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From superblog to “Internet newspaper”, the lessons of the Huffington Post

What’s so special about the Huffington Post? How come that what started as a political blog three years ago now epitomizes the “superblogs” threat to mainstream media? And, perhaps more important, what causes a blog to mutate into something now perceived as a mainstream media — and do the economics work?
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From a content perspective, the “HuffPo” is far from mind-blowing. Basically, it is third party content mixed with opinionated blogs.  The whole thing, thanks to Arianna Huffington’s address book, is topped up with high-profile bylines. The founder of the Huffington Post is a well-connected woman, prolific commenter (first on the right, then left-leaning after a divorce from a Republican congressman). She ably enrolled intellectuals and entertainment stars into a flashy blog system positioning itself as a counterpoint to the Drudge Report and others conservatives blogs. When compared to traditional online media, the packaging is aggressive: splashy headlines, an ever-changing home page.  Internet recipes for success have been well internalized. No Pulitzer Prize material, though, even if the HuffPo lands scoops here and there. By journalistic standards, pure players news sites such as Slate or Salon are much more diversified and thorough.
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But, in these days of heated politics, The Huffington Post is THE thing to click on. This fall, it has raised another $5m for an unspecified share of the company from Softbank Capital and others.  The raise boosted its valuation to an estimated $40m-$60m. Not bad for a blog, even a big one (the total raised now tops $10m). In terms of popularity, Technorati puts the HuffPo on top of its list, ahead of the galaxy of tech sites such as TechCrunch, Gizmodo or ArsTechnica.
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Let’s look at the empirical strategy evolved by the Huffington Post. In May 2005, the site wants to drill into the political niche.  To do this, it relies on Arianna’s network as well as her ubiquitous media presence made even more notable by her thick Greek accent. It worked fine. In 2006, she’s on the list of Time Magazine’s most influential people (the kind of thing that helps one’s business). That’s lesson #1: if you want your little venture to rise from the blog-swamp, have a prominent and credible figure appearing on other medias.
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In the meantime, the HuffPo acts pro. It hires good editors, ones able to organize the prattlers and stimulate the hungriest crew members to unearth exclusive stories. That’s lesson #2: editing is key. Too many blogs crumble under uninteresting user generated crap (a.k.a. LGC, Loser Generated Content). Comments are fine – if and only if they add something both piquant and relevant. Therefore, old media know-how is precious. Earlier this year, in the New Yorker,

the Huffington Post is depicted as a new kind of competition to established media.  In the piece, the author exposes the HuffPo relationship to the press, and the way Arianna takes advantage of the dead-tree blues:
“The Huffington Post made a gesture in the direction of original reporting and professionalism last year when it hired Thomas Edsall, a forty-year veteran of the Washington Post and other papers, as its political editor. At the time he was approached by the Huffington Post, Edsall said, he felt that the Post had become “increasingly driven by fear—the fear of declining readership, the fear of losing advertisers, the fear of diminishing revenues, the fear of being swamped by the Internet, the fear of irrelevance. Fear drove the paper, from top to bottom, to corrupt the entire news operation.” Joining the Huffington Post, Edsall said, was akin to “getting out of jail,” and he has written, ever since, with a sense of liberation. But such examples are rare.”
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At this stage, in its well-crafted buzz, the Huffington Post distillates its new status: it is no longer a blog, but an “Internet newspaper” – a reference knowingly targeted at a slow-moving advertising market. It has extended its editorial footprint in new territories: business, media, entertainment, lifestyle. According to its management, politics account now for the half of its content (but much more when it comes to its audience). Enter the economics attached to the evolved status:  the key difference between the  HuffPo and the rest of the blogosphere is on the business side. And this is perhaps the main component of its transformation into a true mainstream media. Here are some key figures:
-    Staff: about 45 (a significant, large number)
-    Annual costs of operation: about $4-5m (the HuffPo doesn’t publish figures)
-    Break-even is “expected this year” (I love this type of statement, one of the most common lies in the business world, right there with “the check is in the mail”)
-    Money raised: $10m, mostly from Softbank
-    Valuation: between $40m to $50m, if the blogosphere is to be believed
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Of course, audience is the main ingredient in assessing the value of a site. Welcome to the wonderful world of Internet economics. Ten years after Google’s birth, medias on the Internet are still unable to agree on reliable metrics to measure visits to any given site. In the print media, a comparable example would be the Wall Street Journal claiming sales of two million copies a day while audience boutiques would peg it a million or so. Guess which dataset advertisers would use to adjust the price they’d be willing to pay?  This is exactly what is happening on the Internet. As far as the Huffington Post is concerned, its internal measure gives 8m unique visitors (UV) a month. But Nielsen Net Ratings grants it only about 4m UVs. For the HuffPo and most websites, true audience measurement is a guessing game.  The numbers depend upon whom you pick between Nielsen, Alexa, Quantcast, Compete, even if you use only one of these tools for all your measurements, you’ll end up nowhere since some sites are better tracked by one or the other.
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The situation is somewhat paradoxical (to put it gently): websites are born with ways to count visitors. Hits on servers, logs, compiled by traffic analysis tools give a detailed view of the audience: how many people are visiting the site, what they look at, for how long, where do they come from, and so on. Compared to the print press, which laboriously counts its sales and rely on quarterly polls for readers’ profiles, it is a dream come true: instantaneous, accurate, and crunchable to the extreme. Whoever has spent half an hour tinkering with Google Analytics will agree: such tools are a fantastic way to stay in tune with your audience. But it was too good to be true. A conjunction of conservative laziness in the media buying agencies and powerful lobbying by Nielsen (they already measure television audiences) settled the issue: The ad market would superbly ignore the tools embedded in websites.
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Instead, the market would go for a truly mediocre measurement system based on Nielsen’s evaluative panels of Internet users (it is called “user centric”, as opposed to the “site centric” for the computerized tools). Just to get an idea: its French panel has 6000 users (they get special tracking software), for a market of about 35m users.  This explains why, for the Huffington Post like others, audience is imprecise by a ±50% margin of error — at least. Of course, the ad market turns around and invokes this very uncertainty to put further downward pressure on prices. This explains why an Internet user yields only one-fifth or one-tenth of the revenue generated by his paper counterpart, even though the Internet audience structure is much better known and is tracked in real time. It remains quite a mystery to me why publishers have not lobbied harder for an audited site-centric measurement.
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Let’s get it straight: as long as we can’t rely on a unique, credible Internet audience measurement, websites economics will be wobbly and prices won’t reflect the true value of audiences. That situation makes assessing the current status and the  future of superblogs (more than 1m UV a month) a difficult task. And forget about valuations: whether it is based on (often negative) EBIT or revenue, the “multiple” for any transaction will continue to lack any solid basis in fact.
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What’s ahead for the Huffington Post? It could break-even this year, thanks to the election. Afterwards, two factors will influence its future. The first one will be its editors’ ability to keep the politically addicted coming back to the site. Sounds trivial but it’s a matter of resources, i.e. number of reporters the HuffPo will be able to line up. Consider this: during the Democratic convention in Denver, more than 500 bloggers were accredited. On the top tier, the Huffington Post had 20 people, Talking Points Memo (a remarkable superblog to follow the campaign) had 9, Salon.com 9 also and Slate 7. Apart from this, Politico,
which was also producing a newspaper, had 40 people under the Big Tent. This shows two things: first, it takes a fairly big staff to cover big events (nothing new, I agree). Two, — and more worrisome from a business perspective — the blogosphere is heavily fragmented.  At the Democratic Party convention, the n°1 superblog had only 1/25th of all registered bloggers.
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For the future of the Huffington Post, the second critical element lies in its ability to capitalize on its diversification. For now, most of its traffic goes to the political content. Channeling audience to other parts of the site won’t be easy.  It is one thing to rise above the crowd in a specific, news intensive domain such as politics; it is another story to do achieve the same rise when covering a much wider array of topics.  Many more competitors, and stronger ones, could lead to a dangerous cost escalation.
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Jumping from a nice, enjoyable niche business to a mainstream one inevitably collides with economics. Just one final data point to assess the situation: the Huffington Post requires an annual revenue of $4m to $7m to break-even, right? Now this: just to maintain its Bagdhad bureau, the New York Times will spend more than $3m in 2008. Comments and content aggregation is inexpensive, but news remains a very, very cash-intensive business.  –FF
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A second look at 3G

