Media

Lessons from the 2011 Inbound Marketing Summit

Posted on September 20, 2011. Filed under: Business Strategy, Human Business, Inbound Marketing, Marketing, Marketing Strategy, Media, Online Marketing, Small Business | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Inbound Marketing Summit 2011 in Boston

The Inbound Marketing Summit 2011 Was Packed With Ideas From Top Experts

My Twitter account was hacked last night, so no Tuesday Tweets til I get things back to normal. Instead, I’ll share more learning from the 2011 Inbound Marketing Summit (#IMS11 if you want to follow it on Twitter), which I attended last week in Boston.

I put up a couple of quick posts while I was there, but now that I’ve had a chance to process the experience and review my notes I can offer you more in depth reporting and some key takeaways.

As in the past two years that I’ve attended, the speakers were the top names in marketing and media – online and offline. I’ll be sharing highlights of their talks over the next week or so – starting now.

Differentiating Your Company from the Competition

After a welcome by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who talked about the opportunities for tech companies in his state, Harvard Business School professor Youngme Moon gave the opening keynote on the topic of marketing differentiation. This is a favorite topic of mine as I see so much boring sameness out there, industry to industry. Translate that to mean loss of opportunity.

In true HBS tradition, as she put it, Moon explained ‘being different’ via case studies of IKEA, Mini Cooper and Apple. These ‘different’ companies have built very devoted customers and share certain qualities that we can all try to emulate:

  •  Nurturing the seemingly crazy ideas that lead them to buck the status quo and become ‘different.’ (Think about launching a tiny car to the U.S. market in an age of SUVs.)
  • Embracing their negatives. According to Moon, the genius is often in the negatives.
  • Being willing to ignore critics.
  • Not over-listening to customers, who can tell you how to improve, but not how to be different.
  • Being passionate beyond belief – the extreme version of caring and believing.

Do You Really Need to Be On Google+?

Chris Brogan, who’s been evaluating Google+ in depth since it launched in June tackled the subject of why we need another social network. His answer: Technology Evolves! We need to go where our people are.

Brogan pointed out an array of now-defunct – or almost defunct – technology and sites to make his point. Do you remember Friendster? Does anyone log onto Geocities these days?

Beyond its ‘clean’ visual look, Google+ has added social functionalities that have been missing and that Twitter and Facebook have now responded to with similar features. Selective sharing has been embraced, along with the video conferencing capabilities of which people are making varied and creative use, i.e. holding intellectual ‘salons’ of gurus and regular folk or hosting international customer support forums.

But the most powerful reason to have a Google+ presence is that it’s the first social network that combines social with search. Google no longer indexes Twitter, but being on Google+ might just help you come up higher in organic search results than those who aren’t.

Middle of the Sales Funnel in the Spotlight

HubSpot co-founder and CEO Brian Halligan used his speaking slot to address the shifting sales funnel. The first few years of inbound marketing have focused on stretching the top of the sales funnel by attracting more traffic to our websites and other online outposts and then converting the traffic to leads.

Inbound marketing 2.0 will be about how to better nurture leads through the middle of the sales funnel so that we develop a significant enough relationship to convert leads to customers when they’re ready to purchase. HubSpot recently acquired the company Performable, which has focused on middle-of-the-funnel technology that will now integrate with the HubSpot platform.

The key takeaway from Brian’s talk is that this shift in focus to the middle of the funnel coincides with the shift in power from the sales rep to the buyer created by the ability to research products and services online before buying. This has created a paradigm shift in the relationship between marketing and sales.

The new realities of buyer power require bigger marketing departments to handle the lead generation and nurturing processes and a smaller sales force that can concentrate on converting to customers the highly-qualified and sales-ready leads that marketing turns over to them.

More to come! Have you begun shifting your marketing to take advantage of new thinking and online tools?

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Can Google+ Save Jazz?

Posted on July 3, 2011. Filed under: Blogging, Blogs, Business Management, Communications, Entertainment, Google, Human Business, Inbound Marketing, Jazz, Leadership, Marketing, Media, Small Business, Social Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

For those of you who may not know, in addition to addressing how the Web is influencing the evolution of marketing, this blog is from time to time where I can share my passion for jazz. This post combines the two.

For the Future of Jazz

When it comes to creativity and discipline, there are no better role models than jazz musicians at the top of their game. Yet the number of venues where we can hear jazz in the US– where it was invented – shrinks every year. American jazz artists must go to Europe orAsia to achieve rock star (pardon the expression) status.

