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Archive for March, 2008|Monthly archive page

Are We Really Still Talking About the Merits of Linking in 2008?

In brijit, editorial, publishing on Monday, 31 March 2008 at 14:05

It was all I could do not to write a headline laced with profanity, such is the depth of my frustration. (My colleagues talked me down.)

Brijit has enjoyed a great run of mainstream media visibility over the past couple of months, by pretty much any standard. We were on the cover of the Life section of USA Today, the lead example in a piece titled Services cater to our speeded-up lives.” We got a nice mention on MSNBC in a story called “How to dig out from the information avalanche.” And last week we appeared in the April issue of Wired, which identified Brijit as a prime example of The Human Touch,” one of “nine trends driving business in 2008.” Great stuff for any company, especially a startup like ours. Just one problem: none of these actually linked to!

Now, I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but these particular masters of mainstream media are killing me. According to Comscore, MSNBC had 28 million unique visitors in January. USA Today’s sites had more than 8 million, and Wired 2 million. These are big brands with big audiences, the kind of audiences that entrepreneurs like me would ordinarily salivate over. If some small fraction of these audiences finds its way to one of these articles, and some small fraction of that fraction clicks through to visit Brijit, and some small fraction of that fraction likes what they see, sticks around, and shares Brijit with their friends, well, that’s a big deal for a site like ours. Which is why it’s so enraging to be written about but NOT linked to.

When we launched late last year, it was a piece by Frank Ahrens in the The Washington Post that brought us to the world’s attention. More than four months later, we continue to see a trickle of referrals from this story. Why? Because on first reference, there’s a link to Brijit. Now, The Washington Post is about as mainstream as mainstream media gets, but they get it. This isn’t complex neuroscience. This is common courtesy. Hell, this is the Golden Rule we’re talking about: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

If you’re a publisher, you want other publishers linking to you. If you’re a reader, you want easy access to whatever it is you want to read, listen to, or watch. It’s pretty simple. So what, exactly, is wrong with USA Today, MSNBC, Wired, and the host of other outlets that still haven’t instituted link-friendly standards? Are they so desperate to keep people on their sites that they’re willing to treat their readers with such disrespect? Do they think not linking is the key to consumer satisfaction? Really?

I know this is well-worn ground. It’s pretty common knowledge at this point that the link is the coin of the realm online. The blog as a medium is built on a foundation that linking is good. So is Google. So is Yahoo!. And so is Brijit. And when Tom Rosenstiel, who supervised The State of the News Media 2008 report for the Project for Excellence in Journalism, goes on Bob Garfield’s On the Media and declares that “your website should be a way-station, a place that can help me get to where I want to go. If it were a dead-end street, a cul-de-sac, it would be less useful to me,” you’d think that everyone was on board.

They’re not.

Eastern Promise

In Connecting the Dots on Monday, 31 March 2008 at 11:16

When the 26 members of NATO meet in Bucharest this week, they’ll discuss a number of pressing issues, including the group’s ongoing expansion into Eastern Europe. Writing in The Washington Post, Jim Hoagland looked at the behind-the-scenes political maneuvering. Germany wants to block Georgia and Ukraine from joining, and Hoagland argues it’s a move that inadvertently helps both Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush: The two leaders can keep their positions — Bush for expansion, Putin against — without having to do anything about it for the rest of their terms. Elsewhere, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld took to the pages of The Wall Street Journal to argue for the NATO expansion — discussing full membership for Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia, as well as touching on the Georgia/Ukraine issue. Meanwhile, foreign policy expert Ronald Asmus penned a think piece suggesting that the organization needs to overhaul its rationale for expanding, particularly in the face of a more dominant Russia.

Absolutely Flabulous

In Connecting the Dots on Friday, 28 March 2008 at 11:28

Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. were down-on-their-luck, regional fast food chains until they discovered “balls out postmodern gluttony.” The 1,400-calorie Monster Thickburger — which sports two 1/3 pound slabs of Angus beef, four strips of bacon, three slices of American cheese, mayonnaise, and a buttered, sesame seed bun — has helped boost the company’s stock price from $2 to $22. It isn’t just the drive-thru, either: Ballparks are increasingly looking at all-you-can-eat seats, where patrons can eat until they puke, in addition to ostensibly watching a baseball game. Dodger fan and funnyman Neal Pollack headed over to Dodger Stadium with an NPR press credential to explain how this is a rip-off for fans, in addition to taking a few years off of their lives. But living large is even extending to supposedly sophisticated food bloggers: The New York Times takes a look at a not-that-surprising development — food writers getting fat.

Less Money, Mo’ Problems

In Connecting the Dots on Thursday, 27 March 2008 at 13:02

Wired editor Chris Anderson continues making the rounds to promote his free-stuff-online thesis, echoing the message from his March cover story. From photo storage to email addresses, it seems you can get nearly anything for free online — but many of these sites can afford the cheap goods by taking close notes about your surfing habits, info that advertisers prize. Facebook in particular has drawn criticism for its shopper-spying Beacon, which it has since amended (and added additional privacy features), Talk of the Nation reported. Alas, it seems the best things in life are not actually free; in a unique piece, The Believer prints “condensed copy” of an indie-film budget — and $3,000 of its $6 million goes to photocopies of the script.

