But, there is also an underlying thought process going on â€“ what Iâ€™ll call â€˜End-ismâ€™ â€“ which is a dangerously reductive way of viewing the impact of structural and disruptive change within a sector. Â Whenever a business, a medium or a way of doing things that has been dominant for decades faces a profound challenge, perhaps the most significant in its existance, End-ists will automatically declare it â€˜deadâ€™ or â€˜overâ€™.
Microsoft Office, for example, is officially dead because of Google Apps. Errr, except it isnâ€™t. Office â€“ for all itâ€™s flaws â€“ is still the cornerstone of a $19bn business within Microsoft. And Powerpoint, Word, Excel and Outlook are the average office workerâ€™s equivalent of the major food groups: unless they get them all regularly, they get crotchety and start to look pasty.
End-ists are also normally rampant neophiliacs. So blinded by their love of something new, that they forget the rest of the world is still Â devoutedly wedded to the old. [I should add at this stage, I speak from some experience here].
The problem with this thinking is that the new doesnâ€™t automatically mean the end of the old.
The trend to more closed systems is undeniable. Take Facebook, the webâ€™s biggest social network. The site is a fast-growing, semi-open platform with more than 500m registered users. Its American contingent spends on average more than six hours a month on the site and less than two on Google. Users have identities specific to Facebook and communicate mostly via internal messages. The firm has its own rules, covering, for instance, which third-party applications may run and how personal data are dealt with.
Apple is even more of a world apart. From its iPhone and iPad, people mostly get access to online services not through a conventional browser but via specialised applications available only from the companyâ€™s â€œApp Storeâ€. Granted, the store has lots of appsâ€”about 250,000â€”but Apple nonetheless controls which ones make it onto its platform. It has used that power to keep out products it does not like, including things that can be construed as pornographic or that might interfere with its business, such as an app for Googleâ€™s telephone service. Appleâ€™s press conference to show off its new wares on September 1st was streamed live over the internet but could be seen only on its own devices.
According to sources familiar with Facebookâ€™s platform, the social networking giant essentially denied Appleâ€™s Ping access to application programming interfaces that would allow it to search for an iTunes userâ€™s friends on Facebook who also had signed up for Ping.
First of all, the realities of micro-publishing. Taking a week’s holiday means your site shuts down, and I can’t tell you how profoundly dissatisfied I’ve been about that. Doesn’t sit right at all. Perhaps I can do something about that some day.
Which leads to the second point. As I said in my original post, this has been deliberately and aggressively a part-time project. I only do about an hour a day of posting, and I am beginning to realise how inadequate this is. I still haven’t covered a council meeting, nor do I have time to read all the council docs I should be reading from the three boroughs I’m covering. Of which more in a bit.
So how did the site do in July? Well, here’s the numbers:
Which means (drum roll please) I’ve doubled page views on the June number, and broken through the thousand visits in a month barrier. I now only need to increase my page views by a factor of 500 to reach my target of a million pages in a month. And AdSense revenue has exploded by a factor of over 150 to reach…. $1.88. I’m going to go and buy myself a Diet Coke.
So why the page view increase? Well, mainly, it’s just profile, but two things are definitely occurring. As I said last month, I was going to tweet every new blog post this month, and I’ve done so. twitter.com was responsible for 13% of all referrals, while a third of all referrals were “direct”, which is always a frustratingly opaque measure but I assume includes a fair number of non-browser clients such as Twitter apps.
Secondly, Google really kicked in as a referrer this month, as more people started to link to the site and more indexing took place. There are now 64 incoming links to the site, although a lot of these are on Twitter. There still aren’t many links with Google currency coming in. Are you listening, BBC News? Guardian? Anyone?
August is likely to be pretty quiet, not least because I’ve been off for a week, but I’ll round this stuff up again at the end of the month. As I said last month, I’m trying to do one operational thing a month to drive traffic to try and gauge its impact. July was about Twitter. In August I’ll systematise that a bit, probably using a plugin such as Twitter Tools. I’m also going to begin a two-month experiment with SEM, to see if I can drive traffic and at what cost.
And finally, as promised, a word about the time spent on the site. I’m only using up about an hour a day at present. And it really isn’t enough. That allows me to read through all my feeds (which, including Twitter updates, probably about to about 600 new items a day), check interesting stories, write maybe four or five posts and read the occasional council document.
I still haven’t attended a single council meeting, phoned a single councillor or press officer, or chased down a single story. It’s very much using the “web as a wire feed”, rewriting for style and maintenance of narrative threads, finding a picture, and go. I believe that adds some value, but it isn’t enough.
Now, quite a few bloggers and newshounds already attend council meetings in Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark, so what value can I add there? Well, maybe a more systematic, Hansard-like approach to covering proceedings, although I have to say that judging by the coverage so far public council meetings (including cabinet meetings) seem more like platforms for grandstanding than arena for debate. But in any case a Hansard-like approach is going to be time-consuming. I’m talking to some people about a way of approaching that.
I think thereal value can be added by examining documents: minutes for meetings, supporting documents, discussion files, stuff like that. This has already yielded some good stuff on the site: a post about crime in Lambeth with some juicy stats, and the very revealing discussion document about Lewisham cuts. I’m using Google Docs to store public versions of these documents, and over time that could be a useful resource. I think that’s where I’m going to focus my journalistic efforts – such as they are – in the coming couple of months.
So, enough prognosticating. Time to go and find some stuff out. See you back here in a month.
Now we’re waiting again for mobiles, and especially smartphones allied to mobile networks, to catch up with what ambitious startup companies want to do. Apple’s insistence in 2007 that iPhone users should have unlimited data plans yanked the entire mobile business forward about 10 years, and briefly showed us how everything should be working by 2012. No surprise that in recent months the mobile networks, unable to invest fast enough, have been rowing back on the “unlimited data” commitment, taking us back to 2007.
The next big sites won’t be social networks. Of course they’ll have social networking built into them; they’ll come with an understanding of their importance, just as Facebook and Twitter know that search (an idea Google refined) and breaking news (Yahoo’s remaining specialist metier) are de rigueur. Nor will they be existing sites retrofitted to do social networking, despite the efforts of Digg and Spotify.
Good Newsweek article on the Huffington Post, including the fact that it now employs over 170 people, twenty of whom moderate comments. Is that the highest moderation ratio of any company on the planet?
But a closer look at HuffPoâ€™s financials shows just how tough that future is turning out to be. HuffPo has a big audience, but like most Web sites, it canâ€™t monetize it very well. Right now, HuffPo generates just over $1 per reader per year. Thatâ€™s nothing compared with the mainstream-media outlets that HuffPo hopes to displace. Cable-TV networks and print newspapers collect hundreds of dollars per year from each subscriber, and then generate hundreds of millions in ad revenue on top of that. The comparison isnâ€™t perfectâ€”TV and newspapers have higher fixed costs than Web sitesâ€”but it gives you a sense of how radically things are changing.
Yes, money is gushing out of old mediaâ€”nobody knows this better than NEWSWEEK, which is struggling financially and has been put up for sale by its parent, The Washington Post Companyâ€”and some of that money is flowing onto the Internet. But something strange happens to those ad dollars as they make the journey from old media to the Webâ€”somehow, by some weird, bad voodoo, those dollars turn into dimes. Or nickels. Or even pennies. A recent report by eMarketer, a leading researcher of Internet media, says online ad spending will grow more than 10 percent per year over the next few years, approaching $100 billion by 2014. That will still represent only 17 percent of all advertising spending.