Last night we heard an awesome jazz quartet at the Village Vanguard in NYC anchored by the trio Renee Rosnes on piano, Peter Washington on bass and the spectacular Lewis Nash on drums. Every time I have such an experience, it makes me think about and hope for the future of the art form.

Could it be that Google+ – now in beta – holds the answer?

Because of my interest in this phenomenal music, I joined a LinkedIn group called Jazz in Business, which I’ve mentioned here before – as recently as yesterday. I started a discussion there by asking how members are using social media and the Web in general to promote and enable their music.

There have been a number of comments describing use of Facebook and Twitter to promote gigs and CDs. One member, Michael Gold, PhD, a brilliant jazz upright bass player who uses video Skype calls to teach and rehearse with students, posted a highly provocative comment. Michael, who performed in NY for years, has founded a consultancy called Jazz Impact in the Minneapolis area.

“We are at the beginning of a new business platform (in jazz).

Eventually the real-estate that houses clubs and performance spaces will be manifested in virtual space.

The challenge is to extract the core value of all that has worked in the past and reinvent it using the new tools that exist. That’s called creative destruction- a phrase coined by the economist Joseph Schumpeter in the 1940’s to describe what he saw as the escalating process of innovation brought about by new technologies.

Ultimately we’re all going to become “dot communists.” If we can just let go of the gravity of past (as in passed) success and look forward relentlessly, we’ll see it and we’ll make it emerge.”

With thoughts from last night about the future of jazz still fresh, I awoke today, got some coffee and went to my email, including Chris Brogan’s blog, which I read daily. Today he posted 50 observations about Google+ from his early explorations as an invitee to its beta.

Two jumped out at me that describe how a couple of Google+ features may change the entertainment and performance landscape:  

  • If Google Music integrates into this platform the way YouTube is now, it’s a powerful entertainment media platform instantly.
  • How long before we see our first Hangout live music “jam?” That’s one record button away from being supercool. And one “name your price” Google Checkout tweak away from being instant micro content for sale.

As formerly ‘bricks and mortar only’ activities – including jazz clubs and festivals — are enabled to move online and access global audiences, there is hope for my beloved jazz and the amazing artists who sacrifice much to play it and keep it alive!

Here’s a link to NPR’s site where you can hear the Renee Rosnes trio’s performance on Jazzset along with vibes player Steve Nelson. Enjoy!

 

How do you envision the Web’s role in the future of music?

 

 

 

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College of Online Marketing: A Never-ending Curriculum

Posted on June 29, 2011. Filed under: Blogging, Blogs, Content, Human Business, Inbound Marketing, Marketing, Media, News, Public Relations Marketing, SEO, Small Business, Social Media, Twitter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

No Graduation at College of Online

No Graduation at College of Online

I just spent 30 minutes getting up to speed on the Google+ Project announced yesterday – Google’s new social media network, currently in a limited field trial. It’s quite interesting and I’ll explore it further with you as it rolls out to everyone.

The point of this post, though, is that when it comes to keeping up with online/inbound marketing, we need to commit to constant and continuous education. Not a day goes by that I don’t learn about a new tool, app, initiative, issue or trend related to marketing and interacting on the Internet.

It’s exhilarating and sometimes exhausting to be part of such a rapidly evolving profession. But the benefits that Web-based technology can bring my clients – especially small businesses – make it worth burning the midnight oil or rising at summer dawn to read the latest information.

If you’re a business trying to figure out how to market your company online, it’s a good idea to get some background information – even if you are or will be working with an agency or consultant. Here’s a 101 class, a few best-selling books to read and blogs to follow – in addition to this one — that will help you understand how to best use the Web for your marketing.

  • “The New Rules of Marketing & PR,” by David Meerman Scott. Clients of mine are currently reading this and it’s fun to see the lights going on for them as they learn why we’re better off putting resources into blogging than newspaper advertising.
  •  “Real-Time Marketing & PR,” the latest from David Meerman Scott.
  • “Inbound Marketing,” by HubSpot founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, the guys who defined and automated the inbound marketing process.
  • “Trust Agents,” by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, the bible for understanding how and why the Web can help you build influence, improve your reputation and earn trust.

All of the above are published by John Wiley and Sons. Even if you’ve read them before, they bear perusing again from time to time.

