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Archive for January, 2008|Monthly archive page

Whither the Wisdom of Crowds? Of course not.

In brijit, editorial, publishing, social media on Wednesday, 30 January 2008 at 14:53

I never thought I’d write these words: Thank you, Commander Taco.

CmdrTaco is the screen name of Rob Malda, the 31-year-old founder of Slashdot, for the uninitiated (i.e. most of us), is a pioneering technology news community, a self-styled “News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters.” site.

So why the shout out? Yesterday Brad Stone wrote in the New York Times’ Bits blog that Malda’s skeptical of the mainstream value of Digg and other wisdom-of-crowds aggregations sites. Malda’s rationale, is, well, rational:

“I try not to paint Digg as my arch-nemesis. The Digg method and Digg community are a wider audience than Slashdot,” he said. “But with sites like Digg, it’s the wisdom of the crowds or the tyranny of the mob. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Put aside the dig at Digg, and CmdrTaco is reminding us that no single form of aggregation holds all the answers. Hence the shout-out here.

There’s extraordinary power in user-generation. From Amazon recommendations to sharing a la Digg or, the wisdom of crowds can be an incredible tool.

Of course there’s value in the algorithm. Google uses straight-up algorithm to put relevant information at our fingertips, and its worked out pretty well for them, and generally, for us.

And traditional top-down editorial control is excellent, too. Check out the Sports Illustrated or the Wall Street Journal or The Daily Show, and the value of professional, editorial control becomes pretty clear.

So why, in a world where we have such terrific aggregation options, would anyone settle for just one kind?

Well, more and more, we’re not. A host of companies, including Brijit, are making some variation of a hybrid production model part of their core businesses. We think that’s good news for lovers of great content.

USA Today: Brijit Saves You Time.

In brijit on Monday, 28 January 2008 at 7:24

Brijit‘s the lead anecdote in a piece in today’s USA Today by Marco della Cava.

I’m pretty ambivalent about our service being lumped together with an online speed dating site and an overpriced exercise machine, but the idea that Brijit exists in large part to save people time comes across loud and clear.

Small and Independent Publishers Rejoice! OpenID Will Set You Free. Maybe.

In brijit, publishing on Thursday, 17 January 2008 at 12:16

Michael Arrington over at TechCrunch has it that Yahoo! is joining OpenID:

“The rumor last week was that Google (as well as Verisign and IBM) were mulling over the idea of joining the OpenID 2.0 single sign-on framework. But the real news comes today, as Yahoo and its roughly 250 million user IDs officially jump on the bandwagon. Today, there are only approximately 120 million valid OpenID accounts. In one move, Yahoo more than triples that number.”

Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb reasonably rains on the parade a bit:

“Yahoo! announced this morning that the company will authenticate the identities of its 248 million users if they chose to login to OpenID supporting sites with their Yahoo! ID.

Like the AOL announcement of roughly the same thing in February of last year, the key question is whether Yahoo! will do anything substantive with OpenID or whether, like the AOL announcement, this will just be window dressing to legitimize advocates of OpenID. AOL’s support for OpenID appears to have resulted in little more.

Though there’s every reason to hope that today’s Yahoo! announcement will lead to ongoing, meaningful advocacy of OpenID by the company and then a future wherein Yahoo! sites accept OpenID from other providers – there’s also plenty of reason to be concerned that neither will occur and that Yahoo! interests are really only served by spreading the use of Yahoo! ID further around the web.”

Let’s grab onto that “every reason to hope” part. Let’s say Yahoo! turns out to be a fervent advocate of OpenID and not a mere press-release pusher. In this case, this is awesome, awesome news for small and independent publishers and everyone who might enjoy their content.

One important impediment to audience enlargement is the registration wall. It’s effectively a big sign that says “go away,” unless you’re prepared to take the time and energy to sign up. For many, it’s just not worth the aggravation, and people move on. Rapid adoption of OpenID would go a long way toward eliminating this frustration.

In building Brijit, we’ve been relentlessly focused on how we can help people find and access the world’s best content. We’ve found that much of this content is produced by small and independent publishers. It follows, then, that any tool that emerges that makes it easy for big audiences to interact seamlessly across websites (while attending to sticky privacy issues) is a good thing.

Put another way: if all goes well, pretty soon more than 350 million people could be walking around with skeleton keys to “walled gardens” across the web. Now all the publishers have to do is figure out to attract users beyond their core communities without alienating those communities. And of course, we think Brijit can be helpful here.

Live From DC! Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Brijit!

In brijit, social media on Friday, 11 January 2008 at 12:41

I was interviewed yesterday by Nick O’Neill of Social Times.

