Denton succeeds on lessons from past

Nick Denton – That New York Observer profile:

There is no Gawker Media newsroom. The writers are freelance contractors, paid a base rate per posting and bonuses for drawing traffic.

They rise early and post throughout the day, following scheduled quotas. When they take a vacation, guest bloggers are brought in to keep the factory lines running on time.

“Writing Gawker,” said co-editor Jessica Coen, “there’s no way I’d have time to read something like Gawker, the way people do.”

Mr. Denton’s managing editor, Lockhart Steele, is largely charged with making sure the copy flow goes uninterrupted.

“You know The New York Times is going to be on your newsstand every morning,” Mr. Steele said. Gawker Media operates on the same principle, replacing amateur bloggers’ intermittent, as-the-mood-strikes postings with a steady, predictable feed.

A solid profile of Gawker’s Nick Denton. Notice that the format, the blog, is new, but the process is similar to that used in any publishing organization.

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Prevailing wages back on the Gulf Coast

Prevailing Wages to Be Paid Again On Gulf Coast:

The White House yesterday reversed course and reinstated a key wage protection for workers involved in Hurricane Katrina reconstruction, bowing to pressure from moderate House Republicans who argued that Gulf Coast residents were being left out of the recovery and that the region was becoming a magnet for illegal immigrants.

Thankfully, the White House has caved to pressure from both parties to end its waiver on prevailing wage rules for federal contractors in the Katrina recovery. (Click through to see the ridiculous defense of the Bush wage rules by a dedicated neocon.)

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More on Google’s unproductive publishing biz dev strategies

GoogleBase: Structured/Vertical/Domain Search Ain’t The FreeWeb:

When Google comes calling asking for your entire database, one might reasonably wonder what the company which owns that database might get in return. In this case, and in other cases I’ve heard about, the answer was “give us your data and you’ll get lots of traffic in return.” No discussion of syndication models, or shared revenues….

The company representative decided against working with Google given such terms (or lack thereof), and I have to say I certainly understand why. This is not a freeweb company that plays in the tit-for-tat world of web search. This is a domain specific company that has built a sophisticated vertical search engine which is difficult to replicate. Would the company be willing to work with Google if Google offered a syndication deal, or a split in revenues, I asked? “Yes, we’d at least have kept talking,” the executive said. “But they wanted full control of how they might use our data, without even telling us what the model was,” or even what the product might look like. The Google line, the exec said, was pretty much “We’re Google, we know what’s best for your data, give it to us, stand back, and watch as we make your stuff work better than you can” (my paraphase here).

This approach to business development does not feel very compelling – it’s a “free web” approach to a “paid web” model. And that mismatch creates a tone that, off the record, is similar to the one publishers described to me with regard to Google Print/Library.

John Battelle reports on a discussion with an executive who echoes my criticism of Google’s unproductive approach toward publishers. Publishers don’t want traffic, they want revenue. Until Google steps up to the challenge of addressing these potential partners as equal partners, not just the recipients of its traffic-generating largesse, it will fail in its efforts to win publishing partners.

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Search engines add value, but that value is diminishing

The lie of distribution–search engines return very little value to news/blog sites yet hog bandwidth and increase server loads:

Search-and-scrape sites such as Google, Yahoo, MSN, and oodles of others claim they bring traffic to web sites. And they do–but at what cost? It was a question I asked myself following a chat with Jim Buckmaster, ceo of craigslist, and its recent complaint that Oodle was scraping its listings way too aggresively and slowing down the entire system.

I took a look at my server stats from mid-October.

The search-and-scrapers sucked out one-third of my bandwidth and provided just 3.7 per cent traffic!

Interesting analysis. My stats show far lower bandwidth impact from crawlers, less than 10 percent of the 2.5 GB or so I serve each day (while splog and spam posters account for 40 percent of my bandwidth). Much of the rest is RSS clients. Only 10 percent of my bandwidth actually goes to serving pages.

Tom Foremski”s conclusion is that eventually content producers will “glue down their content” so that it is available only at one place, but that suggests that the search engines will still be instrumental in finding that content.

What I see happening is what happens with any medium as it matures—people will stop looking for new content as much as they do at first and start settling into relationships with trusted sources. This conforms to the conclusion Tom Foremski arrived at, but I believe search will play a bigger role in the Web (hell, let’s call it “Web 2.0” to separate it from the first decade’s worth of Web) because so many more sources are introducing new content.

Long term, though, we’re going to see the value of relationships, which are largely built on content. If, to reach the people I want to have relationships with I need to allocate a lot of bandwidth, I’m happy to do it.

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Google Splog Campaign Reaction

Well, I struck the chord I wanted with the idea about using click campaigns to force Google to clean up its role in the splog problem. People are talking and the focus is on Google and AdSense, which through its relative indifference to the people being buried under splog postings and trackbacks is a source of the problem.

Fully 40 percent of my traffic each day is sploggers trying to post to my site—because I restrict the number of comments and trackbacks every few minutes much of the time even the sploggers get shut out, but so do legitimate commenters and trackbacks. Anything that improves this situation will be a Good Thing.

