Friday, October 2, 2009

Reflections on Day 2 of the UC Berkeley Media Technology Summit at Google

A few new terms and ideas stand out from the final day of the UC Berkeley Media Technology Summit at Google headquarters.

First, Hilary Schneider, executive vice president of Yahoo, stressed the importance of two key words: relevance and simplify. Amen. Those two words are great touchstones for anyone working on the Web

Economics Professor Marshall Van Allstyne of Boston University introduced a term new to me to explain how to make money in a "free" world: proprietary complementarity. He gave hope that it's possible to make money in a "free" world. Industries can succeed by giving away things for free, he argued. And he cited a number of examples to support his case, including Adobe giving away Acrobat for free but selling Distiller software and Microsoft selling software but giving away the system development tool kit. He said news "needs a complement." You can't own facts, but...

And finally, Jeffrey Ulin, a lawyer with the Haas School of Business at Berkeley, argued why the long tail theory won't work. The conclusion from his talk is that the cost of content is going to have to come down because "windows" for making money from content (at least in the film, TV world) are compressing in time. I think it would have been hard to come away from the conference not thinking that the need to continue reducing the cost of producing content isn't going to go away even if the economy comes back.

The final day was packed with good speakers, not all of whom I can do justice to here. But I'm told that presentations will be posted on this slideshare page. Also, you can read the twitter feed of participants from the first full day here on The feed from the second day is here. You can read my presentation from the first day here and see my slide deck here.

Alan Mutter of Newsosaur organized a very rich conference, certainly unlike anything I've attended that catered to the newspaper industry. We need more such collaboration across the traditional divide between newspapers and technologists. My only suggestions for others trying to do something similar are that it should become a standard that all such meetings stream live on the Internet and that all presentation slide decks go live immediately on the Web. The meeting was on the record, with reporters in the room, except for the evening conversation with former News Corp. COO Peter Chermin. So why not stream it live, especially when it comes from as sophisticated a technical location as Googleplex? Then instead of the Twitter feed being essentially reportage of the event, it could become more commentary and conversation during the talks. It would have been cool to have the twitter feed projected behind the speakers or beside their slides, for example. And the same could be done on the Web, where the twitter feed could run next to the live video.

A few other thoughts:

It came through loud and clear that readers/users are still looking for somebody to help cut through the tangled Web and make it easier to use.

The growth curve for Web advertising still seems huge, but the ineffectiveness and dismal quality of a lot of Web advertising also seems obvious. Much to be done on that front. This is also scary for newspapers, because that money shifting to the Web is going to have to come from somewhere.

In news organizations, it seems like newsrooms are perceived to be "getting the web" more than advertising departments.

It's unbelievable that no newspaper company has a simple, easy-to-use self-serve advertising vehicle. I'm talking display. Although classified in many cases is also so bad that I had one accomplished journalist tell me he gave up trying to place a classified online at a newspaper that was once a Web pioneer.

NPR is a great success story of the last few decades, and Ellen Weiss, its vice president for news, demonstrated why. Smart. Funny. But she also offered a word of caution for those who think nonprofit status is easy or a panacea. Even NPR is seeing its model being disrupted because it gets almost 40% of its $166 million budget from member stations (those annoying fund drives) and in the Internet era people no longer have to listen to NPR through their member station. I'm a big believer that newspapers should shift to a membership model along the NPR line. But she explained why membership is so difficult for start-ups. It takes time to build the loyalty NPR has built.

Chi-Town Daily News is another example of how while non-profit is a welcome addition to the mix, it's not "the solution." Geoff Dougherty, founder and CEO, spoke and I couldn't help but admire his commitment. He's switching from non-profit to a for-profit to try to make the effort work. What happened there would be a good case study for a serious, in-depth article.

On the other hand, it's clear that there's tremendous energy on the non-profit front and good things are happening. California Watch is an exciting development, for example.


  1. Okay, I listened to your Google talk, I think that every TV and radio executive should be tied into a chair (like they did to the lead actor in "A Clockwork Orange" ) and be forced to listen to your talk over and over until they "get it".

    I quit a large radio group because I actually "got it" and became frustrated by dealing with higher ups who didn't. They wasted a ton of money and wound up shutting down their web services division in 2002.
    How dumb is that?

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