by Jean-Louis Gassée
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Revelation or revelator?  I’m referring to the iPhone, of course. We’ll quickly skip over the revelation part, enough praise (and some well-deserved barbs) already.  Instead, we’ll look at the light the iPhone sheds on the cellular infrastructure and on the culture of operators.
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The symptoms: spotty 3G coverage, bad reception, ‘bandwidth’ (meaning download speed) far from the “twice as fast” claims, poor battery performance.  To say nothing of software reliability complaints.  Add Apple’s lofty claims and relative inexperience in cellular telephony and you get a nice target.  As the French like to say, the higher the monkey climbs, the more people see his… mistakes.
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This being America, we now have three lawsuits broadly accusing Apple and AT&T of false claims. At the same time, the chattering classes, read the blogosphere and the aging MSM (Mainstream Media), promptly filled up with comments, explanations and accusations.  More confusion than light.
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Apple first clammed up in its usual imperious style but, soon, emails from Dear Leader himself leaked out.  Steve Jobs replied a couple of customers, acknowledged the contribution of software bugs to battery and connection issues and promised fixes in September.  All along, the company refrained from implicating carriers.
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However, as more facts emerged, we began to see a different picture.
The magazine Wired conducted a nationwide study that pointed the finger at the carrier, AT&T.  Then, a Swedish lab took it upon itself to test the iPhone reception (story on Cnet and in the Göteborg Posten), comparing it to leading 3G handsets.  The result?  With regards to radio performance, the 3G iPhone was indistinguishable from Nokia or Sony Ericsson handsets.
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Then, it transpired that Orange, in France, was ‘throttling’ the 3G iPhone. Throttling?  Here the word refers to Orange deliberately limiting the transfer speed, the bandwidth provided to iPhones to 384Kbps (Kilobits per second), which seems to be the ‘legal’ minimum of the ITU (International Telecommunications Union), not the 1Mbps or more ‘sold’ by the carriers.  [I went to the ITU site and entered 3G in the Search field.  The answer is: “The component required for this action is not available”.  This in both Simple and Advanced search.  Fortunately, Google provides the usual abundance of links and things become even less clear.  Regarding the 384Kbps number, some interpret it as the maximum rate for slowly moving devices, such as a handset carried by a walking user.  Others quote the IMT-2000 standard and ominously remind us: “The total max bandwidth of 2.4 Mbits are to be shared by all users within a single cell sector. One cell normally has 3 sectors to cover the full 360 degrees area around a cell antenna tower”.
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Confused?  Let’s step back a bit.
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When we look again at the Orange item, one implication becomes explicit: the network knows it is serving an iPhone.  A dialog, a protocol sets up the connection, identifies the phone/customer for billing, etc…  The “etc” part is very sophisticated as it allows the network to regulate the phone’s radio power, for example, no need to “shout” if the cell tower is near.  This, in turn, points to the ‘client’ side, to the iPhone’s role in the protocol.  Hence the acknowledgement by Apple of connection and power management bugs, hopefully corrected by this past Friday’s 2.1 update.  (I installed it and have nothing useful to report yet – which could be good news.)
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On the carrier side, a set of facts emerges. To begin with, carriers weren’t prepared for the iPhone, because it isn’t really a phone, it is an Internet device with a phone thrown in.  As noted here before, Google found that the iPhone provided 50 times more search traffic than the next smartphone down the list.  In the past, carriers touted smartphones as having browsing and multimedia messaging capabilities but these were hard enough to use to be hardly used.  The iPhone comes in with the first real smartphone browser and the naïve customers use it.  So much so that the network buckles under the load or, in Orange’s case, tries to survive by spreading the penury.  (In recent statements Orange appeared to promise to be back at 1.5Mbps “in September”.) See also how iTunes wireless download are only allowed with a WiFi connection, not 3G.
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So far, carriers have managed to maintain an oligopoly, a market with a very small number of suppliers. Economic theory holds an oligopoly suppresses real competition and leads to various forms of implicit or even active price fixing, as we’ve seen in France.  The lower level of competition allows carriers to delay investments and ‘milk’ their network (and their customers) just like the good old cable networks operators.  In downtown Palo Alto, the birthplace of Silicon Valley, there still are ‘white spots’, places where you have No Service.
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In keeping with the carriers’ culture, we see a combination of small print and outright misrepresentations of services.  Summarizing: your payment is mandatory, our performance is optional.  No wonder ‘trial lawyers’ are rising to this tempting occasion, this after courts started taking another look at the dreaded
mandatory arbitration clauses
carriers use to prevent disgruntled customers from seeking redress in court.
This is unfortunate.  Cellular networks are wonderful, when they work.  The voice and data services they strive to provide make our lives more productive, more fun and emotionally more connected.  (I know, there are also terribly annoying and dehumanizing uses too.)  For the technically curious, wireless networks are both admirable and ugly, an ever evolving patchwork of high-tech bits and pieces striving to appear seamless.
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We can only hope regulatory authorities will pay more attention to the gap between what carriers promise (and ruthlessly charge for) and what they deliver. As for the tall markitecture tales of 4G networks, today they’re just a way to move the debate away from today’s shortcomings by touting a bright future. –JLG
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By the numbers. And what do they mean for our industry

