Or: Consumer-Made Media and the Almighty Buck
Jason Calacanis is the P.T. Barnum of the weblog world. Barnum took a hirsute woman and turned her into The Bearded Lady. Calacanis took something as banal as paying writers to write and turned it into An Issue That Must Be Discussed. And I'm glad, because it is.
If you don't know the story, here's a recap. Calacanis sold Weblogs Inc, a network of topical blogs, to AOL for a staggering amount of money. Then he was put in charge of netscape.com, another AOL purchase, which was once the most visited site on the web but had since been micromanaged into a wasted wreck of pointless marketing nonsense. Calacanis announced that he was simply going to clone the tech news darling Digg. And then he did.
The new Netscape differentiated itself from Digg in three key ways: It was uglier, it worked against its own bottoms-up process by pegging stories approved by staffers at the top of the page, and they started paying the top contributors.
Notable insights from the PEW Internet study on blogging:
I knew this and you knew this, but it's nice to see the numbers back it up. What do bloggers write about? Life, baby. Same as it ever was for anyone with a pen and a notepad.
See? Anyone who says there are no (fill in the blank)'s blogging is just not looking hard enough. We're ALL in here. Now can we please get over what color we are and what's in our shorts and focus on what we all have to say?
Today I embark on the very exciting 2006 Powazek World Tour. (Well, if you consider Portland and DC the world and two stops to be a tour, anyway.)
This Thursday and Friday I'll be participating in a private conference sponsored by - I swear I'm not making this up - the State Department. It's called the "Conference on Blogs and Democracy" and I'll be on a panel about "The Influence of the Blogosphere" and if I told you any more, I'd probably have to kill you.
But if I see Condoleezza, I promise to say hi for you.
Then, next Thursday and Friday, July 20 and 21, I'll be in Portland to participate in Webvisions 2006. It looks to be a great lineup this year and, unlike the first stop on the Powazek World Tour, this one you can actually attend. And you should!
I'll be speaking on a panel about Business Blogging (free preview: "Don't start a conversation if you're not prepared to have one.") and I'll be reprising my New Community talk (free preview: "You need your community more than they need you.")
Looks to be a good couple of weeks for nerddom.
Can I make a suggestion? Let's all stop using the phrase "user-generated content." I'm serious. It's a despicable, terrible term. Let's deconstruct it.
User: One who uses. Like, you know, a junkie.
Generated: Like a generator, engine. Like, you know, a robot.
Content: Something that fills a box. Like, you know, packing peanuts.
So what's user-generated content? Junkies robotically filling boxes with packing peanuts. Lovely.
Calling the beautiful, amazing, brilliant things people create online "user-generated content" is like sliding up to your lady, putting your arm around her and whispering, "Hey baby, let's have intercourse."
A small note to all those staring deeply into their navels and fretting about the role of gatekeepers in the blogosphere.
This is a gatekeeper.
Her name is Dana Barrett and she's waiting for the Keymaster to bring about the return of Gozer the Gozerian, who will come in one of the pre-chosen forms. During the rectification of the Vuldrini, he came as a large and moving Torg. During the third reconciliation of the last of the McKetrick supplicants, he came as a giant Slor. (Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, I can tell you!)
So that's a gatekeeper. Fortunately we haven't seen one since 1984, when Ghostbusters came and went.
If you have a website that you post to every day, and you've amassed a sizable readership, good for you. But you are no more a gatekeeper than the New York Times is a homepage.
What you are is a popular nerd, king of your very own soapbox. Congratulations! But being a gatekeeper in the age of the blogosphere is completely meaningless.
After all, how valuable is it to be a gatekeeper in a world of infinite gates?
We released some cool new stuff over at Technorati last night. We now have interactive charty goodness for any keyword search, and we're handing out the code to blog the graphs. For example, here's the last three months of the word, oh, I dunno, how about ... "Powazek".
And with that, Technorati ushers in the age of the Ego Chart. Give it a try! You know you want to.
