Trust Denton to do this properly. Ad revenues up 10% y-o-y in January.
Here’s a thought which occurred to me yesterday: I spend almost as much each year on the New Yorker and Vanity Fair as I do on the BBC.
Is this a: mad, b: inevitable, c: unsustainable or d: all of the above?
(For those who hate the New Yorker and/or Vanity Fair, simply substitute The Economist and Private Eye. Will end up coming to the same thing. Almost).
So, the Evening Standard is being sold to a Russian oligarch, while the NY Times is in hock to a man who became rich on a Mexican telecoms monopoly granted to him by a personal friend. Hmm. So, does it matter who owns newspapers? Particularly newspapers like the Times which take it upon themselves to represent all that is best about print journalism?
Over the decades, owners have used newspapers to pursue their own agendas, but most often they have used newspapers to confer a degree of respectability. It’s probably worth a great deal to “businessmen” whose sources of income are questionable at best to be seen as part of an intellectual and moral establishment. Personally, I stopped thinking of the Standard as a newspaper in about 1985, but the Times is another matter. This is what it printed about Carlos Slim in 2007:
But the momentous scale is not the most galling aspect of Mr. Slimâ€™s riches. Thereâ€™s the issue of theft.
Like many a robber baron â€” or Russian oligarch, or Enron executive â€” Mr. Slim calls to mind the words of HonorÃ© de Balzac: â€œBehind every great fortune there is a crime.â€ Mr. Slimâ€™s sin, if not technically criminal, is like that of Rockefeller, the sin of the monopolist.
In 1990, the government of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari sold his friend Mr. Slim the Mexican national phone company, Telmex, along with a de facto commitment to maintain its monopoly for years. Then it awarded Telmex the only nationwide cellphone license.
That was an Opinion piece, not a News piece. Try justifying another piece like that now.
Two articles, one paper:
Hadley Freeman: Oh no! My parents have joined Facebook?
Polly Curtis: Internet generation leave parents behind
Polly’s article is a bit of a scaremongering piece: it says some children are spending six hours on various screen-based devices a day, but in actual fact they spend an average 1.7 hours a day online (and an average of 2.7 hours watching telly – at the same time, if my kids are anything to go by).
The upshot is that the screen-based culture we did live in – goggle-box in the corner, people hunched on sofas around it – has been replaced by another screen-based culture – google-boxes everywhere, people hunched over them. This is leading to new social challenges, ones which I’ve faced as a parent. The biggest of them, for me, is that kids have got nowhere to hide anymore. The lives they create for themselves at school now continue until bedtime; when I was a kid, I could shut the door on that stuff at the end of the day and be myself for a while. That, combined with the growth of just-in-time A&R and ludicrous talent shows, means many kids are essentially fantasists. They live out a created view of themselves which is mediated through technology and deepened by media.
I’m not saying this is all bad, and I certainly don’t buy the ludicrous assertion that kids are reading less than they did when Big Telly ruled their lives. I’m just saying that parents have to change their social behaviours. Some early rules seem to be:
- Get a text at the dining table? If you want to read it, you have to read it out
- Keep the web-surfing wherever possible in public places – the dining room table, the sofa, wherever
- Take the time to learn where your kids are hanging out. Set up profiles, look around. Think of it as learning how to operate a telly remote control
As for parents appearing on Facebook: this is an interesting corrective. The fact that my son knows I’m on there, and that I can see some (but probably not all) of his activity on there, is just a reassertion of the old generation order. He lives to have fun. I live to spoil it. ‘Twas ever thus.
My mother-in-law’s on Facebook. She texts me all the time. I find it strangely comforting.
It’s nice to finally talk about work in a formal role on here, so here we go:
We’re starting to roll out our new format programme pages, as part of an ambitious and exciting relaunch of the whole of channel4.com. Richard Davidson-Houston’s got the skinny here, and you can see new pages for Ugly Betty, Father Ted, Countdown and much more.
We’ve also launched Platform4, our first formal group blog about all things digital here at Channel 4. Read the intro post here, read Richard’s post about the channel4.com redesign here, and stay subscribed for the latest on the redesign and on other C4 online matters.
Lots more interesting stuff, conceptual and actual, to come along in 2009. Watch that space.
Great, great article from my old mate Alan Jones in Oz, on the importance of owning your own platform if you’re an online business, as opposed to outsourcing it:
If youâ€™re a web business, how well your web platform works defines the success or failure of almost every metric of your business: converting consumers to customers, average revenue per customer, customer churn, competitive moves, and most crucially of all, time-to-iterate. Name a big, successful web business that is still on an outsourced platform.
I could not agree more, and I’d add that this creates enormous tension at times in media businesses, because the connection has often not been made between the old “platform” (which might have been, say, a printing press plus editorial content system, or a commissioning structure and a brand, or a studio and a set of transmission contracts) and the new “platform”, which will normally be some combination of content production and management system, hosting arrangement and ancillary technologies (search, stats, sign-in etc. etc.).
In fact, media companies didn’t even think of their old processes and technologies as platforms, but that’s what they were. If you’re a magazine and you can’t add a new colour to your cover, that’s a platform issue and needs to be resolved. Framing operational questions like that often helps explain Alan’s argument: that you shouldn’t outsource your platform if you want to control your business. If you want to see this in action, check out Nik Silver’s excellent series of articles on the Guardian’s technical rebuild. You’ll see a company in control of its destiny, able to make operational decisions, and able to control costs. It takes longer, but by God it’s worth it.
