The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

The newspaper as afterthought

I came to a troubling realization yesterday morning as I stared at the last four days worth of Columbia Daily Tribune‘s sitting on my doorstep: It just doesn’t make sense new hans mugany more for me to subscribe to a daily newspaper.

Don’t get me wrong. I still read a newspaper almost every day. After nearly a decade on the newspaper front lines, I’ll always love and defend them. I hold a copy of the Cato-Institute published pocket-sized, paperback Constitution and Bill of Rights as I pen this, resolute in my belief the press does and must work as a fourth check on government. But I also must admit I get so much more of my news from other sources now – and not just from the Internet – that at least for me, getting a daily newspaper doesn’t make much sense.

If newspapers want to reverse years of declining subscription rates, I think their leaders must analyze how their audiences get news and what place their products can and do fulfill in that process. Continue reading

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July 30, 2007 Posted by | Hans Meyer | 1 Comment

The motivation to contribute

I can’t believe it has been almost two weeks since I’ve posted anything new. new hans mugThankfully, my fellow Cyberbrains have more than picked up the slack. I think their posts are always much more insightful than mine anyway. I’m the doofus who talks about video games .

But I thought I would write today because I stumbled on something as I asked myself why it had been so long. I ended up examining my motivation for participating online with the Cyberbrains in the first place and realized that what motivates online contribution is a question that anyone who studies or promotes user-generated content online needs to ask. Continue reading

July 17, 2007 Posted by | Hans Meyer | Leave a comment

Keeping comments clean

There’s a fascinating conversation going on over at ESPN.com about the death of WWE wrestler Chris Benoit. I’m surenew hans mug most of you couldn’t care less about this, but if you are interested in how to manage user-generate content, you should really pay attention.

After the story, ESPN presents a sample of some of the 138 comments it has received about the story. Clicking on a comment takes you to the entire list, and while most are dripping with vitriol and some are sprinkled with occasional “hell”s, the comments expand and enliven the discussion of this tragic situation, I believe. Since ESPN.com started allowing users to comment on every headline news story in February (thanks to Steve Rubel for the information) , I have been impressed with how insightful, how intelligent and how on-point most of them seem. I don’t know exactly what procedures ESPN follows in selecting or editing comments (if anyone wants to enlighten me, I’d be very appreciative), but it seems like the company maintains a pretty open forum. How then does ESPN manage to keep things so civil? Continue reading

June 26, 2007 Posted by | Hans Meyer | Leave a comment

Making money online is a “wiki” business

It’s not all academics in Cyberbrain land. Sometimes, we actually ask oursenew hans muglves can anyone make any money off this citizen journalism, user-generated content stuff. The goal of this blog, in fact, has been sharing our academic research so others can turn it into some practical applications.

The concept I’ve often thought has the greatest money making potential is the wiki. In fact, Jeremy and I agreed over lunch the other day, we’d actually pay a small monthly fee to access Wikipedia. The site has so much good background information on nearly any topic you can think of, that to me, it almost doesn’t even matter if it’s true. Wikipedia works as a good place to start on an information search, and heck, if you don’t like something there, change it.

But does charging for wiki access or conversely, charging to post online somehow diminish its information value? Does it take a volunteer effort that springs from the ground up to generate the kind of interest and contribution to make a wiki a viable information source, or can corporations co-opt and force the process? Continue reading

June 20, 2007 Posted by | Hans Meyer | 3 Comments

Front page news on Cold Pizza

Just a quick hit after suffering through an hour … OK, 30 minutes … of Cold Pizzhans-mug.jpga, er ESPN First Take, while exercising at the gym. Just five minutes of watching Patrick MacEnroe and Skip Bayless debate Bayless’ “mancrush” on David Beckham almost forced me to turn to something less objectionable, like rap videos on MTV. But I stuck with it hoping to catch up on some sports headlines. I was shocked, confused, and a bit dismayed when the show went positively old school to show them.

Correspondent Sage Steele (great TV name, BTW) eagerly told viewers what appeared on the sports front pages of the nation’s newspapers that morning. As a news junkie, I found the segment mildly interesting, but I had to wonder what the typical sports fan watching a recap show between 10 a.m. and noon would think. Would they even care one iota what the Cleveland Plain Dealer had to say about LeBron’s playoff struggles? Let me rephrase that. While they might care about reading the newspaper’s take, would they care what it looked like? Continue reading

June 14, 2007 Posted by | Hans Meyer | Leave a comment

The truth is out there, but where?

