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Finding our level

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You win some, you lose some.

Blair got into the Winter Meetings.

Kevin wasn’t so lucky:

From: Rose Bowl Media
Sent: Tuesday, December 13, 2005 11:50
Subject: Credential Status: 2006 Rose Bowl

Dear Kevin McCrea:

Due to limited space
and an overwhelming demand for credentials, we are forced to limit issuance of
credentials to those media outlets that meet the credential policy for the Bowl
Championship Series Games. That being the case, I am afraid I must deny your
request for credentials.

Well, we’ll certainly bury the Rose Bowl coverage on the new Texas Gigs (which is launching Monday even if I have to swallow my pride and stick a "beta" tag on it).

A fair exchange

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As we talk to prospective readers and partners, I’m pleasantly surprised that far fewer people than I expected are creeped out by the idea of behavioral targeting. (Or at least far fewer say so than I expected.)

Fred Wilson thinks that people understand the bargain that’s being made, and that as long as there is value to the user, people don’t mind giving up the info:

While this may be problematic in certain privacy respects, it is
hugely beneficial in most respects.  Do you want to know where your
teenage daughter is at 11pm after she fails to call you as she
promised?  Do you want to know where the nearest Starbucks or Jamba
Juice or subway stop is? Would you like to be able to text message your
buddies the exact location of the cool bar you are hanging out in?  I
think you get the picture.

This leads me to … Matt Blumberg, who wrote a post called The New Media Deal in the spring of 2004 which remains in my mind one of the most important posts I have read in blogs in the past couple years.

In this post, Matt describes the new deal consumers are making via
technology.  We are consciously or subconsciously sacrificing absolute
privacy in return for anywhere, anytime, my way content and

As Matt says in his post,

But I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that we have a New Media
Deal, which is that people are willing to sacrifice their anonymity in
a heartbeat if the value exchange is there.

we can wring our hands all we want about the privacy issues with
respect to geolocation on cell phones, or behavioral targeting on the
web, or saved search history on Google, but my feeling is that the
benefits of these technologies will vastly outweigh the loss of privacy
for most people most of the time and that’s really all that matters.

The new frontier

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A new Forrester study is full of interesting info on youth media consumption. The upshot is that if you’re doing anything analog, stop.

Interestingly, what that means is that word of mouth is more important than ever:

Young consumers represent the social marketing vanguard. Fifty-two
percent say they rely on recommendations from friends or family when
making a purchase, compared with just 34 percent of adults.

Note that it didn’t say they rely on recommendations from strangers who posted a review to get an Ipod.

But for me, this was the most interesting point:

The Forrester study also dispels a myth about young consumers and
advertising. Young consumers are more open to advertising than their
parents are, although both generations are skeptical of the ads that
they encounter.

“Young consumers have no preconceived notions
of what advertising should be,” said Charron. “They have no problem
with the lines between advertising and editorial being blurry. Because
they have grown up to be more self-reliant in a digital environment,
they have confidence in their ability to distinguish between the two.
And there’s more good news for marketers: The viral nature of their
communication with each other is a behavior that marketers can tap

I suspect that in twenty years when we look back at the seizmic shift that occurred in how we consume media, the failure of mainstream media to grasp this point appropriately will have been the tipping point.

It’s hard for me to get, as I’m a straddler of the old and new worlds.

On the one hand, I and all my journalistic brethren have been bathing in the Kool Aid that we call the "Chinese Wall" or "separation of Church and State" for a couple generations. And that’s a Good Thing.

On the other hand, those greedy ad folk (of which I am also a member) are gonna see data like this and start advertorial-izing, product placing and demanding to sell front page stories.

And both groups will be wrong.

Markets are a conversation.

People talk about lots of things. Sometimes it’s the local football team. Sometimes it’s where to eat. Sometimes it’s accountability of government. Sometimes it’s what to buy.

The generation coming up now has seen so much media, so much meta-media, and so many cheesy come-ons that they know every trick in the book.

The Forrester study adds creedence to what I’ve been intuiting for a while. Advertising and content lines are going to blur. BUT, that will necessitate a more open, honest conversation no matter what the topic. Or you’ll be tuned out with the rest of the rabble.

