Posts Tagged ‘facebook’

A Facebook story: this WaPo piece will stop you in your tracks

December 10th, 2010

You know, while this is a blog about journalism, and one that you’d expect to examine the techniques and developments in how we report online, it would seem almost crude to do that with this example.

After all, sometimes the best journalism is in the act of getting out of the way. And there is perhaps no better example of this than this link I was sent today.

I didn’t know who Shana Greatman Swers was. And, by all rights, I had no need to pry into her tragic world. Nor did I have any right to be a part of her husband’s grief, or the sadness of her friends and family.

And yet, it’s that family’s bravery that has made Shana’s story become more than a statistic. And it’s the invention of the Washington Post’s webteam which has put this story in a format which facilitates an impact which will leave you speechless.

UPDATE: Interestingly, Bobbie Johnson seems to see it from another angle – tweeting that the format of this seems “oddly impersonal”. I can see his point – the annotate format is something we’re more used to seeing for far more mundane subjects – but I can’t think of something more personal than seeing how a story unfolded as told by the people it affected the most. What do we think?

Five reasons why Facebook Credits will save newspapers

December 6th, 2010

First things first, I hate seeing the phrase “can save newspapers” thrown around all over the shop whenever a new techy idea comes out.

But, chances are you’ve found this via Twitter and, if you’re anything like me, seeing someone claim they know what will save newspapers is enough to make you click just so you can tell me why I’m so very wrong. Go ahead.

This post is going to simply outline what I think is a massive development for the potential of selling content on the web.

For years, the industry in-joke has been this formula for online publishing success:

1. Publish content
2. Get traffic
3. ????
4. Profit!

Hopefully the following points can explain why I think the ‘????’ in that horrid equation is now obvious: Facebook Credits.

Before we begin, let me add that I’m not proposing all newspapers become Facebook apps instead of standalone sites. Rather, in a similar way to the ‘Like’ button that is appearing all over, it should be a system which is implemented neatly with the individual sites.

1. Social gaming is the new crossword puzzle – and it’s worth $6bn worldwide

Last year, report the NYTimes, the Daily Mail made £12 million through digital content revenues. Meanwhile, Zynga – the company responsible for Farmville – is set to net $500 million from sales of virtual goods.

Virtual goods are every business’ dream. Imagine being able to sell something that essentially doesn’t actually exist. Take roses, for example. Josh Halliday reports in the Guardian that Flirtomatic, a social network which is barely even heard of, sold more virtual roses last year than Interflora sold real ones.

Not only that, but it convinced 100,000 people to pay to ‘attend’ a virtual fireworks night.

But what does this have to do with newspapers? An awful lot.

Jim Tucker, a very good friend and former editor of a national newspaper in New Zealand, once told me about a cunning experiment he devised when he first took over as editor at a newspaper. He took his staff to the streets to find out why they buy the paper. If they said they loved the features, they could put more money into it. If it was more sport they craved, then at least now they’d know.

What did they find? Crossword lovers. Serious crossword lovers. You see, a lot of people who bought the newspaper didn’t give two hoots about the news but, once their beloved crossword was done, they’d give the rest of the paper a read. It was a model that suited everyone, even if it did shatter the egos of Jim and his staff.

Social gaming is the new crossword.

Am I telling everyone that newspapers need to start deploying farm-based games across their sites? No, don’t be silly. What I am saying is that people’s desire to have Facebook Credits in order to play online games is, for editors, a gift from the gods. Suddenly, we’ve got millions of people – young people, don’t forget – who have credits. Credits which they didn’t buy to read news but, now they’ve got them won’t give much thought to spending a couple on content.

The newspaper would, on current rates (dictated by Facebook), take 70% of each credit’s monetary value.

I believe, ladies and gents, that’s what we call a business model.

2. No self-assembly required: let Zuckerberg worry about it

A little while ago, I blogged this:

When you by The Times, do you have to go to a special newsagent which just sells that paper? Do you then have to cross the road to get the Telegraph? No.

