Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Medium.com and "Is media becoming a wire service?"

Erza Klein took a narrow view when he wrote about media becoming a wire service. So I wrote a response on medium.com which went unnoticed - only two views to date. I assume that I don't publish enough there. It is published below.

My view is heavily influenced by Marshall McLuhan. Perhaps the title should be "Vox is old media, the content of new media."

Let me know if there is any interest in seeing a prototype of a news site powered by a graph database where news and profiles get equal weight. I would be an interesting hackaton project at Startup Weekend DC - Media Edition

Erza Klein’s provocative article “Is media becoming a wire service?” contains a hidden subheading asking “Is the golden age of media innovation over before it’s even begun?” The answer to both is yes in the right context, but the real answer to about news media innovation is no.

Klien laments that his “new media” is “like the old media.” Vox.com and other new news media startups like FiveThirtyEight.com are just spin offs of The Washington Post and The New York Times. These startups were found by some great journalists (disclosure: I was a Washington Post web developer and colleague of some) who were constrained by the confines of the technologies of these newspapers. When they started anew the print edition was dropped but they kept the underlying technology. All news organizations publish using a Content Management System (CMS).

Vox Media’s Chorus is maybe a better CMS than Methode that The Washington’s Post uses. Chorus and some of the CMS enhancements by Greg Franczyk at The Washington Post improved the delivery of news on the web and in the internet. But in the end Vox.com like The Washington Post and most others are still CMS driven news organizations. Klein acknowledge’s this when using the term “on-platform”. On-platform news is not disruptive or significantly new. It may be better, but not new.

RSS is given a casual mention in the article and Klein infers that it is “nothing new”. I would strongly disagree. The vast majority of news organizations did not embrace Dave Winer’s RSS technology. First, few news organizations used RSS to distribute content. Most just feed out summaries because they wanted readers to click back to the platform. It should be noted that Vox.com provides full articles. Second, time and again Dave Winer has discussed the River of News on his blog and in NiemanLab. It would have been interesting to see a new organization make RSS their core technology instead of CMS.

It is rather strange that Vox.com, which thinks of itself as innovative, is complaining that innovation is over. Innovation within the context of a CMS is not over. As Klein points out, though he does not use the term, Javascript Journalism allows stories to be told that were not possible before. He highlights Vox’s card stacks, Upshot’s Social Mobility article, The Post’s “The N-Word” or BusinessWeek’s “What is Code”. There are many others including a portfolio of work by Wilson Andrews. It must be pointed out that these stories have a shelf life much longer than your typical breaking news. Technology will continue to be used to tell these types stories so this is a golden age of long form, long shelf life stories. [Note: the most recent golden age of journalism, i.e. Woodward and Bernstein era, happened after afternoon newspapers died because of television news. New media can produce golden ages for old media.]

Marshall McLuhan said “the content of any medium is always another medium”. He shows many examples of the content of new media is old media. This is Klein’s lament. Vox.com is becoming content for the new journalism medium of social feeds. [McLuhan is famous for saying The Medium is The Message, but he did not mean medium.com.]

Vox.com has a choice: Accept that Vox.com is old media which can be very profitable. Or innovate by embracing a core technology beyond CMS.

Reimagining the way we explain the news means reinventing newsroom technology…..The engine of those sites is a world-class technology platform, Chorus, that blows apart many of the old limitations. — Ezra Klein on announcing Vox is our next in January 2014.

Beyond the CMS News Organization

The environment, the circumstances for creating a truly, powerful new medium for news are present. Contrary to Ben Thompson’s dire conclusion on “Facebook Reckoning”, this is the perfect time for innovation as Robert Johnson describes in his book “Where Do Good Ideas Come From”.

To create a new medium instead of just self-describing a news organization as “new media”, the CMS must not be the core technology. A CMS can produce a better web site, but that is old media. A new medium must fully embrace a new technology.

Which new technology? What comes after a CMS? Certainly there are many possibilities and different organization will try different things. A successful news organization must fully embrace the new technology beyond a CMS. It cannot be like those news organization that just tried RSS as an aside and then said it did not work. Or just use JavaScript for business purposes. Fully embrace the new technology.

Let’s discuss two givens. Melissa Bell at Vox.com was almost correct that “The home page is dead!”. She built one anyways. The home page really is obsolete, not dead. It should be an app which I called VoxDeck. Right now most home pages are very weak apps with the majority of code serving ads and business analytics. It should be an app for the reader, a personal dashboard for the news and personal information.

Second, the internet makes news sites into membership organizations. When Bezos bought The Washington Post the value was the audience or the members of the paywall (i.e., credit cards on file). Revenue from advertisers is in decline while member revenue is just starting. In the age of social media, members deserve and expect equal treatment.

This new medium will give personal profiles equal weight as news. In the organization the Membership Services Director will have equal resources as the Editor-In-Cheif. The app will be on many devices that sync and will use APIs into the profiles, ads, products, sources, stories and news. The backend is certainly a graph database like neo4j. Interestingly neo4j started as a CMS according to Emil Eifrem’s recent talk at Sweden House in Washington, DC. A graph database equalizes personal profiles and news data creating a relationship.

So Erza Klein can lament that Vox.com is old media and enjoy those profits. Or he can embrace that his readers’ profiles deserve equal company resources as the news. It will be interesting to see which path he and Vox Media take.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Voodoo Chile

Best song ever. Yes that was a period.

You must listen in headphones.  My top players: Hendrix, Windwood and Casidy. A dream supergroup!

If you watch the DVDS you might yell at the screen "Call Steve Winwood! !!!"

Please listen in headphones. Anything else is mono. Or worse.