

Kramer: If I wanted you to invest $1 million as an angel in this, what would you tell me?

Calacanis: As an angel investor, I would be very interested. We had one major media company offer to buy on the spot. When one of the top 10 offers to buy, you know you’re onto something.

Nobody’s figured out mobile news. The great thing about mobile it’s going to be a magnitude bigger than the web. Now that we’re in people’s pockets and we’ve learned what they want to do, we’re going to be able to really optimize people’s experience to get them to the great stuff. If they want all of the news, they can go to the all-update feed. If they want news just tailored to them, I think over the next year or two we’re going to really be able to know, hey, Staci really likes media stories and she’s really into The New York Times and she really likes these five entrepreneurs and this is her favorite baseball team — and these are the five or six types of stories she doesn’t want. She doesn’t want Kim Kardashian in her feed, because she’s voted her down twice, so we’ve never going to show it again in my topics.

I would be drawn to it as an investor, but investors generally don’t like content, which is why I’ve structured it as a platform company. We are not doing the original journalism. Again, even though we write these 300-word updates, these are done by a freelance workforce and we have a 15-person company. I’ve modeled it in a way after Instagram or other small product-based platform companies. We are definitely a technology company and we do some content, but it’s done as a large-scale distributed workforce like Mahalo had or just like Weblogs Inc. had. This is my third time building a large-scale distributed workforce.

Kramer: Are you taking outside investment?
Calacanis: Not right now. BlackBerry invested in the company right before we launched, and we haven’t discussed how much or what valuation. BlackBerry felt it was important to be on the platform, so we took an investment with them, did a partnership with them. The existing investors from Mahalo are the investors in Inside, so it’s it’s the same cap table, same corporate structure — we just sunset Maholo.

For people who are interested in the history, Mahalo became the 140th largest site in the United States, it had 50-60 million uniques in the top month, it was doing a $10 million AdSense run rate at the peak. It was pretty significant. The company hit profitability and we had over 100 employees. When the Panda update came, just like Google made Rap Genius disappear, they really took more than 50 percent of our traffic. They wouldn’t give us any relief, so I realized this was not a sustainable business. I went out and tried two or three different businesses.

We still have some traffic and assets. Some Mahalo assets still make $1 million a year, so you can’t just turn them off, but I don’t think building an SEO-driven business works any more. I don’t think you can really rely on Google not to steal your business like they did to Yelp and others. I basically tried to come up with a business idea that was what I will call Google-proof.

To make a Google-proof company, I wanted to have a killer brand that people would remember and come to like — a product so compelling that it has a repeatable effect. The problem at Mahalo or eHow is you use it for two hours to get your baking recipe, then you don’t use it again for two months — then you use it again for putting up curtains. You really rely on people going to Google.

With news, people will go directly to a site, which makes it impervious to Google. And the app ecosystem is also impervious to Google. They can’t control apps even though they have a big footprint in Android, nor have they shown a propensity to control the app ecosystem on Android. I think they would get a revolt on their hands if they did. We’re also adding an email component to this.

So email, social, and apps are three things that Google can’t control. This is very social — people will share. It’s mobile — Google can’t control that. The email function Google moderately can control.

I was a little agitated about that turn of events — I had to lay off 75 full-time writers after that Google update. I took a lot of those lessons. I picked myself up, and the team, and said, “Let’s solve this problem.”

This isn’t an SEO strategy, it’s an app strategy. We think once you have the app on your phone, you’re going to keep going back to it.

Kramer: Where’s the money in this?
Calacanis: If you look at this feed, it will probably remind you of the Twitter feed or Instagram. The update format would be perfect for native advertising. What I think will be the model is to let advertisers insert updates, then pay to promote them — obviously clearly labeled. If we get any kind of consumption here, the revenue model is baked in.

People can just buy native ads by topic. If you want to market people who are into Sundance, you can be the second or third card on Sundance.

We’re going to get people enough to get them going, but if you’re really a movie fan and you see that story about Avatar, you’re going to want to click through and get all the details, especially if it’s a high-quality journalism site.

We see ourselves kind of analogous to how Google used to run, which was Google would give you a great overview of places to go on the web and then drive a lot of traffic instead of keeping the traffic for themselves, which is their model now.

Kramer: What makes you different than Circa or Breaking News or Yahoo News Digest?
Calacanis: I think there’s a lot of activity around news because nobody’s won the mobile space. If you ask people, and I did this last year, what do you use for news on your phone, the most common answer I got was Twitter.

We started a year before Circa with the Launch Ticker. I looked at the Yahoo thing and it’s kind of just summaries. I think it’s automated by computers. I’ve tested all the semantic software and it doesn’t work, I don’t believe. I think a human has to read the story, understand the story, and write the summary.

We’ll figure out who the winner of the news space is in two or three years.

Kramer: Do you have the money?
Calacanis: We have three years of runway. We don’t have to put any ads on for two years or raise money.

Nobody’s come close to figuring it out. Some people, like Circa, have done a great job. I’m a small investor in Circa. Circa’s not going to do 1,000 updates a day. We’ll actually link to their summaries, which are pretty good — which is kind of meta.

Kramer: What kind of following do you need to gain critical mass for this app?
Calacanis: For me, I always look at any project I make trying to be in the top 200 sites. In terms of in the App Store, we need to be in the top 10 in the first year. If we can be in the top 200 sites in maybe three years, and in the top 10 news apps in a year, that would be a good starting point. Year one, if we were in the top 500 sites in the U.S., that would be good. I’ve built a lot of big lasting brands — Engadget, Autoblog, Joystiq, Launch are still going.

This is like the media brand I always wanted to create. At Weblogs Inc., we almost did this, but the bloggers wanted to have their own brand names. They didn’t want to be gadgets.weblogsinc.com. They wanted to be Engadget. The Engadget people really didn’t want to interface with the Joystiq people, with the Autoblog people. They had their own little islands. What I’m trying to build here is one app that unites all content based on topics and that learns what you like over time.

Kramer: If you were starting Launch Ticker now, would it be inside.com/tech?
Calacanis: Inside.com/startups. The Launch Ticker is really about inside baseball in the technology industry, whereas inside.com/tech would be more like the Wall Street Journal technology column — all technology, as opposed to VCs. That’s the kind of hardcore B2B stuff I think we’ll get to eventually, but we’re general news today. We’re not going after the B2B verticals, although I wouldn’t rule that out for the future.

The line between what is industry news and consumer news has blurred. Steve Jobs told me face to face that Engadget was his favorite gadget site and that he read it every day. So we were servicing Steve Jobs and the industry at the same time as the people Steve Jobs was selling to.

Kramer: Where does Launch Festival fit in with this? Do you see yourself doing Inside conferences?
Calacanis: Launch is a separate company actually. It has nine people working for it. It’s based in San Francisco. I own it, but there’s a CEO and a whole team over there. In a way, Launch is one vertical of what Inside could eventually be.

We don’t have plans to do conferences, but I do like them, so it’s possible. But I really think we’re going to have our hands full trying to win mobile news on apps, and that’s where 100 percent of our focus will be for the next two years. We just want to be the best starting point for news needs. We want to be the starting point. If you start with us, we’re not going to waste your time and we’re going to get you to the best stuff.

Kramer: How much of an investment does it take to do something like this for two years — for more than two years, since you’ve already been doing it for 18 months?
Calacanis: If you want to build a really great product today in the media business on this scale, you probably have to invest low millions of dollars — $2 or $3 million a year for two to three years would be a pretty good estimate. When you compare that to the last big Condé Nast magazine, Portfolio, that was like $30 million [actually over $100 million —Ed.] and it failed. Time Inc., Condé Nast, and Hearst, when they launch a publication, it’s typically $10 to 30 million. Launching a cable channel is a $50 million effort.

Today, to launch a decent blog, it’s a million-dollar effort. If you don’t spend a million in two-three years, I don’t expect it to reach any level of prominence. It’s a fraction of when I started in the business. You’d have to have 100 people. Now you can build something with 15 people that’s extraordinary, because so much of the infrastructure’s there. You have Business Insider, which is worth $200 million, Huffington Post worth $350 million when they sold.

Kramer: If Business Insider was worth $200 million, do you think they’d still own it?
Calacanis: No, but it’s definitely worth $100 million. I think it’s probably reasonable for Business Insider to be worth $100 million; $200 million would be very high and $150 million probably would be fair or okay. Basically, a pretty good rule of thumb is for every million uniques you have probably $5 million in market cap, maybe $10 million.