In the blog/online media department, I regularly read:

Another important source of information for me is my online marketing community on Twitter. Follow me, see some of the people I follow, and check out my lists. You can take advantage of the news links they tweet every day.

So welcome to the College of Online Marketing, Class of Forever. Graduation day is not in the picture – unless the Big Power Outage comes. As long as it doesn’t, let’s consider ourselves online marketing lifelong learners.

What are your favorite sources for keeping up with the evolution of the Internet? Thanks for sharing!

Photo by J.o.h.n.Walker under Creative Commons License

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The Thrill of Possibility, or Why I Love the Web

Posted on June 26, 2011. Filed under: Blogging, Blogs, Content, Inbound Marketing, Jazz, Marketing, Media, Public Relations Marketing, Social Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

One of the main reasons I’ve always loved my career in public relations and marketing is the sense of possibility that pervades the practice. You start with nothing but an idea and you turn it into a campaign that can make something happen that would not have happened otherwise. Every time I’ve ever distributed a press release I’ve had the thought, “OK. Now let’s see what happens.”

Now that we work over the web, the anticipation and excitement of possibility is exponentially greater. With each tweet, blog post, social media release, Facebook post, new web page, free ebook offer, video on YouTube, each and every piece of content created, there is the possibility that life will change in some way. It’s a very motivating thought.

Here’s a short list of opportunities that have arisen or things that have changed in my life and the lives of others thanks to what we’ve created online:

I joined the Jazz in Business group on LinkedIn to connect two passions and met a business consultant/author/speaker/musician from the UK– Peter Cook. We’re networking across the web and learning more about each other’s capabilities. Despite geographic distance I believe that our friendship will lead to business some time in the future. Follow him on Twitter – @academyofrock. Or buy his terrific book on Amazon.

A friend made the commitment a year ago to blog every day. Not only did he grow traffic to his blog more than 10-fold, but last week received a book offer from a publisher who’d been reading his posts.

On LinkedIn I reconnected with a PR colleague who moved to another state a few years ago. The next week she introduced me to a business lead.

One Friday afternoon I dashed off a blog post that was selected for the WordPress Freshly Pressed home page feature out of some half-a-million posts that day. Almost two thousand new people visited my blog as a result, a number of whom became and remain subscribers. A shout-out to all of you. Thanks for reading!

A couple of years ago I created a hashtag #notatsxsw in jealousy of all those who were tweeting from the South By Southwest Festival in Austin with the hashtag #atsxsw. Immediately I got replies from a group of young #socialmedia folks in Chicago who were sitting around having a few drinks and lamenting that they weren’t there either. We began following each other. One guy @joshhersh – @joshicago – just launched an online business www.daycation.com – @mydaycation – which I was pleased to help him promote to my various communities.

Relationships I’ve built on Twitter and elsewhere have led to invitations for guest posts on significant websites – expanding my reach far beyond my own communities.

These are just a few business relationships and opportunities that have resulted from embracing the possibilities of the web. However sometimes the pay-off is REALLY life changing.

 Almost six years ago I sent a quick email to a guy who had a wonderful profile on match.com — and found Jeff Levine www.levinecounseling.com the love of my life!Jeff Levine in his Office

 Who knows what might happen when I hit the publish button for this post. But I’m excited about the possibilities!!!!!!!

What are some of the interesting things that have resulted from your online efforts?

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In Defense of True Journalists

Posted on June 15, 2011. Filed under: Blogging, Communications, Media, Newspapers, Public Relations Marketing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

First, apologies. I promised this post would follow up the last with a system for online marketing. I’ll deliver that next post. Today, however, I attended an event that got me thinking about journalists and what they’re going through in the evolution of media and have some thoughts to share.

This afternoon I attended the annual meeting of the Fairfield County Public Relations Association, a PR professional organization founded in 1958. I proudly served as its president in the mid 1990’s.

Coming out of the PR profession, I’ve spent my career interacting with journalists, offering them story ideas, articles and sometimes just the camaraderie of people who make up two parts of an equation.

As much as the rise of the Internet has changed the lives of PR people, I believe it’s changed life more for journalists. I recognize that the web lets me take my clients’ stories directly to their constituents. I can bypass the media and go direct to our audiences with useful information that they will embrace.

I blog and write a monthly column for a business journal. I share with you my experience, expertise and take on what’s going on in the online marketing world. But I’m not a journalist and don’t pretend to be.

