I had the opportunity to attend a Facebook Small Business Boost seminar this week. I wrote a more detailed post for the brass blog, but here are some key takeaways:
A primary issue with developing anything out of thin air is the tendency for discussions to quickly move from idea to solution, then include a little strategy on the backend for good measure. This works fine if you find yourself with a pool of oil under your car:
Oil’s leaking. Where’s it coming from?
The engine. Looks like a seal’s gone bad.
Better replace the seal.
But when you’re trying to create niche products, market to a particular group, or turn content into profit, the “quick start” method can lead to some problems:
So while I’m a fan of brainstorming and getting things hashed out quickly, it’s important to start with a problem statement: What problem is this thing trying to solve?
It sounds obvious, but everything stems from that. Knowing the problem (and, hopefully, the desired outcome) even in general terms helps to bring focus to the project. The brainstorming can come after everyone knows the lay of the land clearly. I’d argue that your creative process is even more effective when the goal is plainly stated, since I firmly believe limits enhance creativity.
Last night I had the chance to speak to a group of new media/journalism students at Oregon State University. I always try to be relevant and upbeat about the tools available now to working journalists and the entrepreneurial spirit that defines success now in the field. But I’m always excited about the depth of questions that come from the students, and challenged in trying to respond to them.
We talked about a whole range of topics:
I’ve been struggling with how to pick up the posting schedule since I left daily journalism and now focus more on audience development and product development and kind of lost my way about what I wanted to say here. Now I see that getting down to the basic elements of building community, developing information products, content strategy and refining workflows might be the way to re-energize.
Thanks to the students for highlighting this.
For them, here are links to some of the items I mentioned:
For the first time in a long time, we’re really hearing from Apple users that one of Steve Jobs’ products is weak, at best. Maybe Ping isn’t quite ready for primetime, or maybe it’s all-too-blatantly a scheme to get iTunes users more deeply entrenched in the store, pandering to stars that record execs want to push. Either way, between the iPhone’s antenna trouble and recent disappointment over iTunes’ “social network,” Apple’s had some issues.
Dave Winer sums up the essence of the problem as Apple being green, ill-experienced, in knowing what customers want. I think that’s true, and wrote about the company’s denial of (and need for) market research a year ago. But I also think that behind that research needs to come a little humility about where great ideas come from.
Not to dredge up Windows v. OSX angst, but Microsoft’s ads for Windows 7 (the ones about new features being “my idea”) are a pretty cool foil to Steve Jobs’ elitism. Who hasn’t thought about a feature that would make something easier to use or more accessible? Maybe none of Windows 7’s features really came from customer ideas, but the pitch is near perfect: We’re listening to you and it shows in the stuff we make.
A complete reversal of corporate culture isn’t going to happen, but doing a little listening isn’t going to hurt. If Apple combined their art of craft with transparent customer service, they’d be unbeatable again.
After four months of planning and hacking and testing, I’m proud to announce Revamp, a niche vertical aimed at the homebuilding, renovation and repair industry
After launching a self-contained social network about a year ago that was half community, half business directory, we learned that the product lacked consistent reader activity and was difficult for non-blogger business owners to use.
So I and a colleague regrouped and tried to distill the essence of what businesses might want from the Web. Our answer? Personal contact with potential customers. It’s why they join Facebook and do branding advertising and buy a listing on a newspaper social network.
The problem? These are plumbers and designers and landscapers, not writers. So we trimmed down the options to three categories: news, events and offers. We integrated an “Ask a Pro” feature as a way to put experience front-and-center to start the conversation with primed customers. And we always have a way for people to contact our pros to ask in person or schedule a bid.
We can also work with networks like Facebook, Twitter or existing products like a company Website or blog. We want to be the hub for our advertiser’s various work on the Web. We want to bend like the reed and help local businesses understand the social Web.
Seems like a funny thing to explain, but it’s important:
Take a look and see if it meets your needs. I’ll be following up with the kind of feedback we get from the pros who join the network.
“This is the beauty of the new media: it isn’t so transitory as newspapers and TV. Good stuff sticks around and people email it to friends and it slowly floods the country. What the new media age also means is that there won’t be newspapers to send reporters to cover the next war, but there will be 6 million teenage girls blogging about their plans for the weekend.”