If you have one million uniques a month, you’re probably worth $5 million to the right person. If you have 10 million in the U.S., you’re probably worth $100 million.

I did okay with my angel portfolio, and I’ve done very well with Weblogs Inc., so I really don’t need the money from this. I’m doing this because I want to build the brand of my career. I’m 43 years old. I’m very proud of the brand I’ve built. But I want to build my own CNN, and I see this as the next CNN. That’s really what I’m optimizing for as an entrepreneur. This is my legacy.

I want to build the brand that is the most beautiful and loved news brand in the world.

This isn’t a quick flip for me. I’ve already had a couple of hits. I don’t need to sell it. I need to build something extraordinary, and that’s what I’m optimizing for.

Kramer: CNN has over the years had an enormous amount of original content and is known for its own journalism and reporting — sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. When Ted Turner left, CNN was doing expensive documentaries on the Cold War. How do you compare what you’re doing at Inside to something that is based on original content?
Calacanis: That’s a great question. I think high-high-high-end curation is in and of itself an act of creation. I know some people might disagree with that, but if you do truly great curation of what’s going on the world, I think it can become the actual destination.

If you look at what Matthew Keys did during the Boston bombing, he was the best person to follow during that. He made mistakes and he may be a polarizing individual, but he was a really good person to follow during that.

With so much rabid consumer participation in media and a really great foundation of great journalism going on in the world, the person who can curate that and put it into a feed or product that really speaks to a person is actually creating something. I’m a writer myself and a former journalist, so I know that sounds crazy, but I think that’s what the world needs today. Does that mean we’re not ever going to do original reporting? It’s possible we could. If we saw a category where we said nobody’s covering SeaWorld or Bitcoin, it’s possible we could hire a journalist or freelancer to cover that beat for us, sure. The difference between a curator and a journalist is really one of intent.

I think our success will be largely based on our ability to get rid of noise. Can we not have any spam or not have any reblogging, and can we keep people really focused?

Kramer: Why not go the automated route that Trove started out using?
Calacanis: I tried it. It doesn’t work. It was actually part of our trial. About six months ago, we pulled in automatically three different news sources. I won’t say which ones, because I don’t want to diss them, but when I looked at the results, the quality wasn’t there. I truly believe a human needs to read the story and maybe read two or three stories, write the update, and link to the best one. I don’t think it can be done with machines, at least not the machines we have today.

Ten years from now, 20 years from now, when artificial intelligence takes a huge jump, fine — but I would rather spend the money on the journalists and have the algorithm do the customization. I think that’s a better combination. The Summly team, they have a different approach. They think that using a computer to summarize is a better choice. At the end of the day we’ll see who has a better product, which one people are going to use more. I think our model is going to be better. I think Circa proves that.

Kramer: You’re trying audio conversion of text on Launch Ticker now?
Calacanis: That’s a test. I’ve really embraced the minimum viable product lean startup approach. We’re testing SpokenLayer for two months, asking our paying customers if that’s something they want.

I think there are many chances for us to do additional content [at Inside] if we can get a base of 10,000 to 100,000 daily interactive users.

Oneflare pops up again when it comes to spammy SEO


This post is by from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




This piece by Brendan O’Connor at The Awl notes the boomlet in requests by spammers to unspam the websites they’ve spammily spammed.

To summarize: Some on the scummier side of the SEO business filled up the web’s comment sections with links to their clients in an attempt to game Google. Google changed its policies and made those old links, in some cases, harmful to a site’s prominence in search. So now the spammers (or their successors) are left trying to clean up a mess of their own creation.

As is often the case, one SEO person is undoing the previous work of long-gone SEO people…

“We needed to delete all of the bad links,” he said. “It was a big list—a few thousand, even ten thousand links. We just moved one by one: this is a toxic link, we need to delete it; this is a good, natural link.”

In the comments, Danny Sullivan has a useful corrective to some problems with the article — as he notes, this attempt to clean up the spammy mess has been going on for a while now, thanks to some past Google policy changes — but the real reason I’m linking is this section:

My favorite are the emails from OneFlare.com.au.

“We have discovered that a company we hired to help promote our website have used a variety of questionable techniques to secure links,” Selena Le wrote on October 20th. “These links were placed purely for SEO purposes, with the intention of manipulating search rankings.”

“We have discovered that a company we hired to help promote our website have used a variety of questionable techniques to secure links,” Nick Chernih wrote on December 5th. “These links were placed purely for SEO purposes, with the intention of manipulating search rankings.”

You don’t say.

“The presence of these links is harmful to our site’s good standing with search engines,” the good people from Oneflare.com.au each wrote. “Unfortunately, retaining them may also be potentially harmful to your own website’s reputation.

Oneflare! Recent readers will know that Oneflare, an Australian startup, is the company that purchased the expired domain name of the Online Journalism Review (OJR.org) and turned it into a spamblog, stealing OJR’s archives and lifting the logos of USC and USC Annenberg in order to make it seem legit. Eventually, after my stories ran, Oneflare apologized, blamed it on a black-hat SEO consultant they’d hired, and donated the domain back to USC. And hey, good on them for that.

But this would indicate Oneflare got deeper into the search-gaming sphere than I knew about. On October 20, the company apparently knew enough about what had been done in its name to go on a link-cleaning spree. But as of November 1, OJR.org hadn’t yet been turned into a spamblog. That only happened sometime later that month. (I noticed it on the 15th, but it may have been up for a few days before then.)

So Oneflare built the OJR spamblog after it had already started sending out “we screwed up, please undo the SEO damage for us” emails to websites.

If you’re curious, this appears to be the Nick Chernih mentioned; his Twitter bio says he’s an “Aspiring SEO-er from Sydney,” and his feed has links related to link-spamming:

OJR.org: Google’s punishment and the perils of blackhat SEO


This post is by from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




ojr-2002-tiny-screenshotI hope you’ve been following the saga of OJR.org, the former home of the Online Journalism Review. In brief: When USC allowed the domain name to expire, an Australian company named Oneflare snagged the domain name and proceeded to create a fake version of the “Online Journalism Review” — adding USC and USC Annenberg logos to make it seem legit, stealing dozens or hundreds of archival OJR stories to give it heft, and generally being scummy enough to act as if it was still the legendary site that’s been around since the late 1990s.

After my first story, Oneflare did its best to take down the legally actionable parts of its scheme — removing the logos, deleting the archives — but still carried on as the “Online Journal Review,” featuring links back to the main Oneflare website. This is a common if scuzzy search engine optimization strategy: Use sites with high PageRank sites (those Google considers highly legit) to generate links to your company’s website, passing some of the Google juice earned over 15 years of publishing to the new venture. After my second story, Oneflare removed all the content from OJR.org; it’s currently a blank site.

Thanks to a little birdie, we know now that there have been consequences for Oneflare’s actions.

This thread in Google’s Webmaster Central forums tells the tale of someone named “hubfub” who has recently felt the wrath of Google’s punishment for SEO bad behavior. His post from Sunday (U.S. time, Monday in Australia):

My website received a sitewide manual action for unnatural inbound links back in July. We were able to get this revoked in August by removing about 50% of the links and disavowing the rest.

We recently hired a new SEO agency to work for us and last week they advised us to buy an high PR expired domain and put a “quality blog” on there and use it to make a link to our website. They told us that this was 100% whitehat (obviously it’s not as we are now aware). ["Whitehat" = legitimate search engine optimization; "blackhat" = scammy stuff that Google will punish if it finds out about. —Ed.]

I think this blog triggered our domain for another manual review and we were hit again with another sitewide manual action. I was surprised because other than buying that expired domain, we hadn’t done any other spammy link building since the last manual action was revoked. However after looking into webmaster tools and going to recent links I noticed that there were tons of spammy links that were built 3-6 months ago that were recently being indexed by Google.

My question is, does the the new indexation of the bad links that were built ages ago still get counted when Google is considering whether or not to take manual action? Obviously we’ve taken down the new blog that was built but what else can we do to get the second manual action revoked?

A Google “manual action” means that the search giant detected sketchy SEO behavior and decided to dock the site:

While Google relies on algorithms to evaluate and constantly improve search quality, we’re also willing to take manual action on sites that use spammy techniques, such as demoting them or even removing them from our search results altogether.

So who is the “hubfub” facing this punishment? Well, @hubfub on Twitter is Adam Dong, the CTO of Oneflare. And later on in that thread, Mister Hubfub notes that Oneflare.com.au is the website he’s worried about protecting. Dong also tweeted a plea for help at two of Google’s chief SEO staffers Sunday, too:

(Full disclosure: After I saw that Oneflare’s spammed-up OJR post were still showing up as legitimate news articles in Google News, I contacted someone I know at Google to make sure they knew about it — so it’s entirely possible I triggered the manual review.)