Your eyes do not deceive you - do not attempt to adjust your browser. You are looking at the latest redesign of Powazek dot com. I'd give it a number, but at this point, I've lost track of which version this is.
I had two goals for this design. First, as much as I love the simplicity-rules 37 signals school of design, there comes a point when you just can't look at that much black and white Helvetica anymore. I'm all about the crisp and clean in my professional work, but this is a personal site and it should reflect the person behind it - and sometimes this person is a dirty, dirty boy. We don't all need to look like an advertisement for Swiss dentistry equipment.
Second, and this is something I've been percolating for a long time, I wanted to focus more on the page bottoms. Page bottoms are the most valuable screen real estate there is. You read that right. All that nonsense about people not reading and not scrolling is complete bullshit. Longtime readers will know this - I've ranted about it before.
Think about it this way: Sure, maybe only a small percentage of all readers will ever make it to the bottom of a page, but those readers are your most valuable. They read all the way to the bottom. They scrolled, even! When a reader reaches the bottom, they should be rewarded with a special treat - content, navigation, tools, whatever - not coldly abandoned the way most most sites do.
So new here is a wayfinding footer - the kind of stuff that's usually ignored in sidebars. Will it help people stay on the site and surf around? I don't know - you tell me.
I'm not done here. A good design is like a poem - it's never done, you just get to a point when you put it out there and hope people hear it like you meant it. So welcome to the new dotcom, same as the old dotcom, here until the next version rolls around.
It's been six months since we added Tags to Technorati (where I'm Senior Designer), and as it turns out, it was a pretty big deal. So before we get too far away from it, here's the story of how it came about. From my perspective, anyway.
Firstly and most importantly, Technorati did not invent tagging. We were inspired by the tags that Flickr users were using to describe their photos, and the tags Delicious users were using to describe their bookmarks, and the many tagging adventures that came before them. We thought bloggers should have something similar - an open standard for adding tags to their posts. If there was such a thing, we could display all kinds of different kinds of content on the same page - photos, links, and posts - grouped by tag.
Secondly, it's important to note that many people at Technorati worked on various tagging solutions at different points. So credit goes to the company as a whole. We're a small company now and were even smaller six months ago. Just about everyone had a hand in our tags implementation.
For me, it all started with New Year's resolutions. In Fray, we've always had a New Year's resolutions story, and it was always a big hit with posters. In December 2004, I was in my second month at Technorati, and I had an idea: Why not encourage people to post their resolutions to their own blogs, and then use the power of Technorati to gather them all together on one page?
Over Technorati's winter break, Tantek Çelik, Jason DeFillippo, Bradley Allen and I met at Crepes on Cole and banged out the Resolutions 2005 page with help from Kevin Marks and Aaron Bannert who were there via IM. The page was set up to show any post that contained a link to it - in other words, if you linked to that page, then your post appeared on that page.
The page went up on December 29 and we encouraged people to post their resolutions and include a link to that page. And they did! Hundreds of posts came in. It was great. But the system we'd devised had one critical flaw.
There were two kinds of posts that linked to our resolutions page. The first was what we'd wanted - people posting their resolutions and linking to our page for more. But the second was different - it was just people saying "look at all those resolutions over there." It was not a participation in the theme - it was just a pointer.
What we needed was a simple way to tell one kind of a link from the other. Tantek mentioned the "rel" standard for hrefs that he used in his XFN work. Basically, the rel attribute was a way to describe the relationship implied in a link. With XFN, I could say that Tantek is a friend of mine by putting "rel=friend" in a link to his site. I suggested we just do the same thing here, using "rel=tag" to allow a blogger to say "with this link, I intend to tag my post as being about the subject I'm linking to."
The best part about this technique was we could read the tag from the location in the href. So if someone wanted to tag their post "iPod" they could link to any URL that ended in that text, whether it was our tag page (technorati.com/tag/iPod) or the product page at Apple (apple.com/ipod) or the Wikipedia entry (wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipod). All would result in the post getting tagged as being about iPod.
