Bill Mitchell

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Good starting point for any new venture: Following your customers

Jon Dube has collected a dozen useful tips from Silicon Alley’s Startup2011 conference, but I find Tips Number 8 and 9 especially relevant:

8. “Find out who your users are and religiously, passionately follow your users,” (BetaWorks CEO John) Borthwick says. One thing we do wrong, he says, is try to figure out a business model first before we figure out what our users want. To be truly successful, follow your users.

9. Focus on your product, what you can control and how to “delight your customers.” - serial entrepreneur Gina Bianchini

Those ideas got me thinking about a side project I’ve been working on with friends over the past year aimed at creating a new sort of news operation in Detroit.

The initiative is focused on the reshaping the 143 square miles of land and water of a city that was originally planned for 2 million people but has a current population of only about 700,000. Read more

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Three takeaways from Columbia’s Business of Digital Journalism study: Audience, advertising, aggregation

Newsrooms, take note: Before you crank up your staffers in pursuit of today’s stories, have them spend an hour understanding its future.

It’s not that Columbia University answers all that many questions in its analysis of the dollars — and nickels and dimes — of journalism. But along with responses from Jan Schaffer, Felix Salmon and Staci Kramer, Columbia authors Bill Grueskin, Ava Seave and Lucas Graves offer up an accessible package of stats, nuggets and case studies that smart readers will translate to tips for their own circumstances.

The 143-page report concludes with nine recommendations — and you may find a reverse read the most effective way through the document.

Here’s what stands out for me after a quick, early morning read:

  • Audience: We’ve known for years that journalism’s problem is not diminished audience. The audience for news is growing dramatically, dispersing itself into multiple audiences across even more venues.
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How Google’s Panda Update is inadvertently encouraging even more content farms

When Google introduced its new algorithm earlier this year aimed at elevating the quality of its search results, some of the hardest-hit sites were content farms like eHow, run by Demand Media.

An NPR story Tuesday shows that the Panda Update is driving down the search rankings of retailers, too, especially those with dozens of links to product descriptions that are generic and common to multiple sites.

The idea of Panda, after all, is to help users find content with some distinctiveness and usefulness. But what NPR discovered in profiling a big furniture broker Tuesday are the seeds for a whole new category of content farms: fast and cheap content dashed off for the sole purpose of restoring the search rankings of retail sites.

Following up a similar Wall Street Journal story published last month, NPR recounted the plight of One Way Furniture, a Long Island furniture broker with dozens of links to everything from accent chairs to writing tables. Read more

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chickens

Tales of a serial prankster: Interviewing the U.S. president while wearing a chicken head

Among the 58 photographs posted to Flickr from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum is a mugshot of a chicken. Actually, it’s the bright yellow beak and blue-hooded eyes of a chicken suit, the most famous chicken suit in the history of American journalism.

Jim Naughton surprised by the arrival of The Chicken at a 1996 Poynter lunch.

Jim Naughton recounts the story of the chicken in his self-published memoir, “46 Frogs: Tales of a Serial Prankster.” In a chapter entitled “The Pullet Surprise,” the retired Poynter president returns us to the 1976 presidential campaign, when a press corps he describes as “weary and sullen and goofy” is following President Ford across the country.

Naughton filled one of the most important seats on the press plane, the one paid for by the nation’s newspaper of record, The New York Times. He writes:

“I never meant to become an infamous chicken, certainly not in public.

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We Media NYC cranks up a checklist for entrepreneurs and their ventures

The day was almost done by the time judge Bill Weiss described what he liked about the two ventures awarded $25,000 each in Wednesday’s pitch competition at We Media NYC.

He said the panel of judges picked Pando Projects and Stable Renters because, among other things, they look like they’ll be able to:

  • Transform intention into action;
  • Leverage a dynamic “that’s already out there”;
  • Gain enough traction that, eventually, they’ll scale up to what he termed “a reasonable size”;
  • Make a real difference in their ventures with the $25,000 prize money.

More generally, he encouraged all entrepreneurs in the room to pay more attention to the outcomes they hope to achieve, to think internationally and to see if they can build operations that are lean enough to be called “asset-light.”

