Teaching Examples

One way to make money online
June 4, 2007, 6:33 pm
Filed under: advertising, community, ideas, journalism

Here’s one of those ideas that could make lots of money for you. I’m giving it away free, so buy me lunch or something if it works for you.

I was poking around on the Wichita Eagle site, looking at Ron Sylvester’s story about the BTK killer book, which he explained in a post at his blog, Multimedia Reporter. This ad caught my eye:

Ad from the Wichita Eagle online
I knew it was an ad, and I had a pretty good idea that it might link to a “special advertising section” — you know, those total garbage inserts that U.S. newspapers and advertisers waste paper on, usually hideously ugly throughout, and filled with absolutely awful text about nothing. (I understand that European newspapers, in contrast, have inserts that people actually like to read.)

Given that positive attitude I’ve got, WHY would I click? Two reasons:

  1. The left-rail ad, shown above, was so excellent, it simply gave me hope. I have rarely seen such as effective ad on any newspaper Web site. I’m not kidding. Color, simplicity, clarity. It’s great.
  2. I ride a motorcycle. (A Honda 750cc Shadow cruiser, if you care.)

I’m not joking around or being sarcastic. I’m very, very serious — this ad was a one-in-a-million ad, because I am a person WHO NEVER CLICKS on advertising. Never. Okay? Never!

I clicked on it.

Not only did it get me to click — I even looked at four pages of the insert. Now, the first hurdle is, of course, even getting me to click. Then to get me to click some more, and spend some time — whoa, baby! So I’m betting you are pretty interested in why.

As a person who rides, I like to find out about cool places to ride to. Even though I am very unlikely to take my bike to Kansas (and this was a purely local insert), I’m interested in learning whether they have any interesting destinations. Sure enough, there’s an article about Council Grove, a small town on the Santa Fe Trail.

Moreover, I was actually interested in the content of the ads! Because part of the culture of motorcycle riders (apart from tattoos and custom chrome) is bike shops and hangouts. So the ads told me about some bars (see page 15); I was hoping to see ads for campgrounds or maybe a local bed-and-breakfast, but no such luck. (Don’t laugh — middle-aged yuppie bikers do, in fact, sleep at B&B’s!)

Great Idea, Poor Implementation

Now, please pay attention to why I looked at ONLY four pages of this thing — and not more.

Two-page spread in the Open Road Motorcycle Edition
The interface is awful. The insert is bundled into a disgusting interface from a company called Travidia — they probably have a big booth at every newspaper trade show. I can easily imagine their sales pitch to your advertising department head: It’s no extra work for you to automagically put your whole insert online, complete with all the display ads! Well, who wouldn’t want that? How wonderful!

Except that it sucks.

  • It’s slow, even on my pretty-fast home DSL. Each time you go to a page, you wait and wait. I couldn’t stand that.
  • There’s no navigation except page-by-page. The down-side of transplanting a print thing to the Web is that the Web doesn’t work like a printed publication. I don’t want to go page-by-page (especially not this slowly) — I want links.
  • Both ads and advertorial copy pop up in horrible layover images that jump around. This is the most annoying part. It’s designed to make it easier for you to see things — the pop-ups are larger — but they work very badly and defeat their own purpose.
  • You can’t copy-and-paste anything. Like a phone number. A street address. (Too bad for the advertisers.)

Enlarged version of the ad pops up when you roll over
All right, if you’ve stuck with me this long, here’s how to make money — if you can get your advertising department on board … er, online. (And isn’t that a whole ‘nother can of worms right there? Newspapers think they have trouble in the newsroom, when there’s much bigger trouble in the advertising department, where pretty much nobody knows anything about online.)

Part 1: Motorcycle Culture

Bikers are not all thugs and outlaws. (I hope you have noticed this already.) What’s more, they spend money. Lots of money. They travel. They buy parts and accessories. They buy lots of clothes too! And they eat. They love to go for a long ride and end up at a great restaurant. Not just a biker bar, but a real restaurant with seafood, steaks, or even something international.

Your local area has lots and lots of places that cater to bikers. They would advertise.

Your local area has multiple biker groups that do all kinds of fundraising, mostly associated with planned rides, often “poker runs” or “toy runs.” (Go on, Google those.)

