I got caught up in all this talk of the end of days.
I know, it was foolish but like many others, I gathered all my belongings, closed up shop and headed for higher ground.
I ran from the instagramocalypse.
The news that Instagram was going to take all of my pictures, photoshop Kim Kardashian and Justin Beiber in to them (drinking Bud) then sell that on Facebook was just too much to take. So I downloaded my pics and went to Flickr until someone explained the point of Kim Kardashian to me.
Silly me, some would say. All you have done is run from the frying pan in to the fire. ‘Fool, we told you this would happen’ said the smuggers who never went on Facebook in the first place because it is evil. (and wander round comment threads like the bloke with the ‘end of the world is nigh’ sandwich board around their virtual necks).
The truth of it is that I was an avid user of Instagram. I don’t know why, it just tickled my fancy; I’d grown quite attached to it. What made me move was not the idea that they were going to sell my pictures but that it wasn’t clear what they were going to do (and the tech commentators made it no clearer). A communication problem then. One that’s still food for thought as Tim Worstall over at Forbes said…
Is it really true that a business valued at $1 billion just recently cannot in fact find someone able to draft a clear explanation of their terms and conditions? I have to admit that if the answer to that is “Yes”, well, it doesn’t make me any happier about Instagram to be honest.
It’s funny isn’t it. When one person starts something that’s a lot of brain for a small thing – makes them look like a genius. When it turns in to a huge corporation that is still run by one person, that brain begins to look pretty small. Like putting Einsteins brain in a whale. Big stuff often acts really dumb! But I digress.
Social quid pro quo
We all know that in the social media world there is a quid-pro-quo. You give me the service and I give you my content. As long as we are both open and honest about what we get from it then I’m happy. I get what I want and, well, good luck making anything from the drivel I produce.
When you don’t like what I do you can ban me from the service. When I don’t like the way you work then I can withdraw my labour. And that’s what I did.
Some people cited the heavy hand of the evil Facebook empire behind the changes (Some easy tech-commentator maths here – (Flop share float / platforms to monetize)*Facebook = evil corporate sell outs) But trust or respect for Facebook was not the issue for me here. My main worry for Facebook’s involvement is always that they would just render the whole thing unusable with their shitty user interfaces and api’s. If I sense anything it’s a huge corporation that doesn’t really know what it’s doing (see Forbes quote above).
So, I’m not the naive idiot that some commentators would paint those of us who left Instagram. When I talk about ‘open and honest’, that has some pretty strict limits. I just played the game and made the point.
And that’s what got me thinking about newspapers.
Print’s instagram moment
When was the Instagram moment for the newspaper industry? At what point did they cock-up communicating what they did so badly that people just upped and left? When did they change the T&C’s of what they did?
Was it the threat of a newspaperpocalypse? Whilst the high priests of journalism where sacrificing another celebrity, could we all see the countdown of the ABCe’s getting close to zero and the end of times (democracy)?
And look at the way they have dealt with it. Whilst Instagram (and others before them) took to their blog to explain their thinking, the press got the Leveson Enquiry. The (probably equally expensive) equivalent of eavesdropping on the Instagram/Facebook lawyers meeting where they cooked-up their ill-conceived changes.
You’ve got to think differently in this day and age. Where is my ‘we are listening’ article from the owners and editors of newspapers? Where is the quid-pro-quo?
Maybe we need to draft some new T&C’s for the newspaper industry.
You need me to put effort in to finding you online, to helping you with community/social material. I’ll do that. Every so often you do some proper democracy protecting stuff that’s useful for me so I’ll maybe even keep buying your product once in a while. But like Instagram it’s got to work for me. Work for me enough that I’ll even come back when you make stupid mistakes. And like Instagram it’s got to come with a little openness and honesty.
I’m not being naive here by using a word like honesty when it comes to newspapers. I know the corporate strings get pulled, the few bad apples etc. etc. Like Facebook, I’m less worried about evil empires (Murdoch etc.) than I am the apparent ease with which newspapers seem to cock-up every possible opportunity with corporate cack-handedness and closed-shop mentality.
So, dear reader, I’ll be going back to Instagram in the New year. Confident that my pictures could just as easily end up being sold without my knowledge, still with no idea what the point of Kim Kardashian is but confident that’s what they intended all along. I want to say the same thing about newspapers.
Over the last semester I’ve been spending a lot of time talking about the use of social networks; how and why they might be useful/important/problematic to journalists. But over the months I’ve been hearing an increasingly common complaint from students. The gist of the complaints is something like this:
Stop telling us to use social networks. What we do with social networks is up to us.
