Tuesday, June 6, 2017

From fragmentation to redirection to separation

Back in 2008, I spent a lot of my time blogging about FriendFeed. Often I would link to FriendFeed posts when writing about FriendFeed, but luckily for me I once chose to link to a Paul Buchheit blog post instead.

"Luckily," of course, because all of those links to FriendFeed conversations don't work any more.

Back to Buchheit.

To put the conversation into context, you have to remember that FriendFeed started as an aggregator that would simply reproduce content from Twitter or Google Reader or whatever. But as time went on, FriendFeed allowed you to comment on these things. Buchheit:

Although comments are one of our most popular features, they are also our most controversial feature. If you believe that there should only be a single, unified discussion, then the extra fragmentation caused by FriendFeed will seem like a step in the wrong direction. In fact, not only is there a separate discussion on FriendFeed, there may be hundreds of separate discussions within FriendFeed on the very same topic or link (because different people are sharing the link, and different people have different friend groups).

Buchheit thought that all of these fragmented conversations were wonderful. Needless to say, not everyone shared Buchheit's opinion. In a TechCrunch post, Nicholas Deleon was not enthused with what FriendFeed was doing:

Ah, but you can leave comments on feed entries some will point out and engage in a FriendFeed conversation. If most of the content on a FriendFeed is pulled from Twitter, wouldn’t discussing the points on Twitter be the logical outcome for the majority of people? Blog posts get comments on FriendFeed as well, but how rich an experience is a comment thread based on a headline with a link? As a publisher, wouldn’t you want people to hold these discussions on your blog?

Deleon - and Buchheit - may not have realized what was coming.

Back in 2008, people were puzzled over the fact that conversations wouldn't be held at someone's own site (i.e. a blog), but at some other site like FriendFeed.

By 2012, some conversations weren't being held at someone's own site because THERE WAS NO "OWN" SITE. The sites had been jettisoned in favor of Facebook and other social media sites.

T.J. Crawford, a Bank of America spokesman, says the bank dropped the blog because its social-media strategy is focused on Facebook and Twitter. "We want to be where our customers are," he says.

Hosting your content on someone else's platform is nothing new - remember how many companies had AOL keywords? - but these days, when you host your content on Facebook or whatever, Facebook runs ads that make money.

(And yes, I know that this blog is technically not "my own platform." But bear with me here.)

So now the content providers are fighting to get people off of the other platforms and on to their own sites again.

Where they can set up their own paywall.

But when you're behind a paywall, you're behind a paywall - something that the Wall Street Journal is discovering.

After blocking Google users from reading free articles in February, the Wall Street Journal’s subscription business soared, with a fourfold increase in the rate of visitors converting into paying customers. But there was a trade-off: Traffic from Google plummeted 44 percent.

The reason: Google search results are based on an algorithm that scans the internet for free content. After the Journal’s free articles went behind a paywall, Google’s bot only saw the first few paragraphs and started ranking them lower, limiting the Journal’s viewership.


I can see Google's point. A search engine should show you what can be found on the web. As far as I'm concerned, it shouldn't show me stuff that I can't get to.

The Wall Street Journal views it differently.

Executives at the Journal, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., argue that Google’s policy is unfairly punishing them for trying to attract more digital subscribers. They want Google to treat their articles equally in search rankings, despite being behind a paywall.

“Any site like ours automatically doesn’t get the visibility in search that a free site would,” Suzi Watford, the Journal’s chief marketing officer, said in an interview. “You are definitely being discriminated against as a paid news site.”


And yes, Watford used the word "discrimination." Person the barricades!

But Google isn't the only party who is affecting the Wall Street Journal's profitability. When all that content gets locked behind a paywall, someone's going to try to suck it out. How many times have you seen an article like this?

Panera Bread has managed to cut its wait time to order food from eight minutes to one minute, thanks to the company's efforts to boost mobile ordering, the Wall Street Journal reported.