This is the Fall season of business plans for the coming year. The numbers will mean pain for the media industry. Below is a set of facts and figures to keep in mind when considering newspapers, advertising, search, mass collaboration… and coffee.
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The newspaper industry’s overall condition
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80% gone: Within the last 12 months, the market value of newspapers groups such as Gannett and McClatchy went down by 80% or so. The New York Times lost 70% of its market cap during the same period, closing Friday at $13, lowest in ten years.  Monthly figures are not encouraging either: the New York Times Co.’s revenue (including the International Herald Tribune and the Boston Globe) dropped by 10% from a year earlier. Advertising sales are down by 16% and circulation revenue slipped by 0.5%. Classified (jobs, cars, real-estate) are down 30%.  For Gannett and McClatchy, ad revenue losses are accelerating, approaching the -20% zone for the past twelve months basis. Even News Corp has seen its value erased by 40% since Rupert Murdoch bought the Wall Street Journal. (Alan Mutter is tracking those numbers in his blog)
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What it means: two things. More newsrooms layoffs, more consolidations.  For the latter, consolidations, the weightiest — and yet quite unlikely – would be the acquisition of the New York Times by Murdoch. As reported by Michael Wolff in Vanity Fair’s latest issue, Murdoch keeps crunching numbers in contemplation of such a move. (One of the assumptions is merging the back-office operations of the Times and the Wall Street Journal). Europe won’t be spared by massive restructurings, not only slashing the editorial meat (the easy way), but also by repositioning newspapers and changing revenue models.
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IPhone & mobile browsing
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$1million a day. That’s the gross revenue for iPhone applications sold through the AppStore. Apple reported 60 million downloads of applications for the iPhone, just one month after the opening of the AppStore (source: Wall Street Journal, Aug. 11). Apple is getting “only” 30% of this revenue. Still, this market, potentially $1bn a year, didn’t exist three months ago.
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+58%. IPhone browsing has increased by 58% from July to August as reported by Market Share (the 3G version was launched July 11).
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What it means: the mobile Internet is finally gaining traction. By the end of the year, several competitors (Nokia, RIM-Blackberry, Android) will join the fray with powerful and user-friendly browsers. We foresee another steep increase in mobile browsing after the holiday season. 2009 could be “the” year for mobile browsing.
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140 million users of mobile social networks by 2013. According to ABI Research, the next big thing is mobile access to social rings such as Facebook or MySpace. ABI might be right judging by the number of people who got the Facebook app on their iPhone.  The exact number isn’t known but this app received the highest number of reviews of all iPhone apps, more than 2030 reviews, compared to a couple of hundreds for the next one down the list.
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What it means: even though social networking has yet to become a channel for news delivery, it is the medium of choice to reach young people. Facebook, MySpace and others are used by:  85% of online and mobile active users from the “Generation Y” (born after 1979);  71% by Gen X (born  between1965-19789); and 59% by Baby-boomers (born between 1946-1964). (Sources: Pew Research and eMarketer)
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Advertising
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24.4 million downloads of the ad-blocking plug-in for Firefox, a 10 times increase in one year. It is by far the most popular add-on this browser. This yields only 5,4 million daily users but their number is growing fast and a rate of half million download per day can’t be ignored. (Source: Mozilla.org)
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What it means: sites should think twice before before inundating their home page with invasive and poorly executed advertising. Those are incentives to use to ad-blocking software.
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42% of all online ad spending goes to search ads, and the proportion is growing. According to this eMarketer 2008 estimate, display ads spending will remain flat. (In fact, the percentage share will decline, since the overall online ad market is still growing at a healthy 20% in the US).
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What it means: keep that in mind if you are in business plan or website redesign mode (make room for Google Ads rather than for big banners).
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Search and News
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83% of people reading news on the internet use search engines to find stories of interest, even though they land, most of the times (51%), on a news brand they know (small consolation). The proportion was 70% in 2004, it is reaching a new plateau. But the intensity of search engines use is still growing: in 2004, 19% admitted using a SE three times a week; this proportion is now 31%.
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What it means: search engine optimization is definitely a “must” investment. No doubt. A good SEO person in an e-newsroom quickly pays for his salary.  As far as Search Engine Marketing (keywords acquisition) is concerned, this is a different story. Some news sites (such as Le Figaro in France) are racking up great ranking thanks to a massive investment in keywords. Viewed from an Excel perspective, it does work — in the short run. But there is still no model showing how a site that relies heavily on keywords purchases actually keeps its audience. It’s dope, you’re high for a short time.
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700 to 1000 Google computers are used to execute a single search (when you hit the enter key). In a split second (113 million results for ‘léonard’ in 17 hundreds of a second), a Google-brewed software called Map Reduce slices up your request, distributes it among its million servers and sends back results. Google invests about $2bn a year in datacenters.  For this, the company buys up land across the world on one condition: as traffic grows, it must accommodate a new building within six months.

