Hopefully not an idle threat…

There’s too much going on. I must start blogging again. I’ve refreshed the template here to be a little more flexible and I’m going to start bringing over some of the content I’ve put into Facebook and elsewhere soon.

But… I’ve said this before and not followed through. We’ll see.

This blog needs some serious attention!

Oof – this blog has been in serious hibernation. Interestingly enough, helping my friend Melora get her blog going has motivated me to revisit this place as well. More to come…

10 Years

Whoa. This month this is mikel.org turns ten (though the archives only go back to Feb 2000). I haven’t been very active on this blog in about a year, but it’s still alive and I am definitely coming back to it in the near future. Now that my company is entering a new, more mature/less startup phase, I’ll have more time for blogging.

Ten years is a long time for anything on the web to have existed, and in the blog world, it’s almost an eternity. There were already lots of blogs in existence when I started here – and those pioneers really inspired me (as well as proto-bloggers like Justin Hall) to start a blog in the first place. But it was nevertheless the very early days of the blogosphere when I got this going, and I remember those early days of blogging very fondly.

Back then, blogging was a lot closer to what Twitter is today, which is probably the most striking difference in the form between now and the early days. Remember there were no (or very few) inline commenting systems in the early blogosphere – so to comment on another blog, you had to write your own post on your own site and link back to the original post hoping that its author would notice. So – essentially the @username and RT functions in Twitter were then the state of the art in blogs as well.

Almost coincident with the tenth anniversary of mikel.org was the news (via Metafilter, where I’ve been a member for almost a decade as well) that another early blogger, Brad Graham, has died. I remember The Bradlands very very well, and although Brad and I never met (& I never have gone to SXSW, where many of the early bloggers first met), his passing brings a profound sense of loss. It’s the loss of a friend to many – but even to those of us who didn’t know him but were active in that era, he was a key member of the early community of bloggers, when it was possible to still discuss a “community of bloggers”.

YULBlog.org relaunch tonight!

If you’re a blogger from Montreal, it would be a great idea to come to YULBlog tonight. Patrick and Eric Demay have done a great job developing a new (beautiful) YULBlog website that will give members much more direct control over both their personal profile and their blogs. The site is being launched tonight at First Wednesday at La Quincaillerie and you’ll (likely) be able to sign up for a profile and add your blog or blogs while having a beer or two with the YULBlog crew.

Analog Dollars for Digital Pennies?

Mitch Joel wrote an interesting post today to which I want to respond, but my response was longer than a blog comment so I’ve written it here.

Mitch notes six interesting questions that media companies should ponder, and then follows up with this: “why don’t traditional media companies create a new physical area (how about an office space away from everyone else) and set-up those interested in the above challenges and questions. Let them spend a few months tinkering and experimenting.”

I suspect that it’s going to take a lot more than sitting people in a room to work out the new model. That’s not because it’s so difficult, but rather because a) a lot of that work has already been done – by the NY Times, notably; and b) some of those dollars are just gone.

The problem for most media companies – particularly paper-based media companies – is that they no longer have a platform to build upon. Readers (and advertising dollars) are leaving, and have been leaving for years – and companies are hamstrung. They think it’s “the internet” that’s done it to them, but they’re wrong – it’s their reaction to new media over the course of 10 or more years that has put them where they are today.

Sure, some of the dollars are simply gone. Consider newspapers. A Big Guy at a major Canadian broadsheet mentioned to me several years ago that the classified ad business – which accounted for over a third of overall revenue at such papers – was dead, due to Craigslist. Newspaper people have known that a major revenue source was drying (or had dried) up for years now, and they did almost nothing about it.

That’s the past now. Those dollars have fled, and there’s likely nothing to do about that. It’s still significant, though, because right off the bat the pot is that much smaller.

As far as the rest of it goes, I actually don’t think it’s that difficult. The traditional media outlets have to understand their unique value proposition, the same as any company selling a product or service. For any content business on paper, that value is in the editorial quality, and when those properties are good, they do things that no one else – and particularly not blogs – can do as well as they can.

For me, that’s in-depth, factual reporting. NOT opinion, op-ed, or columnists – in a blog world, no one gives a damn about some former reporter’s opinions on anything (except maybe politics, where a reporter’s history of access to political players gives a clear value add).

The nice thing about news and investigative reporting is that it serves as a platform – by opening up the archives making sure everything is searchable and directly linkable (with human-readable links), a company starts creating value that it can leverage. Gravitas has value. Being the organ of record has a real value.

That value can be packaged online by editors who take that work and develop collections, but also by leveraging the blogs discussing those stories. Make it simple for bloggers to refer to stories – and have their opinions linked FROM the source of the reporting (automatically via trackback or through other means). The Montreal Gazette and La Presse should be THE definitive source for information on any subject in Montreal over the past 50 years. Until they take steps to become that source, that reference, I don’t think there’s much that they can do to stem the tide.

For me, print media have over-invested in opinion, columnists, and light non-reporting journalism, and that they did so as a direct reaction to the expanding media market that the Internet represents. What they didn’t understand is that the value of opinion journalism goes down, not up, when opinion writing proliferates (as it has with the rise of blogging). They made a bet starting over a decade ago – and it was exactly the opposite of the bet they should have made.

(Note that this assumes that Canadian newspapers are having the same problems as they are in the US – the last I read, Canadian dailies are holding their own, and the Canadian magazine market seems as healthy as ever).