My wife’s family came to town last week, and I couldn’t resist showing off the blog a bit. It’s hard to explain to people what I do. People outside academia tend to think it’s all about teaching. The site opened up my mother-in-law and sister-in-law to some new ideas. I think I’ve got my wife’s mom hooked on Pandora.hans-mug.jpg

Showing off led to some inevitable questions, and I’ve got to admit one stumped me. My sister-in-law asked how she could tell if Web site can be trusted, and she wasn’t talking about secure financial transactions either. I guess she had done some research on some of the rumors floating around about different cosmetics out there and wasn’t sure what to believe.

Well, after showing her some of my favorite urban legends sites — www.snopes.com and www.museumofhoaxes.com — which often maintain up-to-date investigations into the balderdash circulating online, I didn’t really know what else to tell her. I knew my gut reaction — stick to trusted news sites, such as nytimes.com and cnn.com — would be misleading. Continue reading

June 5, 2007 Posted by | Hans Meyer | Leave a comment

Old school pub goes high tech

I’ll keep this short so I don’t knock Jeremy off the front. I saw this on YouTube and had to share. Even the logo.jpgstately old New Yorker is embracing this new-fangled Internet thing. Go to www.ringtales.com to see the magazine’s cartoons animated. Maybe it’s just me, but I still don’t get the jokes.

When we talk about converting newspapers to the Internet, we rarely, if ever, talk about how one of the paper’s most valuable assets will survive – the comics page. I’ll admit it. The comics are one of the first things I read. I might be more likely to subscribe to an online edition if I knew 1) I could get my comics, and 2) my experience reading them would be enhanced. With such fantastic and popular online comic offerings as Homestar Runner, is adding motion to panels from the New Yorker enough? You’ve got to try this out!

May 30, 2007 Posted by | Hans Meyer | Leave a comment

Caught in the Blizzard

war-dota.jpgI have a love-hate relationship with Blizzard, the video game company that created Starcraft, Diablo, and a little game called World of Warcraft, which boasts more than 7 million online devotees who pay $14.95 a month to play. Before World of Warcraft, I think Blizzard epitomized how a video game company should interact with its customers. It created games that you didn’t need high-end hardware to run. It allowed you to play online for free. It even shipped Warcraft III with a “world editor” that allowed you to create custom maps and campaigns for your friends.

This blog entry is late, in fact, because I invited 10 close friends over to my house to celebrate Memorial Day today by virtually maiming each other, inside a custom map called Defense of the Ancients. This user-created experience boasts hundreds of thousands of players worldwide. The site managed by the map’s developers has more than 428,000 registered members, and that’s just one of several fansites. The mod has also been incorporated into several gaming leagues and is featured each year at Blizzard’s annual convention. If you want to see the impact DOTA has had on plays, search for it on Google or in YouTube. My favorite is this video by the Swedish singer BassHunter. I wish my LAN parties looked like his.

It is easy for media professionals to dismiss this as just as game, but that is a grave mistake. Instead, researchers and professionals should examine how and why users have created such a vibrant community around a commercial product. Imagine the possibilities if other businesses adopted this model. What kind of loyal fan-base could MSNBC foster if it allowed users to rejigger the site’s code to their hearts’ content? How many more people would become CNN iReporters if they could tell stories their way without Erica Hill narrating over them?

However, I have to wonder if, like so many other companies, Blizzard is starting to backslide a bit. I yearn to play World of Warcraft, the juggernaut of online games with more than 7 million members, but I won’t pay the $14.95 a month to do it. Now, I realize it offers a bit more intense gaming experience than playing a round of DOTA on Blizzard’s Battlenet does, one I’d even to be willing to pay for. My big beef with World of Warcraft is that for $14.95 a month you don’t seem to get anything more than the privilege to play. When Blizzard released an expansion The Burning Crusade, users had to fork over another $40 bucks.

It’s not my place to tell Blizzard how it should run its business. The company’s doing pretty well without my advice, and it is still nurturing the open relationship it has with fans in other ways. But if I’m going to show media companies how Blizzard has succeeded by relinquishing some control to users, I don’t want them to get distracted by the massive dollars signs attached. Maybe that’s starting to happen already.

May 28, 2007 Posted by | Hans Meyer | Leave a comment

Free Pandora (and Internet radio)!