If you’re interested in me, Brijit, or social media, you’ll probably find something valuable here.

When I was running Business Forward, my local DC business magazine, one of my favorite parts of the job was doing our monthly Twenty Questions interviews. There’s something extremely satisfying about conducting a good interview — the ebb and flow of it, getting the subject to enlighten and surprise. Giving a good interview is just as fun, and I have to admit, I think this one qualifies. I make a pretty good case for what we’re building at Brijit and why what we’re doing is important. I always have some trepidation about sitting down in front of the camera, but in this case I’m pretty pleased with the result. Nick, I hope you feel good about it, too.

Take Your Data and Run Like Hell?

In social media on Tuesday, 8 January 2008 at 16:54

Not likely. But big news today that’s likely to shape the social networking infrastructure to come.

From Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb:

The DataPortability Workgroup announced this morning that representatives from both Google and Facebook are joining its ranks. The group is working on a variety of projects to foster an era of Data Portability – where users can take their data from the websites they use to reuse elsewhere and where vendors can leverage safe cross-site data exchange for a whole new level of innovation. Good bye customer lock-in, hello to new privacy challenges. If things go right, today could be a very important day in the history of the internet.”

I think Marshall’s absolutely right. So is TechCrunch’s Duncan Riley: “Today Facebook has taken the first step towards open standards and data portability, and despite those previous gripes they should be congratulated for it.”

But if 08 Jan 08 is a day to remember, should we expect to see a stampede of Facebook users ditch the service for greener social media pastures? I doubt it.

If indeed the big guys walk the walk they’re talking — a big if — the real impact of today’s announcement will be a dramatic increase in the number of people behaving socially. Think of all those Yahoo! Mail and Gmail users seamlessly making their contacts the center for their social own social experiences, many (if not most) for the very first time. All the Facebook-mania aside, social media is just getting warmed up, and it’s an exciting time for everyone.

But even if Facebook comes through and opens the garden, I wouldn’t expect anything resembling a flight of users. Facebook became Facebook in no small part by delivering a great user experience, and so long as it continues to make people happy, people will flock to it, data potability or not.

Check Out BigThink, and Think About the Big Trends

In brijit on Monday, 7 January 2008 at 23:45

A hearty welcome to BigThink, a self-styled “YouTube for ideas, which made a splash today in a NY Times piece, and then this evening on TechCrunch.

Tim Arango pegged his Times story around BigThink’s investors (former Treasury Secretary and ex-Harvard president Larry Summers and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, among others), and painted a pretty Ivory Tower, highfalutin picture of the venture. Erick Schonfeld goes more than 800 words in his evenhanded look on TechCrunch, making fair criticisms of the site’s interface, and comparing it with (Disclosure — I know Don Baer, one of’s board members.)

Kudos to BigThink founder Peter Hopkins on the launch, and the great coverage.

But the more interesting story, the one I would have liked to see in the Times or TechCrunch, is the trend story. BigThink is an example of a company carving out a quality-content business in a post-YouTube, post-Digg, lewd-and-loopy-win world. Whether or not BigThink’s model is exactly the right one, or if they’ll execute, remains to be seen. But they’re trying to do something interesting, and I can’t help but applaud the effort.

Anyone who’s spent any time around Brijit will understand why I like BigThink conceptually:

They’re embracing unique, smart content with an eye toward making it accessible to a mainstream audience. They don’t seem to be dumbing it down.

They’re taking a hybrid approach to content creation. They seem to be committing to high quality by employing internal editors and house-produced segments, while at the same time seeking to tap into all benefits of community-generated content and the wisdom of crowds.

They’re looking at big long-form ideas from trusted sources and boiling them down for a short-form world.

I sense a trend…

Paying Writers Based on Traffic Is (Mostly) a Race to the Bottom

In editorial on Thursday, 3 January 2008 at 12:11

Plenty of virtual ink is being spilled over the new pay scheme for writers over at Gawker Media. Nick Denton and company are replacing their pay-per-post model for paying bloggers with a salary-plus-traffic-bonus model. According to the internal memo posted on Valleywag, the change is meant, in part, to incentivize the creation of quality content. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Scott Karp does a nice job elucidating the “cons”:

“The downsides of this approach are obvious — the incentive rewards content that is salacious, titillating, slanderous, nasty, etc. — anything that appeals to the base interests of a mass audience. It rewards gaming of social news sites… And of course it rewards search engine optimization … with headlines written for search engines rather than people. “

The “pros” are a little harder to discern. Mathew Ingram seems willing roll the dice:

“[I]n the long run it is likely to make them more intimately involved in their blogs, and more interested in developing a relationship with their readers, and that’s a good thing.”