What’s going on

I just realized I haven’t talked much about what I’m up to lately. When we moved back to Montreal, I had what I thought was going to be a great job developing a new, should-have-been revolutionary web product… but that didn’t really work out very well (they didn’t share my vision of what the site could have and should have been and I didn’t think it was worth the investment to think small). Since then, I’ve been working really hard to get a new company off the ground. My great friend Claude moved back from Paris a few months before I came back to Montreal and he has been working like a maniac to establish Exvisu in Montreal. Almost immediately we talked about merging our forces, and after one aborted attempt last spring, in the fall I started devoting some time to it and based on my good experiences in the early going, this past winter I dove in head first.

At the moment, Exvisu is all about doing a very unique and advanced kind of research to help leaders with marketing, communications, and political opportunities (or problems). We have the ability to go out into existing but unstructured data sets and learn a great deal more about an issue than traditional approaches can provide. From there, we work very closely with our clients to develop appropriate web-based strategies to address the opportunity or problem. And, to round out the offering, if our clients lack the capacity to execute on the strategy themselves, we’ll work with them to do the job.

It’s a pretty broad offering, but we’re exceeding the goals we set for ourselves in January. We have several clients and partners we’re working with such as AGY Consulting, K3 Media, Gartner Lee Limited and several others I can’t really mention. As well, we’re working hard on a couple of different technology projects that will be the key to moving from a pure consultancy to a much more ambitious play down the road.

Centralizing the social map

Loïc Le Meur has written a nice succinct post about social networks and software and decentralization: My social map is totally decentralized but I want it back on my blog. It’s pretty clear to me that this is where all of this stuff is going to have to go – partly for convenience, but also because that’s where the really interesting data/service mashups will most easily originate, I think. One thing I’ve been thinking about, though, is what this looks like on someone’s blog. I thing part of the barrier to this kind of thing is that the current state-of-the-art – widgets in someone’s sidebar or rich footer – is pretty marginally usable and definitely not scalable.

Web 2.0 and the Enterprise

Alexander Wilms wrote an interesting post called The Trouble With Web 2.0 at Boxes and Arrows, to which Jon Lebkowsky wrote a lengthy response on the Social Web Strategies blog. Wilms is generally optimistic about the adoption of new online strategies in the enterprise, and where he sees barriers, Lebkowsky challenges those very effectively in his response.

Lebkowsky is right on when he writes,

The question is, how do you promote a different set of values within the corporate environment, so that cooperation is favored over competition, in at least some contexts? A company may lose valuable potential for innovation if leaders within the organization don’t work to support collaboration. Again, this is something we should at least be willing to consider.

It may not be comfortable, but I think it’s important that companies embarking on “Web 2” projects understand that it’s just as much about their corporate culture as it is about technology or what have you.

There’s another fundamental problem underlying Wilms’ article, though, which is the assumption in a lot of discussions on Web 2.0 and the enterprise that embarking on such projects is an OR not an AND proposition. There is nothing better for a company embarking on an an internal blogging project than an existing (underused, over-priced) KM system – and the reverse is true as well (x 10).

Twitter is suddenly broken!

…And I’m not referring to the Macworld keynote failure they experienced.

Sometime in the last day or so, Twitter put in place a new policy that effectively breaks the service for everyone outside of the US. Details are available at this Twitter Support page.

Essentially, there’s now a limit of 250 twits via SMS per week. A lot of people don’t seem to care about Twitter via SMS – they call it simply “micro-blogging” whereas the mobile part of it – say, “mobile micro-blogging” has always been THE key distinction between Twitter and, say, a normal link blog or whatever. The mobile experience is at the very core of what Twitter is – so these limits are very much a problem.

The other thing is that the 250 limit is extremely low – I reached it at some point today and I only follow 37 people! I hope they reach a more acceptable resolution to whatever problem they were having with non-US carriers soon – any social networking application that is US-only is pretty much irrelevant.

Update: by the way I know that there has been a limit for a long time in places that don’t have a short code – what’s new is that even places that have a short code – and therefore an agreement with carriers – now have the same limits.

Google and the Social Graph

In my feed reader just now I noticed a brief mention by John Battelle: Paid Links, Selling Links… Not Good. When you click through to the article and to the Google help page – and remembering the commotion a couple of weeks ago about some complaints that people’s Page Rank had suddenly dropped – a very encouraging pattern is starting to emerge.

Google has always taken the soundness of their systems very seriously, but I don’t think it’s coincidental that Google seems to be addressing some of the issues surrounding paid links and the like more seriously now that Facebook has made some aggressive strides into the advertising world. I think someone at Google realizes that alongside and within its ranking and presentation via search of the whole web, they also – without Orkut or OpenSocial or anything else – already have a “social graph” embedded in their databases – and one that has already proven to be more valuable than closed social networks’ social graphs.

The initial promise and reality of blogrolls (say, pre-2003), after all, was that they served as a way to declare, publicly, that such-and-such a blogger was someone you either knew or respected personally. That is the social graph right there, and Google’s always had it. The best part? There was a cost to adding someone to your blogroll (time, dilution, etc.), which served (somewhat) to pare down those lists and make them more accurate representations of bloggers’ personal preference.

The important thing about the social graph is that to be valid and useful as a commercial endeavour, connections must accurately reflect a person’s authentic relationship, whether that be with a friend, an issue-related BOF, a colleague, or anyone else. To date this has been the strength of Facebook – they made it easy for people to add friends, but through the News Feed (among other things) added a cost to doing so – which has (so far) tended to “purify” people’s contact lists in a way that MySpace’s and others’ lists never were.

Facebook is winning (by some measures) because users’ networks more closely resemble real-life relationships – Facebook isn’t, by-and-large, a friend-adding contest. Anything Google can do to ensure their results are accurate and reflect authentic relationships is likely as important in the long run as anything they do with OpenSocial. (Now if only they would do something about all of the spam blogs on Blogger).