My point then was that we need a central payment system which deals with every newspaper and content provider on earth. Problem is, who exactly would do it? If NewsCorp tried, there’s no way the other papers would collectively think “Oh, Rupert’s got a good idea…” and sign up.

But it needed to happen, and Facebook has got there first. This is good for newspapers. Think about The Times, and the money spent on the following:

  • Designing, developing and implementing the paywall software (and the new look site to put it all on)
  • Setting up the systems needed to securely and reliably handle the influx of sensitive data now coming their way
  • Establishing a new customer services team to handle queries (“It doesn’t work on my computer”,”I want my money back” and so on)

I’m sure that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you use Facebook as your model you can just, erm, sign up. As Gordon Ramsey would probably say, “Payments: done.”

3. Wall? What wall? It may be paid-for, but it’s certainly not hidden

One of the criticisms levelled at The Times is that, due to the paywall, their content is hidden. You may be reading it, but you can’t share it with your friends or colleagues.

Potential customers can’t get to the opinion section of The Times’ site – so it would be a very trusting person indeed who’d take a risk on it, even if it is just a quid. No surprise, then, to see many of The Times’ opinion writers gleefully sharing their links on Twitter when the paywall momentarily stopped working.

With Facebook Credits, the potential to have the best of both worlds is a real possibility. Would “Dave Lee just bought Charlie Brooker’s latest column from the Guardian” look so out of place on your Facebook feed? The entry would have quick, enticing kicker which could potentially lure in a few extra punters.

If a friend of mine pops in to leave a comment – something along the lines of “I loved this, one of Charlie’s best!” – the power of social recommendation will then transform into profits.

Where with The Times you’re presented with a locked door, by using a payment system so tightly incorporated with the world’s dominant social network, you’re working behind a pay window, not a wall.

4. Your mum could do it

I’m not insulting your mum. But I do know she’s statistically unlikely to be able to get her head round something like a pay wall. Or rather, she’d be put off by the technical oddity of it all that she’d be reluctant to even try.

As a person who has their very own mother, I know that the less computer-literate out there want things to be as simple as possible.

Simplicity, in this case, means familiar. It means “set up by my son so I can use it from now on”.

Facebook Credits are going on sale in Tesco. Even if you’re not convinced in my argument so far, that move by the supermarket giant should at least tell you a little bit about why this is going to be massive. Get your head round that for a moment: Tesco expect people to physically go to a shop, buy an actual product (a voucher) and then take it home to buy something virtual.

If someone like my Mum, or my Dad, or even my newspaper loving Nan knows that she can get all the great stuff on her computer just by popping to the shops to get it, they will. Trust me, buying vouchers to use online from the local supermarket is much less hassle for some people than filling in an online form. To you and I it may seem absurd, but I’m right.

And that’s before you get into the promotional possibilities. Every time you spend £20 or more on petrol you get 100 clubcard points and… some Facebook Credits? Automatically deposited into your account?

The disconnection between all our content providers mean this couldn’t happen now. “Spend £10 on beans and get a free day’s trial on The Times’ new website” sounds dull and, ironically, as old media as getting a free CD-ROM on the front of a mag.

Facebook Credits being in Tesco offers the first real breakthrough in which the concept of online currency – something to buy quality goods with online – can hit the mainstream.

5. Selectivity breeds success – without subscription, you can concentrate on added-value

It could be argued that if the Guardian had a paywall, they wouldn’t have got the Wikileaks scoop. Its openness (and political stance, of course), spurs much of its success.

But with Facebook Credits, the Guardian could use these big, unique moments to earn money without killing their audience numbers.

Asking people to pay for hard news is a bad idea, and one that will fail. Information wants to be free, and it always will be. But while you wouldn’t ask someone to pay for this: WikiLeaks cables claim al-Jazeera changed coverage to suit Qatari foreign policy, would it be so unreasonable to ask for a few credits for added value like this: US embassy cables: browse the database? Or perhaps this: Julian Assange answers your questions?

It’s this judgement that makes the difference for me when it comes to successfully encouraging people to pay. Facebook Credits – by nature of being a one-off micropayment – would allow editors to establish which stories would be paid-for, and which ones wouldn’t.

