Freelancing as a career

My friend Craig Silverman has written a post with some great advice for freelance journalists trying to develop their career in difficult economic times: Freelancing the future. He came to this in response to a post by Adrian Monck, who has been making the case recently that journalism is not at fault for the decline in newspapers.

Monck is almost certainly right, and Craig’s advice is really good advice – not just for freelance journalists but for any independent consultant-type person trying to get things going. But it’s the business side of the news media business that has and continues to screw everything up, IMO. When the net came along, they said, “look, blogs are great, everyone wants more opinion and context” and went ahead and gutted their news reporting function in favour of more opinion, more columnists, more of what the blogosphere was doing very well from it’s inception.

The problem is – that was the exact opposite of the bet they should have made. Opinions are like noses – everyone has one – and no one gives a damn if it’s some “journalist” (whose publisher likely sold him/her out long ago) who has written the opinion piece. On any conceivable subject, I can go out into the blogs and find at least one if not a dozen writers with more experience, more context, and more knowledge about a subject than any journalist has.

What we need – and by “we” I mean society at large – is honest, exhaustive, factual reporting. Newspapers should have (and should be) increasing their reporting budgets and decreasing their spend on columnists and opinions. I do want more opinion and context – but the last place I want to go to get it is a newspaper.

“Social” is now the default – or should be

Thomas Purves has written a great post suggesting – correctly, in my view – that It’s time to take “social” for granted.

Here’s the news. [Social media] is no longer interesting. It’s time is done. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s still vast areas of everyday business, enterprise and government that still need to be beaten severely with the Web2.0 stick (even the Web1.0 stick would still help in some places). Rather, it’s now time to think of socialness and 2.0ness as “business as usual” in the IT industry. The substantive battle is over, this is a mopping up operation. And there’s a ton of rolling up the sleeves and value to unlock left to do in almost any vertical industry.

I’ve been working on crossovers between social media and mobile for over a year now (from time to time – consulting gigs) and from my perspective mobile has already arrived. I think it’s almost irresponsible to consider a “new media” strategy without considering the social and mobile options that can be baked in, and not as some kind of cute bolt-on strategy but integrally to the whole thing.

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).

Microsoft offers to buy Yahoo

The big news this morning is that Microsoft has offered $44.6B to buy Yahoo, the figure representing a 62% premium on the share price at yesterday’s market close. It’s very unclear at this point what will come of this, but as a user I find it hard to see how such a tie-up could be beneficial to me. From my perspective, although MS has done some interesting things on the net, none of their initiatives have been focused on delivering the best quality of user experience or even innovation – their plays have seemed to by cynically based on scaling up so-so experiences and hoping that the brute force of that scale can make them important. What we learn from Google, however, is that though scale is important, it is deeply related to quality and innovation in a way that consumer software never was.

Update: Techcrunch has looked at some of the numbers.

Standout Jobs has launched

Montreal’s own Standout Jobs has launched Reception this morning. Founders Ben Yoskovitz, Fred Ngo, and Austin Hill are in California for DEMO 2008, where they’re presenting on Wednesday morning.

Standout Jobs is all about providing companies with advanced tools to use for recruiting. Companies can use Standout Jobs to easily build customized recruiting micro-sites to publicize their openings and provide a rich experience for prospective employees, enhancing their ability to land the best candidates. As well, their backend gives companies enhanced tools to get their job postings out to a variety of different job sites. (More information at Mashable).

I think Standout Jobs is going to do very well both at DEMO and with customers. It addresses a real pain point for small and medium size businesses and I am sure it will pay for itself after one or two good hires. Congratulations to the whole team!

StartupCampMontreal Roundup

Last night was Montreal’s first StartupCamp, which was held at the fabulous facilities of the SAT on St-Laurent just below Ste-Catherine. It was a very well-run event that featured 5 interesting startups and a couple of great keynote speeches bracketing the startup presentations.

Sylvain Carle liveblogged Graham Hill’s keynote so I won’t write much about it other than to say that guys like Graham are important to listen to. The message is essentially quite simple – listen to and respect your clients/customers, don’t complicate things, and be wary of money and strings.

The startup presentations were generally good though not great. In a couple of cases the products being presented were significantly more interesting than their founders’ presentations, and frankly that’s an important problem that Montreal-based entrepreneurs are going to have to improve on as we continue to develop the web/tech startup space in the city.

