Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Value of Comments

Many blogs, such as this one, are driven not by the readers but by a single person pushing their thoughts out on people. Comments are there for people to discuss what the leader has already said. It's not so much a discussion as it is a speech with a Q&A session afterward.

Blog experts hold that the discussion can also be much broader. That is, several bloggers talking to each other through different blogs using trackbacks and links to bind it all together. While that's true, it also creates for a complex communications world that requires a bit of technical sophistication to follow.

A few months ago Kristine Munroe and I started an experiment. We wanted to create a blog for the city of Newton, Mass. that wasn't about an individual, but is fed by the people. Our original thought was for people to log in and then use the "blogging" feature to add their voices and thoughts.

A week or so ago we had a pretty big scare: all of our comments disappeared. A glitch in Drupal eliminated everything but the posts and we had to have the help desk rebuild from the backup. But it also caused an epiphany: our value isn't in th blog, it's in the comments.

People comment "anonymously" but still sign their name. It's just easier for them so that's what they do. The restaurant reviews are mostly written by the community and the discussions that go on over such local issues as the proposed new high school are intelligent and thought-provoking. I see my role not as a blogger, but as a discussion facilitator.

Granted, some of the same voices continue to rise to the top, but I'm seeing more people commenting. The only thing I wonder is whether some of the "anonymous" people are, in fact, the same person posting multiple times. But the voices are becoming so numerous that it no longer really matters.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

An Angry Farewell

Way back when, during my career as a TV producer, I did some freelance work over at The Ten O'Clock News on Channel 56, WLVI-TV. At the time the local Fox affiliate had just started its competing newscast, but it had yet to gain a footing. Channel 56 was putting on a very good newscast, even if it had a slower pace and felt a bit dated.

I produced a couple of shows in my stint there but eventually decided not to stick around. I wanted out of TV by that point and while doing a bit of freelance work was just fine, a full-time job just wasn't on my to-do list.

Well, last night I watched as WLVI shut down its newscast. Venerable newsman Jack Hynes delivered an angry farewell, pulling no punches to come right at Sunbeam, the company that purchased and effectively shut down the station. It's interesting to note that I came to 56 from Channel 7, where I'd just wrapped up a couple of years working the overnights.

Hynes pointed out that in his career he'd never witnessed the shutting down of a station. Former 56 anchor Karen Marinella was right when she pointed out that with the closing of 56 Boston loses a voice. However, in today's news world this isn't the last shutdown we'll see. Especially when you consider the massive options for information and entertainment available at nearly any time of day.

So, what does my future of TV look like? How about personalized newscasts. That is, a group like 7 News produces stories, maybe they even produce a full newscast. But each of those stories are saved as pieces, tagged, and then distributed via any possible method, such as the Internet, broadcast, cable, cellular, etc.

A device, be it the computer, TiVo, or your cell phone receives those pieces and then puts together a personal newscast based on information you have provided. Maybe it just reads your preferences and feeds you the newscast you want. Perhaps it's even geographic, giving you only the information you need for your area. That way I don't hear about a fire in Chelsea and the folks in Chelsea don't get the information about the Newton school system. Maybe you tell the DVR what stories you prefer.

All this is possible with today's technology. People just need to learn how to use it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Making Music

I've known Peter Kohan since both of us were struggling through puberty. Not a pretty site.

But by now we're both grown and mostly through the awkward stage. Peter is in the music industry and just launched the blog Appetite for Disruption, yes, a takeoff on the Guns-n-Roses debut album.

From his introductory post:

From a very young age I was obsessed with listening to music; my father had a turntable and I played his copy of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band until it wore out. This is nothing new here. We are all exposed to music in its many forms throughout our lives and feel certain types of music deeply, while other genres or artists we can take or leave or downright dislike. I was never able to master a musical instrument, so I couldn't translate my particular passion into a creative outpouring. I have, despite that handicap, been able to develop for myself a nine-year career (thus far) in the music business.
To be fair, Peter did try singing in a cover band we once put together, complete with a horn section (I played the trombone). Ambitious, but it only lasted two or three days.

