Microsharing – a future we’re ignoring?*

Today, in an attempt to get people talking about something I’ve been mulling over for a while, I had thought I accidentally invented an awful new word: Microsharing

Luckily,  I hadn’t.

Some chap called Tony Obregon (I’m guessing this  Tony Obregon) did the hard work slapping it up on Wikipedia back in 2006.

However, I’m slightly miffed we haven’t got around to talking about it from the perspective of making money from content until 2011. Hopefully, this post gets the ball rolling.

So to microshare is:

…to offer access to a select piece or set of digital content by a specific group of invited or otherwise privileged guests in a controlled and secure manner.

So, why does it interest me?

Well, in what was a glorious example of perfect linkbait keyword combos, a VC chap named Bradford Cross recently put across his view on how the iPad would destroy print journalism.

Most of what he was saying has been said a million times before, but when Bradford starts thinking about how payment models might integrate with the social web it suddenly gets interesting:

What should I be able to do with that Economist article?  Should I be able to share it à la carte so I can discuss it with the people I want?  Should I be able to share it within my network, or within the intersection of my network and the network of paying Economist subscribers?

Should I be able to share it publicly?  Maybe I could share it with a special shortened link that encapsulates a special key – that key could charge me if I share it with my friends and I want them to read it, or it could charge the clicker of the link if the Economist decides to allow à la carte payment on some new kind of media platform.

This is the first time I’ve seen anyone think beyond the “if it’s not free it can not be shared on the social web” line… and I’ve been looking out for someone to do it for quite a while!

In real life humans are perfectly capable, and generous enough, to purchase something of value to them and then to loan or give it to someone they care about, trust, or share an interest with. It’s a nice thing to do. We feel good about it, especially when we loan something to someone who finds it really valuable too.

However, with the social web this doesn’t happen. Shared stuff is either free and shared with everyone or it’s paid for and can be shared with no one (unless they too feel compelled to pay for it).

Why the difference, if paying for stuff doesn’t stop us sharing it in real life? Perhaps the social web hasn’t yet evolved to a point where we can share like this as easily as we do in real life?

I think it might be rather nice to have something in the middle: a “licensed sharing of paid-for content“. I think it might even create another strata of the online gift economy.

The trick, however, is to find a way to do it that moves beyond voucher codes and limited previews and puts the power to share in the hands of the person who has paid.

I like the idea of integrating with an existing network then defining the people you want to send the content too (much like you would send an link out to a group in an email). I’m told, however, this is may be too laborious.

So I’m wondering what you think? Do we need it? If so, what form do you think it could take?

*Or, following the Bradford Cross school of post titling: “Why microsharing will destroy the future… OF EVERYTHING”

**And Kindle have on this very day announced book lending – microsharing in action! :)

An interview with an anonymous blog commenter

One of the problems with the online space is the perception of distance and anonymity that it creates. It means that people often say things in ways that are harsher than they would in real life.

But do they even realise they are coming across that way? I’ve always wondered what the people behind the spikey comments on our blogs are like.

Richard regularly comments on The Birmingham Post blogs under the pseudonym “Clifford” and, it is fair to say, has developed quite a bit of a reputation as a curmudgeon. But, despite his criticisms of The Post, he has stuck with us even when we didn’t quite get things right.

For that reason I wanted to meet him and, I have to admit with some considerable trepidation, I invited him for a tour of our offices.

The man I met in reception could not have been further from what I expected – polite, erudite, passionate and engaged in local news. For his part, he was oblivious to the image he had been portraying to others online.

Of course the wider point is that those who engage on the internet need to remember there are humans behind the handles (or bylines) and try and think about how their comments might be taken.

However, I don’t see internet arcadia arriving any time soon, so I think it’s worth journalists seeing that not all aggressive commenters are always aware how they are coming across. It is not always personal.

Whilst with us at The Post, Richard kindly agreed to go on video and talk frankly about why he commented on the blogs and how he’d want to see the newspaper develop in the future.

Richard has also told me he is considering retiring Clifford and in future wants to comment online as himself.

In total the two videos come in at around 15 minutes long. I haven’t edited them much, as so much of what Richard said interested me and I wanted to keep it for future reference!

However, if you want to jump to a particular point, here is a guide:

Video 1 (above):
00:36: On how his comments were percieved by journalists.
01:53: On pseudonyms and putting personal details online.
04:48: On political coverage in The Birmingham Post.
05:49: On the development of Birminghampost.net.
07:00: On the need for web-first publishing (and why it won’t affect newspaper sales).

Video 2 (below):
00:19: Why scale is important in making a blog feel like a community.
01:36: What makes someone comment on a blog.
02:40: What blogs would work best on a newspaper website.
03:20: Why journalists should try and engage on blogs and not worry about bad comments.
05:42: On revitalising the Birminghampost.net blogs

QIT #6 News and music are incomparable

I’ve was listening on the radio (You & Yours, I think) to a debate about the PPL and PRS licences businesses need in order to play music in the workplace.