When I’m not listening to Jazz games online, I tune to Internet radio. My favorite is Pandora, which bills itself as the Music Genome Project. Like its human counterpart, Pandora has dissected the songs of more than 10,000 artists into hundreds of musical “genes.” By typing in the name of one artist or song, Pandora creates a playlist with songs and artists hans-mug.jpgthat have a similar musical genetic heritage. For me, it creates the perfect ambiance for whatever I’m doing, whether it’s calm, collected reading or soothing my frustrations after losing an online game of Ticket to Ride. My “stations” now include Staind, Elton John, Jamiroquai, Fall Out Boy and The Fray.

I never stopped to wonder how Pandora can afford to provide this valuable service, until I received an e-mail from Pandora’s founder Tim Westergren. It seems Internet radio is not free. In fact, the RIAA is trying to charge more than four times as much to release songs for online listening as they do to Sirius and XM satellite radio.

Look, I’m not one to jump on the bandwagon of the latest Internet cause. For example, my understanding of Net Neutrality comes from a particularly hilarious and informative episode of Ask a Ninja. But I’ve got to sound off on the Internet radio controversy because I think it’s right in the Cyberbrains’ wheelhouse. How, you ask? It has nothing to do with user-generated content. But it represents another misguided corporate attempt to exercise so much control over content that it ends up alienating users.

To me, sites like Pandora present an invaluable opportunity to expand an audience. I doubt I ever would have heard about the Scissor Sisters if they hadn’t shown up in my Jamiroquai station. Heck, I even enjoyed a Prince song without even knowing it, and that’s a pretty big leap for me. If I ran the RIAA, I’d deeply discount what I charged an Internet radio station because it brings new fans and buyers right to my doorstep. Instead, the RIAA is so fearful of losing a penny of profit and so ignorant of long-term benefits that it sabotages an honest effort to bring music fans together. It’s not like this is MySpace or YouTube, which re-purpose copyrighted content. Internet radio is willing to pay, but only the same as everyone else.

Like most of its media counterparts, the RIAA isn’t even trying to understand its audience or what makes the Internet different. It is simply reacting to what it sees as a disruption rather than an opportunity. Online listeners aren’t petty criminals who’d rather steal than pay for quality content.

In the end, it might take an act of Congress to save Internet radio. The Internet Radio Equality Act has 74 sponsors in the House of Representatives, and a companion bill has been introduced in the Senate. But it doesn’t need to go this far. Learn from this example, entertainment and journalism executives, to realize you need to adapt to new technologies not force them to conform to your antiquated ideals.

May 18, 2007 Posted by | Hans Meyer | Leave a comment

‘Features’ of the future

It’s hard to believe it’s been a week since Lincoln Millstein made his bold predictions about the fate of newspaper lifestyle pages. Honestly, I should have commented on it earlier, hans-mug.jpgbut I’ve been wrapped up in other things, and I’ve been waiting for my compatriots with more visible platforms to lead the charge. In the last week, I haven’t seen anything – not from Romenesko, not from Gillmor, not from Dube – and it awoke me from my end-of-semester slumber.

(BTW, if you have commented on this, and I’m just missing your link, let me know.)

Clyde’s response today also helped me see the confusion that exists surrounding what citizen journalism means for mainstream journalism. If you don’t want to read the Forbes story, here’s a summary. Millstein, the former features editor at the Boston Globe, told editors gathered at the Newspaper Association of America annual conference he envisions a day when newspaper features sections are entirely reader-generated.

“You don’t need professional journalists to put out a food section, in my opinion,” he said. “I had a hundred journalists reporting to me. I don’t believe that model works, I don’t believe it needs to work. I believe the user is actually better served by having user-generated, high-quality content in all those ‘back of the book’ sections.”

While I should be shouting for joy that someone of his stature (or at least former stature) is taking user-generated content seriously, I see two fundamental flaws in his thinking.

1) Readers don’t necessarily want to be journalists. This is a refrain Steve Yelvington so often eloquently repeats, and we’ve seen it over and over again in our research. Yes, they want the opportunity to share a Bumbleberry Pie recipe or two, but no, they don’t want to take over an entire section. The promise of user-generated content in newspapers is NOT free labor. It’s interaction and forging stronger connections.

2) What role does the journalist play? I can’t be certain from Millstein’s comments that he isn’t advocating relinquishing all control to the fashion mavens at the local A & P store. I doubt he is, but what forward thinking new media managers need to do before proposing something as revolutionary as this is define what role paid staffers will play. Our research has also shown time and time again that readers need a guide, especially in a confusing online megaverse. The smart features section of the future will have a stern editor at the helm, setting the course and encouraging readers to jump on the ship.

May 13, 2007 Posted by | Hans Meyer | Leave a comment