According to Silicon Alley Insider, the qualities being sought in the next CEO of Yahoo are:
# “Extensive” experience as the CEO of a public company. Before Microsoft acquired aQuantive for $6 billion, it was a public company (AQNT) with a $2.8 billion market cap and more than 2,000 employees.
# Media expertise. McAndrews certainly gained that helping running Microsoft’s digital side. One of aQuantive’s businesses was the ATLAS publishing platform, which helps publishers pick the right ads.
# Advertising expertise. aQuantive ran three advertising businesses, the ATLAS publishing platform, contextual ad business DRIVEpm and interactive ad agency Avenue A/Razorfish.
# Mergers and acquisitions experience. McAndrews actually knows how to finish a deal with Microsoft having sold aQuantive for $6 billion.
# Strategic skills. After Google bought DoubleClick for $3.1 billion, Microsft needed to answer. McAndrews made sure aQuantive was it, and for twice as much money.
Notice the thing that’s missing? Technology, that’s what. And it’s long been my pet prejudice that the problems Yahoo is having right now, and has been having for some time, come down to a problem with technical delivery. Yahoo doesn’t scale. Google does. That’s not because of the way it sells advertising, or the way it runs its offices, or the decisions it makes about mergers and acquisitions. It’s because of its technology. Every technology Google develops can roll out worldwide, immediately, in multiple languages and with reach into multiple markets. Hardly any of Yahoo’s products do that. And it’s a technical architecture and delivery problem, pure and simple. Put someone in there who doesn’t understand that, and they’ll get nowhere. Guaranteed.
BREAKING NEW IRONIC UPDATE: And who do Microsoft hire to run their online offerings? An ex-Yahoo technologist.
I find Techcrunch useful, but I find Michael Arrington annoying. Today he exceeds himself, telling the most successful user experience company on the planet that they’ve got a key plank of their strategy completely wrong. He’s talking about the new Google Wiki Search, which you can find out about here.
Arrington reverts to that staple of the anti-innovation luddite: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It’s a trite statement which doesn’t actually say anything, and he takes it up to 11:
But Google search wasnâ€™t broken. Itâ€™s one of the few things on the Internet that isnâ€™t. I love it, as does 62% of everyone on the Internet. This new stuff is a mess of arrows and troll comments and stuff moving around the page. That doesnâ€™t make my search experience more useful. It makes it move to another search engine.
The worst part of the new stuff is you canâ€™t turn it off. Once you click â€œYes, continueâ€ youâ€™re in. And as far as I can tell, you canâ€™t get back to the good old Google that worked just fine.
First of all, he seems to be wrong. You can turn it off. Second of all, he’s understood nothing about what this represents. He didn’t answer his own question: why did Google mess with search results?
The answer’s in the question. You don’t mess with the most efficient cash-generating piece of HTML on the planet unless it’s very, very important. So we can assume Google thinks this is very, very important. Why might this be? Because it’s an attempt to do something Google knows from its AdSense experience: to harness individual, client-side activities (clicking on a text ad = voting for a high-quality search hit) into something that starts to look a lot like emergent intelligence. By providing something of some utility to individuals (what search results work for me?), Google seeks to build a massive distributed curated search into which we are all adding intelligence without ever being aware of it. It is, I would contend, the Big Thing At Google For 2009.
And in fact Google is being interestingly coy about this. It’s only talking about individual utility, not Big Brain Emergence:
This new feature is an example of how search is becoming increasingly dynamic, giving people tools that make search even more useful to them in their daily lives. We have been testing bits and pieces of SearchWiki for some time through live experiments, and we incorporated much of our learnings into this release. We are constantly striving to improve our users’ search experience, and this is yet another step along the way.
And it’s careful to state that this won’t affect other users’ searches. That statement might get it into trouble down the line, because if this takes off – if millions of people start annotating searches and, more importantly, actively voting for higher-value results – there’s no question it will affect search rankings. Otherwise, what would be the point? I say again – you don’t mess with the Google search results page unless it’s something very big.
If Arrington doesn’t get that, he should stop blogging about technology and relaunch Valleywag.
This good. The only state their model got wrong was Indiana, where they expected a narrow Obama loss. He won the state by a hair. Nate Silver owned this election on the polling front: one young guy with a background in baseball stats beat out the mainstream media in a couple of months. And he beat out the old web: I mean if you consider the total joke of Drudge’s recent coverage and compare it with Silver’s, you realize that the web is a brutal competitive medium where only the best survive – and they are only as good as their last few posts.
Now, here’s the problem with this: 538, excellent as it is, did not commission a single poll. The “mainstream media” commissioned all the polls. 538 did a great job analysing data which was paid for by someone else. In other words, the seeds of 538’s destruction are sowed within 538’s success: by taking attention away from the media which commissioned the polls it analyses, it speeds up the demise of said media, thus leading to its own demise. We should probably call this the “Craigslist effect,” wherein value gets ripped out of media so quickly that the environments which spring up around said media actually begin to expire, as if oxygen was being sucked out of the room.
For a graphic designer, few jobs are as challenging as designing a magazine. Unlike a logo or a poster, the design of which can rely on blunt simplicity, a magazine is a complex organism, the result of an intricate interplay of words and pictures. Any single issue represents thousands of minute decisions about typography, layout, photography, and illustration. And these decisions are made within an accepted system of conventionsâ€”preconceptions we all share about how a magazine is readâ€”and more practical and mundane limitations like budgets and schedules.
When I used to work on magazines, I found the design to be the hardest thing. That paragraph encapsulates why – and also counts doubly for websites, which not only have to incorporate all those elements but have to transform “interaction” from something as simple as turning a page to a rich, multi-possibility thing.