Dong said in that thread that this is the message he got from Google:

Unnatural links to your site

Google has detected a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to pages on this site. These may be the result of buying links that pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.

In other words: Google saw what they were doing with OJR, caught them, and punished them by demoting them in search results. (One way to see this: search for one flare with a space. At this writing, nine of the top 10 sites in the results are about Oneflare. But none of them are the Oneflare site itself. In fact, the Nieman Lab tag page for Oneflare ranked higher than Oneflare itself. The Oneflare homepage hasn’t been removed entirely from search, though; it’s still the top result for a search on “oneflare” itself.)

Dong’s fellow webmasters, posting in that Google discussion thread, didn’t seem to have much sympathy for his plight. Here’s a sampling:

lol another fraud “whitehat” SEO strikes again…

Feel free to name the Expert who suggested this amazing strategy so we can all point and laugh and try to protect other honest businesses from their flimflam.

For any website it would be borderline suicidal, for one with a recent Manual Action for unnatural links… Just… wow…

I’m suspicious of that claim. He’s been buying links off of warrior forum. “Penguin proof” links. Methinks he probably knows what he did and if he doesn’t, then he should probably quit the IM [Internet marketing] industry and go bag groceries…

The Warrior Forum referenced is this site, which serves as a sort of back-alley hangout for blackhat SEO types. User hubfub has posted there 29 times (sample: “Hi there, I recently purchased a bunch of expired domains and set up new blogs on them”). And on a number of occasions, he appears to have bought backlinks from higher-value websites to send more juice Oneflare’s way. (Click to enlarge.)

oneflare-hubfub-warriorforum

In other words, it’s hard for Oneflare to play the innocent here. Its CTO was already busy buying up fake links in the dark corners of the web more than a year ago. It’s apparently been caught by Google this year for bad dealings and punished — only to get back at it again. They had this coming. (The only area where Oneflare really was unlucky was in picking a website that I happened to care about.)

The SEO damage may be bad enough that Oneflare could be looking to change domains entirely. A few hours ago, user hubfub posted again:

Hi there, I have a question relating to redirecting, for example abc.com to abc.co.uk

abc.com has a ton of crappy links and obviously I do not want to 301 or 302 this to abc.co.uk as i do NOT want the link juice or pagerank to pass.

However we do still have a lot of users that would organically type in abc.com

No idea if this is the plan, but Dong also owns oneflare.net.

If you enjoy irony, you’ll appreciate that Dong wrote a piece last month for the Sydney Morning Herald. The headline? “Five simple tips for a good SEO strategy: What’s the best way to get your web site to the top of internet search lists?” One of his pieces of wisdom: “External links are important for SEO because as far as a search engine is concerned, these are considered an endorsement of your site, increasing your ranking power and making your site more visible.”

I imagine Tip #6 wasn’t “Do enough bad stuff for Google to drop the hammer on you.”

One of my favorite stories from the earlier days of the web is the tale of nigritude ultramarine.

Every so often, SEO types hold a contest to see who can build up the most SEO juice around a particular phrase in a given period of time — to see who can earn the top search result when someone looks up those words. It’s best if that phrase doesn’t already exist anywhere on the web, so a nonsense phrase like nigritude ultramarine works well. In 2004, that magic phrase was announced, and everyone had a couple of months to start gaming search engines.

Lots of competitors tried lots of tricks. A search for “nigritude ultramarine” returned zero results before the contest; it returned more than 200,000 afterward. But, in the end, the winner wasn’t an SEO consultant; it was Anil Dash, the popular blogger, who wrote a single post with that phrase as its title and simply asked his fans to link to it. “I’d rather see a real blog win than any of the fake sites that show up on that search result right now,” he wrote.

While SEO types were polluting the web with links, Dash took the prize with a single post — because he’d built up credibility through writing good content for years, and because he had actual human readers who were willing to support his efforts. I always thought of that win as a triumph for real humanity on the web.

What’s the best way to get ranked high in Google? Write good content. Be good enough that real humans like you.

As Dash told Wired back in 2004 after his victory:

“A lot of people are trying to increase their page rank unethically,” said Dash. “I think if we show them (that) the best thing you can do is to write really good material, then hopefully, they’ll spend their time doing that (instead of) spending time coming up with ways to graffiti other people’s pages.”

OJR.org: An opportunity to watch a spamblog be built in real time


This post is by from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




ojr-2002-tiny-screenshotIn case you didn’t see my story posted late in the day yesterday, the Online Journalism Review — a 15-year-old chronicler of the evolution of digital journalism — has been turned into a spamblog. All the details are at the original article, but the basics are these: USC Annenberg, which ran OJR, forgot to renew their domain name. It was grabbed by someone named Marcus Lim, CEO of an Australian startup called Oneflare, who proceeded to turn it into a fake version of the Online Journalism Review — pretending to still be part of USC, stealing dozens or hundreds of copyrighted OJR articles, and generally being a jerk. Why? All to promote its products through better search engine optimization.

In the hours since my story went up, there’ve been a few updates.

— I received a statement from USC Annenberg about the snafu:

USC Annenberg is taking steps to regain control of Online Journalism Review, after the domain of OJR.org was allowed to lapse earlier this month. We’re proud of the investment we’ve made into the news outlet over the years — and of all the work so many talented writers and editors have put into it — and hope to continue ownership of it in the future.

— Oneflare, probably rightfully scared of the litigation it would otherwise be asking for, removed the legally dubious material from OJR.org. They removed the OJR archive stories and the USC logos and changed the site name from “Online Journalism Review” to “Online Journal Review,” whatever that means. So the site is now solely a spamblog, rather than a spamblog cloaked in an old journalism website. Progress, maybe?

— We have some evidence for what price OJR.org went for. The domain was put up for auction at NameJet (“The Premier Aftermarket Domain Name Service”) after it was allowed to lapse. This roundup of domain sales from November 6 reveals the price it went for: $19,100.

ojr-domain-sale-screenshot

(Wow.)

OJR.org had also been listed in October on a list of high-value expired domains — high value because it had been registered back in 1997, which gives it better Google juice.

— Perhaps because it’s hard to step away from a $19,100 purchase, OJR.org continues to evolve as a spamblog. It’s actually a rare opportunity to watch a spamblog be built in real time — normally you only find them after they’ve been doing their dark magic for a while.

Along with the original article promoting Oneflare, Lim (or whoever’s running the backend) has added five new articles to give the illusion of a real site. (Something had to take the place of all those old OJR stories, I imagine.) The stories don’t have spammy links yet, but they are artificially backdated (as far back as 2011) to give the illusion of a long-existing website. (They also look like algorithmically altered versions of existing stories — weird synonyms subbed in where they should be, for instance — but I couldn’t find any original versions with a few quick searches.)

— There’s one other side benefit to building a spamblog on an old news brand like OJR: OJR content is whitelisted into Google News. So, for instance, one of the new spam articles is about the Garmin Forerunner 610. Search for “garmin” on Google News and look what the third result is:

garmin-ojr-screenshot

That means the main work to be done now is Google’s. It needs to remove OJR from Google News, and it needs to eliminate the PageRank advantage that the old site built up for the new one. From there, it’s USC’s move on what to do with those remarkable disappeared archives.

OJR.org: An opportunity to watch a spamblog be built in real time


This post is by from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




ojr-2002-tiny-screenshotIn case you didn’t see my story posted late in the day yesterday, the Online Journalism Review — a 15-year-old chronicler of the evolution of digital journalism — has been turned into a spamblog. All the details are at the original article, but the basics are these: USC Annenberg, which ran OJR, forgot to renew their domain name. It was grabbed by someone named Marcus Lim, CEO of an Australian startup called Oneflare, who proceeded to turn it into a fake version of the Online Journalism Review — pretending to still be part of USC, stealing dozens or hundreds of copyrighted OJR articles, and generally being a jerk. Why? All to promote its products through better search engine optimization.

In the hours since my story went up, there’ve been a few updates.

— I received a statement from USC Annenberg about the snafu:

USC Annenberg is taking steps to regain control of Online Journalism Review, after the domain of OJR.org was allowed to lapse earlier this month. We’re proud of the investment we’ve made into the news outlet over the years — and of all the work so many talented writers and editors have put into it — and hope to continue ownership of it in the future.

