Six years ago I was a fresh college graduate just getting started in the online marketing world. The average person didn’t know what a blog was, Facebook was restricted to university students in the U.S., and Twitter had yet to be invented. And the web was just starting to be respected and understood by mainstream marketing firms and teams.

Today, bloggers appear in commercials and social media is a key part of the marketing mix for brands both large and small. Finally, some respect! That said, I still see companies struggling with the connectivity, the immediacy, and the transparency of the web, and how it is all integrated into their organization. It’s an interesting problem, and one that I’ll continue to write more about on this blog.

Unrelated and relevant only to fellow Chicagoans – my agency is hosting an event at Social Media Week on social engagement and content creation – RSVP! It will be a great chance to gain some expertise, network with your fellow members of the media, and generally have a fabulous time.

From Paul Gillin’s blog – How New Influencers are revinventing journalism:

“With no formal journalism training, no editorial oversight and none of the trappings of conventional media, Ben Popken is becoming one of the most powerful voices in consumer journalism. And what’s funny is that if you ask him about the secret of Consumerist’s success, he uses the same words that any good editor uses: “The secret is to be reader-centric in a fundamental way. The content is driven by the readers and reacted to by the readers. We’re really just a curator of consumer-generated content.”

Get used to this. It’s the online journalism model of the future.”

A speech by Clay Shirky entitled “Gin, Television, and Social Surplus” – another look at how media is changing – and how it is becoming inclusive – the user creates/generates their own experience.

“Here’s something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here’s something four-year-olds know: Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for. Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change. Because four year olds, the people who are soaking most deeply in the current environment, who won’t have to go through the trauma that I have to go through of trying to unlearn a childhood spent watching Gilligan’s Island, they just assume that media includes consuming, producing and sharing.”

And last but not least, an entirely unrelated but heartwarming story about Chicago’s feral cats.

 

A couple days ago Abha Malpani from the Written Road posted about online publishing and how it is affecting the way writers of all stripes compose their pieces, whether they are bloggers or journalists or something in between.  She linked this article from Skelliewag – and while I don’t disagree with everything (people do tend to read web content differently than magazines or books), I do take issue with the idea that just because it is web content, “good” writing isn’t necessary. 

Bad writing is bad writing, whether you are reading it on a screen or on dead trees.

Skellie’s main point is that people reading blogs are looking first and foremost for interesting ideas, and if the bloggers behind these ideas happen to be skilled writers as well, so much the better.  In addition, she does correctly point out that people reading online usually scan articles quickly instead of carefully digesting every word, which is probably true – but people also do this with newspapers, magazines, and books.  Scannable content is not limited to the web. 

In addition, Skellie points out that many of the popular bloggers haven’t studied writing or received any real training – but then again, there are plenty of popular authors who didn’t take the traditional route either (however, they do have the advantage of editors to refine and develop their work, unlike most bloggers). 

In some ways, I think Skellie is indeed correct – news blogs, gadget blogs, and other image/fact heavy bloggers don’t need to be amazing writers, but they do need to be capable of expressing themselves clearly.  After all, spelling errors, grammatical mishaps, and poor word choices can overshadow even the best ideas. 

On the other hand, a skilled writer can be much more engaging and memorable, and therefore attract a bigger audience.  Since there is an incredible number of blogs (at the moment, 112.8 million according to Technorati), why would a blogger or a writer – and the line between the two gets blurrier every day – ever settle for simply good enough?

Another important point was made by many of the commenters on the original article – you never know who is reading your blog, and what opportunities they might offer you in the future.  You definitely don’t want anyone to click away because your blog is riddled with grammatical and spelling errors, so for the love of Strunk and White, hit spellcheck before you post. 

Publishing a sloppy article is similar to showing up with unkempt hair and wrinkled clothes for a first date or job interview – although you might be the most awesome, talented, and caring person in the world, appearances matter a lot, especially when it comes to first impressions. 

That said, plenty of bloggers do break traditional grammar rules and this can be part of a distinctive voice – but you have to know the rules before you can break them effectively.  There is a huge difference between using slang or insider terminology because it works for your audience/concepts and forgetting to edit before you hit post.  And of course, lists and bullet points and short snappy paragraphs are more popular on the web than in books or magazines, and for good reason – they are simple and usually contain scannable nuggets of information.  They are effective.

In the end, however, the goal of writing is communication – and I believe Skellie’s point is that traditional good writing isn’t a requirement for blogging, because it is a different kind of communication.  He is correct in that you don’t have to be Hemingway (who also valued brevity and clear, concise writing) to be a popular blogger with tons of subscribers – but then again, McDonald’s has served billions too, and very few people would call their food amazing or remarkable – more like “easily accessible” or “good enough”. 

Another part of the traditional media has begun to embrace the web’s positive side – but Time magazine isn’t ditching their print version by a long shot, rather they are letting the print version and the web version each do what they do best.  As Time managing editor Richard Stengel said in a keynote:

“Broadly, Stengel said the magazine needed to regain its status as a vital read, in a way that vaguely echoed the luxe leanings of other high-end publications. “We have to become a more premium product with beautiful paper and photography,” he said. “Each medium needs to do what it does best. A magazine should be something you’re addicted to.”

The Web site, too, had, to Stengel, become static. “We were a traditional magazine Web site. We decided we should be a 24/7 news Web site.”