We were making the taggers do a little bit of work to be included, but it made sense to ask the people who wanted to participate to do the work, instead of the people who just wanted to make a pointer.
In the first week of January 2005, Technorati founder David Sifry and coder Kevin Marks sat down and kicked out a beta version in a weekend. Dave wrote a service that grabbed the feeds from other tag providers, Kevin coded up a spider that would crawl blogs looking for those rel tags. Kevin also added an awareness of categories in RSS and Atom to the spider, so people could use those, too. I designed some templates to encourage fun browsing.
Tagging in Technorati was released on January 14, 2005. And we knew at the time that any search service could read the rel=tag standard. We wanted them to! The success of tags would be good for us, good for bloggers, and good for the web in general.
Since then it's been one of our most beloved features, and not just because it's a browsing experience as I wrote back in January. It's because tags are carefully created visible metadata that, for the most part, you can trust. When a blogger says their post, photo, or link is about iPod, you can generally believe it.
Together we're creating a web that's both more organized and more human. A web where the content creators are in control of how their words are categorized, not some academic in an ivory tower. A web where the difference between a reader and a writer gets blurrier every day.
And I'm so happy I could play some small part in helping it along.
Today I wondered what people were saying about Jon Stewart's new Daily Show set. So I did a Technorati search for "Daily Show" "Jon Stewart" "New Set" Desk Couch. The top three results were all within the last 24 hours:
The funny part is, while all three present differing opinions on the new set, they all use the same Blogger template. Jon Stewart fans prefer Minima?
Personally, I love the show and trust them to evolve it according to their vision. But I agree that the new backgrounds are distracting and I kinda miss the boldness of the foreground graphic overlays. Stewart always seemed uneasy when they got the laughs, though. ("Oh you like that pun, huh? Hmph.") Backgrounding and softening them seems to detract from their humorous punch.
As for the couch, yeah, I miss it. But it always seemed like an uncomfortable layout, the way guests had to sit all scrunched up on one side, twisting their necks to face Stewart. Is say: bring back the stools from the old MTV show! (Yes, I'm a longtime fan.)
Just don't stop doing what you do, Daily Show peeps. You're the best thing on television.
UPDATE: Just saw tonight's show. Hooray for the non-moving orange background during the first half. But did you see the menacingly enlarging Newsweek cover during the interview with Michael Isikoff? I literally had to look away to avoid getting dizzy. Please, Daily Show, chill out on the motion for the sake of motion.
Cool! But, um, what do they do?
These people weren't rubes. My tribe are some geeky folks. Bigtime bloggers, hardcore nerds, and computer-enabled professionals all asked me this. And translated through my filter it said one thing loud and clear: Houston, we have a problem.
I answered their questions as best I could, but I decided then and there to make it my life's goal to do everything I could to make it so that I never, ever have to answer that question again. The site should explain what it does, not the people who work there. Today we took the first step toward that goal and released the new Technorati beta.
This is a huge revision to the site, and the product of some of the most talented people I've ever had the pleasure of working with. I'd especially like to call out Jason DeFillippo who was literally coding with bandages on his fingers, and Ben Jenkins who came on a month ago and has been our ace in the hole ever since. Thanks also to CSS jedi Eric Meyer and illustrator extraordinaire Chris Bishop for lending their talents. And of course the real heroes are the engineers and ops crew who make it so people like me have something to design at all.
But enough with the acceptance speech. There are a ton of changes in the new site. In fact, just about every bit of frontend code has been rewritten. And all toward the goal of making the blogosphere more understandable, more fun, and more accessible to people who don't even know what a blog is.
I'd say more, but right now I'm so tired I'm literally about to fall over. So just go check it out. And, of course, that "beta" slug up there is on purpose - we're still working the bugs out and there's lots more in store. But please do check it out and be sure to let us know what you think.
And now I must sleep.