What it means: theses numbers are just a glimpse at Google’s unparalleled power. The latest iteration of Google’s drive for more power is the new browser Chrome (see Jean-Louis’ column below). But it is not the last. Google wants to index the world, from 32 million books listed in libraries worldwide to your voice-print if you call its phone directory, or street views (readable text included) of your town. Now, Google must be taken into consideration while planning for any information system.
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Long tail true stories
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90% of Netflix’s catalog (the American DVD rental store) is rented at least once a month. And nearly two-thirds of the movies are rented thanks to a recommendation generated by the site itself.
MSNBC uses a cookie to keep track of the 16 articles recently read and uses automated text analysis to predict what news story you’ll want to read. (Source: Super crunchers by Ian Ayres)
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What it means: social recommendation engines and collaborative filtering works. They help revive inventories, movies or news stories. OK, this bruises the charming notion of serendipity. But keep this in mind: a ten-year old newspaper publishing an average of 50 stories a day built a stock of 150.000 articles to dig in.  Next, consider that online papers have between 3 to 5 pages views per visits.  An optimized delivery system for related stories makes a huge difference in revenue.
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10 million subscribers for Safaricom, a Kenyan mobile phone operator. Interestingly, when Vodafone bought a stake in this company back in 2000, the first version of the business plan bet on 400,000 users max. It got 25 times more. Among things other than good service and good pricing, Safaricom encouraged new uses such as transferring money. Working with Barclays, Standard Chartered and Oracle, Safaricom created M-Pesa a mobile phone cash-transfer system, now a quasi-bank. Safaricom is a profitable $1bn company (read its CFO interview in Kenya business daily).
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What it means: new (big) businesses can emerge  from unexpected applications based on existing platforms.
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Wiki dynamics
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1.7 minutes. This is the time it takes to see an obscenity removed by the editors of Wikipedia, according to the MIT. Nature magazine took a sample of 42 scientific entries and found 3 inaccuracies in Encyclopedia Britannica and 4 in Wikipedia. One big difference: on Wiki the new, corrected edition, is just minutes away. (Source: Wikinomics,  by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams).
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What it means: the idea of full-of-crap wiki systems is dead. Fact is: due to its contributive structure, Wikipedia is a fairly accurate tool. On a purely statistical basis, editors and publishers should not be afraid of setting up Wiki-information systems for news-related topics. Today’s reluctance lies in our culture, not in the cost column: Wikipedia has only five full time employees.
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Water consumption
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840 liters of water to produce this article. That’s about the eco-footprint of the six cups of coffee I drank writing this note. Each 125ml cup required 140 liters of water to grow and process the beans. Stunning, isn’t it? And that’s nothing compared to 16.000 liters (yep, sixteen tons of water) to produce one single kilogram of beef. By comparison, the computer industry is downright frugal with only 32 liters to produce a 2gr microchip. How does it relate to the news business. Uh, it doesn’t. (Source:waterfooprint.org). –FF
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Google Chrome: a new OS War

Not browser, OS.  More about that in a moment.
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But, first, our kind, venture capitalists, loves disruption. When the established companies take too much room on the Petri dish, there is no way for a new bacterium to prosper.  When a Microsoft dominates a market, to pick a random example, launching a competitor becomes prohibitively expensive.  We love to see the economy move to virgin territories or to watch technology (or the law) weaken dominant players.
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So, what’s not to like about Google’s new browser possibly weakening Microsoft’s position?  Possibly again, we could be trading one Microsoft for a new one, Google, for another black hole of a company sucking in all the business models coming into its orbit.

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With this out of the way, let’s take a closer look at Chrome.
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f you have the time and inclination, you might want to read Steven Levy’s story in Wired, or CNET’s shorter but insightful article, Why Google Chrome?  Fast browsing = $$$$.  I also like Niall Kennedy’s blog post: The story behind Google Chrome and, lastly, a refutation of the unavoidable conspiracy theories: When does Google Chrome talks to google.com? As I write this, a Google Chrome search returns close to 13 million results…
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Back to the OS question. As early as 1994, Marc Andreesen, of Netscape fame, said The browser is the OS.  Many, yours truly included, thought the statement was both technically flawed and self-serving: Marc was one of the authors of the Navigator browser.  In 2008, Sergey Brin repeats the mantra.  Like Marc, he’s technically wrong but existentially correct in the most important of ways, the ways of business wars.  Like Marc, Sergey knows the role, the power, the weight of the (now) underlying OS.  The operating system juggles tasks, manages hardware and software resources such as memory and input/output devices.  With processors executing one instruction at any given instant, the operating system manages the illusion of many concurrent activities, downloading videos, getting email, Instant Messaging, playing music and getting pictures out of a digital camera.  For the applications programmer, the OS is the genie right under the water’s surface.  Wherever the coder sets foot, the genie is right under there, making sure the techie walks on water.
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And, ask Microsoft, not if the OS matters, but what happens when OS trouble happens, when Vista misfires.
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But Mark and Sergey are right, we have entered a new era, Cloud Computing and yet, the lessons of the desktop age are not forgotten. Going back to the application programmer’s feet staying dry, Microsoft played and won the game of tying the OS and the applications.  Windows programmers make sure Microsoft Office programmers have what they need.  Sometimes, this happens at the expense of competitors who can’t always have access to the same technical information, either at all, or in a timely fashion.  At the very start of the Internet era, Microsoft sees what they need to do, again, tie the browser and the OS.  This gives Microsoft control of Internet applications because these need to comply with the dominant browser from the dominant OS and office applications supplier.  Internet Explorer, free and tied, kills Netscape Navigator.  Microsoft spends time and money in various courts around the world but appears to have won that battle.
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But, in September 1998, Google starts and quickly rises to its dominant position in search and advertising. In parallel, a non-profit foundation, Mozilla, resurrects Navigator as the Open Source Firefox browser.  Most of us like Firefox: free, good and getting better with every version, available on Windows, Linux and Macs.  Not tied to Microsoft or Apple.  In our happiness, we paid little attention to Mozilla’s ties to Google, financial ties, millions of dollars, $66.8 millions in 2006, to be exact.  A 26 percent increase over 2006, with little reason to think the progression stopped in 2007.  That revenue is mostly referral money generated each time we use the Google search box in Firefox.  In other words, Google cleverly financed a Microsoft (Explorer) and Apple (Safari) competitor.  A successful one: recent browser statistics credit Firefox with 43.7% share versus Explorer versions totaling 50.6%.  Too successful, perhaps.  Assuming more than $80 millions paid to Mozilla for “traffic acquisition costs”, a fraction of that easily pays for the engineers and parasites needed to write decent browser code.  That would be a make vs. buy argument.  And that would be the wrong one.
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Google’s decision to ‘roll its own’ is based on the strategic requirement to provide its Cloud Computing applications with their own, controlled, under the water genie. Cynics will say Google is playing the Microsoft game of exacting monopoly profits by tying the new OS, the browser, with the new era applications.  But, there are several twists to that analogy.
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First, Chrome is an Open Source browser. Anyone can inspect and use the code for their own work.  In the first place, Chrome is based on the Open Source Webkit also used by Apple’s Safari.  One significant improvement brought by Chrome is the V8 Javascript rendering engine.  Anyone can take the code and use it in their own work – as long as the Open Source licensing is enforced.  Will this cause Apple or Microsoft to Open Source their browsers?
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Second, focusing on Javascript, Google makes another strategic decision, a good one in my view. Over time, browsers have become more complex as they need to deliver richer, livelier applications ranging from spreadsheets to games, from video to music or PDF documents.  Adobe now promotes a platform called AIR, working ‘above’ all desktop OS and purporting to be the engine of choice to deliver ‘Rich Internet Applications’, their words for Cloud Computing.
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Not to be left behind, Microsoft comes up with their own ‘cross-platform platform’, Silverlight for the same new era target. There’s even a third-party Silverlight version for Linux being developed, with some difficulties, by a Linux advocate no less.  Why would Novell’s VP of Engineering, Miguel de Icaza help Microsoft?  I forgot, Microsoft just bought another $100 million of Linux ‘support vouchers’ from Novell.
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Now, if you are Google, will you let Adobe or Microsoft design and constantly modify the genie under the water for your Cloud Computing applications?  Not if you want to control your destiny, not if that destiny is to ‘lead’, to stay Number One.
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Javascript’s it is and we have our own V8 engine for it.
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Today’s beta version looks good to some, and is panned by others. As the new fashion of perpetual betas dictates, see Gmail, we can expect a steady stream of improvements.  More interesting will be watching if and how Google plays the tying game, how it uses Chrome to give its email or photo editing programs features not available on other browsers or speed they can’t match.  And if, how Google one day manages to make money with these applications, the old fashion way, by charging real money for their use.  We VC would like to see that.  For us, ‘free’ is a four-letter word. — JLG

