Newspaper Death Wish

February 28, 2009

Owen Thomas’ “Here’s Hoping Google Does Kill the Newspapers” here is a mix of good news and bad news. The good news is that different communication and distribution methods are breaking free of the constraints of the dead tree crowd. For one, his analysis makes it clear that electronic Gutenbergs like Google News do a better job for me and probably many other geese paddling in the data flow. The bad news is that Google is not the prime mover. I don’t disagree with Mr. Thomas’ analysis. For me, the most interesting comment in the article was:

Unlike the record industry, though, which for a good couple of decades had an enormously successful distribution medium in the CD, the newspapers have never come up with an electronic version of the news that is at once profitable for them and popular with consumers. Their Web sites are at once too large to shut down and too small to sustain them. The only newspapers seriously considering pay-to-read schemes are also-ran operations like Newsday. The right answer is embracing new sources of traffic (and hence revenue) like Google News — not shutting them off.

My view is that Google is the poster child–maybe poster Googzilla–for a shift between the “old” serial approach to information epitomized by the traditional publishing and media operations and the “new”–the digital Gutenberg that has emerged slowly at first and now, like an energetic two year old, is pushing and probing everything in its environment.

No, Google is not the cause. Google is just one example of the types of organizations that are transforming many sectors of the information world. I don’t think Google has what it takes to respond to the new products and services that are now squirming and wriggling on the periphery of its sprawling barony. Google, for example, is a corporate “customer” of Twitter. Google is not Twitter. I’m not sure Google has the moxie to acquire Twitter, which is a sign of ageing. Just as a professional athlete finds recovery taking longer and longer after a hard match, Google just can’t act with its old agility.

Change is upon us. Google is not the cause, nor is Google the bad Googzilla. Google is a metaphor for more change. The key point in my mind is that traditional media companies continue to demonstrate that it is easier to quit than change. Cancel a conference. Publish less frequently. Close the doors and turn off the lights.

Change is coming, and it will be upon us quickly. Google is easy to see. The newcomers are not so easy to spot but the newcomers are coming.

Stephen Arnold, February 28, 2009

Register Reports Microsoft Cloud Database Plan

February 28, 2009

SQL Server comes with a search function. SQL Server also is the muscle behind some of SharePoint’s magic. With the move to the cloud, Microsoft’s database plans have been a bit of a mystery to me. The Register provided some useful information and commentary about SQL Server in “Microsoft Cloud to Get ‘Full’ SQL Server Soon?” here. The Register reported that Microsoft may offer two different data storage options. Details are murky but Microsoft seems content to offer multiple versions of Vista. SharePoint comes in different flavors. Microsoft offers a number of search options. I find it difficult to figure out what’s available and what features are available in these splinter products. If the Register was right, then the same consumer product strategy used for shampoo and soup may be coming to the cloud. I find multiple variants of one product confusing, but I am definitely an old goose, somewhat uncomfortable in the hip new world of branding and product segmentation.

Stephen Arnold, February 28, 2009

Social Media Experts Who Don’t Use Social Media

February 28, 2009

Earlier today someone took exception to my use of the post Civil War buzzword “carpetbagger.” I remember my great great grandmother using the word when I was young. I loved the word then and I want to keep it fresh. The word came to mind when I read Tom Foremski’s “Can You Advise about Social Media If You Don’t Use It?” here. Mr. Foremski in a nice and gentle way explores an instance of a public relations professional advising clients about Facebook and Twitter without using these services. Mr. Foremski said, “There was no sense in continuing that conversation because her position is nonsense, imho.” Yep, Mr. Foremski provides another example of a consultant who is, in my opinion, practicing the century old craft of carpetbagging. How widespread is this? As the economy heads south, I see more and more “experts” embracing the world’s second oldest profession–consulting. I must admit that I earn my living as a consultant. I may be an addled goose, but I am not silly enough to profess to understand something I don’t use. You won’t get much advice from me about social media. For that, chase down one of the new age carpetbaggers.

Stephen Arnold, February 28, 2009

US Newspaper Conference Canceled

February 28, 2009

I want to capture this news item. You probably already know about this event. I didn’t. Newsweek Magazine (a dead tree outfit) published a story with this catchy headline and deck: “Newspaper Convention Canceled Amid Industry Woes: Misery Doesn’t Love Company: Newspaper Editors Cancel Annual Convention to Focus on Survival.” You can read the story here. I wonder how many of the newspaper executives are into the LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter?

Stephen Arnold, February 28, 2009

Dead Tree Guardian Reports a Truth about Google

February 28, 2009

A happy quack to the reader who alerted me to “Google Algorithms for Computer Science” in the letters section of the Guardian, a dead tree outfit in the United Kingdom. You can read this “news flash” here. Keep in mind that the GOOG is 10 years old and makes available hundreds of technical papers from the Google Labs’s page here. Pick a document at random and what’s inside? Math. Okay, we can easily establish that Googzilla’s wizards are interested in a range of numerical recipes. The Guardian, in my opinion, was surprised  when Graham Sharp of the Operational Research Society and Professor Malcolm Atkinson et al of the University of Edinburgh communicated to the Guardian that algorithms are important and “Mathematicians rule”. Correct. Too late to do much to help some of Google’s competitors who hopefully do not wait for newspapers to reveal the secrets of Google.