That article was on Business Insider. So basically you don't have to go to the Wall Street Journal to find out what it's saying. And it's not just Business Insider:

The Wall Street Journal reported today on its front page that “The median pay for CEOs of the biggest U.S. companies was $11.7 million in 2016, up from $10.8 million in 2015 and a postrecession record, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of S&P 500 firms.”

That was from an American Enterprise Institute blog post.

Very enterprising.

Back in 2008, people were worried about how Pea and GeekAndAHalf would be having these conversations on FriendFeed. Now conversations are fracturing all over the place. And unlike FriendFeed, which never had a monetization plan (other than "have Facebook buy us"), there's a lot of money flowing around all of these fractured fragments.

Of course, this blog post itself is one of those fragments - which is why I like it when you click through the links to the original sources.

Monday, June 5, 2017

(11) When a leader wants it, a leader gets it - even if the leader doesn't want it

It has been said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and it is most certainly true that a powerful person can get people to do his or her bidding. Even when the powerful person has more pressing duties, there are people who will cater to every inconsequential whim of the powerful person.

And when you talk about people with power, the one person who comes to mind is the President of the United States. There are people who are devoted to pleasing the President and always staying on the President's good side. And nowhere do we see this in a little episode with the President, Richard Nixon.

(What, you thought I was talking about someone else?)


By White House photo - Nixon Presidential Library [1], Public Domain, Link

Charles Colson was a devoted soldier for President Nixon, and while much of his devotion eventually led him to plead guilty to criminal acts and serve prison time, there were things that Colson did for Nixon that weren't illegal, but questionable in other ways. As we know from the tapes and from his associates, President Nixon would sometimes blow off steam and say things, and his associates knew that he really didn't mean what he said.

Or did he?

In his book Born Again, Colson recounts an incident in which the President got itchy one night. One tragedy of the post-Kennedy assassination climate is that Presidents are locked up behind multiple layers of security, resulting in a situation in which a President can't live like a normal person. And, understandably, they sometimes want to break out of the prison.

(The quotes below are from a New York Times 1976 review of Colson's book.)

The book has its lighter moments. There is a charming chapter called “The President's Night Out,” in which Our Man Colson scrambles to help the President, who looks forward to an evening of musical surcease at the Kennedy Center, with conductor Eugene Ormandy.

It turned out that Ormandy himself was not present - due to the immense power that White House assistants wielded, Colson learned that Ormandy was nowhere near Washington at the time - but President Nixon wanted to go out anyway. Colson, who had a (somewhat undeserved) reputation for doing ANYTHING to get the job done, managed to get Nixon to the Kennedy Center.

The next morning, Colson was contacted by another Nixon assistant, H.R. Haldeman.

In a horrifying epilogue, H. R. Haldeman chastises Colson the next day for having helped the President to escape. “Just tell him‐ he can't go, that's all,” said Haldeman. “He rattles his cage all the time. You can't let him out.”

This brings to mind the various schools of thought on how assistants can best serve a President - or a corporate CEO. On one extreme, the assistants can satisfy the leader's every whim, which could potentially get the organization into trouble if the whims are illegal or bad business practice. On the other extreme, the assistants can do what is best, regardless of what the leader wants; however, this potentially negates the wishes of the voters, or of the shareholders, who expected the leader to do what the leader said he/she would do.

I don't know if I'd agree that Haldeman's chastisement was "horrifying," but it does cast another light on all the President's men. Commonly criticized for doing the President's bidding, in this case Haldeman is accused of telling someone to disobey a direct order of the President.

Who was right - Colson, or Haldeman? With the benefit of hindsight, we know that Colson's exercise did no lasting harm. But if the President had been killed - or, more likely, if someone on the Kennedy Center stage had taken the opportunity to lecture the President on the Vietnam War - Haldeman would have been seen as the wisest man around.

(And yes, if you followed my second link, I know that Nixon was a Quaker, not a Lutheran. Oh well.)

P.S. If you're wondering why this post title begins with the number 11, have a peek at the Empoprises Twitter account and take a look at the other ten tweets that appeared beginning at 4:00 am Pacific time. (Well, unless Tweetdeck broke and the tweets didn't appear as scheduled.)