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Guardian: We need to become a platform!

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Now here’s a bold move by a major newspaper: The Guardian is becoming a platform.

And boy, is that a smart move compared to many other newspapers that try to lock up their content and try charging readers directly, be it by subscription model or pay-per-view.

Quoting GigaOM:

While some newspapers like the Times of London and the New York Times have either implemented or are expected to launch paywalls for their content, The Guardian in Britain has taken the exact opposite approach: Not only does it give its content away for free to readers, but through its “open platform” and API, it allows developers and companies to take its content as well, and do whatever they want with it — including building it into commercial applications.

It’s interesting to see so much movement in the newspaper market. Just earlier today I’ve discussed with a friend how it comes that so many people don’t read newspapers anymore in paper. (Including myself: The days when I had a newspaper subscription are long gone. These days I occasionally buy a newspaper for certain articles – usually when journalist friends recommend it – or read all my stuff online, usually for free. I do buy print magazines and subscribe, for example, to Wired UK. Of course, that’s a purchase more as a fetish than for its actual use, plus I want to support some magazines because they rock. Not sure how a tablet device might change my behavior there. I also subscribe to a wearable magazine.) Long story short, a theory bubbled up: That maybe we (our group of freelancers in the discussion) don’t read newspapers anymore since we stopped commuting. Asking Twitter about this theory, the response was clear: Some pointed out that there are more reasons than just the commute. One was even harsher. One mentioned that other media like podcasts suffered the same problem. But no one defended newspapers. Ouch.

German newspaper taz announced to experiment with donations through Flattr. Traditionally left-leaning, taz had been ad-free online until 2006, for both better or worse: of course there’s not much money to be had without ads in a strong ad market, but there’s much less to lose in a bad ad market like we’ve seen recently. For taz with their strongly committed reader base, donations might turn out well – the rational certainly makes sense. The question will be: Is Flattr the right platform? It’s still tough to provide readers an easy, hassle-free way to send money your way on a non-subscription basis, particularly in Germany where credit cards just aren’t ubiquitous.

But back to the Guardian. Where German publishers have been complaining about Google News “stealing” their content and making money off of it (both parts of this statement not necessarily true as Google only quotes teasers and doesn’t run ads on Google News), the Guardian not only gives away their content, but encourages commercial use:

“We not only say that you can use the content in a commercial application, we encourage it,” Thorpe said. “It gets our content to places where it wouldn’t be otherwise, and then we can build relationships with content partners around that.” The platform, which is still in the experimental stage, has attracted about 2,000 developers who have signed up for the API and created over 200 apps and web services. Platform developer Matt McAlister has called it an attempt to “weave The Guardian into the fabric of the Internet.”

The Guardian’s “developer advocate” Chris Thorpe summarizes the move:

Update (31 May 2010): On a related note, the BBC plans to increase the number of outbound clicks from its site by 2013. That right: They aim to double the number of readers they send away. Someone got it right!

Vaynerchuk on Social Media ROI

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Gary Vaynerchuk strikes with another awesome rant: “You Down With ROI?… Yeah You Know Me“. Are social media in trouble because of the U.S. financial crisis? Nope, it’s magazines, radio and TV who are in trouble, say Vaynerchuk. And guess who agrees: Yours truly.

Because social media have a number of clear advantages over traditional media when it comes to advertising. Says Vaynerchuk: “ROI. I am talking about Return on the Investment of your advertising dollar. Traditional media advertising is incredibly expensive and doesn’t provide nearly the rate of return you can derive from intelligent web-based marketing campaigns in 2008 and beyond.”

Not only are social media much cheaper both to produce and to advertise on, they also have more value – in their respective niches.

You donated $9.55 to EFF through my ads (thanks!)

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A little while back, I proposed to run social ads on blogs and to donate the revenue. This, it seemed, would be the easiest way to raise some funds and to donate money, paying with your attention. Eyeballs for money, the usual model for ads, applied in a social way. Here’s the ad I put on my blog. Every time someone clicked the ad, some money came in through Google Adsense:

Of course the deal is still on: Click the ad, I’ll donate for a good cause.