I truly hope the definition and characteristics of true journalism stay alive. Journalists are committed to reporting the facts. They vet their sources. They report on what’s going on more than they opine. They’re trained to have a nose for what’s newsworthy. So do PR people, but journalists are charged with digging to get both sides of an issue, rather than advocating for only one side of the story.

importance of Journalists

Journalists play a key role in our democratic society

The keynote speaker for today’s meeting was Julia Hood, president of the Arthur W. Page Society, a membership organization for senior PR and corporate communications executives. Julia pointed out that PR people are supposed to advocate for our clients, despite recent crises to the contrary (i.e. Facebook/Burson-Marsteller). It’s our charge to be truthful, but not necessarily impartial. That’s the role of journalists. Nonetheless, I’ve seen fabulous reporters dumped from newsrooms as daily newspapers struggle to evolve and figure out their role. Who will take up that slack?

The incoming president of FCPRA, Marian Salzman, CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, North America pointed out rightly that, although corporate America has lagged behind, hyper-local is the current focus of people and the media that reflects their interests. Hyper local media is experimenting with combining professional and citizen journalism as a way to cover the local news, taking advantage of expanded digital platforms.

That’s interesting and it’s good that they’re employing some journalists, probably not at great pay levels. But I hope we don’t lose the desire to support the kind of skeptical, truth-seeking journalists I’ve discoursed and partnered with to get great stories out, negotiated and disagreed with over newsworthiness and whether something represented a trend, cursed out under my breath when they just didn’t get something I thought was important.

Many of these incredible pros have been riffed out of newsrooms because of downsizing. I spent time with a few today. PR leaders like Bob Dilenschneider have added some of these amazing – now former – journalists to his global PR consulting team. I am intrigued about what they in conjunction with an evolving PR profession will envision together for the future.

What they provide needs an ongoing place in our culture and our political system. It’s not melodramatic to say that they are at the heart of our democracy — moreso than any politician who claims that turf for him- or herself.

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Small Businesses: Beware of Online Marketing Offers from Your Local Paper

Posted on April 28, 2011. Filed under: Advertising, Blogs, Jazz, Marketing, Media, Newspapers, SEO | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

This is longer than most of my posts. But I’m really het up! Music-wise, no relevance. I just picked something that always makes me feel happy and relaxed – Flor de Lis by Djavan.

These days, when you’re convinced you should be advertising in your local paper, your newspaper ad rep will likely be trying to sell you an array of online services. Some – like Hearst Media CT — will even offer you a dollar for dollar match of print advertising for every dollar you spend in online advertising. Sounds great, right? Now my $10,000 budget just became worth $20,000. Yes, but by what metrics do you determine the value of this offer. Right off the bat, the offer implies that the print publications are worth zero.

I am all for effective integration of online/offline marketing. However I’m finding that as traditional media – especially newspapers – transition their businesses online, there are some big pitfalls for unwary advertisers.

Case in point: I recently launched a new medical practice that draws from a pretty local market. We built a website and carefully optimized it for organic search. We registered the site in the key local search directories – Google, Yahoo! And Bing and quickly began coming up #1 on page 1 for our important terms.

The partners in the practice wanted to launch with some local traditional advertising as well. We canvassed the local media for print and online ad rates. In our area – Fairfield County, Connecticut — Hearst Media now owns four daily papers in all but one of the biggest cities and a time-honored chain of weeklies that covers some of the key smaller towns.

Hearst said to us: Whatever your ad spend online and in a targeted bi-monthly health/lifestyle magazine, we’ll give you a 100%, dollar for dollar match in print advertising in our other publications.

Here’s the rub. What is the online ad spend really worth. The promise is that there’s lots of analytic data to evaluate the online ROI, but the reports are a real disappointment. We bought visibility on three daily paper websites with geo-targeting to three local weeklies. The problem is that Hearst can’t break out the geo-targeting.

The rates are based on CPM – how many impressions – not click throughs. Unfortunately the sales staff is not well-informed and the analytics not precise enough to offer any advice on placement, aggregate analysis of what constitutes a good CTR, or anything that can be helpful to a marketer trying to get value for a client.

Then there are deceptive ‘SEO’ programs that are sold as collaborations with Google and other search engines to get you to come up higher in search rankings. No one at Hearst could really explain the program to us. The best we got was that you get a landing page on the back end of their site. Does it have a backlink to our site? I asked. Yes I think so.

Here’s what the SEO program turned out to be.