Stephen Arnold, February 28, 2009

Dorthy.com Search: Somewhere near a Rainbow There Is a Pot of Gold

February 28, 2009

Another Google killer is moving from the lab to my laptop. The new search system is called Dorthy, and it makes use of whizzy new technology. I haven’t seen the system in action, but the write up in eWeek here presents an interesting description of the system. Among the points I noted were:

  • NLP and semantics
  • User asks a question as opposed to typing a key word or two or picking a topic from a list
  • An online community angle.

Sounds tasty. In my experience, there may be one or two sticking points. First, users seem to be willing to type two or two and a half words to get information, but an increasing number are happy to let the system display a list of choices. Google’s engineers have disclosed “I’m feeling doubly lucky.” The system “knows” what the user is likely to want and presents the results. No search required.

Second, the natural language processing and semantic engines are not new. In fact, most search systems incorporate some type of smart software, semantic plumbing, and even a touch of NLP. You can give these systems a whirl by navigating to Ask.com, Hakia.com, and, yes, even Googzilla itself.

When I get a chance to play with the system, I will provide more information. What interested me is that I just wrote about a silly assertion that search is stable and features are dropping away like feathers from a molting parakeet. What do you know? Another new search engine with three hot features. My hunch is that Dorthy.com is more in touch with the times than the naïf who sees search as simple, stable, and a been there-done that technology.

Stephen Arnold, February 27, 2009

Google and Domain Dictionaries

February 27, 2009

On February 26, 2009, the USPTO published US20090055381, “Domain Dictionary Creation”, an invention by a herd of Googlers, most of whom work in the firm’s Beijing offices. A domain dictionary is a word list such as one for legal eagles or medical information. The patent document said:

Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer program products, to identify topic words in a document corpus that includes topic documents related to a topic are disclosed. A reference topic word divergence value based on the document corpus and the topic document corpus is determined. A candidate topic word divergence value for a candidate topic word is determined based on the document corpus and the topic document corpus. The candidate topic word is determined to be a topic word if the candidate topic word divergence value is greater than the reference topic word divergence value.

What’s the implication of this invention? Think domain specific collections of content similar to those available on the floundering Dialog Information Services or LexisNexis services. Will Google push into these areas? You can take the position that patent applications are the domain of the idle and are meaningless. You can join the crowd who says, “Who knows?” Or, you can be one of a small group that assumes the effort, cost, and time involved in a patent document points to an area of interest and intent. I’m not sure to which group the addled goose belongs. I would opine that management of traditional database companies may want to read the document and do some noodling. On the other hand, it may be too late so the time might be spent in more productive pursuits.

Stephen Arnold, February 27, 2009

Google News: Nails in the Dead Tree Coffin

February 27, 2009

Short item. Painful to dead tree publishers. Reported in Search Engine Roundtable here: “Google News Adds over 20,000 News Sources.” The SER writer asks, “Does quality suffer?” Answer: No, it becomes easier for an analyst to identify anomalies. Save the next Sunday hard copy newspaper if one of the wizards of journalism runs this story. Probably will be a memento or even a collector’s item. Thonk. Thonk. Thonk. Know what that onomatopoeia means? It’s the sound of Googzilla pounding nails into the dead tree sector’s coffin in my opinion. Honk.

Stephen Arnold, February 27, 2009

Defining Social with Usage Data

February 27, 2009

Jim Zemlin’s “Facebook’s In House Sociologist Shares Stats on Users’ Social Behavior” here sheds some light on what makes Facebookers tick. As with any statistical summary, one must consider the margin of error, the sampling method, and the selectivity one brings to the presentation to data. In short, these data are not definitive, just suggestive. Nevertheless, several items bounded from the page to splash in the mine run off pond where the addled goose paddles.

First, these data substantiate what I dug out in 1999 when I poked into the behavior of engineers and scientists who used bulletin board systems. Not Facebook and Twitter grade technology, but close enough for this Web log comment. In short, in 1999 those who used the fledgling social systems did to reach a relatively small number of “friends”. What did the Facebook data suggest? The article said, “…while many people have hundreds friends on Facebook, they still only communicate with a small few. Or to quote the author of the article, “Humans may be advertising themselves more efficiently. But they still have the same small circles of intimacy as ever.” This is good news for investigatorial types because skills learned in the real world may transfer to monitoring social behaviors. Where there are clicks, there will be connections especially over time.

Second, photos are a big deal. The Facebook function that notifies a friend when a new pix is on a watched person’s page is a key driver of interaction. I am fascinated by this finding because the visual hook sets deep, lasts, and really pulls attention. I think there are some interesting ways to make use of this finding, but I am sure the trophy generation wizards are busy inventing new Facebook and Flickr services to exploit this chink in the users’ armor.

Third–and this is quite magnetizing for me–users of social networks are in “broadcast” mode. As the article said, “People who are members of online social networks are not so much ‘networking’ as they are ‘broadcasting their lives to an outer tier of acquaintances…” The idea of one way messaging–microcasting–provides some predictive worms upon which this addled goose can chew.

More Facebook data, please.

Stephen Arnold, February 27, 2009

Dead Trees and Cash Windfall

February 27, 2009

A happy quack to the reader who sent me this item: Law Firms Charging Up to $995 an Hour for Newspaper Publisher Bankruptcies via Law.com – Newswire on 2/23/09. The point of the story is that as newspapers file for bankruptcy, the law firms involved can get a big payday. I like the $995 an hour. Much more tasteful than a $1,000 an hour in this goose’s opinion. For more attorney fees, click here. New customer? Rocky Mountain News. A goner me thinks.

Stephen Arnold, February 27, 2009

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