First up was Cozimo, which is an online graphical asset sharing application that allows companies to create collaborative workspaces in which to work on graphics (and video) files in an iterative fashion with virtual teams and clients. There are a lot of collaboration tools out there, but having gone to the site after the event last night, Cozimo is clearly raising the bar in terms of the overall quality of the experience and the richness of the tool they provide. Unfortunately the presentation given didn’t make that nearly obvious enough – they should have devoted most of their time to simply demoing the site rather than talking about it. Cozimo is going to be at DEMO 08 next week, and I think they’ll do much better in that very strict format.

The second presenter was Marc Gingras from Tungle, who is also a veteran of DEMO. I already knew something about Tungle having watched the video of their demo at DEMO (!), and Marc is a very good speaker whose product and value proposition came across very well. Tungle is all about providing tools to coordinate meetings beyond the corporate network, and from what I can tell, they’re getting a lot of the details right. One of the questions following his presentation was important though – if most people don’t know that meeting management functions are built into Outlook (and that is a key point in Tungle’s presentation) it’s not clear how making it even more remote from users is going to foster adoption. You can take that further still – I don’t remember the last time I tried to set up a meeting consisting of 100% Outlook/Windows users – but nevertheless Tungle plans to go to market without any real solution for Mac users let alone Linux folks.

Next up was Streametrics who have a solution that enhances the ability to measure and monitor online video presentations. Although it’s pretty clear that the ability to measure online video usage is important, I wasn’t at all clear on how Streametrics can really enhance this in practice. Their dashboard seemed relatively interesting, but for such a solution to work it has to be platform agnostic, I would think, and Streametrics confused me as to whether they are or are not able to integrate with all of the existing video sharing sites (i.e., YouTube, Facebook, etc.). Nevertheless it’s probably a good target for a VC because the exit strategy is clear – sell out to one of the incumbent monitoring companies whether or not the tech is ready for prime time.

Fourth was iGotcha Media, a company that is trying to establish itself in the interactive display medium. One of the founders presented and did a pretty good job, although comparing adoption rates of interactive displays to the Internet was a big mistake – it’s not a reasonable comparison because the scope of the audience of end-users is radically different. Although iGotcha has some interesting clients, it seems that their model is essentially an agency/service approach, which can be profitable but is an entirely different proposition for a VC.

Last up was YourTeleDoctor.com. There’s not much to say about it, frankly. The presentation was distracting (although I was happy that at least one presentation was given in French), and the business itself needs a radical re-think before it stands any chance of success. I have worked in their field for a dozen years, on and off, and I know that they won’t be able to do a credible public launch for a long time – there are too many structural issues in the Canadian health care environment that they don’t seem to be addressing in any way. Most importantly, their message seems that they will enable clients to engage with their existing physicians – but in fact the service will only be an option for physicians who opt out of the public system entirely. In general, they don’t seem to understand their business environment very well, which is a killer for a startup.

The end of the evening was given to Albert Lai, a serial entrepreneur from Toronto who gave a fantastic, tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating presentation about how he is a huge failure (not!) and how failing quickly has allowed him to be pretty lucky. I think some of the audience didn’t really get the art of his presentation – but it was one of the best conference keynotes I’ve ever seen.

Update: Denis at Quebec Valley has also posted a recap of last night’s event

Update 2: Here’s Heri Rakotomalala’s summary from Montreal Tech Watch.

Coming in January

On January 23 at SAT they’re hosting StartupCampMontreal. StartupCamp “…is the forum where early stage companies, investors and on-lookers alike can share information and validate pitches live. Join us as we learn from each other about the ins and outs of starting up. This event is not just for Montrealers, all are welcome.”

Clicks and online advertising

This morning Danah Boyd published an interesting enquiry into online clickthrough advertising: Who clicks on ads? And what might this mean? on her blog, apophenia. The crux of the question stems from the fact that most “savvy” internet users routinely deny ever clicking on ads, and not just loosely-targeted banner ads but contextual text ads as well. The difficult paradox, then, may be that the population of “clickers” may be composed of groups that are well outside the target audience of the advertising, which would call the whole model into question. The most important fact in the piece, though, has to do with the question that there isn’t much data available to test any hypothesis in this area.

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).

PR and Social Media

What PR People Should Know About Social Media at Like It Matters. Found via Patrick Tanguay.