Inside Howard Owen’s walled mind

Howard Owens, in his usual absurb rationalizations, suggests that Craigslist is a “walled garden”.

He says that those who contribute should be “afforded the opportunity to benefit from wider distribution of their content”.

Heck, how much wider “distribution” can you get from the most popular classifieds website on the Internet?

If Craigslist is a walled garden, then it is a terribly porous one.

How could it be possible, for instance, to have a mash-up like HousingMaps if Craigslist’s walls were so high?

To liken Craigslist to the proprietary-laden AOL, and Craig Newmark to profiteer Bill Gates, is to suggest an ignorance so deep that enlightenment can only be reached via the Chikyu.


The Great Red Firewall

[AFP via The Star]

A letter posted on the Internet by 400 parents of children working as slaves in brickyards was the trigger for the national press to finally report on the scandal.

The parents’ Internet posting was part of a growing phenomenon for marginalised people in China who cannot otherwise have their complaints addressed by the traditional, government-controlled press.

“The phenomenon of ‘citizen journalism’ suddenly arrived several years ago,” said Beijing-based dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was one of the student leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests.

“Since the appearance of blogs in particular, every blog is a new platform for the spread of information.”

He cited the example of a couple in Chongqing who became known as the “Stubborn Nails” in April because they refused to leave their home until they received adequate compensation from the property developer who wanted them out.

They quickly became household names in China – mainly thanks to Internet postings.

Recognising the threat of China’s growing online community, Chinese President Hu Jintao called in January for the Internet to be “purified,” and the government has since launched a number of online crackdowns.



The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Culture and Information will discuss measures to control blogs since many problems associated with blogs have been reported, said an official of the Justice Ministry.

Relevant agencies have received many complaints related to blogs, for example sex blogs, unhealthy information. Chief Inspector of the Ministry of Culture and Information Vu Xuan Thanh also affirmed that there would be a joint-ministry circular issued on the control of blogs.

Currently, all blogs are free in terms of contents, except for some rules set by administrators of blog services and virtual social networks.

The administrator of Star Blog service, which hosts more than 24,000 bloggers and around 63,000 articles, asks its members to follow some rules, for example not use pornographic photos or images and not post reactionary or obscene articles, otherwise the accounts are locked immediately.

“We read all articles posted on blogs to control the contents,” said Cao Manh Tuan, managing director of Star Blog.

At, a social network that is running on a trial basis and has around 67,000 members and 150-200 new members each day, administrators also set some rules, such as immediately deleting articles that are not suitable to Vietnamese customs and violate laws of Vietnam. This network has members and tools to control the contents of articles posted on the website.

From Reporters Without Borders in a 2007 report:

China unquestionably continues to be the world’s most advanced country in Internet filtering. The authorities carefully monitor technological progress to ensure that no new window of free expression opens up, After initially targeting websites and chat forums, they nowadays concentrate on blogs and video exchange sites. China now has nearly 17 million bloggers. This is an enormous number, but very few of them dare to tackle sensitive issues, still less criticise government policy. Firstly, because China’s blog tools include filters that block “subversive” word strings. Secondly, because the companies operating these services, both Chinese and foreign, are pressured by the authorities to control content. They employ armies of moderators to clean up the content produced by the bloggers. Finally, in a country in which 52 people are currently in prison for expressing themselves too freely online, self-censorship is obviously in full force. Just five years ago, many people thought Chinese society and politics would be revolutionised by the Internet, a supposedly uncontrollable medium. Now, with China enjoying increasing geopolitical influence, people are wondering the opposite, whether perhaps China’s Internet model, based on censorship and surveillance, may one day be imposed on the rest of the world.


Should a news site link to its rival?

BBC’s Global News Director and blogger Richard Sambrook and David Weinberg chat about dismantling of the media. Excerpts:

In the early stages of the Internet, we thought that the task was really to attract as many people as possible to our site and get them to stay there as long as possible. It is now becoming clear that is not really what is about.

It is about bringing people to the site and having content they want to come to, but then facilitating them in doing things with it: emailing stories to friends, being able to take a video clip and embed it on their own site or send it off to their mother or father. Being able to do something with the BBC’s content is important to them as simply having our content available for them to come and to look at and post their own comments on.

That kind of cultural shift that says, it is not just about tracking people inside our castle and keeping them there. It is about being far more open and porous from there, and there is a real value to that, and we will get credit for that approach and that attitude which will build a community around us. That is quite a big cultural mind shift for people to take, being in traditional media…

We had this a few years ago, I remember vividly, we had a debate here in the BBC about when we run a story on our site, should we link to other news organizations who were also covering our story, possibly, in different ways? There was one group of people who very strongly felt, this was ridiculous, we would be promoting our competition, we wanted people to come to the BBC. Why should we enable them to go off to our competitors? Versus the other group, of which I was one, that said we will get credit with them for providing a service of value to them.