The implication is that social networks are personal and not up for grabs as part of the syllabus. Us telling them what to do with their social network would be like us telling them who they could be friends with or what to where. Butt out of our personal lives!
I had to think a little about whether I actually was telling people to use social networks and, reflecting on it, I have to say that yes I was. A bit.
I was telling people that they should sign-up and explore things like Facebook and Twitter because I felt that they were important things to experience and understand as journalists and not just as users. But what I’ve never done is say that people must use their own social networks for that.
In fact I’ve made a lot this year of how you might separate the two things; How important it is that when you do use social networks as a journalist, you do think about how much of you (as your personal social networks represent you at least) you want to see. That might mean, for example, creating a new Gmail account and using that to build new accounts that are ‘work’ related.
The response to that is often, I don’t want another account to manage. Which I find quite an odd thing as it kind of suggest that because you use Facebook to manage your social life you’ll never be able to use it as a journalist What a missed opportunity!
Person or professional?
For me, understanding the line between personal and professional is really important when it comes to social media and journalism. There have been numerous examples of people falling foul of social media searching at job interview. And things don’t get easier once you have the job. Stories of journalists coming in to conflict with their masters over social media use are increasingly common. But, thinking about it, maybe there is a case for intruding a little on students personal social media habits.
It’s not just the old standard of employment if you saw you on Facebook, would you give you a job? I sense an increase in the numbers of people finding the content of their personal accounts putting them in a legal (and often moral) line of fire. So in this post-Leveson world where, journalists are having to aspire to higher moral and ethical standards than the audience, isn’t it fair to say that the personal is also up for scrutiny?
OK, in reality, that’s a line I wouldn’t cross. I’m not going to demand to see (and grade) students social media output to assess professionalism. What students do in the privacy of their own social media world is up to them – at least I hope they have thought about the distinction between private and public! But the idea that this means I can’t talk to them about and yes, maybe make them, temporarily at least, sign-up for Twitter or Facebook is not something I can buy in to. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the developing norm is that social media isn’t where journalism should be. Maybe we should all just be people. Maybe social media is now ‘another country’ where different rules apply.
What do you think? Am I getting old? Just not getting it?
I’ve been putting together some basic social media workshops to get my returning students back in to the swing of things. One of the areas I looked at was using social media (and social networks) as a base from which to promote themselves and their content.
Most of the stuff around this tends to settle on the old favorites – Twitter and Facebook. Recent banter also pulls in Reddit(Don’t know why. Anybody would think the President of the United states used it or something). But it was whilst pondering the idea of personal and professional identity that I found myself thinking of Wikipedia.
Making a distinction between your personal and professional life online is key as a journalist. Platforms like Facebook make that easy – you can have more than one profile. You can also create a little public place for your ‘journo identity’ in the shape of a Facebook page. A great way to gather and promote content under your chosen ‘brand’.
You can also set up a page on Google+. Now I know that there isn’t very much love for Google+ but hey, if there is a chance to get some of your information in to the biggest search engine in the world, why not!
Connect them all together with something whizzy like if this then that and you have a veritable multichannel-brandgasm of content.
Of course the grandaddy of all sites with pages about people and things is Wikipedia. So it occurred to me that a page about ‘journo you’ on Wikipedia might be an interesting thing to have.
The general feeling (when I did a quick twitter-pop) was ‘don’t do it’
@digidickinson because 1) it is against site terms and 2) you’ll look like an egotistical fool if you get caught.
Islands in the stream
That is what we are
No one in-between
How can we be wrong
Dolly Parton! Well, actually the BeeGees (well if we are being really pedantic Hemingway). What the hell is that about Andy!
Well, Mary Hammilton (a must follow @newsmary on twitter) highlighted a post by entrepreneur, writer and geek living imploring us to stop publishing webpages and start publishing streams:
Start moving your content management system towards a future where it outputs content to simple APIs, which are consumed by stream-based apps that are either HTML5 in the browser and/or native clients on mobile devices. Insert your advertising into those streams using the same formats and considerations that you use for your own content. Trust your readers to know how to scroll down and skim across a simple stream, since that’s what they’re already doing all day on the web. Give them the chance to customize those streams to include (or exclude!) just the content they want.
I found it a little bit of a mish-mash really. In principle, lots to agree with but the practice was less clear. It makes sense if you’re in to developing the ‘native clients’ but harder to quantify if your’e a content creator.
