Archive for February, 2008

User Generated Content + News = ?

City University’s Neil Thurman (U.K.) has an interesting study on the use of user-generated content by news companies. Is UGC the solution to the problems that many news companies face–such as declines in print circulation, and blogs and Google sniping at their heels? Engagement is important for these companies, as is building something that fits seamlessly into the existing business.

First, from the audience perspective, how do audiences respond to “citizen journalism”? According to Thurman, the adoption has been slow so far. On a popular debate forum on BBC’s site, 0.5 percent of users contributed, which is lower than the average of 1 percent on many social media sites, noted the Guardian’s Jemima Kiss.

However, news companies aren’t social media companies, and expecting them to have Facebook-like virality is expecting too much. It is still early days and many news organizations are trying to figure this problem out. Some have been working on it for a while. The Bakersfield Californian was an early tester of this model when it launched Northwest Voice in 2004–itself inspired by South Korea’s OhMyNews.

How do news companies react to UGC? Thurman notes:

“A belief in the need to control, moderate or sub users’ submissions so that they met the standards of professionally produced output was strongly held.”

Does user generated content add to news companies’ business? The question is probably better asked as, what is the best way for news companies to drive more traffic and keep readers on their sites? Of course, the business of news is different from that of a Disney or Scion, which are building communities to engage with their audiences around their brands. News companies are built on their reputation and credibility of their news. Mixing hard news with UGC news is a delicate matter. But it is a necessary issue to confront, increasing competition on all fronts. It can be done, and is completely necessary, a number of writers have argued.

Interestingly, in the Thurman study, 80 percent of the methods used to engage users were using moderators and/or pre-editing all of the content. This seems to make it difficult for UGC sections of news sites to scale to the level of the the “professional” news portions of their sites. Either news companies will have to give in and do away with most editing of UGC (and let the misspellings and low quality postings in) or a company needs to come up with an automated solution to edit UGC. Moderated UGC sites are just too expensive, Thurman’s study found.

There are a number of companies working on different aspects of socializing news, such as Mixx, Thoof, Digg and Reddit.

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$3,300 To Join A Social Network

Wow that’s pricey. The Financial Times has launched a new social network, FT Media and Technology Executive Leadership Forum. The $3,300 price tag to join includes one free conference and one year of the newspaper. It’s the first in a series of launches planned by FT, with future offerings in luxury goods and property, according to the Guardian.

While media companies are trying many different approaches to engage readers in communities and keep them on their sites–such as working with start-ups like Mixx, Inform, Aggregate Knowledge and Loomia–they are mostly all based on free ad-based models. FT’s move into the luxury area is a very different approach.

<via Mashable.>

A Virtual Newsroom?

Duke University’s Idealab has an interesting post on the future of the newsroom. Will it be a virtual newsroom, as one venture capitalist suggested to the San Jose Mercury-News’ Chris O’Brien?

With all the problems facing newspapers these days–from Google News on one side to Craigslist on the other–newspapers are clearly in the future going to be more and more on a digital platform and less and less rolled up and tossed onto someone’s lawn. So will the newsrooms that produce the stories also be distributed and connected digitally? Many growing Silicon Valley tech blogs already run remotely with writers and editors spanned across the globe, communicating over IM and email, and rarely even meeting in person.  

The journalists at Duke have an interesting discussion going. Having been at a newspaper, I’d have to agree with those who say that there’s nothing like the camaraderie of a newsroom and the buzz of electricity that runs through it when a big story hits and everyone in the room knows it and feeds off of each other, getting that night’s issue out the door. 

No Checkbook, No Problem

A story I wrote on personal finance start-ups–such as Mint,  WesabeBuxfer and Spendview–ran today on Dow Jones Newswires, then got picked up by the Associated Press.

Venture capitalists have been busy investing in personal-finance Web start-ups, attempting to tap into a new generation of consumers who have never balanced a checkbook and increasingly view online money management as they would any other kind of Web service.

Read the rest of the story here or here.

What Would Simon Cowell Say?

Who says startups and VCs aren’t entertaining?  My blog post ran in the WSJ blog “Independent Street.” 

Here Goes…

This is my first entry. We’ll see what exciting places this takes us…