I’m skeptical. Yes, there’s something to the idea of relationship-building IF the bloggers in question are sticking around for years. But is that really the universe we’re talking about? What’s the average tenure for a writer with a blog network gig? And will this mythical writer actually put more money in his pocket doing an extra-special good job then he might have churning out commodity volume-filler posts?

Of course it’s important to have a strong relationship with one’s readers. But in the end it’s the editor’s responsibility to make sure that the blog owns that relationship. Individual voices are eminently brandable, and can become great businesses. But the biggest content businesses brand businesses, not bloggers.

Dan Blank’s headline, The War Against Mediocre Online Editorial Content, is tough not to love, because we’re all sick of the flotsam and jetsam that pollutes the web’s waters. He rightly points out that “[t]he recognition that the web is is now littered with news and commentary is the key here.” But I think he’s stretching with his assertion that “Gawker is taking a measured step to bridge the gap between blogger and journalist.”

Professional journalists don’t get paid individually based on circ numbers. In fact, compensation based on individual performance would be a disaster for most working writers — it’s the publications (Web and print doesn’t much matter here) to which most readers have fidelity.

Now, that doesn’t mean the occasional rock star journalist won’t make bank. They will; but it’ll be on the back end of building an audience, and come in the form of higher salaries, book deals, speaking engagements, and the like. But these are the exceptions to the rule (and even then their rewards come only for producing a meaningful body of work). It’s not the same thing as Gawker’s traffic-bonus model. Not even the same sport. Denton and company are doing something interesting, but it’s almost the complete antithesis of bridging the gap between bloggers and journalists.

As Scott Karp notes toward the end of his piece, “[w]hat the web lacks most right now is a content filter that adheres consistently to a high standard of quality.” I think that’s absolutely right. Fundamentally, it’s why we’re building Brijit. But we don’t believe paying your writers based on traffic is the way ensure quality. Combining the best aspects of algorithm, user-generated content and traditional editorial control allows us to control for quality. Pay-for-traffic, more often than not, is a race to the bottom.

Brijit Index for 31 Dec 2007

In Brijit Index on Wednesday, 2 January 2008 at 14:44
The Brijit Index is a weekly report on the most popular print, broadcast and online features from, culled from 100 of the world’s best and most trusted sources. The Brijit Index reflects the choices of Brijit’s growing community of smart readers and writers, and spotlights the most popular pieces from the past seven days. We’ve doubled up this week due to the holidays; this Brijit Index covers the past 14 days:
1 Dickheads of the Year by Bill Maher, Rolling Stone, 27 Dec 2007 / 10 January 2008 — Not your average year-in-review, Maher offers up his picks, and readers left of the political center will find it hilarious. PETA’s public enemy number one, Michael Vick holds the dubious distinction of topping the list, and Blackwater CEO Erik Prince is not far behind. Group award-winners include College Republicans, for being “doughy losers who, at age twenty, care more about tax cuts than girls,” and the “twenty-five percent of America who would not desert George Bush if he ran over Dakota Fanning with his pickup truck.”
2 The Worst Films of 2007, A.V. Club, 18 Dec 2007 — Obvious candidates (Daddy Day Camp, Norbit) mixed with high-falutin’ failures (Lion for Lambs, Elizabeth: The Golden Age). Of course it’s easier to pan than praise, and the writers get are loaded for bear, describing the directors of Epic Movie as “cancerous boils on the face of comedy.” Some of the descriptions are so deliciously derisive, you even might be enticed to give bombs such as Dane Cook’s Good Luck Chuck a second look.
3 A Bible, but No Email by Richard Stengel & Adi Ignatius, Time, 31 Dec 2007 — Vladimir Putin is Time’s Person of the Year, and this conversation with the Russian leader is fascinating. Putin openly discusses geopolitics, his view of US failures in Iraq, his KGB training, and American misconceptions about Russians. He’s cagier when it comes to corruption, the murders of journalists, and the jailing of former chess champion Garry Kasparov.
4 Little-Known Mafia Is Cocaine ‘King’ by Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, 27 Dec 2007
5 Sock It to Me: Competitive Knitters Get Deadly Serious by Kevin Delaney, The Washington Post, 17 Dec 2007
6 Escape From Jonestown by Gary Smith, Sports Illustrated, 31 Dec 2007
7 A Buyer’s Christmas by James Surowiecki, The New Yorker, 24 & 31 Dec 2007
8 J.K. Rowling by Nancy Gibbs, Time, 31 Dec 2007

9 The Year in Food 2007, Chow, 21 Dec 2007

10 Best of Ads, Worst of Ads by Suzanne Vranica, The Wall Street Journal, 27 Dec 2007