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Cerf on Innovation Journalism, Blogs and Mobile

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David Nordfors provided an introduction to Innovation Journalism. I liked his simple definition of the business of journalism: attracting attention that you can sell.

Vint Cerf from Google begins with his motto: “Power corrupts and Powerpoint corrupts absolutely.”

There are a billion users on the internet, and while that seems like a big number we have five more to go. We need to take into account how technology is changing the economics of journalism. On radio and TV your run out of time, with print you run out of space, on the internet you run out of neither. What you do run out of is the attention span of the users, a finite resource. In China the statistics are dramatically different, there are more Chinese 300M online than there are US Citizens, they spend more time, 10 hours a week on average for Americans, in China it’s 15 hours. This illustrates how people who have been starved for information act when they have access, and despite the laws in place.

Early browsers had one interesting feature, View Source, which made all of us students of HTML, and later XML, people learned by copying what other people had done. Some people in the Intellectual Property community have issues with this. This has now lead to a substantial amount of people blogging their thoughts. They are rapidly evolving from text to audio and video. iPod has become a great tool for listing to audio logs. As bandwidth gets cheaper, we see iPods turning into vPods and audio blogging turning to video blogging. Our attention can be drawn to these things with tools like RSS. The problem is there is a lot of information to choose from.

A interviewer once challenged him with the issue of too much information. Did we complain about Gutenberg? We learned how to deal with large quantities of information. We don’t read every book, listen to every radio program, watch every television show. We get advice about what we should watch. Sometimes we turn to trusted editors to get advice, sometimes our friends, sometimes we even think about it ourselves. We will use all those tools.

The blogging world is online and machinable (read, indexed, searched by programs) which allows feedback you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get. The feedback loop on eBay for transactions could be similarly used for information on blogs. In print media, the bylines have email addresses, where you could potentially interact with the writer.

Telcos talk about realtime streaming video aspirations, but there is a shift to downloading instead of doing something in real time. The change in people’s views on how to deal with these different media — an important shift, a file transfer is quite forgiving, nobody is watching except a computer. You can download at a low data rate in the background. Tivo is an example of this, PVRs, iPods. The ability to work faster or slower than real-time, instead of being confined to real-time is a dramatic change for the distribution of these mediums. In Stockholm you can buy 100Gbps for 100 Europes, download a 1hr movie in 16 seconds.

Technological change changes business models. Publisher is trying to get people’s attention to sell to advertisers as the basic business model. In the online world, advertising is the core of the business, odd when the service side is helping people find information, but you can make that attention sellable to advertisers, with clear distinction between commercial and searched for content. You can go beyond reading an ad to doing a transaction on the spot. The notion of classified advertising in yellow pages becomes a lot more alive. Moreover, because the net is global you can aggregate a market that otherwise would not exist, such as with eBay. But you also need local information, and online ads that are localized are highly valuable. Geographically indexing information is a powerful business model.

The power of mastheads like Boston Globe and NY Times is that the more trusted you are the more you stand out, authority and trust is important in this chaotic environment. People who’se blogs are widely read will have value, but high quality editing is important.

A Blackberry this morning was my sole access to the internet. When I needed to make a call to a Representative Baucher in Washington, I looked up the number and clicked on it. They are far more powerful than we realize and don’t understand how dependent other parts of the world are on mobile devices. Understanding that the journalistic experience needs to be delivered through the mobile device is important (Got to slip Vint a Miki).

The mobile is one example, a small display, but incredibly useful. In an internet enabled world, there is no reason that a projector could not be online and downloading images, maybe using the Blackberry as a control device. Surrounded by networked equipment that is reachable anywhere, devices harnessed on a temporary basis to do something for you and then released. I am predicting that during this decade, we will see more systems interacting with other systems like this and in journalism it will become part of our toolkit for sharing and feedback.

Ross Mayfield is CEO and co-founder of Socialtext, an emerging provider of Enterprise Social Software that dramatically increases group productivity and develops a group memory.

He also writes Ross Mayfield’s Weblog which focuses on markets, technology and musings.

Cerf on Innovation Journalism, Blogs and Mobile
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