Why blocking news aggregators is dumb and won’t work

DALLAS - MAY 1:  Owner of the Dallas Mavericks...
Mark Cuban: This is your media on crack. Any questions?
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The apparent crack epidemic sweeping the executive suites of media organizations across the U.S. has claimed another victim.

Mark Cuban loves the news business. Over the years he’s done and said some smart things in media. But on his blog a few days ago, he took a big ol’ nose dive straight into the shallow end of the pool.

In his Aug. 8 post, My Advice to Fox & MySpace on Selling Content – Yes You Can, Cuban exhorted news sites to start blocking access to links to their content coming from aggregators. So, for instance, someone might encounter a Newser summary of a USA Today story — but if USA Today blocked inbound links from Newser, someone who wanted to learn more from the full story would click the link and go nowhere.

Here’s the key point for news orgs to grasp: The audience would NOT view Newser as the problem there. Newser has already provided value with the story summary — and they were trying to provide the audience with even more value through a direct link to the full story.

Instead, the news organization would be spoiling its own reputation by presenting itself as an obstacle. The blocked aggregator link in effect says “We don’t want your attention unless you come to us our way, even though we’re not providing the kind of easy summary through aggregators that obviously meets your needs and attracts your interest.”

To which the audience would more likely respond, “Yeah, screw you too. I’ll take my eyeballs elsewhere, thanks.”

Not exactly good for the news business.

The sad and scary thing about Cuban’s post is that a lot of news execs will probably listen to Cuban right now, and maybe even follow his advice, because they’re scared and he’s playing to their fears, prejudices, and weaknesses. It’ll be sad to watch.

Perhaps the one bright spot in this mess is that it may be technically simple to get around aggregator link blocking…

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Washington Post: Go Gawker Yourself

Amid the furor over Ira Shapira’s Aug. 2 Washington Post column bemoaning how Gawker excerpted his July 9 article, thus spelling the “death of journalism” — here’s a constructive albeit unconventional idea from Doug Fisher’s Common Sense Journalism blog.

Fisher wrote:

“The fact that close to 10,000 people viewed [Gawker’s summary of Shapira’s article] instead of reading [the original] 1,500-word tome [on WashingtonPost.com] ought to raise the question of why the WaPo doesn’t have its own Gawker-type site excerpting its material. Maybe consumers are telling us something — namely that a lot of them don’t want to read a river of text on something like Shapira’s story on a millennial generation consultant because they have other things to do with their lives. Gawker et al. wouldn’t survive if they didn’t meet a need.”

I think Fisher makes a good point. While many journos are profoundly attached to long-form stories delivered in a traditionally detached, serious tone, that just doesn’t work well for how more and more people actually consume media and news.

This may not be the kind of world that professional journalists would prefer, but it’s the one we have.

So why not offer both approaches on a news site?…

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links for 2009-08-12

  • Great example of news coverage of a news story that links to original source documents. I can't understand why this isn't standard practice in ALL journalism. Links to sources and source docs are not a nice-to-have, they're essential for transparency. Would love to see more of this in coverage of legislation & regulatory issues, too. This is not rocket science
  • "Needless to say, Microsoft won’t pull Word off the market. The company has said it plans to appeal, and i4i actually sells XML products for Word, making that company reliant on the ecosystem. An agreement will be reached: probably one involving Microsoft signing a big check."
  • Heh… If there was a stripped down, uncluttered interface to Facebook I might actually use it more than weekly! So far, I vastly prefer Facebook's iPhone app to its full site.

    "Tonight, a number of Facebook users reported that they received beta invitations to a 'lite' version of the popular social networking service. Details about this simplified version of Facebook are still sparse, but we know that the site will be available on http://lite.facebook.com and will offer users a "faster, simpler version of Facebook." Judging from what we have seen so far, Facebook Lite turns Facebook into a very Twitter-like experience. It is interesting to see that Facebook is working on this now, especially given that it only announced the acquisition of FriendFeed yesterday. If these screenshots turn out to be true, then this would be a full-force attack on Twitter."

  • "Twitter is still growing, according to this data, but not at the breakneck pace of the past. Compete has it at 23.2mm US uniques, up just 1.25% from the month before. Visits are up 1.64% month to month. Most interesting to me is the breakdown of referral traffic: 11.44% is from Facebook (see below). Now that Facebook Lite move is starting to make sense…."
  • "If you explore the potential of digital history and the problem of abundance, you realize that it presents a very real challenge to analog history and the close reading that has been at the heart of graduate work and the monograph. Digital history and the abundance it tries to address make many historical arguments seem anecdotal rather than comprehensive. Hypotheses based on a limited number of examples, as many dissertations and books still are, seem flimsier when you can scan millions of books at Google to find counterexamples. I believe it will be possible to marry digital techniques with close reading and traditional methods, but very soon it will be perilous to ignore these new techniques."
  • This sort of effect is why I wrote my apology as my final Tidbits post.

