Monthly Archives: March 2009

What’s black and white and dead all over?

View more presentations from Dirk Singer.

Dirk Singer at London PR agency Cow has created an insightful report on the potential death of the newspaper industry. The full PDF, found here, offers more details than the slides above and points out the UK press faces the same challenges as papers in the U.S.

We’re just linking to it because Dirk quoted us next to Arianna Huffington. Finally, our thoughts align with The Huffington Post.

Metcalfe gets a haircut

Brian Morrissey threw out a line in a podcast last night that everyone today is getting a haircut. We were debating union pay issues with him, but it occurred to us later that even Robert Metcalfe is getting a trim.

You see, Metcalfe was wrong. Metcalfe’s law — the idea that networks grow exponentially in value as more users join them — drew the curve too high. The reason, at least for humans, is that people don’t act the same as fax machines; not every link has the same value, we have a limit to the number of relationships we can maintain, and so our networks tend to fragment into subpopulations.

Networks don’t grow wildly in value if the links inside break and fall apart.

Which is why the recent trend of social media tools like Facebook and Twitter being sliced up is so interesting. Tweetdeck is a free software/mobile app that now accounts for nearly 10% of Twitter traffic, and it allows users to create groups of people they want to watch closely within Twitter. Web sites such as ExecTweets or’s new feed into Twitter are creating silos within the human networks, easier to access, depending on your interest or mode or point of entry.

All of which points out social media is fragmenting even as it connects us, limited the total utility of the network. Step back and count the sheer number of systems you now use to communicate. Email. Gmail. Hotmail. Facebook. Twitter. Desk phone. Home phone. Cell phone. Fax. Physical mail. Voicemail. LinkedIn. Blogs and their comment threads. Do you really plug in seamlessly to each, reaching all possible connections? (Ha. If you do, please come help us with our In box!) Each system is a network with potentially unlimited contacts and ways to tweak it, but to function we filter out insanity by limiting access in each.

Advertisers who still believe social networks equal wild potential, where a message can scale to the masses, aren’t paying attention and perhaps should wise up. Networks are largely illusions. We all aren’t connected, because if we want to listen to a few, we have to find new ways to shut some others out.

This isn’t to suggest your marketing message can’t scale. Just beware of the limits within new networks — humans tend to cluster, and each subgroup is a disconnect that can turn your message off.

Executives get their Twitter

Federated Media notes there are more than 100,000 executives on Twitter; where do business groupies begin? So it’s launched ExecTweets, a portal site that lets you peek into the minds of the C-level people in business, government, advertising and healthcare by monitoring their Twitter streams. It’s a good example of how social networks are beginning to (a) mature by capturing conservative communicators and (b) thus be sliced into manageable subnetworks to help users digest the sheer scale.

Our only question is why weren’t we invited?

NYT’s future model? We suggest it’s not personalization.

Jason Moriber has been writing insightfully about what might save The New York Times, including personalization. We debated this on his blog and are replaying it for your amusement.


Beyond the ongoing debate over what will eventually happen to newspapers I feel there needs to be some quick pragmatic thinking on what can be done “now.” The quickest changes can be made to print-media’s online sites.

Show me the static content for free. I’ll pay you for the active content … Offer me something you can’t get anywhere else but online – my behavior and my preferences. Don’t sell my data to marketers, sell it to me! Mix the available content and data with my behavior, let me set a few preferences, and you have a paid model.


Very interesting ideas. I debate, though, whether personalization is enough to build a subscription base or loyalty. The idea of 1to1 marketing has been around since Don Peppers in 1991 and never seems to make it as a real business model; Netflix and Amazon try and still fall far short.

The problem is the switching costs to find relevant information are now so low, that as soon as NYT charges – I’ll fly somewhere else, where the same quality content can be had for free.

What I might pay for though is access to the minds of the people writing the stories. Imagine spending $20 a month to be able to converse with the top technology writers at NYT, or perhaps a club of similar top readers interested in the topic. But even that is a tough sell given the ease of setting up other social networks.

The truth is that the content we all love so dear has become a commodity. There is only so much demand; the supply has become almost infinite; as the quantity of supply moves farther and farther to the right on a classic supply-and-demand curve, the price of the good (content) must fall. I suggest that there have always been millions of brilliant minds in the human population out of the billions on the planet; journalism in the past limited our access to these minds, so we perceived that NYT and other top papers had the “few” people needed worth spending to see. But now that I can find you, or anyone else I deem smart or wise or reporting real news that I find useful, I can flow to this huge real supply of intelligence. The profits disappear as the friction between content supply and demand are gone.

As far as the solution? The only one I can see is for the current knowledge empires like NYT to become nonprofits, lock in their brand, and admit that advertising or subscription revenues will no longer be enough for them to survive. Knowledge, like data, has always wanted to be free.