Here’s the rundown:

Doc got it. Saying that it the splog problem is much bigger than Blogspot, Doc Searls sees that I am attempting to instigate a dialogue by suggesting action. Doc’s right, it is much more than Blogspot, but since Google owns that, too, it makes a good point of focus.

Aren’t you making the sploggers rich? Stephen Baker at Businessweek asks “how much of [the click fee] would the spammer receive?” The answer is that they get all of the AdSense fee, if they can keep it. But you look at Google’s terms of service, it restricts the types of sites that may display AdSense ads and appears to say that splogs don’t qualify. I know advertisers, having been both an ad sales guy during and after college and a publisher more recently: They complain when their conversion rates change, especially if the result is that they spend more money for the same or lower sales. When they complain, they ask for their money back. Sploggers will be docked their fees if the process works the way it does in any other business. In the short run, they may think they are making more money, but we’re aiming to get them shut down.

That’s click fraud! This is the hue and cry from a number of quarters, including the comments on Businessweek’s Blogspotting, TDavid’s Things That Make You Go Hmm, ProBlogger, FightSplog, and Aaron Wall’s SEOBook. Here’s the thing, most of the comments about this did not read my follow-up posting about information pollution. I’m not suggesting fraud. I am suggesting political action. If we don’t make some noise about this and create significant discussion about what constitutes legitimate contributions to the information economy, we’re surrendering our role in defining the Net. At no point do I suggest click fraud, what I suggested is that when bloggers receive spam postings they go to the sources of those sites and click the ads there. It would not target legitimate Blogspot (or other hosts that facilitate splogs) publishers, just the abusers. It would not be “random.” In fact, by surfing to identify advertisers who are benefiting from splogs is a legitimate activity. The campaign would create pain for advertisers—it won’t drive them away, because AdSense works—but it will make them demand Google explain why they are getting much lower conversion rates. They will petition Google for relief, which is what advertising customers do (and I speak from experience as a publisher). These kinds of campaigns could be conducted in narrow timeframes by groups of bloggers who are tired, as I am, of cleaning spam postings out of their comments and trackbacks.

What about the small businesses? This argument, that by clicking ads gratuitously we would raise the cost of business for small firms, carries emotional weight. But we wouldn’t stand idly by while a small business dumped dioxin in a pond, would we? Doing business is more than earning money, it is accepting a role in the community and, as I’ve explained, Google would more than likely issue refunds or credits to advertisers. If advertisers don’t complain, then they will pull out of AdSense, but because it no longer works as efficiently, meaning the cost of splogs will have been passed back up through the system (to Google) and down, again, to small business. That’s how customers can have an impact on a market, too.

What if we lose our AdSense accounts? I love this one, an ancillary theme in comments about the idea. Imagine if Google shut down legitimate bloggers who took action against information pollution. I am not worried about red flags at Google, because if they shut me down: a.) it isn’t costing me anything, and b.) it will be an excellent opportunity to mock the company for attacking its critics. There’s an old saying about what someone can do if they can’t take a joke, after all.

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Don’t hurt my AdSense! This is a common thread in comments about the idea. Everyone says we shouldn’t do anything to hurt AdSense. Well, if you want to be timid, to turn over the Net to the people who drive the economics of the Net, then fine. Be a sheep. I don’t think Google’s going to shut down AdSense because of a protest, it makes far too much money when it works correctly. I think they are going to pay attention and fix the problem. Hell, they roll out so many features a week these days that they don’t have any time for serving the community that populates their index. They need a good swift kick in the shins and probably always will as Google gets bigger—think of it as activist customers organizing to speak their mind.

Sometime tomorrow, I’ll have the Memepeace.org site up and running. There will be a blog, a forum and more for people who want to band together to do something about splogs. And when we’re done with them, we’ll keep our eyes peeled for other information toxic waste and take action. And we’ll use AdSense to generate revenue, if AdSense is up to the standards of the community.

Information pollution has to be stopped at the source, and currently AdSense is funding splogging.

UPDATE: Based on TDavid’s screed, I now realize that everything I’ve said must be wrong. We should be docile cooperative sheep. Everything’s fine and Google knows best…. Nevermind.

He actually thinks advocating action against Google is grounds for Google to revoke AdSense accounts from legitimate citizen publishers—that’s the most wrong-headed idea I’ve heard in a long, long while.

UPDATE, AGAIN: Stephen Colbert, in his The Colbert Report commentary on Rosa Parks, said “This is a nation of laws, when we start honoring outlaws aren’t we all in the back of America’s bus. So tonight let me be the first, the Rosa Parks if you will, of saying to those malcontents out there that the best way to change the system is to wait until it changes.” Funnier than me.

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Drinking Google’s Kool-Aid, Missing the Publisher’s Motive

Alan Murray writes in WSJ.com – GoogleLibrary is Great for the World:

There was a time when folks thought compelling content would be king of the Internet. Attract enough “eyeballs,” the gurus said, and money would follow. But instead, Google’s blank home page has trumped all. The Google economy is a kind of high-tech feudal system: The peasants produce the content; Google makes the profits.