— Oneflare, probably rightfully scared of the litigation it would otherwise be asking for, removed the legally dubious material from OJR.org. They removed the OJR archive stories and the USC logos and changed the site name from “Online Journalism Review” to “Online Journal Review,” whatever that means. So the site is now solely a spamblog, rather than a spamblog cloaked in an old journalism website. Progress, maybe?

— We have some evidence for what price OJR.org went for. The domain was put up for auction at NameJet (“The Premier Aftermarket Domain Name Service”) after it was allowed to lapse. This roundup of domain sales from November 6 reveals the price it went for: $19,100.

ojr-domain-sale-screenshot

(Wow.)

OJR.org had also been listed in October on a list of high-value expired domains — high value because it had been registered back in 1997, which gives it better Google juice.

— Perhaps because it’s hard to step away from a $19,100 purchase, OJR.org continues to evolve as a spamblog. It’s actually a rare opportunity to watch a spamblog be built in real time — normally you only find them after they’ve been doing their dark magic for a while.

Along with the original article promoting Oneflare, Lim (or whoever’s running the backend) has added five new articles to give the illusion of a real site. (Something had to take the place of all those old OJR stories, I imagine.) The stories don’t have spammy links yet, but they are artificially backdated (as far back as 2011) to give the illusion of a long-existing website. (They also look like algorithmically altered versions of existing stories — weird synonyms subbed in where they should be, for instance — but I couldn’t find any original versions with a few quick searches.)

— There’s one other side benefit to building a spamblog on an old news brand like OJR: OJR content is whitelisted into Google News. So, for instance, one of the new spam articles is about the Garmin Forerunner 610. Search for “garmin” on Google News and look what the third result is:

garmin-ojr-screenshot

That means the main work to be done now is Google’s. It needs to remove OJR from Google News, and it needs to eliminate the PageRank advantage that the old site built up for the new one. From there, it’s USC’s move on what to do with those remarkable disappeared archives.

Some digging by The New York Times strikes a blow against those skeezy mugshot sites


This post is by from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Over the weekend, the Times published David Segal’s look at mugshot sites — the ones that gather publicly available mugshots from around the country, publish them with the arrestee’s name and charge attached, and then offer to take them down for the right amount of money. (They’re pretty evil.)

We’ve written about them before, because however close their activities may seem to blackmail, they also intersect with traditional journalism — which, after all, publishes mugshots all the time, albeit without the hundred-bucks-to-clear-your-name-in-Google twist. Some legal approaches to pushing back against mugshot sites also threaten journalism.

Anyway, aside from producing a good story, Segal’s poking around seems to have resulted in some action, from Google (whose search algorithms have previously given a certain prominence to mugshot sites) to the payment processors through whom the money flows:

[Google introduced an] algorithm change sometime on Thursday. The effects were immediate: on Friday, two mug shots of Janese Trimaldi, which had appeared prominently in an image search, were no longer on the first page. For owners of these sites, this is very bad news…

Asked two weeks ago about its policies on mug-shot sites, officials at MasterCard spent a few days examining the issue, and came back with an answer. “We looked at the activity and found it repugnant,” said Noah Hanft, general counsel with the company. MasterCard executives contacted the merchant bank that handles all of its largest mug-shot site accounts and urged it to drop them as customers. “They are in the process of terminating them,” Mr. Hanft said.

PayPal came back with a similar response after being contacted for this article…

American Express and Discover were contacted on Monday and, two days later, both companies said they were severing relationships with mug-shot sites…

On Friday, Mr. D’Antonio of JustMugshots was coping with a drop in Web traffic and, at the same time, determining which financial services companies would do business with him. “We’re still trying to wrap our heads around this,” he said.

Some aren’t completely at ease with search engines and payment companies holding such sway over a website’s success or failure:

I take that point, but I’d also note that Google and MasterCard making these moves is in many ways preferable to misguided legislative attempts that could hurt legitimate journalism as well.

Google is getting even tougher on sites that abuse links, says report


This post is by Jeff John Roberts from paidContent


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Google created a minor shockwave last April when it introduced a new tool that caused millions of websites to tumble in its search listings. The tool, known as the Penguin algorithm, punishes sites that attempt to use dubious linking tactics  in order to increase their visibility. Now, a new report suggests that the company is applying the punishments with increasing severity.

According to a study by Portent, an internet marketing firm, Google is steadily decreasing the number of manipulative links it will tolerate before it downgrades a site. When Google first introduced Penguin, the algorithm would permit 80 percent of a site’s incoming links to be spammy before it took action; that number then dropped to 65 percent and then 50 percent by the end of 2012 (which is end range of the study).

To come up with the findings, Portent examined thousands of incoming links for 50 major websites, and the effect those links had on sites’ prominence in search listings.

If the findings are correct, the upshot is that companies will have to be even more cautious about search engine optimization (SEO) tactics that rely on external links. These links are one signal that Google uses to decide if a site is popular, which has led some companies to acquire non-organic links through trade, purchase or other means. In one famous example, JC Penney used SEO tricks to appear as the top search listing for a wide range of terms, including “bedding” and “area rugs” before Google took action.

In some cases, it may be unfair for a site to be punished for outside links — particularly, if they have control over the sites that are linking to them. To prevent this, Google offers a “disavow” tool that sites can use to indicate that they don’t want particular links to considered as part of their search score.




Nick Diakopoulos: Understanding bias in computational news media


This post is by Nick Diakopoulos from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Consider Google News. Launched in 2002, it was one of the first attempts to aggregate and personalize news with algorithms — that is, step-by-step procedures that systematically process information. It even bragged on its homepage: “This page was generated entirely by computer algorithms without human editors. No humans were harmed or even used in the creation of this page.”

The Google News algorithm lists its criteria for ranking and grouping news articles as frequency of appearance, source, freshness, location, relevance, and diversity. Millions of times a day, the Google News algorithm is making editorial decisions using these criteria.

But in the systematic application of its decision criteria, the algorithm might be introducing bias that is not obvious given its programming. It can be easy to succumb to the fallacy that, because computer algorithms are systematic, they must somehow be more “objective.” But it is in fact such systematic biases that are the most insidious since they often go unnoticed and unquestioned.

Even robots have biases.

Any decision process, whether human or algorithm, about what to include, exclude, or emphasize — processes of which Google News has many — has the potential to introduce bias. What’s interesting in terms of algorithms though is that the decision criteria available to the algorithm may appear innocuous while at the same time resulting in output that is perceived as biased.

For example, unless directly programmed to do so, the Google News algorithm won’t play favorites when picking representative articles for a cluster on a local political campaign — it’s essentially non-partisan. But one of its criteria for choosing articles is “frequency of appearance.” That may seem neutral — but if one of the candidates in that race consistently got slightly more media coverage (i.e. higher “frequency of appearance”), that criterion could make Google News’ output appear partisan.

Algorithms may lack the semantics for understanding higher-order concepts like stereotypes or racism — but if, for instance, the simple and measurable criteria they use to exclude information from visibility somehow do correlate with race divides, they might appear to have a racial bias.

Simple decision criteria that lead to complex inclusion and exclusion decisions are one way that bias, often unwittingly, can manifest in algorithms. Other mechanisms through which algorithms introduce bias into news media can be illustrated by considering the paramount information process of summarization.

Summarizing reality

In a sense, reporting is really about summarizing reality. You might protest: “It’s also about narrative and storytelling!” — and you’d be right, since few things are more boring as a dry summary. But before the story, the reporter has to first make decisions about which events to include, what context can safely be excluded, and what to emphasize as truly mattering — all of which have the potential to tint the story with bias. Reporters observe the world and uncover a range of information, only to later prune it down to some interesting yet manageable subset that fits the audience’s available time and attention. That’s summarization.

Summarization is important because time and attention are two of the defining commodities of our age. Most of us don’t want or need the intricate details of every story; we’re often happy to instead have a concise overview of an event. This need to optimize attention and save us from the information glut is driving new innovations in how information gets processed and summarized, both in editorial processes as well as new computing algorithms.

Circa is a startup in San Francisco working on an editorial process and mobile app which summarizes events into a series of “points” or factoids. They employ editors to collect “facts from a variety of sources” and convert them into “concise, easy-to-read ‘points’ in Circa,” as explained in their app’s help pages. To be fair, Circa thinks of themselves less as summarizers and more as storytellers who add value by stringing those concise “points” into a sequence that builds a story. The approach they use is driven by editors and is, of course, subject to all of the ways in which bias can enter into an editorial process, including both individual and organizational predilections.

