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Posts from the ‘media ramblings’ Category

The value of a link

photo by <a href="">smith</a>

photo by smith

Simon Owens of Bloggasm dropped me an e-mail today to let me know about a recent post he wrote about the “value” of a single link from the Huffington Post. He (rightly) uses it to point out some of the many absurdities of Richard Posner’s now-infamous blog post (the one about making it illegal to link to newspaper sites).

Now it’s not quite a slam-dunk. Huffpo is one of those rare breeds with readerships that are both massive and motivated to follow links (by the same token, I’d suspect that a link from DailyKos would have more value than, say, We digress.

The other thing that Owens post glosses over is that Posner’s supposition would apply less to this particular situation and more to one where the linking article contained most of the information of value from the originating one. The post Owens wrote which got linked is a nice piece of journalism. It’s logical that any Huffington Post reader interested in their brief capsule summary would link through for the full article. The same is the case when a link provides critical background, or even a contrasting opinion to an issue. But what about the times when the capsule is pretty much repurposing any information of value from the original post? Say professional sports trade information, or box office results, or a coroners report? What if the Huffington Post had written a longer article than the original one – using it as a starting point? Is it likely that the “value” of the link would have been the same? What’s difficult to quantify in this situation is that the “value” of any link is incredibly variable – not just who it is from, but in what context it is made. That seems like it may be rediculously self-evident – but it’s also why the blogosphere is such a difficult model for the “old guard” to come to grips with.

Regardless it’s a nice article by Simon – and a good reminder I should read his site more often.

Anybody know why Pirate Bay has been so slow today?

Anyone know where this image originated?

Anyone know where this image originated?

I keed, I keed. Seriously unless you haven’t read a computer-related website today you probably know that the notorious BitTorrent index announced they’ve (tentatively) approved a sale to a Swedish technology company.

Honestly I’m not sure what I think about this – this is not exactly a day with time for thoughtful, considered, reflection – but some points for future woolgathering:

  • I have no knowledge of any of the players in this drama at all, but I notice I’m not the first online person who immediately wondered if this wasn’t a new hi-tech variant of the ol’ pump-and-dump
  • It’s jaw-dropping how fast a large segment of TBP users have turned on the sites founders – from worshipping them as folk heroes to demonizing them as abject villains. I’ve got a gut feeling that there’s a compelling argument there that this is somehow indicative of the service being provided by TPB being more important than the ideology… but that’s admittedly a very half-baked musing at the moment
  • In a similar vein, there sure are a lot of people who, to date, have claimed absolute certainty that nothing they have ever done is against the spirit, nor the letter of the law – who have further claimed that stands must be taken, liberties defended, and battles fought to the bitter end – who are now clamouring for the creation of a user-deletion tool).
  • If I was a betting man, my money would be with those who suspect that a post-sale TBP will be radically different in both form and function

As a pragmatist, this is probably a good thing for paid content distribution initiatives. While it’s true that these “digital ecosystem collapses” (if this is indeed is a harbinger of Napster-esque change) tend to trigger technological innovation and spur migration to new services (Usenet begat Napster begat Oink begat BitTorrent begat…) the tendency of users to follow “the path of least resistance” is always a boon for nascent paid services. Napster flourished in part because there was no legal distribution option, and it’s collapse (in part) cemented iTunes hegemony. By the same token, new paid (and ad supported) video distribution services now exist which certainly didn’t at the dawn of the “torrent era” and are those that are there will now each try to capitalize on some portion of a disenfranchised/orphaned userbase – specifically the ones most interested in finding whatever mechanism works with the least fuss.

Frankly, I don’t think video distribution is in as good a position as it would be a year or two from now (Non-US legal video download options are pitiful by comparison) but it’s certainly better than, say, two years ago.

There are two actual content functions that I, personally, found TPB invaluable for that I will miss if this is “the end times” – but that’s food for another post.

The New Face of “Phantom” Journalisim


It’s nice to see that the Dutch haven’t cornered the market on ill-formed ideas relating to newspapers and the internet.