Hearst set up a landing page optimized with the same search terms we used on our site. They grabbed copy from our website, cobbled it together, wrote and added some factually incorrect copy that they never submitted for approval. They established a tracking phone number that pointed to the client’s phone number. The tracking number’s reason for existence was to prove to us that Hearst had pointed calls to us from this landing page. A visitor who was interested but not ready to call might write this number down and if they called it two months later when we were no longer advertising with Hearst, they would certainly think we were no longer in business.

The more agregious thing that Hearst did was to steal our entire website code and recreate the site under a new url – the same as my client’s but with a 1 added to it. They changed the phone number on every page of that site to their tracking number. The bogus site was optimized with the same search terms as our original site to drive traffic for our terms to the Hearst websites. So basically, they put us in competition with ourselves in organic search. They took the video we supplied them for the landing page and uploaded it to a YouTube account that used the client’s name and again pointed those who clicked to their site – not ours.

Worse yet they were charging us to put us in a situation where Google could demote our legitimate search engine rankings for duplicate content.

Who are they designing this for? Maybe if you’re a very small local business and you have no website or web presence, Hearst and others providing similar products – the other daily in our area The Hour has something similar – might help you establish some online reach that you wouldn’t otherwise have. But if you’re a small business that has invested in your own website, SEO and online reach – do not, I repeat DO NOT buy such a service. Take the money and create a blog, hire a good, local SEO consultant to optimize your site. (BTW – you can’t come up on page one for $35 per month for any really meaningful search terms.)

Maybe you’d be better off buying a banner ad on the newspaper’s site with a link to your site or see if you can get them to give you a direct back link from their site via some content you provide – which could be worth a lot to you. But in my experience you can’t really get meaningful reporting to help justify the investment in these programs. These new newspaper offerings are not malicious, just part of an evolution in marketing. But they are potentially damaging, nonetheless. Get yourself up to speed and be part of moving media toward truly mutually beneficial solutions.

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Give Pieces a Chance: A Case for Integrated Marketing in the Digital Age

Posted on April 14, 2011. Filed under: Communications, Jazz, Marketing, Media, Public Relations Marketing, Social Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Here are a few disparate but related thoughts that will roll into the topic of this post – how to make integrated marketing a reality. Today’s musical post is Pieces of Dreams, a jazz standard sung by Sarah Vaughan, backed by the orchestra of Michel Legrand, its composer.

The song title connects to the post title: Give Pieces a Chance. Now, I could have selected the John Lennon/Yoko Ono hit about ‘peace’. But I really wanted to stick with the idea of ‘pieces’ – read ‘tactics’ — and their relationship to successful integrated marketing.

So, the Legrand song seemed to be a better tactical choice in support of my strategic objective – to start a useful discussion about integrated marketing. Also – I believe that true integrated marketing is sitll a dream. And – the song had double appeal because an excellent jazz band Pieces of a Dream – who hail from my home town of Norristown, Penna and used to play at our family’s parties – derived its name from this same Michel Legrand tune.

Call me sentimental! Marketing is about emotions after all! But there’s definitely an intellectual piece first…

Integrated marketing in the digital age. Here’s why I decided to write about it again. Earlier today I read and commented on a wonderful blog post by Jill Adams, CEO of Adams & Knight, an integrated marketing agency. Her post was titled “Stop Chasing Digital Crazes: Tomorrow’s Top Brands Will Be Led by Fusion Marketers – Not Social Media ‘Gurus.’”

After reading her post, what I recognized is that the integrated marketing battle is no different today than it’s ever been — except for the fact that we have many more tactical tools to choose from and that there is more of a willingness to at least consider blurring the boundaries between various marketing disciplines. Historically there have been turf wars for both budgets and bragging rights among various contributors that have negatively impacted results.

Even though I come out of PR, I’ve made it a point to understand the big picture in order to be able to support various marketing pieces with media visibility. ‘Big picture’ is the operative term here because you have to see the big view to identify overall objectives and strategy. Then it’s a question of having a big tool box. No one person can implement all of the important efforts, so we need to collaborate with trusted colleagues who can bring their expertise to bear – everyone with an eye on what will move the ball ahead to the objective.

What will work is different for every project, assignment and initiative, which takes flexibility and ever greater creativity. What’s most important for success is how we think about each effort. THINK!!!!!!! Thinking is at the root of the creative process. It’s not what we know about Twitter or Facebook or a flave of the week digital offering that will achieve success for our brands.