I believe this is the fourth We Media conference I’ve attended, and some of Weiss’ comments echoed advice that he and others offered at the close of the pitch session back in 2007. Read more

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A Twitter countdown to the NYT paywall

The discussion falls into several categories, including:

  • Dire warnings
  • Easy workarounds
  • Ethical questions
  • Best wishes
  • Fun stuff
  • Actual news

Read more on Twitter at the hashtags of #paywall and #nytpaywall.

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New York Times subscription plans all about one challenge: Reader migration

The digital subscription plans announced Thursday by the New York Times make clear that it’s time to retire the paywall metaphor. In fact, what the Times is really talking about is a forced march of its readers.

The variety of payment plans offered suggests a somewhat flexible forced march, but a forced march nonetheless.

The paper learned from its earlier, abortive forays into digital paid content that a single, simple route will not work for the wide range of Times readers — or for the various revenue streams the company is trying to preserve, grow or create.

So instead of charging only certain customers (overseas readers endured this experiment for a period in the 1990s) or charging only for certain content (TimesSelect singled out editorials and columns between 2005 and 2007), the latest plans seek payment for most of the paper’s content from most of its most devoted readers.

The meter scheduled to begin ticking March 28 will permit free direct access to up to 20 articles per month and many more if linked from various search engines and social media recommendation tools. Read more

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Glass sphere, dollar, three

Why Spot.us user says it ‘is one of the best advertising experiences I’ve ever had’

Spot.us founder David Cohn has generated about $65,000 with an approach that remains true to his main focus — user-funded journalism — at the same time it broadens the pool of payers for news.

Cohn launched Spot.us a couple of years ago as an early experiment in crowdfunding that enables individuals to donate money to support specific reporting projects.

Tuesday afternoon, Cohn issued what he termed a “state of the Spot” report summarizing the site’s experience with 160 projects funded by 5,000 contributors. Along the way, Spot.us has partnered with 95 organizations, sometimes involving quite imaginative alliances, and has picked up seven journalism awards.

But it’s the site’s use of advertiser surveys that I’ll focus on here.

In brief, it works like this: An advertiser agrees to put up a certain amount of money, say, $5,000. Cohn works with the advertiser, often a foundation or cause-oriented group, to create a survey with a few questions designed to be completed in just a couple of minutes. Read more

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Ebert fishes some lessons from his (revenue) streams

In a followup e-mail, Roger Ebert elaborated on some of the developments I described in Thursday’s post about his Tweets of Amazon affiliate links, a venture he likens to fishing.

I’ll sum them up like this:

  • Revenue trackable to specific links and products carries extra value because it enables publishers to understand, on a daily basis, what’s working and what’s not.
  • A publisher’s increased transparency about commercial initiative can reduce user suspicion and irritation.
  • Inviting loyal readers to pay more than the stated price for a valued product or service can generate more revenue than you might expect.
  • And for that matter, even when Ebert issues what might be termed an “unendorsement,” there’s no telling what people will spend money on!

I haven’t been able to shake loose actual dollar figures, but Ebert did tell me that his Amazon tweets are “a good deal more successful” than the membership initiative he launched last year to support his weekly Ebert Club newsletter. Read more

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Thumbs up for Roger Ebert’s new revenue model on Twitter

Six weeks into what some have billed “the year of paid content,” the most interesting ideas I’ve seen so far have less to do with corporate policy than they do with personal enterprise.

My colleague, Mallary Tenore, wrote Friday about the success NPR’s Andy Carvin has enjoyed in encouraging his Twitter followers to support their local public radio stations.

This week, amid ongoing debate about whether content creators will ever share any of the value they’ve built for the likes of HuffingtonPost and Twitter, I’ve been watching the little revenue stream that Roger Ebert has flowing with his tweets.

About 1 a.m. Wednesday, after a day of tweets about Jane Seymour’s birthday, the replacement of Ebert’s feeding tube and Middle East analysis, the legendary film critic tweeted this: “Western Digital WD TV Live Network-ready HD Media Player, 23% off. Everything seems to be moving in this direction. http://amzn.to/fdjtu1.”

The untrained eye might not notice that shortened “amzn” link as a signal that Ebert stands to take a 7 percent cut on purchases his followers make after clicking into amazon.com, but his commercial Tweets have grown common enough that regular followers are surely getting the message. Read more

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