I don’t really want to get into the details of Richard Posner’s blog post. The Tobin/Coover synopsis is that if it were illegal to link to or quote newspapers web-content they’d be in better position to monetize their content.

What’s more interesting to me is the zombie-like arguments that just keep coming around, and around again as to how newspapers are absorbing all of the cost of “news gathering”, while successful aggrigators and most blogs reap the benefits as freeloaders on the newspaper writers back. Posner goes so far as to postulate that without intervention Reuters and the Associated Press (those masters of new media that they are) could be the “only professional, nongovernmental sources of news and opinion” left standing.

Which is just patently absurd.

The argument that “all news” originates with newspaper journalists, is as odd as “all news originated with television journalists”, or “magazine journalists”, or “radio journalists”, or even “journalists”. The fact is that original news is a rare thing and the lions share of any news media is generally built around re-purposing preexisting material (news conferences, press releases, other reportage).

Yes the majority of the new media space is dull and derivative – but so is the majority of every media space. A commenter at the Becker-Posner-Blog lamented that the death of newspapers meant the death of Woodward / Bernstein style expose – of course this is ridiculous.

Certainly most bloggers aren’t Carl Bernstein – but neither are most newspapermen. Nor do they need to be. The biggest news of the last few cycles in North America was likely the death of Michael Jackson. While it’s true most bloggers can’t afford to go to Florida to do original research – how many of the news affiliates in Florida are doing original research?

By the same token the new media space has shown itself more than capable of pursuing very detailed subtle investigation. It was strictly new media sources who first flagged that something was very wrong with Infinium Labs Inc.two years before the Securities and Exchange Commission laid fraud charges. And those news media sources were from the enthusiast computer review press [H]ard OCP, and the comic strip Penny Arcade. While I’m certainly not comparing the scope of the Phantom debacle to Watergate – the only difference in the underlying role provided between [H]ard OCP and the Wall Street Journal was that [H]ard OCP didn’t have insurance and risked their own, personal, assets in the court case that followed.

The only real change in the new space is that most of the “professional” new media (those making their sole living and/or paying wages to their writers) are more akin to magazines – focusing on a specific subset of scope and topic – rather than the broad overview of newspapers, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not there. Quite the contrary – a network of “specialist” journalists are far more likely to ferret out news of interest than generalist newspaper writers. Some of it may be rough, or uneven, or incomplete, or wrong – but the new media space has shown it can respond with the swiftness (and resources) of the invisible hand of the market – delivering eyeballs (and effort) to the topics of the most interest.

If the new media transition has showed us anything it’s that the cloud is significantly better at minute oversight than traditional newspapers. So much so that the Guardian used crowdsourcing to tremendous effect in reviewing MP’s expense records in the recent UK scandal.

What all of the pro-newspaper arguments boil down to is that nothing in the new media space takes the exact place and format of the traditional newspaper. Which is absolutely true. However that in no way correlates with the loss of those functions.

In this case it’s important to remember that the medium is NOT the message.

Net Neutrality – The “Build Out” Argument


[Update – Excellent executive summary via a friend I was just talking to on the phone who is not terribly interested/versed in technology: “I get it, it makes more sense to just throw more tubes on the pile than paying engineers to constantly crawl through each one trying to figure out what’s in there.”]

I’ll be going off to Ottawa at the end of next week to offer the CFTPA whatever help I can for their “Net Neutrality” presentation to the CRTC on the 8th (incidentally it’s nice to see that the CFTPA’s position on throttling and neutrality is actually getting some appreciative notice from sectors that, incorrectly, seem to automatically assume that content producers are “the enemy”).

