Will Highbeam nuke Factiva?

One of the worst things of going freelance (aside from paying one’s own benefits) is losing access to a professional research department like the ones I took for granted at Forbes and McKinsey. I’d file a request and a few days later a couple reams of paper were on my desk, sorted in order of relevance, with post-it flags to steer me to the good stuff.

Search engines have always been woefully incomplete for serious fact hunting, but in 2000 Forbes gave me a Factiva account and it was pretty cool, sort of an HTML Lexis/Nexis which I could abuse because the bills went elsewhere.

I did some consulting for a firm that bills its clients for every breath it takes, and so its Factiva searches had to be affiliated with specific clients. No more wandering around the archives, everytime I opened a full-text document I racked up a couple bucks in charges. I started to hate Factiva. I feared it. I thought about sliming someone else’s log-in and doing a number on their account.

Then along comes Patrick Spain (founder of Hoovers) who launches HighBeam Research (where the dear Chris Locke is “Chief Blogging Officer”. I paid my monthly fee and suddenly felt like a fat person at a buffet.

Proving what? At Jerry Michalski’s first meeting of the minds in the 90s, one of the speakers told the story of a conference he attended where everyone was given a roll of pennies in their registration packet. The deal was everytime a person entered or exited the conference hall, they had to drop a penny in a bucket or a security guard would nag them. Most of the attendees just dropped the entire roll in the bucket and told the rent-a-cop to f.o.

Moral of the story: micropayments suck. Hit me once like Highbeam and make me happy. Factiva makes me more nervous than sitting in the back seat of cab stuck in traffic on the B.Q.E. on my way to LaGuardia with only a twenty in my pocket.

Looking for Examples of Stupid Standards

I’m researching standards — how they get set, adopted, rejected — and am on the prowl for examples of stupid standards. The real dumb ones don’t even get footnoted, so they are rare and a true prize to find.

Here’s an example I caught one night, bored out my mind, watching some antique appraisal show on PBS. A guy brought in an old phonograph — the kind with the big horn that the RCA dog listened to. The appraiser said the record player was given away by a record label (I think it was Columbia) for free to customers who agreed to buy something like a dozen records.

The catch was that the spindle that held the record on the platter was smaller in diameter than the holes on all the other records sold. Hence, the only music the customer could play was music from the record label.

It didn’t catch on.

Sort of reminded me of Intel’s old approach to peripherals. They insisted through Intelian hubris on inflicting garbage standards like the CAS Fax Modem or strange video-teleconferencing formats that only worked with their gear. The world voted with its feet and stuck to the good old Hayes AT command set and H-whatever.

When you look at the history of standards — an inch was defined as “three barley corns; a yard was the distance from King Henry the First’s hose to the end of his index finger — and then look at the politicking that goes on in a modern technology standards committee ….

Can anyone tell me why countries all use different electrical sockets and plugs? I spent a year working literally on the border of Switzerland and Italy on Lake Lugano and there was no way, no how, anybody could convince me why the Swiss plug and socket was better, safer, cheaper than the Italian version. I think I spent $500 at the Logan airport Brookstone everytime I forgot my bag of adapters.

Blog Bucks?

Talking on the phone the other night to an entrepeneur building a very cool web-based collaboration tool and he mentions he heard that John Batelle is raking in “$30,000 to $50,000” a month from his excellent Searchblog.

Wow. In another recent conversation another very prominent blogger told me his efforts yielded him $2,500 last month.

That’s a pretty big gap. Both sites use Google AdSense. There’s one source of revenue. My personal experience with Google — not on this blog — has been about $300 a month from a million pageviews. So obviously I’m doing something wrong with my AdSense placement on the other site, or my audience isn’t compelled to clickthrough too much due to the niche bias of the site’s topic.

Both Batelle and my unnamed friend also use some pretty interesting “buy it yourself” ad placement services. BlogAds and AdBrite. My anonymous friend, who blogs in addition to a day job, says he has to turn away pretty lucrative sponsorship offers because of a conflict of interest with the day job. So, his financial potential could be up to $5,000 a month.

Monetizing blogs through impressions seems to me to be a short walk off a long pier. My experience with ecommerce affiliate programs is that they do not work. Period. Sorry, but my five-year’s experience with commerce affiliate program is a case study in how to piss off a partner.

And if I had to name the number of sites I see using CafePress to sell thongs with their logos on them …..


How can blogs be aggregated into the next community model?

In October I posed the question about whether the online community model could evolve to associate blogs on a particular niche under a common umbrella. Jim Forbes and Chris Shipley (the duo who hosted the Demo conferences), had some suggestions.

The evolution of online community from USENET to hosted bulletin boards has, to some degree, stabilized over the past five years thanks to tools such as Ultimate BB, vBulletin, and a host of other fungible threaded tools that have brought some order to communities by providing their administrators and moderators with the tools that were sorely lacking in the mid-90s, when kludge systems such as HyperMail left moderators with few defenses again flame wars, etc.