More interesting was the twitter discussion it generated between Mary and her Guardian colleague Jonathan Haynes (the equally essential @jonathanhaynes) which I hitched my wagon to. Haynes didn’t agree with the premise of the post and that generated an intersting discussion.
I’ve created a storyfy below but it got me thinking about some general points which are a little ‘devils advocate’:
What is this stream anyway – is it the capacity to filter or is the depth and breadth of content you have to filter. I would say it’s the latter. Facebook and Twitter are streams because of the sheer weight of numbers and diversity of users.
Why be the stream when you can be part of it – Part of what Anil posted about was making stuff available to use in streams. I can’t disagree with that but it strays in to the idea of feeding the content ecosystem that, in blunt terms, is often played as parasitic. For all the advocacy of allowing user control, the one thing news orgs are still loathed to do is move people outside the site. Is looking at new ways to recreate the stream experience within a site simply a way of admitting that you aren’t really part of the stream?
Are you confusing your consumption habits with your users – whilst the stream might be useful for information pros like journos is it really what consumers want for their news. The stream suits the rolling nature of journalism. Not in the broadcast sense, just in the sense of ‘whats new’. Do your audience consume like you do?
Are you removing the value proposition of a journalist? – by putting the control of the stream in the hands of the user are you doing yourself out of a job. I know what the reply to that will be: “No, because the content of the stream will be done by us and we will curate the stream”. Well in that sense it’s not a stream is it. It’s a list of what you already do. Where’s that serendipity or the compulsion to give people what they need (to live,thrive and survive) rather than what they want?
Confusing presentation with creation – That last point suggests a broader one. You can’t simply repackage content to simply ride the wave when your core business different. It’s like calling a column a blog – we hate that don’t we. So why call a slightly different way of presenting the chronology of content a stream?
That’s before we have even got to the resource issue. News orgs can’t handle the social media flow as it is.
So, Islands in the stream? Well, thinking about the points above, especially the first one, what’s wrong with being something different. What’s wrong with being a page is world of updates. What’s wrong with being a place where people can step out of the stream and stay a while to dry off and get a bit of orientation.
The Herald’s web editor Neil Shaw responded to a number of the points in my post. Picking up on the disparity of the number of users he makes the very valid point about marketing which he says “has been very restricted (non-existent) so far.” I think that’s a good point but I still wonder about ‘transferring users’ from Facebook. That would be my concern for any social network endeavor (including Johnston Press’ recent efforts).
That doesn’t take away from the Heralds success on Facebook, in number of followers at least, something that I take my hat off to. It would be great to hear a little more about the kind of things they have done to make Facebook work.
Anyway, back to the rest of the comment. I think Neil does a great job of explaining their position and the thinking behind it. I hope they get the support to do it.
The motivation behind our use of Facebook, iHerald, MySpace, Bebo, Twitter and YouTube has always been to interact with our users, rather than dump print content online and hope that appeals to the audience. We now get thousands of page views every day on thisisplymouth directly from these sites, and users on these sites discuss us and our news every day.
Hitting the 5,000 limit on Facebook was the trigger, but the real drive is to create a platform where our users can interact with us and each other AND share their content with us. Gathering User Generated Content is a key part of our goal here.
As for the Facebook group, its limitations have always disuaded us from putting in too much effort. The only advantage it has over the profile, so far as I can see, is that we can contact the group members in bulk – rather than only sending emails 20 at a time.
Facebook has allowed us to take our content direct to a new audience who are genuinely interested in us and Plymouth news, and it has allowed those users to contact us with information (just today we were tipped off about a large number of job cuts in the city, while yesterday we were sent tributes to a young mum who died in the city over Facebook). But while it has raised the profile and altered the image of our brand among a key audience (damn, must have been spending too much time with the marketing team) it can’t really provided the interaction we want, or the UGC.
Facebook has been great for us, we enjoy it and we will continue to use it, but iHerald is different.
As to duplication of effort, using Twitter apps we take an RSS straight from our site, through Twitter, on to Facebook so effort is minimal and iHerald is mostly about monitoring – but as the number of users increases we are building a team of editors to moderate the content.
Okay, that has to be the worst English I have written (even by my standards) but think about it.
This post may appear more relevent to the students who occasionally look at my blog or who will find their way to this post via Twitter. In fact it was a chat with some first-year students that prompted the post and this link to a guide for setting your profile on Facebook, which I thought would be useful. But I think there is a broader issue.
My point to them was that their Facebook profiles where often not the best advert for them. That wasn’t a reflection on them at all. Just that some people don’t use Facebook as a social network. They use it as a way to ‘use’ those social networks and the information they generate. That could be a prospective employer or, to be honest, a journalist stacking up a story.