One of the major arguments of the CFTPA’s initial filing to the CRTC is that if solving network congestion is truly the primary concern of ISP’s, increasing network capacity is the only way to do so without stifling consumer choice, competition, and tying an anchor to the creative sector. As I’ve said many times before – the moment that ISP’s get the green light to *evaluate* content (instead of just transporting it) you will make them the sole gatekeepers of how (and what) content will be transported to their end-users. Even if they didn’t misuse that power (and given that both Rogers and Bell have significant digital content-delivery interests – I’m not sure how they could, in good faith to their shareholders, not push the envelope as far as possible) content creators, distributors, and the public would never again know where they stand, and the viability of an entire future of independent content distribution would be lost (or at the very least imperilled).

Aside from that gigantic point, I’m becoming increasingly aware of an equally compelling argument that over-provisioning (increasing network capacity beyond immediate demand) is the more cost-effective solution to network capacity issues as well. David Isenberg has written a very nice post on the “cost” of Net Neutrality which does all of the heavy lifting for this line of thought – I’ll just update it with a couple of numbers for an example.

If we take the Sandvine Internet Traffic Trends Report from October at face value (and I’d point out that as a manufacturer of “traffic optimization” technology they have an extremely large dog in the hunt) up to 22% of current global Internet traffic is due to P2P applications (I’m ignoring their claim about “upstream” traffic – as the differentiation is a sticky wicket for a future day – especially when network traffic is so asynchronous. Given that upstream for end users (who are where Sandvines numbers come from) is usually ~1/5-1/20 that of downstream – a weighted *total* composition of P2P traffic would still be, at maximum, ~20-25%).

So let’s correlate the Sandvine report with CISCO’s 2008-2013 Networking Forecast – which projects that Global IP traffic will quintuple in the next five years. This gives us an interesting forecast.

Presuming that the ISP’s are truly concerned and that their networks are at capacity, with P2P traffic threatening to “tip the balance” as it were, QoS/throttling/deep packet inspection actually would have no impact at all on the eventual outcome. Even if QoS technology could reduce the impact of P2P on the network to ZERO – you would still have at least 300-400% of current demand in the next five years (or an amount equal to 12-16x the entire current amount of P2P traffic). So increasing network capacity is inevitable, regardless.

Now if we go back to David Isenberg’s post, and take into account his very clear arguments on why increasing capacity is actually cheaper than QoS approaches (the brush strokes is that the cost of engineer time to implement the latter (as well as inevitable error, adjustment, monitoring, upgrade) is constant – while additional capacity costs decrease with volume.

So even if you could make an argument that QoS is a more cost-effective approach than increasing capcity at this frozen minute in time – ISP’s are faced with the reality of having to increase capacity by as much as a factor of four to maintain current service levels anyway over the next five years. The question then becomes is it a more logical approach to mix the more-expensive QoS monitoring with the capacity that is going to be otherwise required – or just tack on some additional over-provisioning?

It’s outside of my area of expertise, but I’d be very curious for a projection of how QoS approach costs scale with throughput growth.

So if the effect of P2P traffic on the reality of the short-term Internet is, at best, nominal to the broader issue of global traffic growth (and the CISCO report has some great projections about the volume of video content set to start to use the ‘net as a transport mechanisim which dwarf the current impact of, say, BitTorrent) then what benefit does throttling give ISP’s? Well, other than a very expensive “foot in the door” for when the next “threat to network capacity” comes along. Say, iTunes. Or Skype.

Raising the Dead – Netherlands Style

Pictured: The Future of Internet News

Pictured: The Future of Internet News

So as much debate as there was in this country about whether ISP’s should have to support development of new media initiatives, I think everyone on both sides of that debate can agree that at least we’re not tariffing ISP’s to support failing newspapers.

On the other hand a videogame tarrif to support the Phonograph cylinder industry? I’d be totally behind that.

Alternate end bon mot: Well that certainly gives new meaning to “clogging” progress!

[Update – No okay, I can’t leave this on a flippant note. Seriously there’s a quote from the report over at Slashdot:

news and the gathering of news stories is not free, and the public must be made aware of that.

This quite possibly one of the stupidest things I’ve heard this year. On the Internet. Think about that for a second.