He’s right about information sharing and the long tail, but he’s wrongheaded about the “good old days” of newspapers.
In fact, Lake Wobegon and ideas of newspaper journalism golden days have a lot in common: fantasy.
Life (and the news) “back in the day” was just as tough and fraught with issues as today. We just choose to forget the yellow journalism that spawned the Spanish-American War, the drive for celebrity and institutional malaise that gave Jayson Blair room to run and the controversial style (at the time) in coverage and design of the USA Today.
It’s all too easy to take the low road and declare all bloggers as miscreants in pajamas (except for those pesky journalists with access to an open source CMS), twitter simply a tool for narcissists (sometimes, but what about the other 60 percent?) and that newspapers have already tried online and failed (think again).
…if you’re in the business of publishing pronouncements, predictions, prayers, analysis, criticism, or full on takedowns related to the current state of the newspaper industry, please understand that despite the convenience it would provide for said ruminations, there is no such thing as a monolithic, uniform entity called “newspapers.”
While we’re at it, let’s stop making the “save journalism” discussion all about saving newspapers. Good journalism isn’t only done on newsprint. To think otherwise is elitist and myopic.
Acts of Journalism will continue and practitioners will thrive. It’s professional journalism that is soul-searching.
One size doesn’t fit all. The sooner we accept it, the sooner we can move forward with solutions.
Here in the mid-Willamette Valley, we’re in the process of switching from a really archaic copy-and-paste content management system to a vastly more powerful system in our newsrooms. I’m not doing as much reporting as I used to, instead I’m picking up more work moving this process forward and planning where we’re going. Good times.
While we lose some options in design and navigation as the company moves toward standardized design across properties, we’re expecting to gain tenfold in our ability to serve content better through tags and categories and a vastly improved (we’re told) search function.
I’ve been burned before so I don’t want to put my eggs in one basket, but I’m pretty excited about the options we’ll have once we understand the system more completely.
More importantly, though, is that we could (hopefully) be on the verge of a sea-change in how and what we post to the Web. First off, everyone in the newsroom is to be trained and will be expected to post their own stuff to the Web.
This led me to wonder if our Web content system could become our primary tool for managing and creating content. Maybe, but the system is primarily a publishing tool and doesn’t handle drafts and note-taking, so could lead to more problems than it’s worth right now.
This hasn’t stopped me from pushing for change in our newsroom processes.
My question for the past couple of weeks as we work through the specifics has been “Does it add value?” I read an interesting post this week by Tom Foremski about how the Web devalues anything it touches, or at least anything that can be digitized: music, TV, newspapers and magazines and software.
Foremski emphasises that this devaluation isn’t in the social value of these items, but rather in the cost necessary to produce and, especially, distribute them, a take on an idea developed by Clay Shirky.
It’s a point that’s clear to folks working to keep news organizations afloat these days and it calls for a new way of thinking about content and its relationship with readers. It’s also why the pay-for-online-journalism idea won’t, I believe, ever gain any real traction, especially the general interest publication I work for.
Information is everywhere and it’s free. Yeah, yeah, we know it’s not free to produce, but nobody cares about your bottom line. Find a way to get it done.
So why not make the Web operation into one big beatblog about the mid-Willamette Valley and break away from duplicating print and online?
Here’s the vision:
What I’m still working on are details about how to add value into the print edition.
To start, it’s important that we let online be online and stop posting the print version of stories to the Web site.
Those pieces are snapshots written for the newspaper and should maximize a readers’ experience with that medium with longer, more reflective stories and clip-and-save utility.
Let online carry the feedback, the early versions and the long tail.
Both have value at different times and for different people. Our goal should be to make a print subscription attractive to those who get immediate news online and teach print subscribers how to join the online experience.
This could develop into completely distinct print and digital products (I hope) and a new set of skills and workflow in the newsroom. I’m excited about the possibilities.
I’ve been a little slow about posting here, for a variety of reasons (mostly that we bought a house that has required a significant amount of work — and so when I don’t have a paintbrush or wrench in my hand, we’re asleep).
More to come.