As a quick explanation, this is from law firm Hammonds (warning – it’s a pdf):

Any copyright music which is played within a business and can be heard by more than one person (whether staff members or the general public) is likely to require a licence. This includes music played almost anywhere outside a private dwelling, for example in offices and factories; shops and stores; leisure facilities; kitchens; staff rooms; post rooms; and even music played on the telephone whilst customers are put on hold; as well as the usual public areas such as waiting rooms, restaurants and bars.

That lead me to think of all the newspapers sitting in cafes, bars and waiting rooms across the UK. Each newspaper is only bought once but many may read and benefit from it.

In some respects it doesn’t really matter how this has come to pass – whether it is because of competition from other platforms, the public perception of news being a right or just the newspaper industry historically undervaluing itself – the point it illustrates is that the news industry doesn’t really believe its content has any value other than to provide structure around which to place advertising.

This seriously effects how the industry can now move forward and, with such different attitudes to the value of their content, how can we suggest that the answers to the news industry’s woes can be found in the experiences of the music industry?

“Everyone just Googles”

This is a quote taken from a conversation I had with a lawyer about her consumption of news:

“The problem is you people in the media are stuck in your own little world and forget that we’re also quite busy in our own little world and we don’t have time to keep up with what you’re doing.
“We don’t want to have to understand your RSS feeds, we just want to get the information that we need as quickly and easily as possible.
“Handing over 50p and getting that information printed on paper is an easy transaction. It makes sense.
“Fiddling around trying to understand and set up an RSS reader doesn’t.
“When it comes to information online the quickest way is to Google for it. Everyone just Googles.
“Then, if you find a useful easy-to-use site in the Google search results, that’s the site you’ll go back to.”

Quick, incoherent thought #4: the power of print

Why do we use newspaper instead of hardback books to distribute news?

Silly question, I know, but bear with me.

We use newspaper because – in the world of paper-based products – it is the most cost-effective, efficient way to transmit information to a defined audience on a regular basis.

But if there are new ways to transmit that information that is more cost-effective and more efficient (the Internet, for example), does that eradicate the value of newspaper?

Well, the people who queued outside The Washington Post for their special edition on Obama’s victory would tell you there was a value to print and it has been argued that this is proof that newspaper is still the format of choice for important events. “People didn’t print out the news on their computers”, goes the argument.

This is, of course, right. People didn’t print out the news from their computers. But then that doesn’t prove that web-delivered news is a lesser product or any less likely to disrupt the print media business. 

What it does prove is that there is an innate value placed on print that is not just defined by efficiency or speed of delivery. There is something valuable about it as an object, something to keep as a memory of an important occasion. Digital is, at the moment, still considered too transient a medium for keepsakes.

I know newspapers are great at creating special editions. Perhaps, however, there is a value in looking at how having a reputation for creating printed products could be used even more to our advantage.

Liverpool Daily Post’s current project of creating a book containing pictures submitted to their Flickr Group is a fascinating example. The value is not in the pictures themselves (which are mostly available online), but in the fact that they are in a big glossy book that can be kept as a keepsake of Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture.

So, it was cheap and quick to print extra copies of the Washington Post on the day of Obama’s Victory. It made more money. What other print products could the Washington Post have sold on that day, or in that week? A special limited edition of all the articles it ran about Obama on the run up to the election? Some form of picture book?

Perhaps then, on some occasions, there would be a business case to argue that news would be better delivered in a hardback book…

Quick, incoherent thought #3: “ambient” distribution

Just been reading a post by Jonathan Kay that suggests the two biggest factors in the decline of print are the death of spare time and the death of community (thanks to Markmedia for the link).

The former struck a chord with me. I am a Radio 4 addict because I can listen to it while I’m doing other things (cleaning the house, commuting to work). I pick up the headlines whilst doing other things.

If time is becoming increasingly squeezed then I suspect the reasons behind someone dedicating half-an-hour of their time to reading a newspaper have to been even more compelling. Being on public transport and having a paper available for free is one of those reasons.

Even if the newspaper is a great product, with fantastic stories, it may not be something that fits into a person’s life easily.

So, when we look at how we can use technology to appeal to new audiences, perhaps we should be thinking media in terms of how much of a person’s time they consume.

Would the ideal be to make distribution ambient? This would mean stories would come to a person because they were part of their surroundings, rather than because they expressly decided to sit down and consume news.

Enviromental journalism: question for BCU students

This afternoon I’m popping down to Birmingham City University to meet Paul Bradshaw‘s group of online journalism students.

They’ve been doing some fascinating work on developing an environmental news service, with each of them specialising in a different subject area.

Environmental news is close to my heart. I would love The Post to be giving more coverage to stories on sustainability.

But it’s also one of those subject areas that many readers regard with great suspicion. Look at The Times guide to the most popular environmental stories of 2007 and you’ll see what I mean.

So, I guess the big question is, can you write environmental stories in a way that builds trust between you and the reader? Is the current suspicion surrounding climate change – for example – caused by media sensationalism or poor scientific reporting? Perhaps it’s neither, maybe it’s just human nature to respond to environmental stories with suspicion.

I certainly don’t know the answer. But in a world where the hegemony of large news corporations is increasingly challenged, the issue of maintaining trust as a way to maintain audience is critical.

And, I suspect, if you find a way to crack the hardest nut of trust and environmental reporting, then you have probably struck gold.