That is how people use the Internet, and they need to understand that we are self-confident enough organization to be able to provide them with links and information of value, even if it is to people whose not ourselves, and we will get a lot of credit and loyalty for being that way. That is a very small thing. But when you go to the BBC news site, you find a story, you will find links to other organizations that are covering the same thing and actually our research shows that is positive and we do get a kind of positive flowback from that.

That was the very first step in this direction. It has now gone as far as saying, we are going to put 13 news clips a day on YouTube and we are sure we will take you further still.


Damage Control: Is junior covering your crisis?

Eric Dezenhall and John Weber in Damage Control: Why Everything You Know About Crisis Management Is Wrong have an interesting take on crisis management.

They suggest that every crisis is unique (ho-hum) and sometimes being honest and upfront about what they describe as a “marketplace assault” may not be the right tact to rescue your reputation.

Unfortunately they offer few concrete answers, only hinting at the tactics they employed – some obviously too unscrupulous to document – to save their “fictitious” clients.

One para at the end chapter on future crisis management trends, however, caught my attention:

“Is Junior covering your crisis?

The news media of the future will be characterized by too few reporters with too little training chasing too many stories. And more and more businesses will be burned in the process. Why? Because money — not public service journalism — is king in newsrooms today. It started when big companies such as General Electric, Disney, and Time Warner bought NBC, ABC, and CNN, respectively, and turned up the pressure to transform news reporting into a profit-making enterprise. Once considered to be treasured (and pampered) jewels in the corporate portfolio, news executives were ordered to make a buck for the company like everyone else. Concurrently, massive changes in consumer lifestyles and technology via the Internet were swiftly reshaping how people got their news. As a result, network TV audiences, as well as daily newspaper readership, are shrinking rapidly. Fewer viewers and readers mean less advertising revenues. Less revenue means less money to pay experienced, generally older reporters adn to cover the costs of dispatching news crews. Fewer, younger, and less experienced reporters, and less money available to thoroughly research stories, will increasingly result in stories that are quickly and poorly reported and done primarily because they are cheap, easy to do, and visual. And this will create enormous opportunities for mischief, misrepresentation, and malfeasance because someone has the video and a story too expensive and too time-consuming to check out.”


Will video kill the journalism star?

Chuck Fadely of Miami Herald puts video in perspective, in the Great Video Gold Rush:

The publishers have sighted gold in them thar video player hills.

All the newspaper people have piled into the wagons and are heading west toward Video, in the hopes of striking it rich. Imagine! Those pre-roll ads get higher rates than banners! Let’s do video!!!! The rush is on!

Someone on the internet said you can do video with a point and shoot! Let’s give our staffers the cheapest video cameras we can buy and send ’em out. We’ll be rich!

Well, folks, circle the wagons around the campfire here and let’s have a little chat.

This video stuff ain’t easy nor cheap. No matter how many well-intentioned bloggers tell you all you need is a $89 camera and the will to do it, the reality is far different.

It takes good audio gear, reasonable video gear, modern computers, and most of all, time, to produce intelligible video for the web.

So many papers have staffers struggling along with antideluvian computers and too many assignments to ever cover in a day…. and now corporate says they have to do video, too! I feel for you, brothers….


Rosenberg’s 9 Rules of Journalism

Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press lists the nine rules of journalism. Here are some choice ones:

1. Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted; then, after the afflicted become comfortable, afflict them again. This should provide an endless supply of news stories.

2. Be balanced. No matter what anybody says, find somebody to say the opposite. If a scientist claims to have a cure for cancer, find somebody who says cancer does not exist. If a man says “My name is Fred,” make sure you find somebody who says “No, your name is Diane.” Etc.

5. Internet, Schminternet. It will be gone in five years. People will always love reading a newspaper — and so will you, our intrepid reporter, once you accept our buyout offer.

7. When appearing on television, insinuate that all newspaper reporters are biased. When writing for a newspaper, imply that all television people are boobs with no credibility. When at the bar afterward, complain that nobody trusts journalists anymore.