Not too many people clicked, but those of you who did raised $9.55. Not huge, but not so bad for just a few clicks, eh?

EFF.orgSo this time, a round $10 will go went to the Electronic Frontier Foundation to help protect bloggers rights and our privacy. The money raised in August will go to Stiftung Bridge (“Bridge Foundation”), a German non-profit that fights for digital rights by supporting small projects.

Thanks a lot, all of you. And please consider doing the same thing.

Ad-Activism: Support something good by clicking those social ads

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Lately I’ve been approached by a folks who were interested in advertising on this blog. Although the blogger in me was flattered, I wasn’t so sure I even wanted any ads here. (I have Google Ads in the individual posts, but nowhere else, and that’s more for experiments and experience than for revenue.)

So I talked it over with a few friends, and that’s where the really good ideas come from. Sven (thanks!) proposed that if there should be any ads, then why not do it for a good, or interesting, cause?

The new plan is this: I’ll reserve some ad space on the front page of this blog. (Advertisers, feel free to contact me about this.) I won’t keep any of the revenue, but instead I will donate it to a worthy cause.

Let’s start right here. Click the ad to donate a few cents to a good cause:

About once a month (a week? We’ll see.) I’ll set another recipient. Suggestions are highly welcome. We could also think about a readers’ vote. Let me know what you guys prefer. Spontaneously, I’d say it should be either a classic good cause (think charity), or some kind of project that’s worth supporting (creative, artsy, or anything else). The first round will go to something education-related, details to be announced.

Let’s be clear here: It won’t be a lot of money. But hey, just click the ads a few more time, and your eyeballs will support something cool. (If it turns out to be a non-clicker in the below $1 range it doesn’t seem to be worth the effort. So click away!) I’d click myself, but I think that’d be a breach of contract. So I’ll click your social ads once you have them online.

Deal?

Update: The first day, you clicked for $4.10. Let’s see if we can get some more by just a few more clicks. (Each click is pretty valuable here.) By the end of the month, donations will go to… Right now I’m thinking an organization fighting for free speech (Electronic Frontier Foundation? Reporters Without Borders?) or battling the digital divide. What do you think? Please share your proposals in the comments. (And thanks a lot for your click!)

Facebook Beacon is Serious Breach of Trust

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Facebook recently introduced Facebook Beacon, a new technique for businesses and website operators to “enable your customers to share the actions they take on your website with their Facebook friends.”

Beacon can be installed by simply adding a few lines of code:

Simply determine which user actions you would like publish to Facebook (…) Facebook Beacon actions include purchasing a product, signing up for a service, adding an item to a wish list, and more. When a user performs the action, they will be alerted that your website is sending a story to their profile and have a chance to opt out.

And that’s the problem right there: Why would a user have to opt out of broadcasting his activities? If I like to share what I’m doing right now, there are many ways to do so, like Twitter. (On Twitter you’re even prompted to just answer the one question: “What are you doing?”)

I do not want any website to be able to send my activities to Facebook, or any other service. And I’m not alone here.

As Forrster’s Charelene Li points out, she got blindsided by Facebook Beacon while instead she should be in control of the information in her Facebook account. She rightfully criticizes the lack of transparency Beacon brings for users.

Nate Weiner shares her concerns and is also annoyed:

I want Facebook to sit still and let me check out how many of my friends enjoy the movie Sleepover and look at pictures of people I didn’t like in High School. I don’t need Facebook extrapolating data about me as I go about my business on the web.

(By the way, this is what should be called Digital Rights Management: User being able to manager their own digital lifes.)

While I understand that Facebook needs to find ever more effective ways of advertising, this one clearly sides with their ad customers (which is good), but against their users (which is bad, bad, bad). Google Adsense was a win/win. But Beacon…? In Kathy Sierra’s words: How is Facbeook helping us users kick ass?

Beacon is crossing the line to too much integration, if there is such a thing, or rather: It’s the wrong kind of integration. Folks will start feeling alienated and annoyed, and in my eyes Beacon will seriously backfire.

Luckily, this is Teh Interwebs, and someone already came up with a solution. Feel free to check out Nate Weiner’s Beacon Blocker.