Learning from the Obama Internet machine

From the very beginning, the Obama campaign met the standards of modern entrepreneurship: a clear goal (get to the White House), a strong leader (Barack), a simple pitch (Change) — and it needed cash, lots of it. And, unlike the Iraq war, it had a preset deadline, the close of business Tuesday November 4th. Not an IPO’s variable price, but a binary ending: either a milestone in modern History or a hard, highly visible failure.
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Before we go any further, a few facts:

  • $401million raised by the Obama campaign – so far.  ($245m  for Hillary Clinton, and $171m for John McCain).
  • $200 million from the website alone (as of June 08)
  • $45 million were raised on the web in February alone
  • > 1 million user accounts on My.BarackObama.com
  • 75,000 local events organized through the site
  • 2 million phone calls originated from the site
  • $4 million have been invested (so far) in the site, including 1.1 million for Blue State Digital and about $3m for Google
  • 38 million people watched Barack’s acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention in Denver (YouTube viewership not included).  A new record.  This is more than the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony.  In 2004, Kerry got 24 million viewers and GW Bush 27.5 million
    4 million people watched Obama’s March 18th speech on race on YouTube
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Based on revenue, return on investment, popularity, penetration rate, brand recognition and any other business indicator, Barack’s Internet operation, MyBO (MyBarackObama) is a roaring success. For our humble media business, are there are lessons to be drawn from this incredible (but retroactively logical) ride? After all, we, too, live on popularity and meeting financial milestones.
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Lesson #1: extract the best of a social network application. Above all, MyBO is a barebones version of a Facebook or a MySpace, focused on two goals: money and message. A detailed look shows how every single feature is designed in accordance with those goals. On the Obama social net, you give the minimum of yourself: you don’t share you tastes in music or reading. But you’ll find all the tools needed to fulfill your dual mission.

You want to organize a door-to-door campaign in your neighborhood? Everything’s there: scripts, ready-to-print flyers, and even video footage of the Illinois senator to be transferred on a DVD for handouts. You feel like throwing a fund-raiser on your block? Set up your fundraising page in a few clicks, assign yourself a financial target, a nice thermometer will track your results.

I spotted a group close to a place I used to live in New York (postal code 10011). I see “Downtown West Side Manhattan for Obama”, as it is called, counts 113 members, hosted 812 events, placed 10,722 phone calls, and raised $59,631.06. That is $527 per head. Not bad. Better that “Chelsea4Obama”, a few blocks north, yielding a mere $358 per member. You can track, compare, and peek at all the 8000 groups created that way. This amazing machine explains how the Obama campaign is able to raise two million dollars a day at its peak performance.
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Lesson #2: Reward, involve, empower. In a YouTube video a black, middle-class woman summarizes the general feeling: “Grassroots Financial Committees mirror Senator Obama’s broader mission, [that is] people owning a part of the campaign and later, a part of the government…” Simple as it sounds, this view echoes the feelings of hundreds thousands of volunteers, donors and fundraisers: being part of the action now and after the election.  And doing it the fun way, because everything in the Obama site is designed to link, connect, share, stimulate and finally reward its contributors, no matter how modest.
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Lesson #3: Don’t improvise, execution is key. No tinkering in the Obama site (unlike John McCain’s). It is engineered by pros, in that instance a small company called Blue State Digital, founded by alumni of Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign, the one that marked the first real debut of Internet fundraising.

Early 2007, BSD picked up some of the best skills available in the social networking space by hiring Chris Hughes, a co-creator of Facebook. Interestingly enough, the 24 year-old gent is not a techie. He majored in history and literature at Harvard and he’s responsible for many non-nerdy features of Facebook such as its privacy policy. Speaking of it, MyBO is fully loaded with all the state-of-the art tracking systems you can think of. To sum up, all members are now part of a big database, a pollster’s dream-come-true. Equally important is the high-level involvement of the Internet operators: at the Obama campaign, a BSD partner attends all senior staff meetings.
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Lesson #4: Use Best-of-Breed interfaces and tools. Donating to the Obama-Biden ticket is roughly comparable to the One-click purchase on Amazon. You can even donate few dollars every months, and pay through Google Checkout.  Spreading the message relies heavily on always precise and relevant SMS, as well as social networks messaging.  No phone banks, this is for traditional (read old folks like McCain) campaigns. Calling for donations is decentralized and organized through the site (two millions calls placed so far). Blue State Digital has created a broad set of tools specially designed for political action, the ultimate form of promotion — and petition.
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Lesson #5: Find the right balance between top down organization and anarchy. Of particular interest is  how the system is both directive and self-reliant. On MyBO blogs look (and are) true blogs, but it also looks like the organization’s gestalt instinctively directs, disciplines content. The site’s architecture and the ways tools work all converge towards providing clear direction. (I suspect a powerful monitoring system is working behind the curtains as well).
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Lesson #6: TLA (Test, Learn & Adjust), more than ever. Once the basic infrastructure (one capable of handling massive traffic) got up and running, MyBO switched to constant improvement mode. One large scale instance of the test and learn approach: a year ago, the staff introduced a point system to track member activity. Three points for a phone call, fifteen for hosting an event. Predictably, people started racking up points for the mere sake of it, regardless of actual impact. The system needed adjustments. Early August, MyBO rolled out an upgrade called the Activity Tracker. It replaced the brute force point accumulation with a more detailed breakdown of activities: Events hosted,  Doors knocked, Number of blog posts, Calls made, Groups joined, and of course, Dollars raised. To encourage sustained effort, another dimension was added: the Activity Tracker became time-sensitive. The more recent the work, the higher the member’s Activity Index becomes. Of course, all of the above happens in everyone’s full view, thus creating peer pressure. This is just one example. Over the course of the campaign, many such features were added, modified or dropped.
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What’s lies ahead. The Monday Note will stick by its December 24′s predication: Barack Obama will be elected. Now, one of the most interesting features of his presidency will be how all the lessons gathered while operating MyBO will be translated into a powerful public governance tool. No doubt that Blue State Digital will work on it soon.  How an Obama administration balances grassroots induced policies with the bulky (but essential) legislative apparatus is sure to be closely watched by all mature democracies — as well as big corporations.  –FF