Stay on Target

In Connecting the Dots on Wednesday, 26 March 2008 at 11:04

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be the biggest. While Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, has been struggling of late, Target has been humming along in second place. Letting the big guys take the flak for everything that is bad about big-box retailing, Target has been signing up hip designers, keeping prices low, and establishing itself as a go-to brand for everything from trail mix to sundresses. The retailer even found itself playing a bit part in a scandal during the GOP primary race: While governor Mike Huckabee and his wife were on their way out of the Little Rock governor’s mansion, they were listed on the store’s wedding registry in an attempt to furnish their new home. (Wedding gifts are exempt from ethics laws in Arkansas. The Huckabees have been married for three decades.)

The decidedly un-hip former governor of Arkansas notwithstanding, working with designers like Alice Temperley and Erin Fetherston has certainly brought cachet to the retailer, particularly among the younger, suburban set — something that could eventually be reflected in the retailer’s still-struggling stock price.

Regulators, Mount Up

In Connecting the Dots on Tuesday, 25 March 2008 at 10:21

The Bear Stearns bailout is prompting the chattering classes to ponder exactly what, if anything, should be done to fix structural issues in the financial system (or even if they do, in fact, exist). Paul Krugman, who’s been hammering away at deregulation, argues that the current financial mess is the fault of the erosion of oversight of our financial institutions. On “Fox News Sunday,” Glenn Hubbard (former Bush adviser) and Lawrence Summers (former Clinton cabinet member) duked it out from the right and left, respectively, while Newsweek spent its week asking everyone from Robert Rubin to General Motors’ Bob Lutz what to do about it all (a McCain advisor seems nervous: “Hopefully the stimulus package will help pick things up late in the second quarter or early in the third.”) Meanwhile, BusinessWeek is wondering if Hillary Clinton can spin political gold from the dross of the credit crunch.

On a more optimistic note, Charles Duhigg, writing in the New York Times this weekend, reassures everyone that there will be no second Great Depression. Or could it be that our economic system has become so complex that we’re going to be vulnerable to these crises for the foreseeable future?

Brijit in Wired!

In brijit, editorial on Tuesday, 25 March 2008 at 9:10

The April issue of Wired magazine is online, with a big piece on their 9 big trends for 2008. Number 9? “The Human Touch,” featuring Brijit as the lead example of “ventures that are using people, rather than algorithms, to filter the Internet’s wealth of information.”

Sprouting Fingers

In Connecting the Dots on Monday, 24 March 2008 at 11:09

Sunday Morning scored some gross-out points this weekend with its story about Lee Spievack, who regrew his severed fingertip using a “magic” powder made from pig bladders. But it gets better (or worse), as the program actually shows some less-than-appetizing footage of the regenerated finger. However, the story is several months old — we prefer Esquire‘s more colorful report from October.

In other Frankensteinian news, a little while back University of Minnesota scientists grew a rat heart in a lab. And if all this weird science is too much for you, check out this piece about PatientsLikeMe, a social networking site for those coping with disease.

Breaking China in Tibet

In Connecting the Dots on Friday, 21 March 2008 at 12:03

With violence erupting in Tibet this week, the stars aligned to make China look especially naughty, and as the summer Olympics draw near, everyone’s favorite Communist giant is getting a thorough grilling from the press. The Economist examined the Dalai Lama’s role in the mess, arguing that the bespectacled holy man might be China’s only hope for compromise. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal took note of the tightrope that Olympic sponsors walk as complaints grow about China’s involvement in the Darfur conflict.

And then, of course, there’s the whole censorship thing, which everybody weighed in on. The Los Angeles Times provided a near-comic report on China’s latest PR campaign, in which the country plays victim to Tibetan aggression. The Journal and TechCrunch also looked at the Internet blackout (a world without Google or YouTube? Inconceivable!) — and how Google might respond.

So what do the Tibetans have to say for themselves? The Journal had a great piece about fired-up youth creating their own “Free Tibet” movement — sans the Dalai Lama. And there’s more trouble brewing: The New York Times ran a thoughtful piece about class strife between the wealthier Han Chinese and poorer Tibetans.

But if this week’s violent imagery has you feeling sorry for the Tibetans, take comfort in Saveur‘s recent piece on the tea made from yak butter that sustains them in these cold, hard times.

War, What is it Good For?

In Connecting the Dots on Thursday, 20 March 2008 at 10:59

Yesterday marked the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, and the nation’s media have been flooding the zone. Ouside of the predictable “it’s been a success!” and “it’s been a failure!” op-eds, there were some more interesting angles. “Talk of the Nation” spoke with the producer for the New York Times’ Iraq-based blog, which includes man-on-the-street interviews with actual Iraqis. Tavis Smiley interviewed Rep. Patrick Murphy, the first Iraq vet elected to Congress, while BusinessWeek ran a feature on vets heading to business school. Salon took a look at the impact of the war on Iraq’s cultural and archaeological heritage, and Dana Milbank of the Washington Post attended an anti-war rally outside, of all places, IRS headquarters. (There’s plenty more if you still haven’t gotten your fix.)

For a truly moving assessment of the war’s impact at home, though, take a look at Esquire‘s brilliant piece from late last year about an Iraq vet using pot to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder.