The newspaper industry just gave away another free meal, er Twitter: do they have any left?

I’m listening to Dave Winer and Jay Rosen “reboot the news.” Jay is a journalism professor and Dave is a geek that helped either birth or bootstrap all sorts of publishing technologies including blogging, RSS, OPML, XML-RPC, and more. So, hearing the two of them do an audio podcast every Sunday is very interesting.

I’ve been pretending in my head that I’m a newspaper exec. When I do that I keep beating myself around the face. Why? Because the newspaper industry keeps giving the geeks free meals. Let’s study the free meals:

Free meal #1. Giving away classified advertising to Craig’s List.
Free meal #2. Giving away photography to Flickr (look at the photos from the Chinese Earthquake, why didn’t this happen on a newspaper branded site?).
Free meal #3. Giving away front page news to blogs like Huffington Post.
Free meal #4. Giving away “small” community news like births, deaths, birthdays, etc to Facebook.
Free meal #5. Giving away real-time news to Twitter.
Free meal #6. Giving away news distribution to Google News and Amazon Kindle, among others. With new sites like Kosmix coming on strong (hundreds of percent of growth month over month).
Free meal #7. Giving away restaurant reviews to Yelp.
Free meal #8. Giving away traffic information to Google Maps.
Free meal #9. Giving away celebrity news to Facebook and Twitter. (Why is Oprah on both of those, and why didn’t the newspaper industry lock up Oprah and keep her on a newspaper brand?)
Free meal #10. Giving away local news to Topix (at least that was funded by a newspaper brand).
Free meal #11. Giving away business news to Yahoo Finance and Google Finance (and something new that will get announced tomorrow).
Free meal #12. Giving away news ranking to Memeorandum.
Free meal #13. Giving away astrology to Astrology.com.
Free meal #14. Giving away comics to Comics.com.

What is their latest giveaway? Crowd-sourced news. I visit Twitter Search every day to find out what is “hot news.” That’s something I used to look at newspapers and older media for (radio, TV) but Twitter is just plain better at telling me what is trending.

OK, so now my face is bloody because I’m seeing all the things the newspaper industry gave away. Do they have anything left to give away?

YES!

“OK, Scoble, you’ve lost it now, there isn’t anything left.”

Oh, you are wrong. There are still some tasty meals left. The rest of this post will be a plea to the newspaper industry to NOT give away the last things they have left.

Meal left #1: their distribution. About half of the houses in Washington D.C., for instance, still receive the Washington Post.
Meal left #2 (partially eaten): their understanding of the local community, although this is disappearing very quickly in many communities. I’d still rather read a New York Times review of Broadway Plays or restaurants than a Yelp review, but that is changing fast too.
Meal left #3: they still have journalists who can be paid to chew on something for a while (like go to Iraq to cover the war), although this is disappearing too. Sorry, I’ve watched the blog world and we aren’t willing to self fund longer term projects. We chase the fun short stories, or things that will get a quick hit on Memeorandum or Techmeme, but doing the longer stories that require doing real reporting with hundreds of sources, say, about what a politician is doing, just isn’t there.
Meal left #4: objectivity and accountability. I can argue that lots of journalists aren’t objective, but the truth is they are part of a system that adds objectivity and accountability as a system BEFORE publishing. Blogging and Twittering, I have noticed, can be objective and accountable, but it sometimes takes time to figure that out, especially when bloggers and twitterers don’t disclose their conflicts of interests up front.
Meal left #5: Systems for aggregating and archiving information. Far beyond what I’ve seen on most blogs or on Twitter. Here, find quickly the first four Tweets about the Chinese Earthquake. Now, why does the New York Times make it easier to find the front page of the paper the day they reported the Titanic sank?. Hint: they have this figured out in a way that Twitter and others just don’t.
Meal left #6 (partially eaten): they have brands that many people who are older, and therefore understand politics, business, sports, news, influence, wealth, and many other topics, love a lot more than Facebook or Twitter.
Meal left #7: They have news systems that are very robust. Do you have the Associated Press warning you about news events coming up? Newspaper editors do. Do you have a scanner and a team of people listening to the police full time? Newspapers do (or did).
Meal left #8: They have a room of curators. People who understand the news. Understand their communities. Who pick the top stories and who add understanding onto them with photos, graphics, headlines, etc. Believe me, I’ve been watching most bloggers and most of them suck at packaging their stories.
Meal left #9: Sources. The San Jose Mercury News can get into the Mayor’s Office. I can’t. Well, I probably could, but it would take a while to figure out who to call, what the stories are, who the gatekeepers are, etc. When I visited the Capital I had a journalist as a guide. If I didn’t have someone who was familiar with the Capital I would never have gotten past all the gatekeepers and I would not have been as effective.
Meal left #10: Relationships and an understanding of same. Most of us haven’t really thought about how the Mayor of our town is related to other people. Journalists study that in depth.
Meal left #11: a newsroom. I’ve been in a few newsrooms, including the New York Times. Being there gives you access to other people who care about the news. People who’ve been around a long time and understand how to get to the bottom of a story and how to tell it in the best possible way. You also have access to all the machinery of creating news. Can you afford a 300 mm F2.8 lens? I can’t. That costs $8,000, but the local newsroom probably has several. The New York Times even has a TV studio to shoot HD interviews that I can’t yet do.
Meal left #12: great opinion writers who understand the news system a lot better than most Twitter users. The New York Times even ran a post about that today, which is causing interesting conversation.