Yes we have to keep informed as never before because everything cycles through so fast. But we have to think about what we want to achieve, what the best tools are to get there, who else we need to collaborate with to make it happen. If we don’t think about the tactical pieces of what we’re doing in terms of the strategic whole, they’ll never have a chance of getting us to success.

Now this post has been very theoretical. Next time I’ll share some recent client projects to give you a more practical view of marketing integration.

Please jump in to share how your strategic vs tactical thinking works – whether or not you’re a marketer.

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How the Worm is Turning for Newspapers

Posted on March 18, 2011. Filed under: Advertising, Content, Jazz, Marketing, Media, Newspapers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

This post is about the continuing – and increasing pace of – the evolution of print newspapers into online entities. The musical post is not directly related. It’s a tribute to Joe Morello, the iconic drummer of the 1950s and ‘60s Dave Brubeck Quartet whose solo on Take Five is a jazz classic. We lost Joe this past week.

Joe Morello with Dave Brubeck Quartet

If there’s a thematic connection, it’s in the idea of evolution. Joe Morello helped evolve the way we think about rhythm. Listen to his killer technique on Far More Drums (in 5/4 time) from the album Time Further Out. Other personnel are Brubeck, piano, Paul Desmond, sax, Eugene Wright, bass.

Three things came to my attention this week that magnify the rapid move of newspapers away from a print platform. Two of them were widely reported.
• The L.A. times reported results of a study that show for the first time that online readership surpassed print readership by 46% to 40%.
• The New York Times announced it will erect its online subscription paywall on March 28.

I learned of the third thing as I worked with a client launching a new kind of medical practice who wanted to do some local print advertising here in the Fairfield County, Connecticut market. Over the past few years, Hearst Media has acquired all but one of the major dailies in the county, as well as a well-read chain of weekly community papers. I asked our sales rep for her help in putting together a three-month advertising plan in three of their community weeklies.

She proceeded to explain that for every dollar my client spent advertising online – which would include visibility on three major dailies and geo-targeting to the weeklies – and in a health and fitness-related magazine title, Hearst would match the spend 100% – dollar for dollar — in newspaper print advertising. That meant that a $10,000 budget, for example, would have a $20,000 equivalency.

It was a no-brainer for the client to cover both traditional and online bases for its original budget. And it made an enormous statement about the value being placed on print newspapers by the publisher. Even though the online advertising might be a bit pricey, we’ll know if it’s worth it when we get the traffic, page view and click-thru reports. There was no contract required so opting out is no problem.

A newspaper publisher giving away print to build online ad spends. Time was – til recently – that it was the other way around. The worm is most definitely turning!!

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What’s the Semantic Web? Watch Jeopardy!

Posted on February 15, 2011. Filed under: Communications, Internet Research, Internet Traffic, Jazz, Marketing, Media, Online Search, Semantic Web, TV, Web 3.0 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Over the past couple of years I’ve attended several presentations on Web 3.0 – aka the Semantic Web – which has been touted as the next great thing online. Unfortunately, the presenters were all tech people who were unable to really explain, “What is it?”

Last night I got a really good idea when I watched IBM’s latest challenge to human intelligence, the computers collectively known as ‘Watson’, play ‘Jeopardy!’ against two of the show’s all-time top winners – Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. The result of the first of three nights of competition was a tie between Watson and Rutter. A stunned Jennings came in a very distant third. (In honor of Watson’s ‘maiden voyage’, today’s tune is Herbie Hancock’s tune of that name played by the composer and a stellar quintet. You’ll finish reading before it’s over, but stick around and listen if you’d like.)

Until last night I had the general sense that the Semantic Web had to do with contextual responses to search queries. In other words, currently search engines simply find keywords in text on web sites and blogs that seem to match a query. Applications on the semantic web would determine the meaning of the query, text or other data and then create connections for the user. Still not so clear.

I did a Google search for ‘example of semantic web search’ and it yielded a mess of results – none of which really answered my curiosity. However, the Wikipedia result offered at least a true vision of the Semantic Web as described in 1999 by Tim Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web Consortium and coiner of the phrase. In an online parallel to Martin Luther King’s famous speech, he said:

“I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialize.” (Interesting note: If you click on this ‘intelligent agents’ anchor text it will take you to another Wikipedia page that will confuse the hell out of you. ;-})

Anyhow, last night I watched in amazement as Watson properly interpreted most of the questions, ‘pushed his response button’ and weighed in first with correct answers (actually questions in Jeopardy! terms) in an appealing non-computer-y voice. And I got it! This is what the Semantic Web will mean. Actually it reminded me a bit of Oz behind the curtain.