But what if Circa started adding algorithms which, instead of relying on editors, made decisions automatically about which points to include or exclude? They might start looking a bit more like London-based startup Summly, which has a new reading app populated with “algorithmically generated summaries from hundreds of sources.” Summly works by choosing the most “important” sentences from an article and presenting those as the summary. But how might this algorithm start to introduce bias into the stories it outputs, for instance, through its definition of “important”? In a story about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, say, is it possible their algorithm might disproportionately select sentences that serve to emphasize one side over the other?

We may never know how Summly’s algorithms might give rise to bias in the summaries produced; it’s a proprietary and closed technology which underscores the need for transparency in algorithms. But we can learn a lot about how summarization algorithms work and might introduce bias by studying more open efforts, such as scholarly research.

I spoke to Jeff Nichols, a manager and research staff member at IBM Research, who’s built a system for algorithmically summarizing sporting events based on just the tweets that people post about them. Nichols, a sports enthusiast, was really getting into the World Cup in 2010 when he started plotting the volume of tweets over time for the different games. He saw spikes in the volume and quickly started using his ad hoc method to help him find the most exciting parts of a game to fast forward to on his DVR. Volume spikes naturally occur around rousing events — most dramatically, goals.

From there, Nichols and his team started asking deeper questions about what kinds of summaries they could actually produce from tweets. What they eventually built was a system that could process all of the tweets around a game, find the peaks in tweet activity, select key representative tweets during those peaks, and then splice together those tweets into short summaries. They found that the output of their algorithm was of similar quality to that of manually generated summaries (also based on tweets) when rated on dimensions of readability and grammaticality.

The IBM system highlights a particular bias that can creep into algorithms though: Any bias in the data fed into the algorithm gets carried through to the output of the system. Nichols describes the bias as “whoever yells the loudest,” since their relatively simple algorithm finds salient tweets by looking at the frequency of key terms in English. The implications are fairly straightforward: If Slovenia scores on a controversial play against the U.S., the algorithm might output “The U.S. got robbed” if that’s the predominant response in the English tweets. But presumably that’s not what the Slovenians tweeting about the event think about the play. It’s probably something more like, “Great play — take that U.S.!” (In Slovenian of course). Nichols is interested in how they might adapt their algorithm to take advantage of different perspectives and generate purposefully biased summaries from different points of view. (Could be a hit with cable news!)

In making decisions about what to include or exclude in a summary, algorithms usually have to go through a step which prioritizes information. Things with a lower priority get excluded. The IBM system, for example, is geared towards “spiky” events within sports. This generally works for finding the parts of a game that are most exciting and which receive a lot of attention. But there are other interesting stories simmering below the threshold of “spikiness.” What about the sweeper who played solid and consistent defense but never had a key play that garnered enough tweets to get detected by the algorithm? That part of the event, of the story, would be left out.

The IBM algorithm not only prioritizes information but it also has to make selections based on different criteria. Some of these selections can also be encoded as heuristics, which the algorithm’s creators embed to help the algorithm make choices. For instance, the IBM system’s programmers set the algorithm to prefer longer rather than shorter tweets for the summary, since the shorter tweets tended to be less-readable sentence fragments. That’s certainly a defensible decision to make, but Nichols acknowledges it could also introduce a bias: “Not picking comments from people who tend not to write in complete sentences could perhaps exclude an undereducated portion of the population.” This highlights the issue that the criteria chosen by programmers for selection or prioritization may correlate with other variables (e.g. education level) that could be important from a media bias point of view.

Beyond summarization: optimization, ranking, aggregation

Summarization is just one type of information process that can be systematized in an algorithm. In your daily news diet, it’s likely that a variety of algorithms are touching the news before you even lay eyes on it. For example, personalization algorithms like those used by Zite, the popular news reading application, systematically bias content towards your interests, at the expense of exposing you to a wider variety of news. Social Flow is a startup in New York that uses optimization algorithms to determine the exact timing of when to share news and content on social networks so that it maximally resonates with the target audience. Optimization algorithms can also be used to determine the layout of a news page. But optimizing layout based on one criteria, like number of pageviews, might have unintended consequences, like consistently placing scandals or celebrity news towards the top of the page. Again, the choice of what metrics to optimize, and what they might be correlated with, can have an impact.

Another class of algorithms that is widespread in news information systems is ranking algorithms. Consider those “top news” lists on most news homepages, or how comments get ranked, or even how Twitter ranks trends. Twitter trends in particular have come under some scrutiny after events that people thought should appear, like #occupywallstreet or #wikileaks, didn’t trend. But, like Summly, Twitter is not transparent about the algorithm it uses to surface trends, making it hard to assess what the systematic biases in that algorithm really are and whether any heuristics or human choices embedded in the algorithm are also playing a role.

Google also uses ranking algorithms to sort your search results. In this case, the ranking algorithm is susceptible to the same type of “whoever yells the loudest” bias we heard about from Nichols. The Internet is full of SEO firms trying to game Google’s algorithm so that certain content will appear high in search results even if, perhaps, it doesn’t deserve to be there. They do this in part by associating certain keywords with the target site and by creating links from many other sites to the target site. There are others who seek to manipulate search rankings. Takis Metaxis, a professor at Wellesley College, with colleague Eni Mustafaraj has written about “googlebombing,” the act of creating associations between political actors, such as George W. Bush, with a negative search term, like “miserable failure,” so that the person shows up when that phrase is searched for. This is a perfect example of how biasing the data being fed into an algorithm can lead to a biased output. And when the data feeding into an algorithm is public, the algorithm is left open to manipulation.

Not all algorithmic bias has to be detrimental. In fact, if algorithms could somehow balance out the individual or cognitive biases that each of us harbor, this could positively impact our exposure to information. For instance, at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Souneil Park and his collaborators have been experimenting with aggregation algorithms that feed into a news presentation called NewsCube, which nudges users towards consuming a greater variety of perspectives. Forget leaving things to chance with serendipity — their research is working on actively biasing your exposure to news in a beneficial way. Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, in their book Nudge, call this kind of influence “libertarian paternalism” — biasing experiences to correct for cognitive deficiencies in human reasoning. Not only can algorithms bias the content that we consume — someday they might do so in a way that makes us smarter and less prone to our own shortcomings in reasoning. Perhaps an algorithm could even slowly push extremists towards the center by exposing them to increasingly moderate versions of their ideas.

Algorithms are basically everywhere in our news environment, whether it’s summarization, personalization, optimization, ranking, association, classification, aggregation, or some other algorithmic information process. Their ubiquity makes it worth reflecting on how these processes can all serve to systematically manipulate the information we consume, whether that be through embedded heuristics, the data fed into them, or the criteria used to help them make inclusion, exclusion, and emphasizing decisions.

Algorithms are always going to have to make non-random inclusion, exclusion, and emphasizing decisions about our media in order to help solve the problem of our limited time and attention. We’re not going to magically make algorithms “objective” by understanding how they introduce bias into our media. But we can learn to be more literate and critical in reading computational media. Computational journalists in particular should get in the habit of thinking deeply about what the side effects of their algorithmic choices may be and what might be correlated with any criteria their algorithms use to make decisions. In turn, we should be transparent about those side effects in a way that helps the public judge the authority of our contributions.

Nick Diakopoulos is a NYC-based consultant specializing in research, design, and development for computational media applications. His expertise spans human-computer interaction, data visualization, and social media analytics. You can find more of his research online at his website.

I can’t stop reading this analysis of Gawker’s editorial strategy


This post is by Andrew Phelps from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




In January, newly minted Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio announced an experiment: Each day for two weeks, a single staff writer would be assigned “traffic-whoring duty.” [Language alert.]

A different staff writer will be forced to break their usual routine and offer up posts they feel would garner the most traffic. While that writer struggles to find dancing cat videos and Burger King bathroom fights or any other post they feel will add those precious, precious new eyeballs, the rest of the staff will spend time on more substantive stories they may have neglected due to the rigors of scouring the internet each day to hit some imaginary quota.

It’s the New Gawker, the Gawker that values original content more than over-aggregated “gutter journalism,” or as Daulerio called it, “snappy snarky snarking snark-snark shit.” Snarky snark pays the bills, though.

Because Gawker Media publishes traffic data on all of its sites — pageviews and new visitors are right there on the story page — my boss came up with an idea: Let’s measure the impact of this experiment on traffic. I wrote a bookmarklet that helped me capture the stats from all posts written by a staff writer during the experiment, according to the schedule Daulerio posted, and then dumped it into a Google spreadsheet. (We threw out data from the second week; Daulerio did some “editorial reshuffling” — which included the departure of staffer Jim Newell — and the experiment did not proceed in the same neatly defined way as in week one.)