It’s a freedom which would herald the birth of quality, multimedia journalism to our media industry. An in-depth investigation, for the first time in the history of online journalism, would become more profitable than SEO-friendly stories about celebrities. Who doesn’t like the sound of that?

Cuttings: Social media money, Project Canvas, Al-Jazeera brilliance and brandjackers ahoy

March 9th, 2009

Number one sign you’ve been doing this journalism malarky for a while is that you don’t post “LOOK AT ME!!” posts every time something is published.

Nah. Instead you save up a few and then do an even bigger “AINT I JUST BRILLIANT?!” post instead. :-)

So here are a few things I’ve been up to lately. ‘Journalism schools: embrace Al Jazeera’s Creative Commons deal’

You might not know it yet, but Al Jazeera may have just changed the face of student journalism.

The news agency has now started publishing its news footage on the web under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 licence.

BBC News: The future of TV lies on the net

In early March, the BBC Trust set about the task of debating the public value of Project Canvas.

Should the plans put forward by the BBC executive get the go-ahead, it might mean that Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) becomes a staple feature in UK homes as early as 2010.

BBC News: Making money on a social network

It remains the elephant in the room. Or, more to the point, the “fail whale” in the room.

Just how are social networks, with their millions upon millions of users, going to make money?

BBC News: Online brand abuse ‘on the rise’

Online abuse of the world’s top brands is rising, according to a report.

Cyber-squatting – in which someone registers a domain name with the aim of selling it on at a later date – remains the most common form of abuse.


D’oh! Facebook phishing protection needs some work

November 26th, 2008

Have you seen the new Facebook phishing protection? It’s an amicable effort to prevent the sorts of phishing attacks that I believe forced many MySpace users to switch to Facebook.

They’re doing all they can to make sure users don’t fall foul to this sneaky practice. Recently, any outbound links from the website are being re-directed via a ‘You’re leaving Facebook’ page. Here’s an example.

Problem is, anyone who uses their webstat applications (I use StatCounter) to track how people are finding their site — very important for all webmasters, not just bloggers — they’ll only get the ‘leaving’ page as their referrer data.

A few seconds before 4 o’clock someone came to this post via a link on Facebook. But when I look back to see where they’ve come from, all I get is this:


So I’m none the wiser. It could just be someone clicking via my profile, which happens from time to time, but quite often I’ve had entries linked to via groups about journalism, students or whatever. I’d quite like to know where my blog is being talked about and, if relevant, get involved in the chat.

Patience is key to online networking

November 20th, 2008

In the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching lots of people about online journalism.

First, a guest lecture at the University of Lincoln about blogging. Then, a six week stint in New Zealand where I taught at Whitireia Journalism School.

Even more recently, again at Lincoln, I lectured a group of first year students. I was hoping I’d be able to plant a few seeds for online.

Usually after such sessions, I’ll notice a flurry of students signing up to the likes of Twitter and Wordpress etc, announcing their existence with a nice big post or tweet. This excites me — it’s good to get started as soon as you can.

But too often these people give up. I’m pretty sure it’s because they don’t get an instant return on their investment.

“Does your blog get you work?” they’ll say.
“Yes,” I’ll reply.
“Great! I’ll start one tonight!”

Problem is, many of these people will just make that one post. And, if they’re not writing the lead for tomorrow’s New York Times, they’ll swiftly give up.

I’m busy preparing some materials for my book (more on that another time! Woohoo!), and in my section about social networking tools, I plan to make it very clear that it will take time for any of these services to bring any rewards. And, indeed, even when they do, you might not necessarily know it.

What’s important, though, is that you keep at it. Use Twitter for chit-chat with colleagues or potential colleagues. Don’t turn up with a direct message to your favourite editor with something like “HI! CAN I WORK FOR YOU? THANKS!”. It won’t work.

Likewise, don’t expect the world’s media to be knocking down your door once you’ve posted a nice long introduction post on blogspot. It won’t happen. I was just contacted by a student the University of Westminster who asked how to get people in the media to read his blog. Here’s my response:


Cheers for getting in touch … noticed lots of people finding my site via your lecturers blog!