Traditional newspapers (more importantly the journalists they employ) are an integral part of the media universe and serve several key functions. I suspect many pro-new-media types would be suprised at the amount of on-line reportage that still originates with ink-stained wretches, and how much poorer the Blogosphere would immediately become should they all cease to publish overnight (and not transition to some more monatizeble configuration, as many of us “newspaper fans” hope they will).

However, follow me on this radical thought, “Newspapers” are not THE ENTIRETY OF NEWS.

Seriously, a joke I play with my brother when I’m calling him at work is to demand to speak with “The CEO of the Economy”, or “The President of Television”, or the like. But that’s a far-flipping-cry from any quasi-official governmental body deciding that the welfare of an abstract concept is inextricably tied up with an inefficient delivery mechanism. ]


Who knew there were Google image results for "NBC Fail"?

Who knew there were Google image results for "NBC Fail"?

Seriously NBC? There’s so much non-trivial stuff going on in the world and you’re going to make me comment on this? Fine. Let’s explore the myriad of ways you don’t understand how ratings work.

The Coles notes: Both the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins have hosted free public “viewing parties” for Stanley Cup games being held out of town (or in the Pen’s case, sometimes for games in-town). This way people can still gather to cheer on their local team when there’s no chance of attending in person. However NBC is putting the kibosh to that, by not allowing either team the rights to rebroadcast their video feed for these public events. This is ostensibly to protect the “value” of their broadcast. Suffice it to say most people think this is idiotic.

NBC – since you’re only a broadcast partner, your broadcast has “value” in only two areas:

  • The perceived value to advertisers
  • The actual value to advertisers

Ratings are only important for the former. You want the highest ratings numbers, not because it conveys a tangible benefit to you, but it makes the perceived value of you advertising slots higher. True, sometimes there are minimum targets or advertisers get their money back, or bonus’ if you reach a threshold… but for the most part there is no difference to you (positive or negative) for minor variances. If we presume that the maximum number of people who would watch a game simultaneously in Detroit and Pittsburgh could maybe top out at 30,000 (filling the Joe, and another 5-8 thousand outside in Pittsburgh – tops – that’s less than 0.03 of a ratings point (currently a single ratings point is around 1.1M viewers). This is not a statistically significant variance to influence the perceived value of your advertising.

One might argue that the real issue is “share” (the total of all TV watchers at a given time tuned to a specific program), especially when broken down by region… but this ignores the second part of the “value” to the network which is actual value to the advertisers. That is to say, the number of eyebals that actually recieve an advertiser’s message.

Although they certainly aren’t sharing this information with us, I have no doubt that the execs at NBC have filing cabinets full of ratios, studies, and formula to estimate how many viewers in a ratings point (or share) are actually exposed to an advertisers message. This lets them court advertisers with comparatives. “Well sure, America’s Got Talent doesn’t have the ratings of Idol… but as you can see our audience averages .5 fridges per household more than Fox’s, so our audience is 68% more likely to not miss your 30 second spot because of a beer run… that makes us a much better value per dollar”. It’s one of the reasons that so many broadcasters are getting back into live sports – viewers are far less likely to PVR/Tivo/VCR/Bittorrent live sports events and watch them later, fast-forwarding through the ads. In horrible ad-speak this is called “appointment viewing”.

In this light, these live parties should be encouraged – as they are demonstrable “appointment viewing”. Ad execs should be doing cartwheels and writing press releases about how they’re delivering an absolutely captive audience to their advertisers. An audience that can’t even change the channel. Those 30,000 aren’t just “potential” exposures to advertising (like most ratings and share are)… they’re “actual” exposures to advertising… and should be considerably more valuable to advertisters.

So congratulations NBC, you’ve taken a “no lose” value proposition (one that – for no effort on your part – is either neutral, or beneficial, to the value of your programming) – and managed to turn it into international ill will and consumer outrage.

And that’s terrible.

[Update – the Detroit Free Press article linked above is now suggesting that the blackout could actually be at the request of the NHL… and if that’s true, that’s absolutely mind-boggling. That’s, like eighty pies worth of mind-boggling.]