So this weekend I upgraded all the Macs in the house to Tiger and I upgraded Ephemera to Movable Type 3. It feels like my geek life has all new clothes. Curious to read what yet another geek thinks of 'em? Read on.
Caroline strips down her old site and relaunches at Each Man. (Aside to Caz: I got the reference.) Tom goes minimal with Plastic Bag. (Aside to Tom: Bold, confident design. Props!) I'd say there was a trend here, except that Matt just took his previously stripped-down A Whole Lotta Nothing and layered on the CSS lovin, complete with girly dropcaps. (Aside to Matt: Don't worry, I know you're all man.)
Anyway, redesigns are in the air. Makes me wish I had the time to give the ol' dotcom a fresh face, but, well, my redesign energy is being directed elsewhere right now. More on that soon.
Jeff Veen makes a great comment about intimidating interfaces and I couldn't agree more. My favorite recent example of this was at Tickets.com. Try to buy concert tickets and this is the first thing you see:
Captchas (those annoying "type that crap from the image in the box, you monkey") are annoying enough, but the bold, red time limit is surely the bridge too far. You, there! Jump through this hoop! Now now now!
Back to Jeff's post. If Yahoo 360 really wants to encourage their users to blog, I have an easy two-word suggestion for them: Ask questions.
We've been doing this at Fray for years and it never fails. If you say "tell me a story" to someone, their answer is always the same: "I don't have any stories." But if you tell them a story and then ask them to respond in kind, they will. It's just built in to human nature.
Ben Brown's new dating site, Consumating, does this really well. In addition of the usual boring bio stuff, the site asks an interesting question once a week. Members are rewarded for answering them with more exposure for their pages and "points" they can apply toward special features of the site.
Yahoo 360 should encourage their users to blog the same way you encourage people to talk at a party - ask 'em a question!
I've been posting photos to Ephemera for over 15 months now (666 photos as of today - creepy!). Any content-based site that runs long enough eventually has to solve the how-do-I-find-stuff problem. Blogs do this with archives by date and category. Others increasingly use search, leaving it to the user to figure out what they want (not always a good idea).
But photo sites have a special problem (and opportunity) here. Because the content is visual, simple text search is not a good solution. And tagging is awesome, but only when you've got a community to help you tag (future idea!).
I had a brainstorm while washing dishes last night and whipped this up: Ephemera Archive by Color. It's a page that reduces each photo down to its average color and then displays them all at once. The result is fascinating. A sea of khaki and grey, punctuated by the occasional bright orange or pink.
As a photographer, it's interesting to me to see what colors I tend to photograph in an incredibly general sense. But as an interface designer, I think this is a novel exploratory interface. Sure, if you're looking for puppies, you should just go to the Pets Category. But it's a mistake to think that web surfers always know what they want. Sometimes they just want to pick a theme and be surprised. That's what this is for. Plus it's a great faraway overview of all Ephemera photos, divined down to their base color, in one glance.
Interesting or just silliness? You tell me.
Bloggers Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Journalists
Just a thought from 5 April 2005 about Blogging, Internet, Journalism, Weblogs.
Here's a fun thing to try: Ask your typical blogger what they think of journalists. "Hacks!" They'll scream. "Journalism sucks!"
Then tell them about bloggers being treated differently than journalists. "Unfair!" They scream. "We're journalists, too!"
Try to follow the logic here: Journalism is lame and broken, so bloggers want to be journalists.
With me so far? No? Let's start over.
I went to school for journalism. Got a BA in photojournalism, which just meant I took a lot of photos in my journalism classes. I've worked as a journalist and an editor. I have some experience in this. So let me be clear: Please, for the love of all that's good and holy, do not turn bloggers into journalists.
Folks, journalism is a craft. It takes a lot of time to learn to do well. There are rules, written and unwritten, that are applied. Laws that matter. Experience that you have to earn. Journalism - good journalism - is really, really hard.
Blogging, like you're reading now, is not hard. It's not supposed to be. A lot of people have worked very hard to make blogging as easy as typing a thought and hitting a button. That's the beauty of blogging - anyone can do it, about anything.