For our purposes, since we need terms that don’t involve “whoring,” let’s call them pageview-duty days and off-duty days.

On their assigned pageview-duty days, Gawker writers produced a cumulative 72 posts — about 14 posts per writer per day. On their off-duty days — and remember, each had four off days for every “on” day — the same writers cumulatively produced 34, or about 1.3 posts per writer per day.

A sampling of some of Gawker’s hilariously specific, SEO-rich headlines from pageview-duty mode that week (pageviews parenthetical):

I don’t think I have laughed so hard on an assignment.

Those 72 pageview-duty posts produced a combined 3,956,977 pageviews (as of the days I captured data, Friday 3/9 and Monday 3/12), a mean of 54,958 pageviews per post.

“The writers at Gawker actually seem to have fun these days. I don’t think they ever did before, not even in the halcyon days of Choire Sicha.”

The 34 off-duty posts produced 2,037,263 pageviews, a mean of 59,920 pageviews per post.

That’s higher, but only marginally so — hardly the stuff statistical significance is made of. And while you might be able to squeeze an extra five thousand pageviews out of an off-duty piece, the allure of that cheap content — I Can’t Stop Looking at This Weird Chinese Goat, 46,358 pageviews — is in its higher apparent return on the investment. Why bother working all day on a piece if something you throw together in 20 minutes will get the same attention from the world?

The argument for pageview-duty was even stronger if you look at the data from Nick Denton’s preferred metric of new visitors. Pageview-duty posts that week attracted 703,476 new visitors (people who viewed a post that had never visited Gawker before, or at least who didn’t have a cookie set). That’s 9,770 per post. Off-duty posts attracted 289,996 new visitors altogether, or 8,529 per post.

Finding the balance

The key to the balance probably doesn’t lie in raw numbers, though. A Gawker that was only weird Chinese goats would likely, over time, bore its readers. The more substantive stories serve as tentpoles for the entire site; once in a while, they’ll blow up huge, and they’re probably more appealing to the kind of brand advertisers Gawker seeks. (A sampling of current advertisers: Virgin Mobile, Samsung, Corning, Bonobos, AMC, BlackBerry. Gawker sells itself to advertisers by promoting the fact that its readers are both younger and richer than The Huffington Post’s, People’s, Slate’s, or TMZ’s.)

It also at least has the potential to lead to happier writers who know when they need to chase pageviews and when they don’t.

“Traffic sex work is exhausting, but it’s fun, and on other days it’s nice to have extra time to put the extra effort into important and newsworthy stories about which fast-food restaurants use aborted fetuses in their meals,” said Max Read, who obviously writes for Gawker, based on that quote.

Everyone talks about happiness, how happy Gawker writers are now. Chief gawker Denton, in a typically terse email, endorsed the experiment thus:

“The writers at Gawker actually seem to have fun these days. I don’t think they ever did before, not even in the halcyon days of Choire Sicha,” he told me. And indeed, Gawker has long been known for pulling in strong writing talent and burning it out.

Sicha, the former Gawker editor who cofounded The Awl, responded in an email to me: “I do think the staff is the happiest it’s been in a while — certainly happier than they were last year.” (Sicha actually had a great, longer response about Daulerio-era Gawker — it’s at the bottom of this piece.)

“There is a benefit to always mouthing off on the Internet. I just think the priorities need to shift.”

I called Daulerio to ask how the experiment had gone — but he told me it’s still going. In fact, the pageview-duty rotation is more or less the permanent workflow at Gawker now.

“The days that people are actually doing the traffic-whore days, it’s almost like a relief. There is a benefit to always mouthing off on the Internet, having fun with it. I’m not anywhere against that — I just think the priorities need to shift a little bit,” Daulerio said.

“I don’t want [the writers] to feel limited by Gawker. I don’t want them to think that if they accrue the most uniques per month that that’s going to give them a great standing at the company.”

Quality or quantity? Both.

It’s a weird moment for the quality-vs.-quantity debate. Last month, we wrote about Salon’s #winning strategy to prioritize quality over quantity. BuzzFeed, the aggregator to end all aggregators, is hiring journalists like crazy and producing original content alongside Watch Urkel’s “Dancing With The Stars” Debut. Yahoo News, known for its expert repurposing of wire copy, nabbed the NYT’s Virginia Heffernan.

Do those data points mean we’ll start seeing less What Time Does The Super Bowl Start? No. But we might see a few more like Hamilton Nolan’s 3,800-word exposé on journalism junkets in Las Vegas, too. That piece, posted during the first-week experiment on a day when Nolan wasn’t chasing eyeballs, has attracted 30,242 pageviews as of this writing. Not a slam dunk — pretty good, but still 20,000 pageviews below average for the period. That interplay of short-and-long, cheap-and-expensive, aggregated-and-original is something lots of outlets — from web-native sites to The New York Times — are trying to figure out.

Monday’s fine Deadspin piece on Joe Quigg, the Tar Heel who denied Wilt Chamberlain a national title, weighed in at 1,700 words. (Deadspin is Gawker’s sports site, which Daulerio used to edit.) Applauds one commenter:

I don’t know how many comments this series will or won’t get. But regardless, as someone who’s hung out at this place, at least periodically, a long time, I’d just like to say it’s terrific, and more, please. Well done.

So far, two comments. The other: “Seconded. More of this please.”

Some readers want more of this, but the numbers don’t back it up. Total pageviews for the Deadspin piece: 14,308. New visitors: 756.

Gawker’s attitude about pageview-chasing has evolved. Pay-per-pageview came and went. Quotas have been lifted; here’s uber Gawker-watcher Felix Salmon two years ago:

The fact is that while chasing pageviews like this worked well in the early days of the blogosphere, when Nick Denton asked his editors for at least 12 posts per day, it’s much less sustainable today — and the Gawker post quotient has been abolished, with layers of editors on top of the writers who bring the average number of posts per editorial employee per day lower still. Today, if you want to compete on who can produce the most SEO-honed content per day, you’re going to lose, and people like Demand Media are going to win.

The kind of “post-blog,” TV-inspired form that Gawker’s controversial 2011 redesign was pushing toward relies on exclusives and stories with a little more weight.

And in December, ReadItLater data showed that Gawker Media writers were among the most-saved and most-read on its platform. Presumably the articles being saved for later consumption aren’t pics of weird Chinese goats.

In the old days, it was easier to justify “eat your vegetables” journalism to skeptical editors (or shareholders). But with a pageview number staring you in the face, it’s hard not to make a judgment on a story’s potential ROI.

“I am very, very pro-original content,” Daulerio told me. “I am not a type of person who wants…everything up first. If we’re going to create a new identity with Gawker, I think it’s really gotta start with [the writers] first.”

Meanwhile, enjoy the most adorable cat video you’ll see all day.

Here’s the full text of Choire Sicha’s email to me:

AJ’s a genius and he can do no wrong. In addition, he has a formidable secret weapon in his brilliant deputy, Emma Carmichael. I do think the staff is the happiest it’s been in a while–certainly happier than they were last year.

And AJ’s definitely already seen a traffic up-tick for February, a nice rise from the early winter’s mini-plateau. But while I am definitely on board with AJ’s approach–go wild! Have a blast!–I don’t really think you can call it “traffic-whoring” if it doesn’t get any traffic. At least, not the traffic that Nick Denton cares about. In February, 2012, Gawker had just 5 stories in the top 50 stories at Gawker Media, at least judging by Denton’s favorite metric, “new unique visitors.” (That’s even though Gawker makes up about 24% of Gawker Media’s total traffic.) The site’s biggest story in February was “Chinese Twitter Says Kim Jong-Un Was Assassinated This Morning In Beijing”; after that came “The Awful Cover Letter All of Wall Street Is Laughing About”–and this was, I thought, a pretty solid classic Gawker endeavor, and very well handled. But then number three on the list was “J.Lo’s Oscar Dress: Nipple or Shadow?” (By the way, if you look at Gawker’s February traffic, it’s basically the Adrien Chen show. Who knew?)

But while some of these top stories are wily or original or reported or even exciting (The Man Behind Horse eBooks!), lots are just hot SEO or gossip sheet standbys. (“Rick Santorum Made Entirely of Gay Porn”; “Meet Whitney Houston’s Rumored Lesbian Lover.”)