Just in case you’ve been in a cave

What, too subtle?

What, too subtle?

The big IP story in Canada this week has been the Conference Board of Canada publishing a report on the “Digital Economy” which read a lot like propaganda (from the US lobbyist “International Intellectual Property Alliance”, specifically). A little legwork by Michael Geist turned up the fact that it not only looked identical to US lobbyist propaganda, but ill-informed US lobbyist propaganda at that. It also turns out it’s ill-informed US lobbyist propaganda that the Canadian government paid top-dollar for. Lo and behold, it was indeed plagiarized ill-informed, US lobbyist propaganda.

Really this whole thing has been the Michael Geist show… so skip the middle man and enjoy the glorious shadenfreude directly. I don’t always agree with Mr. Geist, but I’ll toast a glass to his efforts tonight.

Do it right, or don’t do it at all (Associated Press, I’m looking at YOU)

Maybe the AP didn't save enough money on their car insurance.

Sorry – it’s been a busy week, but this one was too good to pass up. I got an invitation to internet-eavesdrop on a marketing conference presentation a few weeks ago that quickly devolved into “social media for corporate marketers”. The content wasn’t all that compelling (to be fair the presenters did a great job of re-tooling their session on the fly – clearly scrapping their prepared topics to cope with an audience that was less internet-savy than they’d expected). While most of the content afterwards wasn’t terribly interesting (what is “Twitter”? Should we be on “Twitter”? Why are our competitors on “Twitter”? How is “Twitter” different than “Myspace”… etc) they did do a good job of trying to hammer home the following key points:

  1. Being a social-media aware company does not mean you have to involve yourself in all aspects of social media.
  2. If you are going to work in the social media space you need to make sure your organization clearly understands what you are doing and why.
  3. You can not just pump press-releases out over social media outlets and expect positive results – you have to create compelling content for your target audience
  4. Badly implementing a social media presence is worse than not having one

A prime example of how points 2 and 4 can backfire is this latest story about how the Associated Press doesn’t seem to understand how it’s own YouTube channel works. I kind-of-sort-of commented on this particular post of Ricky Gervais and Elmo outtakes how bizarre it was that the Associated Press (a company known for sabre-rattling threats to on-line sites like Google (while at the same time accepting money from Google as a news content provider) had, of all things, a YouTube channel.

Clearly I’m not the only one whose head was blown by this dichotomy. The coles-notes version of the story is that Frank Strovel, an employee of Texas country radio station WTNQ ended up in a surreal discussion with the AP after he recieved a cease and desist letter for embedding AP YouTube content on the station’s website. The AP rep seemed flummoxed that such a channel existed, that embedding was clearly allowed and encouraged by the channel (it’s trivial to disable embedding codes with YouTube if the content provider wishes), and even that WTNQ was a AP affiliate to begin with.

Strovel: And we’re an A.P. affiliate for crying out loud! I stumped him on that one. . . . What is really shocking is that they were shocked that they’ve got a YouTube channel that people are embedding on their Websites. He seemed shocked by that. ‘Oh, I am going to have to look into that” is what he told me.

So here we have a textbook example of how not having the whole company in the loop is problematic. While the AP’s social media channel was generating legitimate goodwill (that Elmo/Gervais video was great, and lead to me alone having tonnes of “Wow, the AP’s starting to get the hang of what works on the internet” conversations) – they now have this – a rapidly mounting amount of mainstream press about how they clearly don’t have the foggiest clue what they’re doing. Not to mention slashdot, CNet and of course YouTube itself chiming in. Any building goodwill is forgotten and, again, the AP looks like an anacronysm desperately trying to protect a business model that has been outdated for much of the decade. They would have been better off having done nothing in the first place (not that would have changed the business model reality).

Take a lesson from your mothers people – any job worth doing, has to be done right… otherwise you can come off looking mighty silly. Especially in the social/new media space where reputation is the only currency of any import.