My lack of familiarity with the web blog universe may work to my advantage in postulating that online publishers, or hosts of niche communities, can offer their users blogs and then, in the editorial role as a “meta blog” drive traffic to the individual blogs by aggregating the daily postings through category specific pages — obviating the need for less technically inclined users to configure a feed reader (which is still a bit of a daunting challenge for many users).

RSS lends itself not only to broadcast notification, but to the dynamic update of pages on a particular topic, if the individual bloggers can be conditioned to tick off the appropriate category.

Economically, the publisher can hard code the blog templates with the usual mercenary includes from Google AdSense to BlogAds to whatever the advertising model of the day is, and harvest the pennies. What needs to emerge is a tracking mechanism on the back end that will permit a split of those revenues with the bloggers.

The symbosis between blogger and publisher is simple — the blogger creates content which creates page views which yield impressions and click throughs. The publisher, if they are established enough, furnishes the community and traffic to light up the blogs.

Harkening to the Beatles lyric from Eleanor Rigby– “all the lonely people …” — an essential shortcoming of blogs is their one-way posting. I still fail, RSS feeds aside, to see what truly differentiates the typical personal blog from a Geocities or Anglefire page. Comment functions are a massive pain to manage due to comment spam. I receive a dozen notifications a day from Poker Palace.com or whatever scum is out there crawling my blog, to approve some heinous piece of crap. Blogs are not the next generation of a threaded bulletin board. However, a community of blogs — a set of silos under a common passion — could thrive if a couple tools were to be developed. Sure, the existing model of posting logs to friends or related blogs, is one step, but there is no real conduits — other than feed readers — to bring them together. Many blogs, to me, read like people talking to themselves. Quality will win out, and many have attracted significant audiences due to the quality of their content, the reputation of their owners, and the frequency of their postings. Somewhere there is a model to jumpstart an audience and I think that is the concept of the meta-blog.

Let’s for argument say bicyclists who like to drink beer are drawn to a particular niche site. For years they have regaled each other with bulletin board postings about riding bikes while drunk in a standard threaded BBS. They upload pictures of their bike, they post links to funny stories about other people drinking and riding bikes, and maybe the host of the BBS publishes a gallery of bike pictures, some articles about how to beat a breathlyzer test or evade police roadblocks.

Now say the publisher offers the faithful regulars the tools to manage their own blog. The publisher cracks the backend issues of how to automate the opening of a blog, figures out the legal issue of who owns the content, brands the template so his site is always hardcoded, adds some ad tags, develops a terms of service agreement so the bloggers don’t commit some heinous act of libel, and then turns it loose.

Ten drunk bicycle riders open their blogs. Name them, add links to the other nine blogs, and start posting.

The publisher then hosts a page which automatically is updated — like a newsfeed reader — with links to new postings. Those postings can be categorized — beer, bikes, bike parts, etc.

The better the tools for interconnecting the individual blogs, for publishing the “meta-blogs”, and, I think, the continued hosting of the BBS for those who are not inclined to blog (lurkers still dominate posters by a three-to-one ratio) could create the next generation of online communities.

I have such a scheme in development which will be unveiled in a month or two. A sneak peak is available here.

Niche communities are, I think, an organic phenemenon that spring up around passions. This is no different than an “enthusiast” or trade magazine, say Stereo Review or Water and Wastes Digest, where the subscribers, paid or qualified, flock to the content and the advertising out of professional or pure “pornographic” interest. Publishers or corporations that have tried to force the concept of community on their customers and subscribers, generally fail. We tried to go down the community path at Forbes.com by partnering with Raging Bull in the hope that the common community glue was ownership in a stock or mutual fund. The Forbes brand, I think, is too global and too broad, to build the passion that a weird little site like Fixed Gear Gallery engenders in its users.

There is no magic ingredient in building a community other than passion and good tools. Any hint of overcommercialism on the part of the host, any lapses in strict and transparent moderation will usually lead to rejection.

Bringing blogs into the equation — if the host publisher plays the role of aggregator, encourager, technical supporter, and ultimately, commercial partner — could, I think, mark the next big era in online communities.

Whoa. Thanks to my Google ad a link to “CheBlogs: A Left-Leaning Community With Room for Everybody” popped up. This is sort of what I am talking about. Woikers of the World Unite.

Cinemania Launches

Cinemania, film criticism blog launches

After nagging my son Eliot to start writing down his insights on film, I realized that the last thing an 18 year-old wants to do is keep a journal or fill Word documents, but get online.

So, in a few minutes I was able to initiate a WordPress Blog for him, customize the Kubrick template with some suitably noir black and white pictures of our mutual hero Sterling Hayden and Edward G. Robinson, and set him loose.

The results are here: Cinemania

Eliot will be attending New York University next fall, having been admitted to the Tisch School’s Cinema Studies program. He interned on the Beijing set of Kill Bill 2 over the summer of 2003 and is a walking encyclopedia on the topic of film. I’ve been hounding him to post his essay on Carl Dryer, the Danish director of


, one of Eliot and my top five films. It is an amazing piece of film criticism.

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