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09/04/2009

Google's advice to newspapers...

Google's advice to newspapers: Make people happy

By JOHN MURRELL

I didn't intend for this week to have a Future Of Newspapers theme, but since we've been talking about it the past two days (and, btw, thanks to everyone who has been contributing to the conversation in the comments), I thought we should round things out by including what Google CEO Eric Schmidt told the Newspaper Association of America confab on Tuesday.

While the contentious issues didn't come up until the Q&A (and even then in a very uncontentious exchange), Schmidt's speech accentuated the positive, suggesting for newspapers a path to the future built from the same raw materials Google uses: innovation, interaction, personalization, openness, and aggregation. "In that model," Schmidt said, "newspapers become platforms for the technology to use their services, to build businesses on top of them, and also to interlink — hyperlink — all of the different information sources that end users will take." Another key, he said, would be adapting to the needs of a mobile readership: "We need to reinvent the way the Web delivers this content, so that you can have the kind of experience, when people are wandering around with their phone and so forth, that you can have with a printed magazine." And the ultimate answer to that nagging revenue problem? Again, Schmidt recommended the Google approach to financial health — advertising, albeit something more compelling and interactive than what's out there now. But while he anticipates, given the public's established expectation of free content, that ads would have to shoulder most of the load, Schmidt also thinks we'll see multiple content tiers — free, subscription, premium — as we do in television.

Naturally, once the floor was opened, the Associated Press' growing irritation with "parasite" news aggregators came up, and Schmidt pronounced himself nonplussed. "We at Google have a multimillion dollar deal with the Associated Press not only to distribute their content but also to host it on our servers," he said. "So I was a little confused by all of the excitement in the news in the last 24 hours. I'm not quite sure what they were referring to. But we have a very, very successful deal with the AP and hopefully that will continue for many, many years." As to whether the headline, lede and link display produced by Google search results constitutes copyright infringement, Schmidt said that comes down to interpreting the fair use limitation, and that in deciding how to proceed, the newspaper industry should put the needs of its readers first. "From our perspective," he said, "we looked at this pretty thoroughly and there was always a tension around fair use, but ultimately fair use is a balance of interest in favor of the consumer. And I would encourage everybody when they think about — in all the rhetoric, all the concern about this or that — think in terms of what your reader wants. Try to figure out how to solve their problem. These are ultimately consumer businesses and if you piss off enough of them, you will not have any more, right? Or, if you make them happy, you will grow them quickly."

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Q  U  O  T  E  D

"The early R.F.C.'s ranged from grand visions to mundane details, although the latter quickly became the most common. Less important than the content of those first documents was that they were available free of charge and anyone could write one. Instead of authority-based decision-making, we relied on a process we called 'rough consensus and running code.' Everyone was welcome to propose ideas, and if enough people liked it and used it, the design became a standard.

"After all, everyone understood there was a practical value in choosing to do the same task in the same way. For example, if we wanted to move a file from one machine to another, and if you were to design the process one way, and I was to design it another, then anyone who wanted to talk to both of us would have to employ two distinct ways of doing the same thing. So there was plenty of natural pressure to avoid such hassles. It probably helped that in those days we avoided patents and other restrictions; without any financial incentive to control the protocols, it was much easier to reach agreement.

"This was the ultimate in openness in technical design and that culture of open processes was essential in enabling the Internet to grow and evolve as spectacularly as it has."

Stephen D. Crocker, who 40 years ago drew up the first Request for Comments, a format that became the formal method for developing the rules and protocols of the Internet.
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Twitter's empire expands, thanks to those in the middle ages: With pop culture references, celebrity uptake and media coverage abounding, you don't really need to see any numbers to know that microblogging service Twitter has jumped from the tech crowd into the mainstream, but numbers do add some detail to the picture. Tracking outfit comScore reports that Twitter traffic has "exploded" in the past few months, with the number of U.S. visitors to Twitter reaching 4 million in February, up more than 1,000 percent from a year earlier, while total worldwide traffic for the month approached 10 million visitors, up more than 700 percent from a year ago. More interesting were the stats on the age groups most likely to land on Twitter pages — not the usual early adopters of social media in the 18-24 group that you might expect, but a more mature constituency between 25 and 54, and particularly the older third of that group.

The folks at comScore say this may not be as counterintuitive as it seems. "With so many businesses using Twitter, along with the first generations of Internet users 'growing up' and comfortable with technology, this is a sign that the traditional early adopter model might need to be revisited," wrote the company's Sarah Radwanick. "Not only teenagers and college students can be counted among the 'technologically inclined,' which means that trends are much more prone to take off in older age segments than they used to. And with those age 25 and older representing a much bigger segment of the population than the under 25 crowd, it might help explain why Twitter has expanded its reach so broadly so quickly over the past few months." And expect the traffic trend lines to keep angling up in March. Radwanick says, "An early peek at the data suggests it's going to be another HUGE month."

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Quick, Fenster, whip us up a line of Sizzling Stimulus Specials: No surprise here, given the size of the juicy pie waiting to be carved, but the prospect of latching on to some of that federal stimulus money is stimulating tech companies and venture capitalists in all sorts of tingly new places. According to the Wall Street Journal, state and local governments and agencies who may have had projects put on hold by the recession are suddenly getting pitches from their tech suppliers — outfits like Microsoft, Apple and Oracle — offering help in identifying purchases that could qualify for funding, along with assistance in writing the application. Jeff Campbell, Cisco's senior director of technology and trade policy, said the company had recently created teams dedicated to looking at ways that its products could be covered by stimulus funds, and those findings will be turned into marketing material. "This is an enormous package," said Campbell of the $100 billion or so that will be spent on information technology. "As the spring wears on there's going to be a lot of pressure to start spending the stimulus money."

And the big guys aren't the only ones in the gold rush, says the Journal. Members of the venture capital community, who generally prefer to keep a respectful distance from the government, are now pawing through their portfolios looking for firms that might be doing something that's stimulus-eligible. Not to say the VCs have gotten entirely past their instinctive wariness. "I think there's a caution and concern about government intrusion — as in, ?will there be a bureaucrat on my board?'" says Victor Boyajian, chair of the venture technology group at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. And there are also worries that in deciding where to spend the money most effectively, government officials will be moving quickly to make decisions that would be difficult even for experienced investors. But none of that is enough to keep the VCs out of the hunt. "Silicon Valley used to be libertarian, but we are all Keynesians now," said Venky Ganesan, a managing director at Globespan Capital. "Everybody is trying to stick their snouts in the flow of pork." I'm assuming the disturbing cannibalism image was unintentional.

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Off topic: From the James Randi Educational Foundation, the 2008 Pigasus Awards, given to those who have made notable efforts to "snuff out science and promote irrationality." And from InfoWorld, seven more of the dirtiest jobs in IT. Also, Is This Your Luggage? and I Need To Read This.

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