Still, Gawker beat its traffic target for February by a healthy 19.06%. (The Gawker network average was +13.20%.) But then, every site in the stable beat its traffic target, save one, which had a good excuse. For all Denton’s bluster about getting sites to perform, he’s not actually that harsh a taskmaster.

The most telling thing about the instability of Gawker Media and its contrasting missions–greatness versus traffic–can be summed up quite nicely in the network’s biggest story of February. That’s Jezebel’s “This Coffin Photo of Whitney Houston’s Dead Body Is Now on Newsstands Everywhere,” with more than 324,000 new unique vistors. Now, this was a decent piece of media criticism by a really smart writer, Dodai Stewart. But you know that’s not at all why it got all those visits. And also, it did serve up a copy, at a tasty 640 pixels wide, of the criticized picture of a dead Whitney Houston.

Photo of “weird Chinese goat” by Andrew J. Cosgriff used under a Creative Commons license.

Josh Macht: Having two brands isn’t better than having one


This post is by Joshua Macht from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Editor’s note: We’ve written before about the new split-site web strategy of The Boston Globe. (That includes keeping the established Boston.com a free site, but building a new paid-only site called BostonGlobe.com that includes the print newspaper’s content and a print-like experience.) The Globe’s approach again raises age-old questions about how a news organization’s print and digital selves — the brands — should or should not be one.

Josh Macht, group publisher at the Harvard Business Review Group and a veteran of outlets like Time and Inc., thinks the split is a bad idea. Here’s why.

If you want to see a good example of an online newspaper that’s easy to navigate, neatly organized, and particularly well-suited to the iPad, type bostonglobe.com into your web browser and tour around the Globe’s new address. It’s a site that stands out for its simple elegance; a place where you’ll find limited but useful functionality that lets you save and share articles with one click. What you won’t find, however, are a lot of prominent links to Boston.com, the Globe’s sister brand.

After years of banishing the daily paper behind the Boston.com front door, BostonGlobe.com stepped out alone on September 12, in a move that was meant to create a standalone, paid-for newspaper website. Boston.com is a completely separate place for the free stuff — a haven for Tom Brady and Gisele photos, sports scores, as well as the latest blog postings.

It’s no secret that many newspapers are considering forcing web surfers to cough up cash for content. But the Globe is in a unique position because it had spent so many years pumping up the Boston.com web address. Now they are maintaining two separate brands on the web, each used for different strategic purposes. Call it the “have your cake and pay for it too” web strategy: Boston.com aims for millions of eyeballs and advertisers; BostonGlobe.com sets its sights on paying customers. Never (or perhaps rarely) the two shall meet.

While each new platform might offer different uses and value for the consumer, we want the brand experience to be consistent and integrated across print and digital.

While the game plan may seem logical enough on paper, it’s quite another thing to pull it off online. The move also appears to swim against the tidal wave of editorial integration that’s washing over most newspaper operations. Take, for example, The New York Times (which shares a parent company with the Globe), where you see a paper concentrating on a multi-platform experience. Customers can get access to the tablet, smartphone, website, and print version of the Times for one price. By lashing together all of their publishing platforms, papers like the Times are attempting to habituate enough digital paying customers so that they can eventually deemphasize or drop the print — a fate that now seems inevitable to most papers. The Globe, on the other hand, has fractured its efforts to pursue two vastly different approaches during a time when money is tight and focus would seem to be key to survival.

I know something about the divide and conquer approach, because we tried it here at the Harvard Business Review. The difference was that we were in an opposite situation from the the Globe. For many years, HBR.org was a paid-for website where you could buy reprints, books and subscribe to the magazine. In 2007, we launched HarvardBusiness.org as a stand-alone site for freely available blog content, forums, and conversation. It worked. Right from the start, we saw significant audience growth at the HarvardBusiness.org URL.

We also quickly learned that the type of content that drove eyeballs online was very different from what was at the heart of HBR in print. And even though we tried to market the magazine to Harvardbusiness.org visitors, we struggled mightily to convert this new audience — and when we did convert them, they typically didn’t stay long as subscribers.

What we’ve discovered along the way is that creating and managing multiple web addresses can dilute your ability to reach your overall goals.

When we made the strategic decision to redesign the magazine two years ago, we simultaneously collapsed all our web efforts under the HBR.org URL. We also created one HBR editorial team, which could work on the redesigned magazine and website and keep them in sync. Much of what we were learning online about our audience helped to shape our thinking about the redesigned magazine. Today, we produce all of our content (both free and paid) under the HBR.org flag. And it’s led to some very heartening early results; we’ve seen that because the magazine and website offer a more consistent experience, we’re much more capable of turning surfers into subscribers. We’re also seeing benefits both online and in the real world where, for example, we’ve witnessed 20 percent growth in newsstand, 135 percent increase in unique visitors to the website, and an exploding fan base across our social media channels.

We still have a long way to go with our efforts, and it’s bound to continue to morph over time. But our experience has led us to the conclusion that focus pays off. And it’s particularly crucial now as we begin to take advantage of the tremendous growth in tablet and mobile usage. While each new platform might offer different uses and value for the consumer, we want the brand experience to be consistent and integrated across print and digital. To achieve that priority it takes a collective and concentrated effort across the entire HBR Group.

What we’ve discovered along the way is that creating and managing multiple web addresses can dilute your ability to reach your overall goals. Just type the word “Boston” into Google and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll find Boston.com is the fifth link. You won’t even find BostonGlobe.com on the first page. To gain prominence, the Globe will be forced to spend time and money to blow out their new digital brand, which means splitting resources between two URLs instead of pouring it all into just the one.

But perhaps the larger point is that the Globe is acting as though growing traffic and growing paid-for content are mutually exclusive. That’s simply not true. When I was at Time.com, we tried to create a website that echoed the values of the magazine for online readers. Much of the content, such as photo galleries and blogs, were open to the public. Even the latest magazine was available for free, but if you wanted to read the previous week’s Time or go back deeper into the archive you needed to pay. That approach yielded growing traffic as well as growing circulation from the website to the magazine. We didn’t need two separate brands to pursue two different strategic goals. Rather, we needed to define the value of the content for the reader so that they understood why something was free versus another item behind a wall.

So often, we still create a false dichotomy online between paid versus free. The fact is that the two models can — and in fact must — live together in order to widen the audience and then simultaneously discover what makes your brand special online. For the Globe, separating the brands with different URLs may solve a few problems in the short run, but in the broader scheme, it’s a recipe for limiting growth and opportunity.

Joshua Macht is group publisher for the Harvard Business Review Group.

Three lessons news sites can take from the launch of The Verge


This post is by from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Maybe it’s just the 30-something former rock critic in me, but I keep accidentally calling new gadget site The Verge The Verve instead. But whatever you call it, The Verge’s launch today is one of the most anticipated in the online news space in some time. The chance to build a new platform from the ground up, with talented editorial and tech teams attached, combined with the months of buildup at the placeholder site This Is My Next, meant a lot of people were waiting to see what they’d come up with.

And it is impressive: bold, chunky, and structured, all at the same time. The gadget/tech space has no shortage of competitors, and building a new brand against some established incumbents takes a bold move. Which of The Verge’s moves might you want to steal for your own news site? Here are three.

Don’t be afraid of big, bold visuals

Engadget, the tech site from which most of The Verge’s core staff came, has long committed itself to having big, 600-pixel-wide-or-so art on each of its posts, be they short or long. But the Verge takes that a step further. Just look at the home page — big beautiful images with lovely CSS-driven tinting in the top promo area, then more photos attached to nearly every linked story. Because every story has all the visual fixings, they can ebb and flow as the story moves down the front page. (The movement is still blog-style reverse-chronological.)

The story pages expand the photo well even more and feature page-width headline slots with a nice slab serif, Adelle Web. (Slab serifs are all the rage these days.)

The Verge’s short, aggregation-y posts get a bigger design treatment than most news sites’ feature stories do. (They also carry over Engadget’s highly annoying habit of burying the credit links for what they aggregate in a tiny box at post bottom.) But if you really want to see the power of big visuals, look at one of the site’s feature stories, like its review of the iPhone 4S or this takeout on survivalism — photos over 1,000 pixels wide, bold headlines and decks, structured story organization, embedded galleries, columns that don’t all stick to a common template well, page-width graphics. And check out the gallery and video pages, both of which stretch out Abe Lincoln-style to fill the browser window. In all, it’s the kind of bold look that you’re unlikely to see on most daily news sites; its design DNA lies much more in magazine layout.