So, what is the next meal to be given away and, how could I, as self-appointed head of journalism, keep our industry from giving it away to yet another San Francisco geek with his or her hand out?

We are in the middle of moving to a real-time system for EVERYTHING. Tomorrow afternoon at about 4 p.m. Pacific Time a company called SkyGrid will show off just how this is true. But you already have plenty of taste in Twitter, Facebook, and especially, friendfeed. But those systems are still VERY UNSATISFYING.

That is where we could work together. Why don’t the geeks and the last remaining news organizations create something new?

Let’s start with Facebook and Twitter. They are onto something, but they have NOT nailed the monetization system. Mark Zuckerberg and his team at Facebook knows they are very close. Let me explain a little of how close they are.

To do that, first let’s go back to how people buy things. I’m in the middle of buying a mountain bike, so am studying this process very closely. Here’s the buying process:

1. Something created the need in my head to buy a mountain bike. In this case it was a doctor who told me I should exercise more. I have a great trail near my house. I don’t like swimming. I don’t like running anymore (did too much running in high school when I ran four marathons). I don’t like going to the gym. So, I’ve been looking for something more fun that will help me in my goal. My friend Luke wants me to surf, and that might play into it, but I like riding a bike and I like photography, so I want to carry a camera while mountain biking.
2. Now I’m researching. That means visiting stores. That means asking my friends. Talking about it on Twitter and friendfeed. Just a few minutes ago (while writing this post) I did just that and already have dozens of replies, all in live time!
3. Soon, this week, I’ll be buying. That’ll be the only time you can really monetize me.

So, let’s look at Facebook, Twitter, friendfeed.

Can they create the need? Absolutely!
Can they help you research? Yes!
But can they monetize? No!

That’s the opportunity Mark Zuckerberg has left open and it’s only open for a little while.

So, what can we do?

How about we create our own social network? One that is a meritocracy. Best participants get recommended. Not like Twitter where celebrities get recommended above people who are actually participating. Oprah, for instance, already is on Twitter’s recommended follower list despite only being on Twitter for three days. Huh? Twitter will come to understand why that’s a pretty stupid idea. Celebrities rarely will tell you where to buy a great mountain bike and even rarer will they answer your questions in live time. Come on, do you really hold delusions that Oprah will answer your questions? I don’t.

First, let’s start with cloning Twitter. It’s the simplest to clone. Heck, there’s already an open source system that did just that. It’s called Laconica.

But remember, what we really need is a search engine to pull interesting things out.

Here’s some use cases we’ll need to design that search engine to do:

1. Local establishments. When I am walking down University Ave (or any ave) I want to be able to say “show me sushi restaurants within walking distance.” Now, imagine if Facebook did that? Well, it could tell you “four sushi restaurants have been liked by 10 or more of your friends.” But it doesn’t store location information. Friendfeed? It can give you the real time metadata, but we need more to be able to really pull back just restaurants. Relying on comments and titles, the way its engine does now, will lead to lots of noise. And Twitter? Twitter doesn’t give us enough metadata to do much of anything except to know that a few sushi restaurants were retweeted a lot or that there’s one with a popular metatag.
2. Movie feedback in real time. I remember seeing movies with my team at 7 a.m. on release day when I worked at Microsoft (they bought tickets for lots of us and made us go early in the morning so that we’d be at work on time). The email lists would tell everyone else whether the movie was any good or not. So, why can’t we do that? And rate theaters at the same time?
3. News sharing. Already Twitter does THAT pretty well. I knew about the Chinese Earthquake while it was happening thanks to just watching Twitter. But months later? Try to pull out the important Tweets. I can’t. Over on friendfeed I can. Over on Facebook? Nope, because my friends started yelling at me when I pulled Tweets in there. They like baby photos and personal information, meant for close friends, but not a lot of news. Facebook is going to have a tough time getting over that.
4. Product feedback. I need a way to look for good feedback about all sorts of stuff. Dave Winer just bought a toaster oven that he has been raving about. Now go to Twitter Search and tell me about his toaster oven. I couldn’t find his info. Over on friendfeed I was able to find his info, but it’s unstatisfying, because I can’t see who else liked that particular toaster oven.

So, how do we build what I need?

I have some ideas. First, let’s assume we can match friendfeed. That’s already a tall order. That company was started by four superstars from Google. I’m not a superstar from Google.

But, I know that there are a few technology superstars at, say, the New York Times. I’ve met a few of them on my travels and there are a few others out there, too, and if we pool our efforts we could convince others to join us. There’s lots of engineers on the streets right now.