"But advertisers will buy off the integrity of journalists!", you say.

Maybe in a world where you buy ad space in a publication and just hope something happens, that’s the danger. But when it’s pay-for-performance, and your audience is too savvy to be rooked by a crap product just because a talking head says so, the rules of the game are going to change.

My Space (as long as I don't have to pay for anything)

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Now that we’re letting out our inner music geeks, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to MySpace.

Interesting note from a band mailing list
about getting positioning on MySpace’s homepage.

One of the band members posted the numbers:

  • number of times their music was played: around 20,000
  • number of MySpace friend requests: 1200
  • number of mailing list signups: over 100
  • number of CDs sold: ZERO

There are a lot of theories on this one. Mine is that no one enters through the MySpace homepage once they’ve got their own profile.


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I’ve about had it with comments/trackback. You won’t see this, because I moderate now, but we got bombed with spam comments and trackback again this weekend. The annoyance is that there were real comments and trackbacks too, so I had to at least scan hundreds of emails to separate wheat from chaff.

(And yes, I know there are things I could do to force verification, but none of them work very well and it’s a waste of energy when I intend to move this blog into our publishing system in a few weeks.)

I guess I should be flattered that we get enough traffic to warrant. We’ve even become a target for splogs of late.

Russell Beattie
has an eeevill thought about how to capitalize on splogging.

I could make mad bank on "Citizen" Watches and Barbie and the magic of "Pegasus."

Buzzing locally

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The latest issue of BusinessWeek focuses on the "MySpace Generation," a group we’re learning a lot about as we work on the TexasGigs site. Local promoters BuzzOven are the lead exemplar in the piece.

I’ve been struck that the MySpace phenomenon is a good example of where a "distributed" information marketplace is terribly inefficient. As we’re profiling bands, we’re finding that most maintain and update their own websites (usually with excessive Flash programming); a MySpace site; and often a PureVolume site as well.

When do they have time to make music?

If it was easy, everybody would be doing it

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UPDATE: See Mark Potts clarification on registered users in the comments.

I winced when I read Liz George’s guest review of Backfence on PressThink this week, but only partly because of the skewering she dished out — It was a reminder that it was exactly a year-ago that we had our first big burst of publicity thanks to Jay Rosen’s comments about us as a possible answer to Mark Glaser’s vision of the not-yet-extant media company he wanted to join. Subsequently, Backfence came out of the closet too.

We’ve done a tremendous amount of work since then, but I’ll admit that it’s more than a little frustrating to me that as far as the wider public is concerned, it appears that we’ve still got nothing but a placeholder home page and a snarky media blog.

Like Backfence, we are taking a business-driven approach to hyperlocal citizens media. And, like Backefence, and sites like Baristanet, H20Town and the many others that have sprung up, we are also a labor of love. (I’d submit, contrary to many of the commenters on PressThink, that the two are not mutually exclusive.)

There are a few firm beliefs we have about our business labor of love that have kept us from swinging wide the doors as quickly as we might otherwise have liked:

  • Our service should be open for anyone in the community to share content, BUT we can’t rely on readers to submit content with enough frequency to keep the service sticky on a daily basis. They are the gravy. We are the potatoes. True, potatoes without gravy are kind of bland. But nobody just drinks gravy.
  • You only get one chance to make a first impression. Crying beta clearly isn’t going to make anyone more forgiving — more so when it’s clear that you’re a for-profit endeavor.
  • The double-edged sword of the best of the current batch of hyperlocals is that they draw the most active; most passionate; most engaged folks in the community. That makes for a vibrant service, but means that you’re missing the larger population of couch-sitters. We think that there’s a tremendous opportunity for both commercial and civic good by reaching both groups– by delivering the NBA and NFL score side by side with the youth soccer league results (regardless of who writes the article or shoots the photos). I haven’t been able to articulate this as well as I would have liked until April coined the term I was looking for last night: "panlocal."

We haven’t been in a position to be able to deliver a panlocal service yet, so we’ve been keeping things under wraps. Countless people have taken us to task for not launching a single neighborhood to prove the concept. But that neighborhood concept has already been proven, by Baristanet and the like. We’re doing something different.