I agree that the project concept is great for the world—it should be easier to find information and it should be easier for publishers (read that in the widest possible terms) to get information to people who can use it. However, Murray also hits the nail on the proverbial head when he writes the Google economy is a place where peasants produce content and Google makes the money.

The problem is that Google’s approach to publishers is to act as though generating a book, even a specialized book, is no more expensive or complex than, say, printing a page from the printer attached to your computer. Google is a leveling agent in the information economy that doesn’t care about the cost of accurate and complete information, because it can assemble results that appear accurate and complete even if the information is inaccurate or false.

Murray goes on to regurgitate the Google isn’t evil meme, quoting Sergey Brin as saying he and David Page considered making the technology an open source project at Stanford—until they realized forming a company would be necessary to get the resources they needed. It was at that point, when they opted for venture funding, that the myth was replaced with a hard practicality that isn’t very pragmatic about anything other than the cost of building an Internet-scale index. Get over it, Google has a great PR facade and an incredible business that can increase revenue and profits by adding just one ad to the results it generates on its own properties.

Murray suggests that simply because publishers are struggling Google’s Print project is inevitable. The functionality is inevitable, but the feudal economics are not. Google will never be in the position where it has to put $500,000 into the authoring of a book upfront, even if it gets encouraging engineers to spend time exploring ideas. Google understands how to monetize technology, but not how to take a flier on content. Shelby Foote would never have been commissioned to write his three-part history of the Civil War by Google; it takes a different psychology, one publishers understand or, at least, some understand.

The problem is when Murray mocks content as king, he, along with Google, is talking about cheap-to-make mass media content that, if you can get people to eat it over and over, turns a very nice profit. In fact, it’s natural for Murray, a journalist, to think he and his peers in the press are writing history, but they are merely writing a first draft in need of extensive correction (much of the correction takes place in real-time today, but there is much more that needs to be done to produce a final draft of a history). If you want a deeply researched book on a subject, there have to be different economics to support people who may not appear very “productive” according to the judgment of a newspaper editor or a Google product manager.

And we need both kinds of information, the fast cheap topical content that fills news pages and the luxuriously extravagant knowledge that fills books, reports and other documents that do not fit in the feudal economy. Readers and learners need the latter wealth of knowledge, because if we depend on rich guys to commission that kind of work we become their information serfs.

If there is an investor out there who wants to help start a publishing company willing to address the economics of Google’s feudal relationship to knowledge, give me a call. But don’t expect Google to convert publishers with the attitude it projects today.

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How bad a president? Worst president ever….

Most Americans lack confidence in leaders – poll – Yahoo! News:

Seventy-three percent of Americans lack confidence in their leaders and a majority believe the country would be better off with more women in power, a survey showed on Tuesday. The survey by Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and the U.S. News & World Report also showed that 66 percent of Americans believe the United States faces a leadership crisis.

We must take the results of this poll in context—President Bush and his team had the nation and the world squarely behind them after 9/11. No one, other than al Qaeda, was looking for a way to undermine the Bush Administration at that time. People everywhere were ready to stand together.

Then, Bush politicized everything. From domestic policy to foreign affairs, the Bush Administration has claimed a historical or electoral mandate to bully an ideological agenda into reality (the former existed after 9/11 and the latter was a myth made out of the 2002 Republican conquest of the Senate, which was to be expected as the nation rallied behind the President, and a thin winning margin in 2004).

Bush screwed the pooch, piloting his country and legacy into the ground because of his own and his team’s hubris.

Now, a wide majority of Americans doesn’t believe in the products of our electoral process, our “leaders.” The problem is that Bush never believed he was part of the public, but someone special, different and anointed (by God and the Bush clan).

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Mark these words

CIA leak investigators hold last-minute interviews – Yahoo! News:

Asked if Cheney always tells the truth to the American people, McClellan said: “Yes.” He dismissed as “ridiculous” a question about whether Bush stood by Cheney’s account of his role in the matter. “The vice president, like the president, is a straightforward, plain-spoken person,” McClellan said.

“I am not a crook” comes to mind.

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A conspiracy and cover-up designed to lead America to war

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: October 23, 2005 – October 29, 2005 Archives:

Pollari’s efforts were apparently in concert with the man who is now the Italian ambassador to the United States. And, perhaps most explosively, Pollari apparently arranged a secret meeting with Stephen Hadley — then deputy National Security Advisor, and now National Security Advisor — to discuss the documents.

The alleged date was September 9th, 2002.

The context here is important. The source of endless suspicion about when the documents first surfaced has been the timing and how that related to what was then happening in Washington. They surfaced just after the White House and the CIA had had a roundhouse battle over whether the President could make the Niger accusation in a speech in Cincinnati, Ohio. The CIA eventually prevailed, at least winning that round. The documents surfaced in Italy a couple days later. And the president eventually succeeded in levelling the claim in his subsequent State of the Union address.

Josh Marshall’s translation of an Italian newspaper report suggests that the circulation of the forged documents claiming Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium in Niger was orchestrated to some degree by the White House. With 2,000 dead American troops as of today, this is a serious turn in the case that put those men and women at risk.

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