21 things to improve news sites

Matthew Buckland, blogging at WAN South Africa, posted this list:

1.Focus on local content and news
2.Stress immediacy
3.User-generated content
4.User comments
5.User rankings and networking on your site
6.Embrace RSS
7.Use other web services to promote your site (eg: SecondLife, MySpace, Facebook)
8.Facilitate blogging of content for readers (and try not to get your pants sued off)
9.Homogenous branding
10.Complement the print edition (I guess so)
11.Increase the use of photography
12.Design internal/article pages as landing pages (huge traffic comes via deeplinks)
13.Give blogs to journalists
14.Link to external sources of information (link, link, link!!!)
15.Personalise for the readers
16.Manage relationships online
17.Tag clouds
18.Create a lite edition
19.Increase the content niches relevant to your community (well if you have the budget)
20.Create select audio and video casts
21.Use the web as a content laboratory

Matthew says 20 but I counted 21. Anywayz, increasingly I find news sites that try everything are looking pretty amateur and starting to dilute their brand. Just because we’ve now embraced Web 2.0 doesn’t mean that we abandon standards. Being a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none can be distracting and frustrating for new and old audiences.

Audio slideshows that are too long, captions that suck, overproduced multimedia packages that are so humongous they aren’t worth waiting for (and strangely enough winning awards for), RSS that doesn’t work, video that freezes suddenly, the list is endless.

Surely, some consistency, product quality and testing must be adhered to before plonking the lot online. Or perhaps the supervising editors just don’t have the training to go in and fix things.

The Dawn of Push Video?

MediaWeek has a story about, a video service that will send you the best videos available online:

Anyone who’s spent time watching lots of bad videos online in search of a few good ones knows Michael Caruso’s frustration.

Caruso, the former editor of Wenner Media’s Men’s Journal and of Condé Nast’s Details, has channeled that frustration into a new Web site he founded, The Daily Tube (, that promises to compile the best new videos across several subject areas: humor, celebrity, music, late-night category, political, sports and Web-based stars. The site will give visitors the option of signing up for a free, daily e-mail containing the best new videos, as determined by its editors.

“I thought, there’s got to be a better way of doing this,” he said. “Instead of wasting time watching a lot of bad videos, my service will find the best new videos and deliver them to your in-box.”

The hope is that the site, still in beta, will attract up to 100,000 subscribers to the free e-mail and eventually attract advertising. “There’s a lot of interest in Internet video,” he said. “We cover the best new Internet videos. So I think it’s got large potential…”


Lessons on journalism

Derek Powazek on founder-journos (edited):

Lesson 1: Seek the Truth

..Journalists live in a perpetual state of disbelief. Skepticism is the norm. Because, in journalism, nothing is true unless you can back it up. Just because one person says it, doesn’t mean it’s true. See if you can get someone else to confirm. Double, triple check. Your reputation is on the line. The journalist-founder needs be a dreamer and a skeptic. You need to have the desire to pursue your crazy dream to the bitter end, but you also need to retain your skepticism. If the plan doesn’t work, what’s the fallback? Are you sure you have all the right information to make your decisions? Are you double checking what people tell you?

Lesson 2: Be Relentless

…The journalist-founder needs to be dogged. When the email isn’t returned, call. When the call isn’t returned, visit. When that doesn’t work, try something else. You have to want it more than anyone else – that’s what’ll make your startup succeed where others failed.

Lesson 3: Shut Up!

…The meat of journalism is the interview. Asking the right questions, at the right time, in the right way, to get the most valuable insights out of the people around you. To do that, you can’t be the one talking. In fact, if you don’t shut up and listen, you’ll miss a valuable chance to learn from those around you.

Lesson 4: Produce Something

All of the above – seeking the truth, being relentless, talking less and listening more – are integral parts of journalism, but in the end, the product is what counts. For the process to matter, you have to produce a story to share your results with the world.

The journalist founder knows that there’s nothing to fear from producing something. It doesn’t have to be perfect – you just have to put it out there, listen to the feedback from your customers, and then do it again, making sure that each iteration gets a little better.

No one ever won a Pulitzer for the story they almost wrote.


Photosynth: Collaborative albums on steroids

Could Microsoft actually come out with something more ground-breaking than, ehh, the animated paperclip?

Here’s Photosynth, a Live Labs’ idea that take the photosharing service Flickr into 3D format.

It answers the question: What is the use of all those digital photos on the net?

Apparently, with Photosynth you can re-construct a “scene”, then walk or fly through it to see photos from any angle, zooming in and out at will.

From a newsman’s viewpoint this would be intriguing. A 9/11-sized catastrophe constructed in near real-time from uploaded, crowd-sourced cameraphone photos would have some intriguing angles.

But what if we could take it to the next level in video format?

See video demos at LiveLabs site and TED, then try it.

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