Your blog now exposes your psyche

Look out. Some clever person has built an online tool that scans your blog to determine your personality type based on the Myers-Briggs scale. You know: When you judge, do you “think” or “feel,” and when you perceive, do you “sense” or use “intuition.” The theory is based on Carl Jung’s work and explains why you just can’t get along with your boss, because different people see the world in vastly unique ways.

The real story here is that many people are exposing their inner workings using social media tools, and outside groups will begin collecting this information for marketing or customer service purposes. An individual who chats frequently on Twitter over time sheds deep things about his or her personality. There’s a market for information like this.

Via TheBeanCast.

Playboy, like Chris Anderson, flows to the free

Wired editor Chris Anderson spoke at SXSW this week, arguing again that pricing on all products and services will flow to the free as the internet matches supply and demand more efficiently.

As evidence, we give you Playboy. The publishing empire, which has been severely threatened by free online alternatives, announced today it will post 53 issues from 1954 through 2007 at a free Playboy Archive web site, unedited, with no age restrictions. Now — if you’re still reading and haven’t clicked through, stay with us, people — this is a perfect example of Anderson’s freemium model, where a large portion of your services are given away in exchange for a small group of customers who pay. Marketers could learn from this move; rather than fight online competition or piracy, learn to coexist with free models while building future demand for paid services.

As if you’re still reading this.

Pew: Teens much less likely to shop online

Yo, kids, don’t you like

Dirk Singer points us to a recent Pew report evaluating differences in internet use by age. Many of the findings are obvious — teens like games and blogging, seniors are increasing their time on the internet — but one leaped out. Only 38% of online teens said they shop online, compared with 71% of young adults 18-32 and 80% of Gen Xers age 33-44.

Some of this may be driven by finances; teens don’t make much money. But you would think teens — with their constant online connections and the marketers rabidly chasing them — would spend what money they have via online purchases. It could be that youth have a focused modality on creating and sharing content in social media, and so all those hours spent on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs reduce the time teens spend shopping. Or, alternatively, young people use online access to gather information but prefer to make actual purchases at the mall.

(Or it could simply be teens don’t have access to credit cards, usually required for online purchases. If so we smell a huge marketing opportunity here for a credit card firm that can provide some entry credit tool for young people with parental controls. No, wait. BAD idea.)

Since people take their media habits with them as they age, ecommerce players and online advertisers should watch this new modality. It also points out the need to match offline results with online impressions; the last click on a web site is not the only indication of a sale.

Photo: turtlemom4bacon

Seeing the who, not the what: Robert Scoble’s interview with Quantcast

Most web analytics measure what happens online — how many impressions, clicks, conversions. But finding out who is visiting sites has been more difficult.

We just chatted with Konrad Feldman, co-founder and CEO of Quantcast, for a forthcoming column. We won’t spoil the thesis, but if you are interested in web measurement, the Quantcast system is free and provides extensive demographic profiles of web site audiences. Here Robert Scoble interviews Konrad for details of how it works.

SXSW attention deficit disorder has some ‘real’ advantages

So we got home tonight from SXSW Interactive, the web-internet marketing festival, having learned a few things. Facebook is emulating the Twitter live “stream” (to become the Experian prospect database of the now). Mobile advertising still doesn’t exist in any scalable form (but like the Great Pumpkin may be just around the corner). Quants can predict outcomes of baseball and elections but not stock movements (because too many public companies lie). The psychology of game play can guide better design (in web sites, product usability, and marketing campaigns).

But the real finding is the web is now merging with reality.

This is both a good and bad thing. Bad, in that people no longer pay attention. The geeks (OK, and us) spent much time ignoring elite speakers to type their own commentary on iPhones or laptops into Twitter, with hashtags (brief codes beginning with an “#” symbol) allowing others to search for the backchannel snark. Everyone justified this as a new way of adding personal value to the presentations, but face it, if you’re typing you can’t listen, or at least listen well.

The good spin, though, is sometimes the backchannel created a powerful overlay on reality — real insights from your peers on the current debate; the contact who finds you in a room of 1,000 people after you text your shirt color; the location of the person you need to meet on the roof of the Mashable party. We think Todd Sanders did it best — this Wisconsin-based webmaster couldn’t make SXSW, so had friends email him photos with vacant areas allowing him to be photoshopped in. The entire series is hilarious, bordering on art masterworks. Here, Todd arm-wrestles Plaid interactive agency president Darryl Ohrt over a booze bottle, when Darryl was actually holding nothing. Soon numerous people were staging photo shoots to feed Todd; uberblogger Chris Brogan posed with his arms around air; Todd became a meme within the SXSW hip crowd, who in turn looked for his next photoshopped feed back.

It’s scary people don’t listen. It’s cool that ideas, moving from the virtual web community into reality, give us new things to listen to.