That bold look comes with some tradeoffs, of course. While the front-page content is still generally newest-up-top, it’s not quite as obvious what’s new if it’s your second time checking the site in a day. And the front page has far less information density than a typical news site; on my monitor, the first screenful of The New York Times homepage (to go to the opposite extreme) includes links to 32 stories, videos, or slideshows, while The Verge’s has only eight. But that’s okay — while prolific, The Verge produces a lot less content than the Times, and I suspect the appealing graphical look will encourage scrolling more than a denser site would. And each story on The Verge homepage gets a bigger sales push — between a headline, an image, a deck, and an excerpt — than all but a few newspaper stories do on their front pages.

I suspect we’re going to see more of this big, bold, tablet-ish design approach finding its way back into more traditional news sites in the next year or so; you can already see movement in that direction comparing the Times’ (redesigned) opinion front to its (almost unchanged since 2006) homepage. In a world where an increasing proportion of traffic comes from social media and search — that is, from some place other than the front door — it makes sense that the burden of a site’s homepage to link to everything might be lightened.

Layer your reporting on top of structured data

It’s telling that the first item in the top navigation on The Verge is “Products.” Not “Articles” or “Latest News” — “Products.” Just about every significant product in the gadget universe — from cell phones to TVs to laptops — gets its own page in the underlying Verge taxonomy. Here are all the cameras, and here are all the gaming systems, for instance, and here are some sample product pages. (Intriguingly, you can search through them by using filters including “Rumored,” “Announced,” “Available,” “Canceled,” and “Discontinued.” Did you know there were 129 different tablets out there?)

The product pages feature basic information, full tech specs, related products, and in some cases “What You Need To Know” sections. These will be good for SEO and pageviews, and they’ll likely be useful to readers; stories about a product link prominently to their related product pages. (I’m actually a little surprised the product pages don’t take the logical next step and slap “Buy Now” links next to everything, with affiliate links to the appropriate vendors.)

Topic pages are nothing new, of course, but few news sites make this sort of commitment to being a reference point outside the boundaries of the traditional news story. A newspaper may not care much about the Nokia Lumia 800, but they could build their own semantic structured web of data around city council members, professional athletes, local restaurants, businesses, neighborhoods…whatever matters to readers. Most news organizations will have something that completes the SAT analogy The Verge : gadgets :: Your News Site : _________.

Build a place for community

Engadget has a famously active community — so much so that it had to turn off comments entirely for a stretch in 2010 when things were getting out of hand. (“What is normally a charged — but fun — environment for our users and editors has become mean, ugly, pointless, and frankly threatening in some situations…and that’s just not acceptable. Some of you out there in the world of anonymous grandstanding have gotten the impression that you run the place, but that’s simply not the case.”)

The Verge appears to be doubling down on community, though, adding topic-specific forums to the voluminous comment threads on specific entries. Forum posts get big bold presentation too. The same Josh Topolsky who wrote that rip of Engadget’s commenters above writes today that the new site is designed to let “reader voices be heard in a meaningful way…we think it’s totally cool and normal to be psyched about a product or brand and want to talk about it.” He also promises that active commenters and posters will get “special sneak previews of our newest features.”

Will it work out and generate positive, useful discussions (or at least enough pageviews to satisfy the ad sales team)? We’ll see. But it’s good to see some attention to reader forums, a form of reader interaction a number of news sites have walked away from in recent years.

What’s most promising about The Verge, though, is not any one specific element — it’s the fact that they’re giving a lot of thought to the form of their content, at a time when the basics of the blog format have congealed into a kind of design conventional wisdom. Here’s hoping other sites join that process of thinking about their tools and their structures along with their daily content.

Eric Schmidt: Google wants to get so smart it can answer your questions without having to link you elsewhere


This post is by from Nieman Journalism Lab


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




Last night, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt spoke at this year’s iteration of the D: All Things Digital conference. And while coverage of the talk focused on subjects like Google’s frenemies Apple and Facebook, Schmidt said something about search that I think is of interest to news organizations and other publishers.

The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg asked Schmidt about perceptions that Google’s search results are decreasing in quality, and whether there was an opening for a new search competitor to move into the space with a new innovation. Schmidt said that Google is constantly making improvements to its search algorithms, and then said this (it’s at 6:28 of the video above):

But the other thing that we’re doing that’s more strategic is we’re trying to move from answers that are link-based to answers that are algorithmically based, where we can actually compute the right answer. And we now have enough artificial intelligence technology and enough scale and so forth that we can, for example, give you — literally compute the right answer.

The video above is edited down from the full interview, so you can’t see what Schmidt said next, but according to Engadget’s liveblog, he next said something along the lines of “This is exactly what drove the acquisition of ITA,” the flight-data company that Google bought last year. That purchase allowed Google to get into the flight search business, so a search for “flights from Boston to Chicago” can now give you direct information at the top of the search results page on flights and schedules — information that Google plans to expand to direct price comparisons of the sort you’d see on Orbitz or Kayak.

The video on Google’s page about the acquisition notes that Google purchased ITA to get beyond “the traditional 10 blue links” of a Google search page and start providing the information directly.

That’s great — unless you’re behind one of those 10 blue links and you’ve been counting on Google sending you search traffic when someone searches for “flights from Boston to Chicago.”

The kind of shift Schmidt is talking about — from “link-based” to “algorithmically based” — could have a big impact on publishers in the business of providing answers to searchers questions. And not just the Demand Medias of the world who are attached at the neck to search — traditional publishers too.

There are already some questions Google feels confident enough about to answer directly, without sending the searcher off to another site. Try:

What’s the weather like in Cambridge today?

How is Apple’s stock price doing?

What time is it in Zanzibar?

What was the score in last night’s Mavs-Heat game? (Sadly — go Mavs!)

How many euros would $100 buy me?

How many people live in Canada?

What’s 73 times 14 minus 12?

In each case, Google gives you a direct answer before it presents you with links. Note that these sorts of questions deal in defined data sets — they’re numbers, mostly, or tied to a known set of geographic locations.

When it gets a query outside of those defined sets, it sometimes tries to use the artificial intelligence Schmidt is talking about. So try a search for population of boston instead of asking about Canada and this is what you get:

Google’s trying to figure it out, based how its AI has analyzed the data it’s spidered from around the web. (And it’s not a bad guess; the 2010 census said 617,594 people lived in Boston proper, with 7.6 million in the metropolitan area. Note that Google feels good enough about its guess to highlight mentions of “600,000″ in the traditional search results.)

For now, Google’s ability to answer questions directly is bound by the sorts of things its algorithms can know. But they’ll get smarter — and Schmidt’s comments make clear it’s a strategic goal of the company to ensure they get smarter. So imagine a point in the near future where Google can give direct answers to questions like:

What time is Modern Family on?

Who are the Republicans running for president?

What red blouses are on sale at Macy’s?

Who’s the backup left tackle for the New Orleans Saints?

Those all seem achievable enough — that’s all structured data. But each one of those already starts to disrupt things news organizations try to provide, either through content or advertising.

And imagine, further down the line, that Google’s AI improves to the point where it can answer questions like these:

Did Dallas city council approve that zoning change last night?

Was the stimulus package too small to be effective?

What’s going to replace the Space Shuttle program?

Which is Terrence Malick’s best movie?

Did Osama bin Laden really use his wife as a human shield?

Is the new My Morning Jacket album any good?

Some of those are complex enough that Google probably wouldn’t be able to give a single definitive answer, the way it can with a database of census data. But it’s not hard to imagine it could provide a Metacritic-like look at the summary critical opinion of the My Morning Jacket record, or an analysis of customer reviews of Malick’s DVDs at Amazon. It could dip into the growing sea of public data about government activity to tell you what happened at city council (and maybe figure out which parts of the agenda were important, based on news stories, community bloggers, and social media traffic). It could gather up articles from high-trust news and government sources on NASA and algorithmically combine them into just as much info as the searcher wants. It’s a shift in the focus of Google’s judgment; websites shift from competitors to be ranked against each other to data sources to be diced and analyzed to figure out an answer.

These things aren’t right around the corner — they quickly get to be really complicated AI problems. But they all point to the fact that Google is working hard to reduce the number of times searchers need to leave google.com to get answers to their questions. For all the times that Google has said it’s not in the content business, it’s not hard to imagine a future where its mission to “organize the world’s information” goes way beyond spidering and linking and into algorithmically processing for answers instead of PageRank.

That — much more than news organizations’ previous complaints about Google — could put real pressure on the business models of news websites. It challenges ideas of how to navigate the link economy and what ideas like search engine optimization, fair use, and aggregation mean. And it sure looked like Schmidt pointed the way last night.