So again I say: Please, for the love of all that's good and holy, do NOT turn bloggers into journalists!
When Apple sued the proprietors of three rumor sites because they'd revealed trade secrets, bloggers screamed, "but journalists are protected from that! Bloggers should be, too!" Which sounds good and just until you give it more than a minute's thought.
To become a journalist, you have to go to school, go to college, intern at some crap paper, work for crap wages, write whatever dreck the established writers don't want, put up with egomaniacal, power mad, amateur Napoleon editors who will freak out if you put a capital letter in the wroNg place, and do this all for years and years before they let you near a story that matters.
To become a blogger you have to register for a free account, slam your index fingers into a keyboard a few times, and click POST.
Tell me again how those things are the same. Tell me again how they both deserve equal protections. I mean, with a straight face.
People, being a journalist is hard. A lot harder than it looks, in fact. That's why so many of them are so bad at it. But just because you have a Blogger account, don't pretend for a second that makes you a journalist. What that makes you is a source. A potentially interesting source, yes, but no more interesting than a guy on the corner with a bullhorn.
And, remember, that's a good thing. The reason blogs are interesting is because they're not journalism. They're unfiltered personal voices. Raw emotion. They don't have rules to follow, editors and advertisers to keep happy, parent corporations to make rich. They're the real deal.
Here's a secret: Journalists want to be us. It's true! We bloggers have the freedom to be painfully honest. When's the last time you looked up from a newspaper and said, "wow, I can't believe she said that!" I do that just about every time I read Dooce.
If blogs wanted the same rights and protections as newspapers, they'd have to adhere to the same standards, laws, and process. Is that really what you want? An editor breathing down your neck? And if it is, why don't you just go work for a newspaper?
Please, we have newspapers. Let's make something different out of blogging. Let's not make it into something old and dying because they get the cool toys.
Certainly there are some bloggers that are journalistic in tone and approach, but that's the exception. Why force a young, flexible medium into that one dull corner? Because if we apply the same standards to blogging as are applied to journalism, blogs will get boring in a hurry. That's not what I want.
So if you enjoy blogs, then next time some blogger gets their panties in a twist about journalists getting all the breaks, just say: "Damn right! Ain't it great?"
And then go post about it on your blog.
Heather and I are having much fun moblogging today. She has an excuse - she is participating in 24 in 48: A collection of 24 people posting photos for 48 hours for your enjoyment. Me? I just like to follow the cool kids.
You know what never gets old? Shilling for votes. Really. It's a skill I've nurtured over my 10 years making web stuff. I'm still sore I never got in the Top 5% in the mid-90s. The ballot was totally confusing. Most of my votes wound up going to David Siegel.
Case in point: I'm honored that my humble photo site is nominated for two categories in the Photobloggies: Animal Photography and Photo of the Year.
And The Wife is nominated for two as well: Best American (hah!) and Best Toy Camera.
So, please, if you cherish freedom, mom, and apple crullers, vote Chawazek today! We'd do it for you. And hurry - voting ends March 28.
UPDATE: Heather has recused herself because she wants to see the award go to a site that's not already on the Photoblogs Top 10. Isn't she the best? Answer: Yes. I vote for her every day.
A new feature to the ol' dotcom: Just a Link. Approximately three years after everyone else got one, I've added a little sidebar link blog to my site. It's for quick links. Just little one-liners: A link and a thought. The same thing I said was not "all that revolutionary" five years ago. And, yeah, it's not. But it is fun.
What's changed? Delicious, a "social bookmarking system." Plenty of other people have gushed about it already. Bottom line: Delicious makes sharing bookmarks social the same way Flickr makes photos social. And when formerly isolated things become social, wonderful things happen.
With Delicious, you can add bookmarks easily, republish them on your site, subscribe to other people's bookmarks and share your own. Plus your links contribute to the global zeitgeist, where you can see what the most popular links of the moment are.
