What to Consider When the Platforms Show Up with Money

Over at Nieman Lab, Laura Hazard Owen has written an interesting breakdown of how Medium wooed five different publishers over to its platform, and how it’s going so far. Unfortunately (not Laura’s fault; blame the NDAs!), it’s missing a critical piece of the wooing, which is a financial breakdown of what each of them might have been promised. Continue reading “What to Consider When the Platforms Show Up with Money”

‘If You Bet Against Text, You Will Lose’

From the weekend reading file: I love Tim Carmody’s response to a Facebook executive’s prediction that “In five years time Facebook ‘will be definitely mobile, it will be probably all video.'”

Video and audio have never threatened text and images for dominance on the internet, despite Facebook’s best efforts. Even if we set aside the high production costs (we can assume it will get cheaper over time), good video and audio are still more difficult to produce, because both require the right physical conditions to produce them. Smartphones certainly made it easier to shoot video — the rise of the selfie and novelty entertainment like face-swapping have helped, too — but I am writing this blog post at a place and time that’s inhospitable to creating video or audio. It’s the same reason why the phone call began to die off just as open office plans were embraced: you now have to sneak into a stairwell, hallway or conference room in order to call someone in private. Texting became more convenient.

A social network alone — even one as powerful as Facebook — can’t make video the dominant form of communication. The devices we use and the physical world where we live and work will have to change in order for audio or video to truly take over.

Twitter Still Has What Everyone Else Wants

“Five years later, it seems like the real question is, What has Twitter made of itself?”

Twitter may have problems, but Josh Topolsky’s arguments in “The End of Twitter” miss an important point: What Twitter has already accomplished with social connections — matching relative strangers with similar interests — is vastly different, and arguably more difficult, than what Facebook has done, which is connect you with people you already know.

Twitter does one thing well, and it’s more valuable and harder to replicate than he gives credit.

I like Facebook for what it offers. It’s a connection to family, friends and acquaintances who I’ve known throughout my life. A Twitter connection occasionally evolves into a Facebook friend. And because of this, I’ve seen more newsy, Twitter-like posts in my timeline. All of it is easier to follow than what’s happening on Twitter.

But Facebook hasn’t successfully replaced what Twitter offers, which is the spark of a connection with people you don’t know yet — and it has failed many times to bridge this gap. One example: Facebook has tried to replicate Twitter’s value for journalists and authors by letting people create “public pages” for themselves, but it’s an awkward experience for everyone involved. I’ve seen many status updates where a professional journalist friend invites me to “like” their public page, so I can follow their professional updates. Is this because they’re too embarrassed to post self-promotional content in their normal timeline? (Flaw #1) And now being asked to follow two versions of the same person? (Flaw #2) Topolsky suggests that Facebook could easily replicate Twitter, but none of their attempts thus far suggest they’re able to create an entirely different social network on top of the one they’ve already built — one that’s based on intimate connections in a semi-private space. The same goes for Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp and (yeah) Peach — none of them make strangers as directly accessible as Twitter has. And while these other social apps have grown tremendously, none of them expose us to the worlds outside our existing friend networks so successfully.

Topolsky is right that Twitter needs to make some serious changes if it wants to take better advantage of the network it created. Simplifying the user experience is one way to do that, and a huge part of that user experience is figuring out how to filter out the spam, hate, and vitriol that has caused so many people to leave Twitter entirely. If Twitter is a matchmaker for strangers with mutual interests, then it has to become a more aggressive host and take a stand against (or at least burying) bullying and harassment.

And if Twitter wants to get the most value out of the interest graph it still controls, it needs to make the environment welcoming for people who want to post about their interests, whenever they are moved to do so. Currently on Twitter, if feels like we have to adjust our conversations to fit whatever the day’s big news event might be. And if that’s the case, connecting with people who share my interests is worthless, because we all have to talk about Kanye West right now anyway.

These are big asks for Twitter, because I don’t know of any other interest-based social network that has 100% solved these problems. But what Twitter has already accomplished is significant, and I see no viable alternative that poses a threat.

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Photo by laughingsquid

Yelp for Journalists

Scott Carney is a freelance magazine writer who has launched a site called WordRates, which aims to be a “Yelp for Journalists”—helping freelance writers share information about editors and publishers who accept unsolicited story pitches, who pay actual money for writing, and who respond to emails in a timely manner. It’s like an updated version of Writer’s Market—and it’s not unlike the wonderful Who Pays Writers, which came before it, and Pressland, which has come after it. (This has resulted in some unfortunate press about who’s the real Yelp for Journalists.) Continue reading “Yelp for Journalists”

The Shapeshifting Publisher of 2015

Video is big this year. (Or maybe that was last year?) In any case, I remember the first time video was big. It was 2006, and my then-employer Time Inc. announced that, due to advertiser demand for online video, it was launching Time Inc. Studios, a brand new unit designed to produce video content for all of the magazine brands. At the time, one of my editor bosses presciently noted that “video turns people into assholes.” Every editor and writer (myself included) started reimagining themselves as producers, thinking that they could turn out cable- or network-television quality programming. Continue reading “The Shapeshifting Publisher of 2015”