There are lots of things you can do. Personally, I think most effective method is to find other bloggers that write about the same things you do. For example, if you write a sports blog, then find others who do the same — same sport or same team or same competition etc.

Then, leave comments on their blog linking back to yours. Almost all blogs allow you to add your blog address when you make a comment. Chances are the blog owner will click through to your blog out of curiosity. Also, other people reading the blog will see your comment too and can also click though… and so on.

Even more effective, is finding posts by other people and discussing them, making sure you link through. For example, I wrote a post recently ( that just simply linked to something else I liked.

This is a quick way to get noticed. In time (and you need to be patient), they may start linking to you… and then you’ll be getting loads of readers.

Hope that helps mate, and good luck!

It’s obvious advice for some, but if you’re faced with stats that say “10 views” each day, you may feel at a loss.

So my advice to everyone is: Take your time. Keep plugging away. Treat your online relationships like your real life ones.

You don’t go up to random people and say “Hello there would you like to be my best friend?”, do you? No, you slowly meet people, get to know them better and then who knows, they might end up being your best mate ever. But not if you rush it.

Guardian: Life after death on Facebook

August 6th, 2008

guardiangrabI’ve always wanted one of those little boxes on the Guardian homepage. Lovely stuff. Read my article about death and social-networking here. Comments are disabled on the piece, so please, if you have any thoughts about it, please get in touch by emailing me or commenting here.

I’ll be posting my newly improved journo-CV on here tomorrow too, so if you’re the sort of person who can give me a job, email me. Yes!

Web 2.Much!

June 1st, 2008

(image from Flickr, by premiardiego)

Can you ever be too Web 2.0? I’m starting to think so.

Zac Echola posts this brilliant list of tools for streamlining reporting in the modern newsroom. I say ‘brilliant’ with a hint of unease, however, as the list is as long as your arm — and then some.

I worry that with all these great tools, we’re going to get wrapped up in user accounts, feeds and social media. While some of these methods make reporting easier, more efficient and, you’d hope, better, we’re hurtling towards Web 2.0 meltdown.

So, I’d like to streamline the streamlining list into some essentials. For the sake of clarity, I’m going to write why I decided to ditch the other ones too. Of course, feel free to disagree. I change my Web 2.0 allegiences more often than I change my socks (so that’s alot… you cheeky buggers).

Here we go:

Firefox – YES

I agree. Firefox is far quicker, and can be customised beyond belief. It’s not just about saving time, it’s about putting all the tools that I’m about to write about in easy reach. I didn’t know about the portable version which Zac mentions, but it seems a good idea for all of us who are blocked from installing anything by frightened IT technicians.

ADrive – NO

I’ve had a look around, and this seems clunky and unreliable. If you’re a professional outfit, you’re far wiser to use Zac’s second suggestion: A private FTP server. – YES YES YES!

I first saw in full swing when I observed Martin Stabe at work. His use of the social-bookmarking super-tool was to collect links that might be of interest to other people, and then to privately save links that are of use to him. I’d urge every journalist to do this. I hate how MSM sites don’t bother to actively acknowledge other MSM sites exist. You should, as a provider of news, send your readers to wherever is important. The best bloggers are the ones that are trusted by their readers to steer them in the right direction — even if it means sending them to a ‘rival’. (Sidenote: Do bloggers have rivals?)

Google Reader – YES!

If it wasn’t for Google Reader, I wouldn’t have learned about Zac’s post. It was recommended by Ryan Sholin — his favourite bits of Web-ness end up in my feeds too.

Google Reader is a terrific bit of kit. ‘Nuff said. Tie it in with the mobile version, the ‘badges’ and the shared item functionality and it’s undoubtedly one of the best tools on this list.

Gmail – Suppose so…

It won’t change your life… but if you’re not happy with your web email client, then Gmail is the best solution by miles. Although, I have to disagree with Zac on the usefulness of the IM feature. No-one pays any attention to it… at least not in my experience. Far better to Twitter them…

Google Docs – NO

It’s handy for quick edits, but I wouldn’t recommend it for much more. Certainly not, as Zac suggests, a cheap alternative to front-end word processing. If you want a free alternative to MonopolySoft’s Office suite, then try OpenOffice instead.