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The Valley loves Obama

by Jean-Louis Gassée
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Well, not everyone, we have our contingent of Republican believers who still think Obama is a socialist.
Which reminds me of the way we, the French and the Americans, are on occasion equally knee-jerk bone-headed.  In my country of birth, painful reforms are tarred as “libéral”.  There, the label means right wing free-market ultra-conservative.  Here, in my adopted country, painful reforms are called “liberal”, meaning left wing, bleeding heart, big government tax and spend socialist.  Logomachy.  Why think when you can maim an idea with a label?
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We’ll see a lot more of that in the two months remaining before the November 4th vote, one many of us here think it will go Obama’s way.  Why?
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In the first place, we despise the Bush administration. Never in the Valley’s history have we seen an administration so anti-scientific, anti-liberties, xenophobic, intrusive, profligate, dishonest, harmful to America’s standing in the world and in many ways an obstacle to what we do, a counter-example of what we stand for.
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Yes, we’re capitalists, we like to make money. But, with few unfortunate exceptions, we do it because we help entrepreneurs realize their dreams, because we’re behind Google, Cisco, Yahoo!, Apple, Jupiter, BEA, Facebook and many, many others.  We don’t strip people from their home ownership with trick subprime loans, throwing the country’s financial system into a spin it hasn’t yet recovered from.  Yes, there was the Internet Bubble and, like the current crisis, it was aided and abetted by Wall Street con artists while Washington looked the other way, or took from the other hand.  To do what we do, to continue helping innovative companies start and grow, we need a stable financial system, not the biggest deficit this country ever dug itself in.
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This administration condones the re-invasion of religion into public education: some schools in the South now teach creationism, holding the Bible’s account as a factual description of the beginnings of the Universe.  Not poetry, symbolism or a meditation on the mystery of our origins, no, fact.  The same intellectual honesty presides over discussions of climate change.
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Here, we live in a nice oasis: the color of your passport, of your skin, the thickness of your accent, the way you pray or roll in the hay, none of that matters.  What can you do?  How can you help?  Those are the questions we ask.  As a result, entrepreneurs love to come here from all over the world, Russian programmers, Chinese Ph. D, even French Polytechniciens.  I remember the July 2001 day when I became a US citizen.  There were 996 of us in the San Jose Civic Auditorium.  The federal judge who administered the swearing in told us there were 80 nations in the room.  Tiny Chinese grandmothers, Hispanics, Slavs, Swedes, Indians, Iranians…  And, with tears in my eyes, tears that come back as I write this, I thought: This is how my dear Silicon Valley will continue to be this oasis of meritocracy and entrepreneurship.  The same judge kept telling us to use our new civic rights, to register to vote.  The ceremony came to an end and, as we exited the auditorium, we saw a big table and volunteers ready to help with the registration paperwork – for the Republican Party.  The Democrats were at the beach.  That’s how I became a registered Republican –  soon to re-register as an Independent and thus able to vote either way.
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Back to the Bush administration, what does it do to help Silicon Valley continue to attract entrepreneurs from all over the world? Getting work visas becomes much harder.  This in a country where 25% of high-school “students” quit before graduation, when graduating is so easy all you have to do, in some of the worse schools, is fog the proverbial mirror.  In all fairness, that very problem, the state of high school education, the resulting lack of qualified “intellectual manpower”, pardon the oxymoron, and the ensuing need to import it, that situation is not Bush’s fault.  We blame his cavalier indifference to it.  But it predated him and secondary schools are but an example of a more general case of systems so entrenched, so powerful they can’t be reformed with politics as usual.
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Let’s face it, it’s our problem.  We keep electing solons who, once in Washington, run into the arms and wallets of lobbyists and sell us down the river to telecom, Big Pharma, healthcare and Wall Street interests.  The executive, Bush, McCain or Obama can’t win against Congress and lobbyists.
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Unless…
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Obama, once elected, displays the charisma and willpower to connect with the electorate over the heads of Congress. In other words, we need a President who gets our support, channels our willpower.  Then, together, we put legislators into a vise and squeeze them into working for us instead of being on the payroll of lobbyists and their clients.
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In his column, Frédéric explains how Obama used the lessons and the people from Howard Dean’s successful Internet operation.  Obama has shown the will and skill to use technology to empower voters like no one before him.  That’s how he won against the “inevitable” Hillary.  Too bad for her supporters if they stay angry at Obama for beating their champion, they should be furious at her for her entitled behavior and for not paying attention to what the “inexperienced” competitor was building.
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This is dangerous, of course.  Political scientists will rightly remind us of the dangers of direct democracy. It can lead to dictatorship, to a rump parliament, to the disappearance of checks and balances.  But this is a democratic 50-50 country and I don’t see a dictatorship happening here.  Unless, of course, we look at the Stalinist labeling of human beings as “enemy combatants” in order to torture them, to deprive them from the right to habeas corpus and to a fair trial.  A French communist once lectured me on the constitution of the Soviet Union, it guaranteed civil rights, personal liberties.  Unless, of course, you were an “Enemy of the People”.  No rights for you, then.  Off to the gulag.
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With this in mind, for many of us here, Obama looks safer than playing the same Washington game with barely different players. We could be naïve, we know there is the “small matter of implementation”, of the ugly reality of governing once you’ve won the contest.  Still, we hope this mestizo of John Kennedy and Martin Luther King (minus the women and the pharmacy) will restore faith in our government. — JLG

Further readings

For a better look inside the mechanics of the Obama  fund-raising engine, read this story in The Atlantic: “The Amazing Money Machine, How Silicon Valley made Barack Obama this year hottest startup”. The piece includes profiles of key Silicon Valley people instrumental to this operation’s success.

An excellent story in the MIT Technology Review: “How Obama Really Did It.  The social-networking strategy that took an obscure senator to the doors of the White House”.

A Wall Street Journal profile of Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook who designed most of MyBO features: “BO, U R So Gr8. How a young tech entrepreneur translated Barack Obama into the idiom of Facebook“.(Paid registration is required I’m afraid).