Not being revolutionary has never been so much fun.
Now that I've been working at Technorati long enough for the Kool-Aid to kick in, I decided to trick out my blog a bit with some nifty Technoratiness. Here are the highlights:
1. Search! Google may have this site indexed back to 1997, but it can take weeks for new entries to show up there. If you're looking for something I said in a blog post, Technorati's got my posts indexed within minutes. So I added the Technorati Searchlet to all the index pages.
2. Technorati This! Each post now ends with a "Technorati This" link. Click it to see if there are any other blogs out there talking about (and linking to) the post you're on. It happens!
3. Technorati Tags! This is the one I'm really excited about. I rejiggered the way I use Categories in Movable Type to be more tag-like. Now, after each post, you'll see a list of the tags I applied to that post. Click the quote bubble icon to go to the Technorati Tag page for that word, or click the text to see all my posts tagged with that word. It's the best of both worlds: you can choose whether you want to hear more from me about it, or more from everyone about it.
More tricking out to come.
Or: Why you're gonna be hearing the word "tag" a lot
Think about these two words for a moment: "Search" and "Browse." They're words that are used frequently to describe things we do on computers. But consider their traditional associations:
Browsing is shopping, strolling, flipping through a magazine. Browsing is fun, casual, entertaining.
Searching is mechanical, trial and error, frustrating. Searching is work.
There's a powerful emotional difference between the two. Now let's talk about tags.
Lots of smart people have been buzzing about tags lately, and for good reason. Tags are like categories or subjects - a general description of a thing. So, for example, I might tag this photo of my dog with the words: Dog, Chihuahua, and Bug.
Once I've tagged my photos, they can be easily collected on a page - I can see all my photos tagged Chihuahua, thanks to Flickr. Take that to the next level and I can see everyone's Chihuahua photos. Neat! Take that aggregation one step further and you can see everything tagged with Chihuahua anywhere. Even neater.
Something interesting happened this weekend. But it's not interesting for all the reasons it seems interesting at first.
Markos Moulitsas Zúniga is a political blogger. He maintains a site called the Daily Kos, where he writes thousands of words a day about Amercian politics, especially Bush and the war in Iraq. His politics are left of center, but not all that radical by San Francisco standards.
On Thursday, April 1, Markos posted a comment on his site: "I feel nothing over the death of merceneries. They aren't in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them."
The response was swift.
This section is called Just a Thought. It's a blog where I post little pieces of what I'm thinking about at the moment. This page shows thoughts about Blogging, including:
Will Post for Money
22 September 2006
10 Insights on Blogs from PEW
1 August 2006
The Powazek World Tour
12 July 2006
Death to User-Generated Content
4 April 2006
My Blogger Code
10 March 2006
14 February 2006
Bring on the Ego Charting!
17 January 2006
Digging in the Dirt
5 September 2005
How Tags Happened at Technorati
25 July 2005
Jon Stewart fans prefer Minima
14 July 2005
The New New Thing
9 June 2005
3 May 2005
19 April 2005
Come here often?
15 April 2005
Ephemera Archive by Base Color
14 April 2005
I am a salty old man
2 April 2005
21 March 2005
New: Just a Link
14 February 2005
4 February 2005
Searching vs. Browsing
19 January 2005
The "Kostroversy" Context
5 April 2004
Join the POWlist
Enter your email address here so I can send an occasional note to your inbox. Only good things, I promise. More info »
Working the web since 1995, Derek Powazek is the creator of many award-winning websites, a couple of which still exist. Derek is the cofounder of JPG Magazine and the CCO of 8020 Publishing. Derek lives in San Francisco with his wife, two nutty Chihuahuas, a grumpy cat, and a house full of plants named Fred. More »
Join the POWlist to receive the occasional note.
Will Post for Money 22 September 2006
10 Insights on Blogs from PEW 1 August 2006
The Powazek World Tour 12 July 2006
Death to User-Generated Content 4 April 2006
My Blogger Code 10 March 2006