Why the hostility? Well… try opening a formatted document in Google Docs. It’s all over the place. Try copying text from Google Docs into a web-based form, and breaks will litter the page. You’ll need to painstakingly go through each line. Grrr.

Zac notes you can publish directly to blogging software and similar bits and bobs… but is it really that difficult to log into Wordpress? Nah.

Google Calendar – NO (sadly)

You know… calendars are great. I have a good one on my wall. Except it’s from 2003 and stuck on September. I also set up Google Calendar for my student newspaper team — except we didn’t update it. Are we lazy? No. Are we technically backwards? Of course not, you cheeky swine! What we are (were… *sigh*….) is busy journalists who keep on top of their appointments by using personal diaries, and phone-based calendars that vibrate and beep at me if I’m missing anything.

In an ideal world, everyone would use a Google Calendar to organise their time. Diary stories would be placed on there, assigned to different reporters, timed to perfection. But that’s not how a newsroom operates — thank God! They’re manic places, where stories and appointments change at the drop of a twitter. A Google Calendar doesn’t reflect that — so we don’t need it.

The most effective way to manage reporters is that big scribbly whiteboard in the corner.

Grand Central – Oh.. go on then!

I’ve never used or even heard of this before, but it looks good. Especially the WebCall function… unless you get prankers. Which you probably will.

“Do you like scary movies?”


Flickr – YEAHHH!

I love Flickr. Give it time, I reckon Flickr users will have photographed the entire world. Well, the bits we inhabit, anyway. Most useful are the mobile-to-web tools. Imagine a world where your online reporters can post pictures and video to your news site within seconds of it happening? Imagine no more… go and get a Flickr account.

LinkedIn – NO

If you’re more worried about embracing social-networking and the ‘real’ people that use them, you’re far better off getting a Facebook and MySpace account. Facebook for sure.

If you need contacts, you can get them. Don’t waste your time signing up to too much.

Jott – NO

I’m always against technology that makes the user look like a bit of a maniac. Too busy to post to your blog? You’re likely to be in a busy situation then. Imagine whipping out your phone and talking your posts down it. You’ll sound insane, like those blokes who use handfree kits around the supermarket. Show offs.

Remember the Milk – NO

Aside from the fact the cheesy name of it makes me feel like being sick (cheesy… milk… geddit? Ho ho!), Remember the Milk seems like another pointless organisation tool. “Editors can see what you’re working on, while assigning quick tasks and deadlines,” says Zac. Just phone them, says I. It’s amazing how more productive an actual conversation can be.

Twitter/Brightkite – Oooohhh YES!

I love Twitter. I’ve never heard of Brightkite, but Twitter is just fantastic. When it’s working, that is, which at present is a bit haphazard. The thing I love about Twitter is that posting to it is simple — a nice, free text — and it’s versatility knows no bounds. My latest Twitter message appears on the sidebar of this blog. When I was at Sky, Julia Reid used Twitter to great effect, reporting from an aeroplane grounded at the shiny but shit Terminal 5.

Ning – NO

New to this, too, but it’s not needed. Firstly, the general public aren’t using Ning. So, for that reason alone, it’s of limited use to journalists. Want to build a community of your readers? You’ve already got one in Facebook and MySpace. Want to reach people who don’t use social media? Then your own website should be massaging discussion.

As for the second reason, the art of conversation is the best tool for newsroom communication. You don’t need Ning, and your readers don’t either.

Any good blogging platform – YES

Well this is a no-brainer, really. If you don’t have a good, versatile blogging platform then you’re pretty much stuffed. So get one. I suggest Wordpress.


So there we go. I sense I’m being very dismissive of some of the tools there, so please, get some comments over this way and I’ll happily debate with you until the cows come home.

To sum up, in the ‘yes’ pile:

Google Reader
Blog software

In the ‘no’ pile:

Google Docs
Google Calendar
Remember the Milk

And in the ‘maybe’:

Grand Central

The jury’s out!