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Two pieces to better understand Obama’s views of economics:

In the MIT Tech review, a profile of Austan Goolsbee, his economic advisor: “Obama’s Geek Economist. Austan Goolsbee is a new breed of economic advisor for a new kind of presidential candidate“.

In last week’s New York Times Magazine, a long analytic piece: “Obamanomics, How Obama Reconciles Dueling Views on Economy

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That’s all for today. Have a great week.

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© 2007-2008

Inventing the DIS, take II

A quick summary of the key ideas behind the Daily Information System (DIS) before discussing reactions to last week’s essay:
1) The newspaper as we know it is dead.
2) It survives as one of three information prongs, mobile, Internet and, yes, paper.
3) Off with taboos and sacred cows: periodicity, price and production.
See Monday Note #47 for details


A brilliant individual (name withheld to protect the witness) with broad experience in journalism, business and the Internet offered the most interesting feedback.
We share a passionate interest in our times. We ask ourselves: How do we invest the next ten or twenty years of our professional lives in the most rewarding ways? On the DIS, his first question focused on the French media landscape: Which newspaper would I transform into a DIS? A quick scan of the current media properties followed. Libération and Le Monde are just coming out of painful restructuring episodes, with substantial staff buyouts. For Le Monde, assets sales give it temporary oxygen. But for both of them, the tank empties within two years at most. Above all, we agreed, their bosses are way too Internet-averse and too self-absorbed to morph into agents of change. And, as the final touch to the picture, their boards of are in morose capitulation mode. Le Figaro? To sum up: the publisher is 68 (following a twenty years sentence as the exec VP of the biggest European TV network, TF1), the owner is 83 and immensely wealthy (the heir of Dassault aircraft maker dynasty).
— Transform,
I retorted? Hell no. Forget the fact there is no patient anyone could operate on. Think of the time and money required for such a fundamental turnaround. I don’t want to transform, I want to build !
— Well then, forget it, said my interlocutor. You’ll have an easier time finding €30m to acquire and (try to) transform a property into a DIS, than getting €20m to build one from scratch. That’s the way things work around here. We managed to agree on one thought: For the French press, the situation has not gotten dire enough to trigger the clarion call to radical change. We’re not yet at the bottom of the J-Curve (see Monday Note #43). Minds and guts remain tuned to quick fixes, socially and politically more manageable — today.


In France, what I call the “Miranda boards” make things worse.
They’re like the suspect pinned down on the hood of a police car who hears the zealous officer read him his Miranda rights: French board members “have the right to remain silent“. The Miranda board is merely a rubber-stamp chamber, structured for the ultimate form of French coziness: populated by friends, members of trusted networks, Grandes Écoles or freemasonry. In France, the independent board member is an alien notion. There is no shortage of excellent candidates, of course. But, here, the real function of boards is the preservation of the status quo, not evolution (or revolution). Looking at the boards of major newspapers in France there is no risk of unseemly disturbance. Most are in capitulate to the inevitable mode.


By contrast, the board of the Washington Post Company is a wholly different entity.
It includes prominent people such as iconic investor Warren Buffet, Internet mogul Barry Diller, Columbia University Chairman Lee Bollinger or Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy. A potent mixture of intellectual firepower and business acumen. And the person reporting to this assembly is of an equal caliber. Yes, Katharine Weymouth, 42, is a member of the Graham family that developed the Post; but she stands as the opposite of nepotism “à la Française” (being in a sunny mood, I’ll skip the list of French media properties in the hands of incompetent offspring). As recounted in this great profile in Condé Nast’s Portfolio, Ms. Weymouth served in all sorts of positions inside the Washington Post galaxy, from in-house counsel to head of advertising (staff: 450!). She knows the drill. And she’s up for change: “… It’s going to be cutting costs and developing new products and trying new things—throwing a little more spaghetti against the wall. Some will stick and some won’t. I don’t think there’s a magic bullet that is going to turn our industry around”.


Since boards aren’t likely to push for anything but timid adjustments, who will be the true agents of change? Chances are markets and readers will. Let’s look at recent data.
To protect what’s left of our trade and to have any hope of building something sustainable, we have to fight on three fronts:
- First, the audience’s money in absolute terms, i.e. how much can we extract from the reader — directly or indirectly, newsstand price and/or advertising revenue per reader.
- Second, still the audience’s money but in relative terms this time, i.e. our percent share of disposable income versus other items such as entertainment.
- And third, we also compete for the audience’s time. How much of it do we have versus other pursuits such as TV.


A large part of the audience historically faithful to news is now beginning to evaporate.
The Pew Research Center surveys news consumption habits in the United States. Recent findings point to a disturbing trend: the shrinking readership of print is far from being compensated by audience gains for online information. In the last two years, the number of people claiming to have “red a newspaper yesterday” dropped from 40% in 2006 to 34% in 2008 (and from 34% to 27% if we specify “print only”). In the meantime the “Web only” readers have doubled indeed, but from a mere 2% in 2006 to 4% in 2008.

Even worse, ten years ago, a quarter of the population below 25 admitted not getting any news at all. Today, this proportion rose to a third of this same segment! The last Pew survey is not exactly swelling with optimism (read the full report here)


At least, the Pew survey confirms the need for diversifying the number of news sources.
Especially since “checking the news” as opposed to abiding by the traditional “news appointment” becomes a dominant trend. Hence the rise of the smartphone. Give someone a Blackberry or an iPhone, you just made a news addict: 37% of smartphone owners check the news several times a day; that number is only 4% for regular mobile phone owners. This holds promise for the future of the DIS: today, smartphones penetrate only 15% of the American population (vs. 83% for all cellphones), and the success of the iPhone indisputably shows that the quality of the interface is a boost for online consultation (Google said there are 50 times more mobile searches coming from the iPhone than from any other mobile handset). The affordable smartphone is a recent phenomenon and cell phones are renewed roughly every eighteen months. (Sooner if we believe Steve Jobs.) As a result, we can safely forecast a steep rise for wireless online news.

For the print media, the crisis is a historic one, it calls for radical measures.
Today’s symptoms do not reveal yet another economic cycle, down today, back upwards tomorrow. No, we are inside a structural, irreversible change. And the numbers will get worse.
I had many conversations this past week about the DIS. The objective hurdles are many. But everyone agreed: subjective factors are the ones that matter the most, determination and leadership at every level. Resolve is required to strive in a context that, up until now, rewarded fiddling with a known formula rather than taking the risk of a truly different, radically, new at the root one. Easier said than done, I know, but that is how political or economical empires have been won or lost. –FF

DIS: a view from the Valley

Modest and proud of it, that’s us. Our perch at a center of innovation gives us the “right” to opine about almost anything, from biotech to movies, Net politics, wireless carriers and operating systems. So, why not mull over the future of newspapers?