That said, considering the metamorphosis the music industry is experiencing, his thoughts are definitely worth a read.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Gartner says blogging to peak... I say it makes sense

Gartner today predicted that blogging will peak next year and then level off, with people basically coming and going from it.

That makes complete sense. That doesn't mean blogging is ineffective, but blogging is just one part of the broader concept of "Open Communications." It's just one part of a broader communications flow that involves consumers generating their own information. Blogging may peak, but podcasting, video blogging and even concepts like Second Life will continue to grow.

Also, you're going to see blogging concepts, like commenting, continue to cement themselves in traditional media. Just ask Conan O'Brien how effective these concepts can be. If a comedy show is taking ideas from viewers, then it's not about "blogging," but about an open dialog.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Stop the presses! NBC discovers social media!

Apparently at the end of a skit on Late Night, Conan O'Brien threw out a fake Web site. Well, that meant NBC had to buy and put something up there, which the folks at Late Night did, in their very humorous way.

What happened next shouldn't surprise anyone who has been following social media: people started contributing. In fact, they contributed some pretty good stuff that ended up being used on Late Night.

So, why do I find this amusing? Because the New York Times found it interesting enough for an article and Conan's quote seems to fit well with how big-media companies are slowly discovering this new world:

Reached by telephone at NBC yesterday, Mr. O’Brien said he was stunned and overwhelmed by the viewers’ response to what had initially been a throwaway line, and by what that response, collectively, suggested about how the digital world was affecting traditional media like television.

“We couldn’t have done this two years ago, three years ago,” Mr. O’Brien said. “It’s sort of this weird comedy dialogue with the audience.”

It's not so weird... it's the way things are. Then again, O'Brien later joked that he still owns an abacus.

Big names but no meat

I represent mostly small companies, those with a lot of great ideas but no true track record. Often their technology is as good, if not better than that created by the likes of Microsoft, Oracle, IBM or [enter big software company here].

Still, it amazes me how easy it is for these big companies to keep the spotlight. I may call a reporter and hear him/her say "oh, just another [enter name of topic area here]" and then go on to ignore everything I say. Then, of course, they'll do a big story on the Microsoft Zune, which, to be honest, is "just another [mp3 player]."

But it's from Microsoft.

Which is why the story about the media companies working on a competitor to YouTube made me chuckle. The companies have been meeting but have no real technology and no site. Just content.

But, they're household names... of course it's a story!

What they're forgetting about YouTube is that many companies tried and failed to create content destinations. YouTube isn't about the content, it's about the people who create and view the content. The media companies are starting with the content and expect to build something from that.

I'd be amazed if the "major" players can get it right.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Plenty to talk about, but not now

I know, I've been quiet. I have plenty to say but so many other projects going on that something had to give. And this blog has had to suffer just a bit because of it.

That said, I've been exploring Second Life and find it to be a fascinating place, but not for what it is today. It's tomorrow that interests me.

Sure, today you can walk around and spend money in what amounts to an interesting chat room. And it is a wonderful platform and technology. I'm waiting for the day that it merges with one of the gaming platforms, so you go from playing Madden 2010 to walking down the virtual corridors of Amazon in order to pick up a new Chad Pennington Jersey, the one he autographed after his Super Bowl win (hey, it's my fantasy!). You get to try it on your virtual body so you know if you should get the large or the extra large, then have it delivered to your door, paying with REAL currency. Then maybe they'll show you a few other items you may like, such as the New York Jets pro grip hammer.

The gaming platform makes this interesting since it brings in a sense of physics. You'll be able to see how the hammer reacts in the real world, whether those stitches actually keep it from slipping or whether they're just for show. The gaming platform has the added advantage of getting your avatar off the computer and into the living room.

All this is coming. But for today this is a platform worth learning to use. That doesn't mean everyone should rush in. My colleague John Moran is correct when he points out that you need to be sure this fits into your overall marketing strategy before charging in.

For now, if you're walking through SL and run across Chas Trotter, go ahead and say "hello."