It’s back to the future for Mashable

According to Politico, Mashable is undergoing a dramatic restructuring, not to mention what is sometimes called a ‘pivot’. What’s interesting is where the site is now (apparently) headed.

As for the new direction of the company, Cashmore [Mashable’s CEO] hinted at the importance and influence of advertisers, noting that now advertisers are no longer separate from the story and want to be “telling stories with us” and no longer “buying media” for an audience.

“Branded content is the business model for media going forward” Cashmore told staff. “It’s very, very clear that branded content is the future.”

Well, well. Spool back to the early days of broadcast radio, when nobody could figure out a business model for the thing. I mean to say, you spend all that money setting up a station and creating ‘content’ and every Tom, Dick and Harry who had a radio receiver cold listen to it for free. And then along came Proctor and Gamble, a soap company, with the idea that if you sponsored compelling content — like a dramatic serial — and associated your name and brand with it, then good things would happen. Thus was born the ‘soap opera’. And this is the wheel that Mashable seems to have re-invented!

What Trump’s ascendancy tells us about our media ecosystem

This morning’s Observer column:

One thing that baffles mainstream journalists like Kristof is the way in which Trump seems to be immune to the fact-checking beloved by American journalism. Some light on this has been thrown by Zeynep Tufekci, who is one of the most perceptive observers of social media around. She has been spending some time inside the Trump “Twittersphere” and her report suggests that it is largely an ecosystem of digital echo chambers.

Professor Tufekci has watched “Trump supporters affirm one another in their belief that white America is being sold out by secretly Muslim lawmakers, and that every unpleasant claim about Donald Trump is a fabrication by a cabal that includes the Republican leadership and the mass media.” Many of the Trump supporters she’s been following, “say that they no longer trust any big institutions, whether political parties or media outlets. Instead, they share personal stories that support their common narrative, which mixes falsehoods and facts – often ignored by these powerful institutions they now loathe – with the politics of racial resentment.”

For decades we’ve been wondering what the long-term impact of the internet would be on democratic politics. Looks like we’re beginning to find out.

Read on

Online comments and the polluted public sphere

From Engadget:

Now, clearly, not every comment or commenter is the same. But we’ve increasingly found ourselves turning off comments on stories that discuss topics of harassment, gender or race simply because so many of the replies are hateful, even threatening. Articles that mention Apple deteriorate into arguments of iOS vs Android, replete with grade-school name calling. Articles that don’t make mention of Samsung often include comments claiming that we are shills for Apple. Some commenters plain attack our writers or editors or other commenters. Some are outright threats. And that’s not even getting into the spam problem.

The thing is, we like having a comments section. It gives our readers a place to share their experiences, point out mistakes we’ve made, offer up different perspectives and provide more information. Our comments section can be an incredible place to visit, and we value that our readers take the time out of their day (often repeatedly) to participate. But we can’t take pride in a comment system that isn’t offering you the features you need to participate; that runs amok with racist, sexist or homophobic slurs and threats; or that takes joy in in-fighting and provoking fights.

A quality comments section should make it easy for users to contribute. A good comments section has users who feel a sense of duty and kinship, who act as a community. An exceptional comments section informs its readers, corrects authors and provides worthwhile insights in a polite and constructive manner.

This is not, by and large, what is happening in our comments section today. In order to reassess and push forward with a better system, we’re going to take a comment break…

And this from the Observer‘s Readers’ Editor:

Extreme points of view made it impossible to have any comprehensive online debate on race, immigration and Islam long before any moves were made to limit commentary.

While there is a general desire to open comments on as many subjects as possible, moderators are made aware in advance of opinion pieces that are likely to need careful handling.

Last weekend, after consultation, comments were delayed on several Observer articles, including Nick Cohen on becoming a Jew, Victoria Coren Mitchell on the Adam Johnson underage sex case and Barbara Ellen on Jamie Oliver’s advocacy of breastfeeding.

Comments opened once moderators were in place, but within minutes antisemites and Holocaust deniers were hounding Cohen, apologists for sex with teenagers were appearing in the Coren Mitchell thread and misogynists were busy insulting Ellen. It had to stop.

Yep.

Whither Twitter?

My comment piece in today’s Observer.

If there’s one thing Wall Street and the tech industry fears, it is the idea that something potentially profitable might peak or reach some kind of equilibrium point. Endless exponential growth is what investors seek. Whereas you or I might think that a company with more than 300 million regular users that pulls in $710m in revenues is doing OK, Wall Street sees it as a potential zombie.

At the root of the dissonance is the fact that Twitter is a public company. At its flotation in November 2013 it was valued at $32bn, a figure largely based on hopes (or fantasies) that it would keep modifying its service to attract mainstream users, that its advertising business would continue to grow at a phenomenal rate and that it would eventually be bigger than Facebook.

It didn’t do all these things, for various reasons, the most important of which is that it wasn’t (and isn’t) a “social networking” service in the Facebook sense. At the heart of the distinction is the fact that, whereas it is easy to give an answer to the question “What is Facebook?”, the answers for Twitter depend on who you ask…

Read on

How the BBC iPlayer came to be

iPlayer

Fabulous story by Tony Ageh. Long read, but well worth it, and tells you a lot about innovation, serendipity and organisational politics. Also tells you what’s wrong with the iPlayer. Make some coffee, pull up a chair and savour…

So I take this guy out, and I say, ‘We have to go drinking tonight,’ and he says, ‘You’re going to sack me, aren’t you?’ I said, ‘Not necessarily, but we are going to go drinking.’ We go down the stairs to the bar at Bush House, which stays open all night, because that’s where the World Service is, and I said, ‘We’re not leaving this bar until we’ve come up with such a great idea that I can’t sack you, because I’m going to have to tell her tomorrow that you can’t be sacked, because you’ve got the greatest idea the BBC has ever had.’

Read on

Commuters

commuting

Most passengers in UK trains seem to fiddle with their smartphones. But not all. This from a commuter train yesterday. Mind you, they’re all reading the same (free) newspaper, so maybe it’s not as hopeful as I thought.

The ad-blocking quandary

Interesting Forbes column by Lewis DVorkin:

It was my first day of class as a first-time Skype instructor, so I got right to it: “How many of you pay for content?” I asked a dozen or so University of Iowa journalism students as the fall semester got under way at my alma mater. Two, maybe three, gently raised an arm. Then came my follow-up question: “How many of you use ad blockers?” Nearly everyone put a hand straight up, proudly admitting to installing software that snuffs out display ads from their daily Web browsing experience. “That’s wonderful,” I said. “You don’t want to pay for content and you don’t want to see the ads that fund the content you don’t want to pay for. You might want to consider another profession.”

He goes on to describe how Forbes tackled the problem.

Since Dec. 17, 2015, a small percentage of those with ad blockers received this message:

Thanks for coming to Forbes. Please turn off your ad blocker in order to continue. To thank you for doing so, we’re happy to present you with an ad-light experience.

The remainder of visitors using ad blockers became the control group. They didn’t receive a message and continued to have full access to the site.

And the results?

1) From Dec. 17 to Jan. 3, 2.1 million visitors using ad blockers were asked turn them off in exchange for an ad-light experience.

2) 903,000, or 42.4%, of those visitors turned off the blockers and received a thank you message.

3) We monetized 15 million ad impressions that would otherwise have been blocked.

As important, the ad-light experience has focused our attention on faster delivery of our digital screens to consumers.

Interesting. And resourceful.