However, impatience and opportunity have finally gotten the better of us: We’ve decided that while a small geographic subset doesn’t prove our concept, a local niche interest could, at least partially. That’s why, in a couple weeks, we’re powering a relaunch of

For the nonlocals, TexasGigs is the blog/podcasting labor of love produced by Cindy Chaffin. For the last few years, it has consistently won some derivation of the Dallas Observer‘s best blog award. We’re working with Cindy, and several other active folks on the music scene to pool their knowledge into our licensed/souped-up content management system to create a more robust local music site. It will launch with detailed info on more than 300 local bands, interlocked with databases of upcoming shows, audio tracks from many of the bands, and streaming stations by band, genre, and coming attractions.

A few particularly pertinent lessons (to date) from this project:

  • Even though we’re a fledgling, there are (we think) benefits to a blogger like Cindy for working with a for-profit company. While her content is impeccable, a blog isn’t always the best — and certainly not the most efficient — medium for this kind of information. She spends hours, sometimes days, creating a podcast of bands playing in town this weekend. In our system, it will be automated. And, she’ll have help to cover genres and shows that she didn’t previously have time for. And, if we ever actually make any money on it, she’ll get a taste.
  • It’s true that there are band-created databases in town. And, frankly, they’re not nearly as useful, consistent or complete as they could be because they aren’t created and maintained by someone whose job it is to maintain them. Our staff (albeit unpaid) is making sure that every band gets the best profile possible. We’ve learned that in many cases, even when bands submit a profile, it’s easier to create from scratch than use the promotional information they provide.

    That said, every profile ends with the following note: "If you’re a fan or member of this band, it’s likely you know more about them than we do. Please click here and tell us what we missed."

  • We’re launching under the TexasGigs name, partly in respect for the work Cindy has done on the site to date, and partly because we don’t want to confuse early users into thinking that Pegasus News is just about music. (We’ve already had enough confusion that this blog is our product.) This is for us a demonstration of/experiment on how we intend to treat neighborhood news, youth sports, politics, dining, and everything else that impacts your panlocal life.   

In the end, what we are betting on is this: The Baristanet model works. We think it can work even bigger when you have a metro area with fifty Baristanets interlocking; providing panlocal and niche information and perhaps enjoying some economies of scale. But those don’t just spring up on their own. We’re going to pick the things we think are most critical — neighborhood news, arts, and the like — and seed it with our own professionally produced content, but always with a bias towards finding a passionate user who knows more than we do about a given topic.

What we can’t do is satisfy ourselves with organic growth. If we have 600 subscribers seven months after launch, I’ll commit hari kari in front of the Belo building. Before you start sharpening a sword for me, I’ll point out that we have almost half that number in pre-subscriptions from our "lifetime subscriber offer" a couple months back. And we expect a lot more because of local nonprofits we’re working with who are actively going to promote us to their members. (The incentive for them is a piece of our ad revenue.)

Lisa makes reference to Jeff Jarvis‘ admonition that "local ain’t easy." While I agree with that sentiment, I think that local is for now, perhaps, the only place where the idealized "distributed" media of individuals, tags, wikis, feeds and the like falls flat on its face. It’s something of a numbers game: While there are enough engaged people nationally, or globally to cover national and niche topics completely and compellingly in a distributed fashion, there likely aren’t enough in a neighborhood to do the same.

That’s because not everyone wants to join our citizen journalist army. I’m reminded of Chris Willis’ remarks at We Media:

Not everybody wants to be a "citizen journalist"
They want to collaborate in more traditional means. There is no
one-size-fits-all. What works in Greensboro doesn’t necessarily work
elsewhere…Community building takes effort…Provide an architecture
of participation and let them do what they’re obsessed with.

I’m also reminded of Ken Sands‘ admonition that people need fewer, not more, sources of information. That’s not fewer voices, mind you, but fewer clicks. And don’t kid yourself that Joe Sixpack has his RSS feeds set up to cover that, or that if he did there’s currently any really useful ones on a local level.

Our vision is a panlocal one, where we can connect the casual passive information consumer with engaged citizens. And one in which we hope to turn a few of the former into the latter.

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