You have a whole online special section just waiting for a smart partnership between one or two reporters in your newsroom, your advertising department (if you can pry them out of 1999), and the bikers themselves, who are often very, very active online in a variety of national forums and discussion boards.

One last tip: Spring is a very big deal for bikers in U.S. states that have a cold winter season. It would be easy to spin off a printed insert in April or May and get tons of fresh ad dollars for it. Plus the printed version (you could do a “Get Ready for Winter” issue too) could promote the online site, and vice versa.

Part 2: Not Just Motorcycles, Silly!

The bikers are only one example of communities within your larger community that you don’t serve well now — and that command all sorts of new advertising opportunities (I can’t believe I just typed those words! Yeesh!) that you’re currently not enjoying.

In addition to the “unknown subcultures” component of this is the whole gamut of those awful print inserts, or advertorial sections.

Years ago I worked for a trade newspaper that covered the computer industry. Several times a year, our ad department would tell our editor that they were planning a 16- or 32-page “special section” on something like local area networks, CAD/CAM, or some other hot topic in the business.

Instead of writing crap for those sections — or contracting the copy out to freelancers, like The Washington Post does — our reporters wrote real stories that essentially served as backgrounders on different aspects of the technology. We didn’t allow advertising to tell us whom to talk to or what to write about. They gave us a topic, and we went out and covered the heck out of it — not from a news angle, but seriously, in ways that we knew our readers would value.

That’s the kind of sea change I am advocating in content for these “special sections” — take them seriously. Make them real journalism. The result will be greater value for your audience, for your community as a whole — and that will bring more visitors to the content, and hence more eyeballs to your advertisers.

You put the section online and open it up to the subculture. You let them make it theirs. You also use it to keep tabs on their issues and interests — fuel for the daily newspaper, you see? Instant sources, right there, waiting for you. And then, once or twice a year, you transform the online section into a special insert for print — but not the kind of garbage that your inserts are today. No, a real collection of journalism that serves the constituent community it covers.

About the Way the Ads Look

One more thing I thought about while looking at the Wichita Eagle’s “Open Road Motorcycle Edition Special Section” — while I did not appreciate the clunky way in which the pop-up overlay opened and jumped around, I did like the way I was looking at a real ad. It made me think about doing the same thing — only in a much more user-friendly way — with some JavaScript, a la Lightbox.

I considered the old (1999) arguments from the advertising department — that they don’t know how to use Photoshop, don’t know what a JPG is, don’t understand measurements in pixels, etc. But you know, just open the PDF and take a screen grab, for heaven’s sake! Sure someone in advertising can manage to do that correctly!

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Double dust-up in online photography world
May 17, 2007, 3:02 pm
Filed under: community, online, photography

Part 1 was the deletion of a very successful Flickr member’s photo, a subsequent apology from Flickr management, and a discussion about copyright and disputed naïveté. (The member is Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir, whose commercial success via Flickr was recently the subject of a fascinating post at the photo-flash blog Strobist. Photocritic posted a great how-to about what to do when people steal your photos, which is connected to why Rebekka’s deleted photo drew Flickr management’s attention in the first place.)

Two points of value I saw in the discussions and events:

(a) Once again, we witness that people do perceive they are part of a private and personal society — a community, if you will — when they belong to a purely online (and even purely commercial) group. An earlier example was the uprising at Facebook in September, when it imposed a News Feed feature on users that made them feel virtually naked.

(b) Anything you put on a server that you do not control might be deleted, erased, destroyed. The simple lesson: Always keep backups of your work. The broader lesson: Somebody else owns the rights to that space. The owner makes the rules.

Part 2 was the departure of Derek Powazek and Heather Champ from 8020 Publishing and JPG Magazine. There’s a similarity to Part 1 because contributors to JPG Magazine have that same sense of belonging to a society (and in fact, JPG Magazine grew out of a Flickr group). There’s also a link in that Champ works for Flickr, although that didn’t bear directly on the JPG Magazine incident, so far as I know.

JPG Magazine has now cut ties with its origins (see the bottom half of the About page):

The first version of JPG Magazine was created by the husband and wife team of Derek Powazek and Heather Powazek Champ. It was a quarterly printed publication devoted to brave new photography that took submissions over the internet and printed on good old fashioned paper. It was edited by Derek and Heather, printed in digest format, and sold through Lulu.com.

These first six issues of JPG Magazine served as inspiration for the new JPG Magazine, and they are available exclusively through Lulu.com.