L
et’s deal quickly with the formula: I agree with Frédéric’s prescription for the DIS. As described in last week’s Monday Note, new newspaper, laptop, smartphone, each medium, each prong of the integrated DIS has its features, its “rules of the genre”, its specific use and business model. Business model is a little abstract for me, let’s say money pump, the pockets we pick, advertisers, readers, and how.


Case closed, it’s a mere matter of implementation, right?
In the Valley, “a mere matter of implementation” is a code phrase, a tongue-in-cheek way to say we think we know the What but not the How. As in: to lose weight, all you need to do is eat les and exercise more – for ever. With the DIS, I see the question morphing into Who will do it? Fresh new money for an ab ovo entrant, an existing newspaper empire such as the New York Times or Rupert’s, or an existing enterprise outside of the newspaper world, Google, Tata or the Quandt family (they control BMW), for examples, realistic or not.


Let’s pause for a detour in the past: Exxon Information Systems.
In the seventies, the Big Oil company chartered the hypnotists at the Boston Consulting Group with designing a diversification strategy. Oil is running out, the OPEC is out of control, Exxon needs an alternative future. Information is the oil of the 21st century, chanted the Boston marabouts. (The Robber Baron from Redmond hadn’t emerged yet, but the BCG sees into the future.) So, Exxon started collecting little or no so little information systems companies, ranging from Intecom to Qwix, Qwip, Vydec and Zilog. The kommentariat bought it, Fortune Magazine sagely praised the diversification, the cover of Business Week asked: Exxon’s Next Pray, IBM or Xerox?

It all ended up in a $4 billion dollars hole. I know: I, too, bought the story and briefly ran their French subsidiary. And less than six months into the job decided I needed out. Right idea, wrong culture. We forgot Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast. This was evident at Exxon, a well-managed company with no cultural clue (and no clue about lacking a clue) about the alien ways of computer people and technology.


Back to the DIS, fear someone with the right idea, armed with the right strategy but clueless about the people and the technology.
In the Valley, experienced, successful executives and entrepreneurs open a winery or buy a restaurant. You see, we know restaurants, we’re wine connoisseurs, we’ve been to the best ones around the world, we’ve swilled the grandest vintages. Wags call these pursuits buying oneself a phallic extender – these deluded individuals are all male, women are more sensible. These guys truly know how to be diners and wine tasters, but they know worse than nothing about the tough, thankless restaurateur trade or the bottomless vintner métier.

We need not look further than my country of birth to see other examples of Gallic phallic pride, of talented industrialists buying themselves an “organe de presse”. The malady is widespread and tells us big enterprises with big wallets probably won’t succeed in bringing a DIS to the world, try as they might.


In the Valley, we have this known, sunny view of entrepreneurs.
As a result, we could be tempted to think a totally fresh start will do it for the DIS. An experienced team of media and technology entrepreneurs with gobs of patient money from the likes of Kleiner Perkins, Sequoia or NEA, to names the firms ready to place big bets.


There is a small problem with the big idea: the business model doesn’t work like a venture investment, the rewards are too small for the risk.
As previous Monday Notes have pointed out, advertising revenue sharply declines when moving from paper to the Web. And there is Google whose riches come from pimping, sorry, selling advertising on, other media, not from being itself a new medium. So, we’re left with existing media groups. One gives us hope: Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. He’s not exactly a kid fresh out of college who doesn’t know the word impossible. In an apparent paradox, his age, 77, is an advantage. He is, so to speak, not afraid to die, he’s repeatedly succeeded against the advice of the wise. Murdoch managed to take over choice properties such as the Times of London and, damned the Cassandras, improved them. Too early to say for the WSJ and no such luck for MySpace yet. The latter could be a case of cultural deafness. Still, my hope lies with a media group finding the will or the enlightened dictator to “cannibalize” its existing business rather than silently capitulating to its fate. This excludes most publicly traded groups, Wall Street hates cannibalism. As a result, the first step in the conversion to the DIS is a leverage buyout, the group becomes private so the surgery takes place behind the curtain. –JLG

Fiction: How Steve Jobs Cuckolds AT&T

Steve shimmers into a bar, materializes next to Dan Hesse, Sprint’s CEO, crying in his mojito and whispers: I can fulfill your fondest dream. You’re the Devil, go away! No, I’m merely Steve Jobs and I want nothing to do with your soul or your chiseled body. Relax, it’s just about money.

A little bit of context before we move to the How of Steve’s bargain.

In the US, we have three main carriers (sorry, T-Mobile), AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. Verizon appears to have the better, more modern (EVDO) network.
AT&T is rapidly upgrading to what is known as 3G, a world standard, competitive but not compatible with EVDO. Sprint, the smaller one, has EVDO, almost identical to Verizon, it is losing ground to the two big ones. The Sprint-Nextel merger is a disaster, to the point where Sprint wants to get rid of the company it acquired for $35 billions in 2005. Sprint’s revenue is falling: -11% when compared to the same second quarter last year, this in spite of introducing a $99 Everything plan, unlimited voice, data, music, video. “Some restrictions apply”: look at the minuscule print here, at the bottom of the screen, tiny white characters on a black background. In the almost illegible but instructive gibberish, they have the nerve to add: “Other restrictions apply. See store or sprint.com for details”. But I am on the Details Page on sprint.com!
(Intrigued, I checked: Verizon does a better job of spelling out its conditions and AT&T has the best organized one of all three.)

And, for the first six months of 2008, Sprint has lost 2 million subscribers, nothing to do with the reality and the perception of Apple smartphone sales: probably more than 10 million units in 2008, a majority of in the US.
Now we understand why the CEO is in his cups.

Steve whispers: Dan, look at the iPod Touch here. We’ve added a microphone, already available from third parties, and we grafted a Sprint radio, liberated from Jeff’s Kindle. It’s not a telephone. No, we have this exclusivity agreement with Ma Bell. In 2007, we let them say it was for five years. Now, with our 3G product, it’s been “extended” to 2010. Who knows, next year we’ll extend it to 2009.

Offer this iPod Touch with one of your All You Can Packetize plans. I’m sure the iPhone developers will put one or more Skype-like applications on it, VoIP software. You won’t mind, right? You’re not as uptight as AT&T outlawyering the use of an iPhone as a 3G laptop modem. This iPod is not a phone, it’s an Internet device, you’ll sell millions of them, your errant subscribers will return to Sprint’s fold. And you’ll keep your job. What do you say?

Awright, stop drinking that stuff and sign here. –JLG