“Focus groups revealed that readers didn’t necessarily appreciate the callouts in the magazine to go to the Web site to see more information on a particular story, he said. “Why are we doing that? It doesn’t make sense,” said Stengel. “They should be two separate audiences. Someday there will be people who don’t know there’s a print product.”

You can read the rest of the article in Folio magazine here.  While I don’t know if I necessarily agree that there will someday be people who are not aware of the print version, I definitely think that print magazines need to up the ante – to get more luxe, to be glossier (images never look quite as lush on a computer screen), and to generally make the reading experience worth the newstand price.

By the way – I posted about almost this exact same thing two years ago.

Harper Collins Gets It

February 11, 2008

Harper Collins recently announced that they are going to offer free web editions of some of their most popular titles, starting with Paul Coelho’s (an author that I greatly admire) novel, The Witch of Portobello, a cookbook by Robert Irvine (a Food Network star), a guide to the upcoming presidential election by Mark Halperin, and a children’s book by Erin Hunter.

I think this is a great idea – readers can check out a book before they purchase, like browsing in a bookstore.  After all, it is unlikely that many will read the entire book online (eyestrain, computers aren’t exactly easy to curl up with), so this is a good way to offer teasers.  And for those that will choose to read the entire thing?  Each book is only going to be offered for a month*, and the print function will be disabled.

What do the authors think?

“Reached by telephone in Paris, Mr. Coelho said: “I believe that generosity pays off.” On his own blog, he gives readers links to pirated editions uploaded by readers in numerous languages. “I believe that they are not going to go beyond 20 or 30 pages” when reading on the Internet, he said.

Neil Gaiman, the fantasy novelist, short story and comics writer, is asking readers of his blog to vote on the title they would most like to give as a gift. An electronic scan of the winning title will be offered free on the HarperCollins site later this month. Mr. Gaiman said the online effort was not so different from what has been going on for generations.

“I didn’t grow up buying every book I read,” said the English born Mr. Gaiman, 47. “I read books at libraries, I read books at friend’s houses, I read books that I found on people’s window sills.” Eventually, he said, he bought his own books and he believes other readers will, too.”

Hey, you have to give something to get something – it’s nice to see that a big publisher knows that.  Granted, they are not exactly opening the vaults, but it’s a start.  And it’s definitely better than the music industry’s model of keeping everything under digital lock and key.

*A different title by Paul Coelho is going to be available each month for the rest of the year.

Check out this article about blogging, compensation, and the future of the new media.

Link to “blogonomics“.

That is all.

At the University of Brighton in England, a lecturer frustrated by the banal, poorly researched papers she has been receiving from her students has decided to do away with what she perceives is the enemy: she is banning the use of google and wikipedia by her students. 

Way to strike the problem at its source, professor. 

I’m no stranger to academic types bemoaning the net and how it is going to be the downfall of literacy; in fact, I’ve been know to bitch about how the web is eroding many people’s abilities to communicate clearly (I can’t stand text-speak or wHeN pEepS wRIte LikE thIs).  However, the internet is not the enemy here, the problem is way more complex than that.

If you want your students to write interesting, thoroughly researched papers, don’t ban google or wikipedia – teach them how to critically analyze information, including what they kind on the net.  Google and wikipedia should never be the only research sources, but they are certainly a good starting point.  Good fact-checking skills are paramount, however, and of course no one should ever cite a google query or a wikipedia article as a source in an academic paper.

“Too many students don’t use their own brains enough. We need to bring back the important values of research and analysis.”

So discounting banning an entire sector of the world’s repository of knowledge (and really, the only one that can be searched quickly and efficiently, and updated instantly) is teaching students to use their brains.  Right.  Teaching them to use the web, books, papers, and various other useful sources in combination for research, and to look at their sources critically and verify their accuracy, that would just be too difficult.  Better just to cut out the web entirely, it’s all porn, lolcats, and amateurs anyways.

Besides, something that is in print is automatically valid – after all, trees died for it, so it must be true. 

Thanks to Scoble for pointing me to this article, and for saying that “If I were a professor and I wanted my students to go deeper than “first level Google searches” I’d just grade tougher. Really, is it any more difficult than that? Geesh.”  I concur.

Quick hit: this thought-provoking post by Read Write Web examines the state of the blogosphere and asks readers why they blog – I started to write a response and then figured it might be better off as a blog post.

First of all, I think that blogging is starting to reach a level of mainstream acceptance – there are always going to be media types and others who disparage bloggers, but as a whole, people are reading blogs (even if they don’t realize it) and many people, from professionals of all types to dedicated citizen journalists, have blogs.  The concept of a blog as a self-promotional or marketing tool has also gained a certain amount of acceptance.  However, blogging is definitely not the hot new web thing anymore – and that’s okay.  After all, at the most basic level, it’s just a content management system (albeit one that search engines happen to like), and one that that I believe will be considered a basic component of the media some day.

Why do I blog?  Mainly, it’s to communicate and share my ideas with people around the world (and if it happens to lead to some freelance work, all the better).  Also, I like having a record of what I was thinking at a given point in time – it’s interesting to look back on.  And last but certainly not least, I keep a blog because it introduces me to new people and writers through comments, trackbacks, blogrolls, links, and various other webby connections.