You’ll notice there are no discussion forums at the JPG Magazine site.

I was on the verge of subscribing to JPG Magazine last month, but I subscribed instead to Wholphin, a quarterly DVD of hard-to-see video published by McSweeney’s. Now I won’t subscribe, because part of what appealed to me about JPG Magazine was the same thing that led me to join the Flickr group — a sense of community and people doing something in a peer-to-peer manner. Now it’s clear that it’s just a business.

Like Facebook, the printed magazine was always “just a business.” Don’t think I’m naïve. But also, don’t underestimate the power and commitment of a group of people who feel like — no, believe — they are part of a community.

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Why people post content (when it’s not their job)
December 14, 2006, 4:00 pm
Filed under: citizen journalism, community, online, participation

I was thinking about writing about what motivates people to contribute photos, stories, etc. You can call it citizen journalism or whatever, that’s not the point.

Limor Peer (research director for the Media Management Center and Readership Institute at Northwestern University) saved me the trouble. She wrote a thoughtful, intelligent post (but it’s not overlong) that covers just about everything you should be thinking about when you try to set up the kind of environment (or community) that encourages people to share stuff. Like YouTube. Or MySpace.

What I have to add (two things):

(1) There is a long and detailed article about Incentives for Participation that examines these “fixed and fluid models”:

  • Fixed: BlogBurst, Current.tv, NewAssignment.Net
  • Fluid: Google, GroundReport, Newsvine
  • Hybrid: OhmyNews

Tobias Assmann wrote the article.

(2) Yochai Benkler, in his 2006 book, The Wealth of Networks, discusses extrinsic and intrinsic motivations in Chapter 4. Extrinsic motivations are imposed on us from outside (“Be good”), while intrinsic motivations come from inside (“I believe this is right”). Payment can have a negative effect on intrinsic motivation: You might not want to do it, because taking money for doing it seems “wrong” to you.

Payment can increase or create an extrinsic motivation (“I would not normally do that, but if they pay me, I will do it”).

We should not ignore social relations as a form of “payment.” If I gain face (or social standing) by doing something, then that might motivate me to do it. If I lose face (or social standing), then that might motivate me to avoid doing it.

There are probably some things you will only do for free.

Bottom line: “Money-oriented motivations are different from socially oriented motivations” (p. 97).

I posted a presentation about Benkler’s chapter on this topic on SlideShare. (This provides a really clean, easy way to share and view a PowerPoint presentation online without a big download. It employs a cool little Flash-based viewer on the Web page, and it’s free.) This is an example of social sharing. What is my motivation? I think what Benkler says in this chapter is very important. I think people should be able to get the gist of it in a relatively quick and painless way. And I had the PowerPoint made anyway, for my class. SlideShare is free. So all it cost me was about 15 or 20 minutes of my time.

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City-wide wireless Internet
December 10, 2006, 2:58 pm
Filed under: community, municipal, wi-fi, wifi, wireless

Shouldn’t every city have this?

Anyone with a laptop computer equipped for wireless access will be able to connect to the Internet from virtually anywhere in the city with the purchase of a $21-per-month account. The wireless connection will be free in two dozen designated zones …

EarthLink also will provide discounted accounts of $9.95 per month to 2,700 low-income city residents…. the city hopes to find interested residents by partnering with community agencies that already work with low-income residents.

The city council of Alexandria, Virginia, approved a proposal to allow EarthLink to “construct and maintain the network at no cost to the city.” The plan is expected to win final approval later this month.

Building the network will be relatively easy: About 500 devices the size of breadboxes will be installed, mostly on street lights, but also on traffic signals, poles and roofs.

“They’re very unobtrusive,” [Craig T. Fifer, Alexandria’s e-government manager] said. “Most people won’t even notice the construction.”

EarthLink is hoping to recover its $2.7 million capital investment and to make money by selling accounts.

This sounds fantastic to me, but I have to wonder if the city has any protection against EarthLink hiking up the prices as soon as the residents of Alexandria get comfortable with their city-wide wireless access.

That’s what happened with cable television in the U.S. — monopoly service providers, grossly inflated pricing, no public access channels, and finally, lousy service.

Source: “No Wires, No Plugs: Just Access by WiFi,” by Jerry Markon, The Washington Post, Dec. 7, 2006, p. VA03

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