New new thing…

In the span of a couple of tweets and not more than 3 hours, Sylvain and CFD went from conception to birth of Pssstopedia, a wiki devoted to archiving and memorializing the history of Internet culture in Quebec. I’ve already contributed!

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).

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 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.

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.

As a general principle,

I love the internet. After all, I’ve made a very comfortable living by working on internet projects over the last 11 years, and I’ve met some wonderful friends and all the rest of it – all through the net.

Sometimes, though, I’m brought face to face with an undeniable and amazing fact: the web in Canada sucks. Badly. The infrastructure is there, the rate of high-speed adoption is second to none in the world, some of the great internet companies and services have come from Canada… but in terms of local, regional, or even national services, the situation is really lame.

What brings this on is a simple but telling tale. For curiosity’s sake, I was taking a look at take-out sushi restaurants in Montreal. I noted (and have noticed on the street) that there are the Sushi Shops and Soto/Soto Express. The Sushi Shop has a pretty good little site – no problem there. So I tried Nothing. No response, not even a squatter. OK, let’s check Google. The first result is from some Washington DC magazine, and it confirms that is the right address… or seems to confirm it. Of course there’s still nothing there, though.

Hmmm, I thought, maybe Soto has gone out of business or something. So I cruise over to the Montreal Gazette site to check. Surely there will be even an excerpt of a story in there if they’ve closed up in the last little while. Uh, no.

First of all, you can’t even search just the Montreal site, at all. Then, the only results (most of which are already guaranteed to be useless, as they come from across Canada) are from the last 7 days. Only. CyberPresse, the online arm of the La Presse group of papers, is worse: there is no search at all.

Then, I went back to the site, this time to their Yellow Pages, and tried a search for sushi. I managed eventually (through the worst-designed search I’ve seen in years) to get a list of sushi places… but there was not a single link. They had links to maps, to directions… but no links to websites that I know for a fact exist. What’s the point!?! To add insult to injury, of course none of this stuff is touched by Google, so it’s completely hidden from view to locals or to the world.

Basically, according to the Web, a supposedly thriving restaurant chain in one of Canada’s major cities does not exist. And there are no local online news media through which you can confirm or deny this possibility in any way. What, is it 1992?

A new initiative from the EFF:

The Patent Busting Project. “The new EFF initiative seeks to document these threats [to small organizations targeted by holders of bad patents] and fight back against them. EFF has pledged to file “re-examination” requests with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), asking the agency to revoke patents that are having negative effects on Internet innovation and free expression.”

Paul Boutin in Wired:

101 Ways to Save the Internet. A nice, fun list of things that would make the Internet and the world of tech in general better. In particular, please (please!) consider the following: “Stop with the jokes. If we get the one about French military victories one more time, we’re going to come over and unplug you personally.”

An oldie but a goodie:

The Social Life of Documents, by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid.


User Not Found. “Dealing with the death of online friends.”

Doc Searls lists

nine things that indicate a media company gets the net in his piece, “Cut off the head and the body dies” (apropos of Steve Case stepping down at AOL). It’s a pretty good list, in particular because it identifies that one of the net’s primary values to a traditional media outlet is to increase the authoritativeness of a publication. Linkability or stability are key elements.