And an article in today’s Boston Globe described the game show experiment in more specific terms, “IBM scientists launched the Watson project to test whether a computing system could rival a human’s ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed and accuracy. The “Jeopardy!’’ format was chosen because the game’s clues require analyzing meaning, humor, riddles, and other subtleties that humans can process, but are difficult for computers.” Difficult until now it looks like!

I’m looking forward to tonight’s continuation of the man-machine contest and its denouement tomorrow evening. Even though Watson appears to offer an exciting peek into the future, I can’t help but root for Ken and Brad. May the best – er – intelligent agent win!

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My NY Times Electronic Edition: Ending a Moral Dilemma

Posted on December 31, 2010. Filed under: Content, Jazz, Media, Newspapers, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

What are you doing New Year’s Eve? While you read my last post of the year, enjoy saxophonist Houston Person and friends asking that question in their swingin’, jazzy way.

In addition to writing one last post, I decided to end 2010 by finally changing my New York Times paper subscription to the Electronic Edition – a day ahead of the Times’ new pay policy for online-only readers. I’ve been working my way to this moment gradually.Paper Boy by leslieblissphoto CC

A while back I downsized from daily to the ‘Weekender’ subscription. Most of my papers were going into the recycling bin unopened. I had lost the luxury of time to sit and read the paper leisurely over coffee and instead began grabbing the Times news headlines and my favorite features online.

Even with the weekend-only change, I still ended up tossing out most of my papers unread and decided to go to the online only subscription. Now it’s interesting to know that the Times will allow us to change our home delivery subscriptions online. But if you want to ditch paper in favor of bytes, it’s not so easy. It requires a phone call. And voice mail hell offers every option but switching to an online-only subscription.

When I finally got a ‘customer service’ rep on the line, she practically begged me not to go all-electronic but to just try a Sunday-only home delivery subscription and she would give me a special promotional price to keep receiving the print paper. I would continue to get full online access as a print subscriber for free. The promotional price and the almost desperate appeal got me to relent and, until now, I’ve been receiving the Sunday paper. Same thing. It still often goes unopened, while I read the Times daily on my computer or smart phone.

I am happy to pay for the New York Times’ content in whatever format. It’s worth it. It costs a lot of money to hire the best reporters, editors and columnists, build an online future and whatever else is required to keep high quality news coverage coming. We shouldn’t expect it for free.

As I struggled with the waste of paper that my subscription continued to represent, I also thought about the guy who delivers it daily and the fact that I’m contributing to his having a job. Same with the paper mill workers and the printing plant employees. We have to reckon with the fact that the gains of evolving technologically into the future usually mean losses for older platforms.

That said, I decided to make a statement about the importance to me of my ‘newspaper of record’ by standing up and saying, “Of course I’ll pay for this; even before I have to.” So I braved the Times’ subscription phone lines once again to switch to the Electronic Edition. Once again the rep tried to sell me on another Sunday-only promotional price to keep me getting the paper.

“Why?” I asked. “My current subscription costs me $4.90 a week and the online subscription will be $20 a month. So you’re not losing any revenue on my switch – and, in fact, The Times is gaining margin. And, while we’re talking, why can’t I make this switch to online – online?”

The answer to the latter question is that it’s to be sure that it’s really me requesting the change. Given the process I had to go through to switch – it also appears that there are two separate subscription systems for print and online readers. Not very tech-forward.

“But,” I asked further, “If the reason I have to do this on the phone is security, and you’re not losing me as a customer, nor are you losing revenue, why the big push to keep me as a print customer.”

Her answer was bemusing: “Lots of people are switching to the Electronic Edition, and we’re trying to keep the paper in circulation.”

As far as I can tell, whether its content is in digital or print format, the Times remains in circulation. In fact, digital has the potential to circulate the stories far beyond a print run. Maybe the paper needs to make a further conceptual shift that what it has of value to sell is content, regardless of the delivery system.

The evolution of media is a fascinating topic to me. It would be great to hear more from someone at The Times about what its online transition strategy involves. In my effort to go paperless, I felt somewhat manipulated and I’d really like to know why the Times thinks that’s necessary.

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