    "One of the most deflating discoveries I’ve had in acquainting myself with the work and ideas of some online media sages is the kick-em-when-they’re-down tone of their diatribes. Occasionally I’ve gone to their sites to gain information and understanding and often feel instead like I’m getting punched in the stomach for not being in the vaunted generation of young journalists with laptops in their cribs. Journalists from the “legacy” domain have been regarded as a clueless, antiquated and unreconstructed bunch, especially if they are at a mid- or late-career stage."

  • Murdoch isn't just getting greedy about walling up his Web presence. Even his relationship with Amazon.com's (Nasdaq: AMZN) Kindle isn't safe.

    "We're changing the price of The Journal on the Kindle," Murdoch notes. "We will get a better share of the revenue, though I can't say that I'm satisfied."

    "It's not a big number, and we're not encouraging it at all, because
    we don't get the names of the subscribers," he adds. He also notes that
    the company is looking into Sony's (NYSE: SNE) e-book reader and monitoring the rumor mills on Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL)
    tablet. "Kindle treats them as their subscribers, not as ours," Murdoch
    says. "I think that will eventually cause a break between us."

    If Murdoch follows his own advice and turns his back on the Kindle — or follows Cuban's advice and turns his back on news aggregators — I'm guessing this experiment will die cold and alone.

Google Privacy: No, please don’t send the van over, really… (gulp)

Privacy? What privacy! Such a quaint 20th century notion…

Google Opt Out Feature Lets Users Protect Privacy By Moving To Remote Village

Thanks much to the West Seattle Blog for bringing this gem to my attention via Twitter in the wee hours of the morning. And kudos to The Onion for such impressive info-graphics! My favorites are the van, barter, and data security fence graphics.

links for 2009-08-11

Death of Tr.im: Rolling your own link shortener might be a good idea

RIP, Tr.im

RIP, Tr.im

UPDATE AUG 12: Tr.im reports that they’re not dead yet. Hey, congrats to them for working something out, at least for now. But still: As Aron Pilhofer notes in the comments below, relying on any third-party for a core functionality represents a significant risk, so I still stand by my advice in this post.

Yesterday the popular URL shortening service Tr.im abruptly bit the dust — begging the question of whether existing Tr.im shortlinks would suddenly break. (Tr.im says its existing links will continue to function at least through Dec. 31, 2009.)

This doesn’t affect me much, since I rarely used Tr.im — but others relied heavily on Tr.im and its statistics for how its shortlinks were used. Bit.ly, which also tracks shortlink statistics, is now Twitter’s default link shortener. PaidContent recently covered how difficult link shortener service business is. Which means that other link shorteners could fall down and go boom at any time.

So if you really must rely on shortlinks for any reason, it probably makes more sense than ever to create or control your own link shortener

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links for 2009-08-08

links for 2009-08-07

  • Donate your skills in explaining how you took up blogging or how you prefer to consume your News or the balance between passionate argument and impartial reporting or how you built an audience or anything. I betcha it’d be fun. At least it was, when I spoke to 80 Freelance Journos a year or so ago.

    Promise me though, no nasty “they started it!” arguments about how the Press always diss social media – this is about bloggers teaching journos and learning from them at the same time. So… who’s in?

  • From the chief of Reuters, Chris Ahearne

    "Let’s stop whining and start having real conversations across party lines. Let’s get online publishers, search engines, aggregators, ad networks, and self-publishers (bloggers) in a virtual room and determine how we can all get along. I don’t believe any one of us should be the self-appointed Internet police; agreeing on a code of conduct and ethics is in everyone’s best interests."

  • Another sharing service I'll check out: " foldier works on top of existing technologies to operate through a single web interface. The interface collects and distributes pre-designated information across all types of digital media as well as conventional desktop storage systems.

    Using search based criteria, foldier “grabs” data precisely and organizes it following the user’s rules, regardless of the original location of the data, keeping everyone’s files updated with the same version. In less than five minutes, the technology enables a person to create a foldier account, and begin capturing and sharing all kinds of information. Members can even create RSS feeds to make select content publicly accessible."

  • Crucial cultural reference

On Twitter and Vulnerability

UPDATE Aug 7: Thanks to John Sutter for mentioning and linking to me in his CNN story today rounding up perspectives on the Twitter outage.

Earlier this morning, Twitter went down for a couple of hours. I must admit: Twitter-fiend that I am, I missed it. I slept in a bit, and didn’t get online right away when I did awake. Happens sometimes (rarely).

Once I did check in with Twitter, folks were abuzz about the outage — which Twitter founder Biz Stone wrote was due to a “single, massively coordinated denial of service attack.” Ouch.

Yes, folks, Twitter is vulnerable to attack. And technical failure. Or at some point it may just become unbearable or unusable. But many people (myself included) have come to rely on this service not just for communication, but for a sense of community and connection. What happens when you can’t tweet anymore?

I’ve got some ideas…
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