How about making a platform that would enable everyone to build their own little Twitter? You know, have a community of people that they could draw out of Twitter and over to your private community? Friendfeed is very close to that. Watch how I’m using Twitter to get my Twitter followers to answer questions over on friendfeed. But that means you’ve gotta have something that adds functionality onto Twitter over on our own site.

Look at my question on Twitter and friendfeed about mountain bikes again. What do you notice is missing?

1. Price data.
2. Comparison charts.
3. Separation of very credible and uncredible answers. Let’s say someone from Nike’s adventure team, who I believe is the winningest mountain bike team, comes over and answers my question. Why is his or her answer the same as everyone else’s? Doesn’t he or she have more credibility and authority?
4. Other metadata that shouldn’t be visible, like metatags. Maybe someone wants to connect my answers to another answer on, say, bike components. But why should that connection be visible? Today building such a connection in Twitter, Facebook, and friendfeed is not possible. So, how would we do it? Invisible comments and a command line interface. More on that in a minute.
5. My ability to mark different people as credible for different reasons. Let’s say the CEO of Specialized came over and commented on that thread. He would be credible, but he would be biased toward pushing Specialized. So, he’s not as credible as, say, someone from the Nike adventure team, at least when it came to bikes. He might be VERY credible when it comes to other biking topics, though, and even in bikes he’s more credible, than, say, me, who has no expertise in the industry.
6. Connection with existing resources. I like how Mahalo does this. If they don’t have a human-built connection they add algorithmic ones from Google.
7. Links to places to buy. Anytime I mention “mountain bikes” why doesn’t Twitter and friendfeed bring up a link to different mountain bike stores? Heck, even Amazon ships Mountain Bikes and if I included my affiliate link (I have not here) I would get paid some cash everytime someone bought a bike.
8. Comprehensive links to all the reviews that already have been done about the products that are getting mentioned in there. I have to manually put each one of them into Google to find more info. Why is that?

Here’s what I meant by “invisible comments.” Look at friendfeed. Each comment is a piece of metadata that can be used by the search engine. For instance, I can put “greattoasteroven” into a comment, like I did underneath Dave Winer’s toaster oven post, and now you can use friendfeed’s search engine to find it. But why does that “metatag” have to be visible? Here, let’s design an invisible commenting engine.

First, let’s invoke the invisible commenting engine. We could pick something like %%0, which is a string that would never get used. So, let’s design an invisble comment:

%%0 metatag=”greattoasteroven” This one could do metatags.
%%0 location=”25 Pinehurst Lane, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019″ This one could do location.
%%0 price=”$1,499″ This one could do price.
%%0 language=”german” this could tell the search engine to pull this entry up only if the speaker wanted german results
%%0 invisible=”Dave Winer is a nice guy.” This could be used to leave a comment for you, or for the search engine, but that wouldn’t be visible for the outside world. You could even use that to make things only visible to certain people, so you could have private conversations INSIDE the comment thread.
%%0 administrator=davew This one could make Dave Winer an administrator of the item, which would give his comments a different color, and would enable him to delete or edit comments on that thread.
%%0 post comment at 12:01 p.m. Pacific Time April 29, 2009: “this comment will appear on April 29th at 12:01″
%%0 credibility=10:davew This would mark Dave Winer as “highly credible” on this topic, and because everyone else has a default credibility of 5, would give him a different color and a star icon. You could then do the next invisible comment:
%%0 display credibility of >8 only (this would make only comments of people with credibility of 8 or above visible, once the user had invoked this).

Anyway, I could keep going all night long. In the real-time web having such a console would be important to be able to talk to the search engine. We could brainstorm such things all night long.

Now, isn’t that “geeky?” Yes. Would the celebrities that now are moving into Twitter get it? No AND yes!

See, while the geeks might be stuck with such a command-line interface, I expect that very quickly developers of applications like Tweetie, Twhirl, and TweetDeck would add on UIs to take advantage of the invisible functionality. You could click a “price” button in TweetDeck, for instance, which would show you the price of the bike you are now looking at (or allow you to input it as a Tweet-like message, if you knew the price).

This would build a very rich microblogging service and I think everyone else would want to build invisible comments into their system and interroperate with the ones we designed.

But, no, I suspect this whole post is for naught. I suspect that the newspaper industry will give away their last few meals to the geeks in San Francisco yet again.

Why is that?

Do newspapers have a shot?

Newspapers’ business model is under severe pressure. We all know that, so I wanted to find out how bad it is by going over to Silicon Valley’s hometown newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, and meeting with Mac Tully, the President and Publisher.

It was interesting to hear how the economic downturn is going and how he’s moving more and more of the newsroom over to the San Jose Mercury News’ online efforts. Plus we talk about Twitter and Facebook and a bunch of other stuff in this 16-minute interview including the role of citizen journalists alongside professional journalists.

This is the newspaper I read as a child.

Do newspapers have a shot? Does this interview change your opinions?