One student said they planned to delete their profile before they began applying for jobs, whilst others claimed that their profiles where already secure. But many were unaware that Google can search Facebook (and does a pretty good job of it) and that the privacy settings could be tweaked to the level they could. This is before you get in to a discussion about whether you really can delete anything on the web.
But the point, and here’s the wider issue, was not the appropriateness of the profile. It was that Facebook is a public facing service and as someone who plans to be in the public eye as a journalist, you should exercise some control over your professional image online just as you would offline.
Thisisplymouth and Herald web editor Neil Shaw said: “The response has been great, with 200 members joining in our first month to upload more than 1,000 items including pictures, videos and blogs.
The first thing that struck me was why?
Shaw said: “The site goes to the heart of our online strategy, not lazily duplicating our print product online, but interacting with our users so thisisplymouth and The Herald combine user-generated content with live input from our audience. It is a constant dialogue differentiated from and contributing to our print offering.”
The Herald has moved to a page, carrying 96 people across compared to the 4755 (not quite 5000 but near enough for them to stop them accepting unsolicited friend requests.) so you have to credit them with trying to do something about it.
But whilst I can cheer the desire not to lazily duplicate the print product, I’m still wondering if the limitations of facebook is the real reason here.
4755 Facebook friends is credit to the way the Herald use Facebook. Compare that to 151 for my local paper. But the fact that they have only shifted 96 fans on their page shows that the attraction is in Facebook as a platform and the features it offers when people interact with you as a friend.
Even with a 200 users of iherald you have to wonder how many of them are from Facebook rather than new users and if their efforts would have been better spent working on educating more of their
‘friends’ to the benefit Facebook page. The fact that it hasn’t really been updated since August last year may say something about how successful it is.
Immitation creates more work
Part of me wants this to work – the site looks pretty robust. But I still can’t shake the nagging idea that this is another attempt by a newspaper group to reinvent the wheel in an attempt to try and control the cart.
It may be more functional but it isn’t Facebook and it strikes me it just adds to the workload – simply managing the amount of copyright music that has appeared in the audio section would be enough to keep a lawer busy for week. With 4755 users of Facebook it would be madness to simply ignore them in favour of their new users so who manages that relationship?
Online, we have the ability to see directly what overall contribution journalists are playing to the success of a publication. It’s fairly logical that any company would seek to give greater rewards to its best performers, and encourage others to respond more closely to user needs. The “one shot” purchase of a magazine has long concealed the fact that some parts of it go all but unread. On the internet, with decent metrics, you have nowhere to hide.
It’s a very valid point. I’m still wondering if that’s the kind of thing that is happening at the Telegraph and their ‘ownership of stories. But, as Adam points out, we need a bus load of better metrics before we go too far down that route. He also makes the very important point that journalists could learn from bloggers in paying more attention to what it is the audience likes.
That idea of understanding how your audience behaves and, shock-of shocks, perhaps behaving a bit more like them is a growing area of interest for me. The way that journalism interacts with it’s audience has to be a lot less hierarchical and open.
Don’t see us as immigrants, embrace us as enthusiastic adopters showing an openness to explore all the opportunity the wonderful web has to offer.
I like enthusiastic adopter. It has none of the suggestions that there was perhaps a collection of digital natives that inhabited this land before the mainstream media approached. I’ve always felt that being involved in this digital thing is a bit like a Talking Heads song. You may find yourself on the web and “you may ask yourself-well…how did I get here?”
Sarah’s post was also a great opportunity for Mark Comerford to comment on just why he doesnt like the whole idea as it has an inherent ageism in it. Digital natives are all young and tech savvy. Believe that and there lies trouble.
it leads employers to believe that by just recruiting young people they will be gathering a base for change. This is leading to young, tech savy people being placed in leadership positions without them having the *journalistic* skills to make good strategic choices.
Of course all the young people who are tech savvy aren’t messing with this web thing. According to Nielsen Mobile (reported in the Guardian)
More than 10% of UK mobile phone users accessed social networking websites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace via their handsets at least once a month in the first quarter of 2008,
Which makes for an interesting read in terms of that idea of getting the audience. It also makes for an interesting companion piece for a piece that picks up on a RIAA report on the way people get their music. Alex Patriquin writes about the growth in ‘Social music streaming’ on the Compete blog. It makes for interesting reading and I guess any smart music exec is already looking at how mobile+social networking+music sharing could just be the thing that unlocks the phone as a delivery platform for content They are , right?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? …am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
My god!…what have I done