Brands are arbiters of quality on the Internet

June 29, 2009

Knowledge, news, music, opinion shall be free (as unfettered). That was the promise of the Internet, and bloggers were expected to deliver on that promise.

What followed was utter chaos, irresponsible reporting, plagiarizing without batting an eyelid, and an overload of information. The dark underbelly of society was showing on the Internet.

Wikipedia suddenly became less reliable. People very often edited entries on Wikipedia to suit their personal agendas, and the users’ only hope for accuracy is that some other guy got there before him and corrected the inaccuracy.

Folks, even bloggers, now need help to negotiate the labyrinth of the Internet to find information that is quotable and credible. Hence most bloggers now quote what are considered long-established credible sources, such as The New York Times, CNN, and The Wall Street Journal, and a few new online credible sources of information.

A lot has been written about Twitter. Like email when it started, Twitter is a great way to get the message out. But as spammers and frauds started using email, the message was increasingly questionable.

That is happening to Twitter as well……I don’t know who is my source of information on Twitter, whether he is reliable, whether he was at all in Iran while updating me on the youth unrest in that country after the elections.

Most of the time it is not hard core information I get on Twitter, but some vague reports from equally diffuse people on what they are eating now, how they are feeling at the moment, or what car they are driving.

Many times people themselves are filtering information to put them in a good light, or promote themselves. After all this is the age of personal brand building, and any channel is useful.

In 2007, I had written that although the Internet had made expression free, whether the expression was in the form of writing, art or music, there would still be needed gatekeepers to the Internet who would separate the wheat from the chaff.

See article titled ” Finding gold on the Net is a long shot”.

It was expected then that new brands would emerge to play counsellors and guides to Internet users. The “Long Tail” had created opportunities of all sorts of online purveyors of music, news, and other forms of art, by lowering the cost of inventory, distribution, and marketing.

But the gold rush to the Internet left people gasping for some guidance on how to avoid the trash. Already they were suffering from clutter and information overload.

eMusic, for example, focused on the “Long Tail”, and tried to build a music download brand around that. Leading newspapers set up blogs aiming to be arbiters of quality in both formal news reporting, and the more informal world of blogs.

The upshot is that a mix of new and old brands have emerged as gatekeepers to the Internet. That makes navigating the Internet for quality and reliable stuff more reliable.

But to a large extent it has also robbed the Internet of its fierce democracy. Once again the big brands – a few – will decide what goes through its filters. Once again smaller purveyors of content will have to kow-tow to the big brands or go unnoticed, and end up in some corner on YouTube.


Digg, community editing, and vested interests

November 20, 2007

Digg and many other community edited sites have on the face of it a superb idea. Who better to evaluate and promote content on the Internet than users of that content ? So if you like an article, and you Digg it, and others on Digg like it, its rating goes up and the article is noticed.

Fair enough. Sites like Digg want to be gatekeepers or filters to the large quantity of content on the Internet. But when a variety of vested interests like corporate flacks and self-promoting individuals decide that they can use their individual rights as community editors to promote some news about the companies they represent, or their own articles and blog posts, then you start wondering if community editing is the best option for a site that aims to be a gatekeeper, a filter for quality content.

If one of my posts is submitted to Digg, I am usually grateful if three to four persons Digg the story. What is however galling is to find that a rehash of an uninteresting press release pulled out of Business Wire or PR Newswire has been Dugg 15 to 20 times by an informal cabal of Diggers set up for the sole purpose of Digging an article.

Often folks, who put up a video or article they have written, unabashedly Digg it, and then send the word out to other Diggers to vote for it, with the promise that they will do it for you if you ask. For example: “Please help to digg and share. Shout back if you need and I will help you with pleasure too”.

As a reader, I am not interested in reading content from corporate wires. I can always to go to the sites of these news wires, and pick up the press releases. What I would like is the independent analysis, the real story behind the press release, and not the corporate spiel.

Digg is not the only place where vested interests like corporate flacks hang out. There have been reports about how companies have edited entries in Wikipedia to reflect their point of view.

To be sure, folks like Digg and Wikipedia can request vested interests to honor the objectives of their community edited sites. But it is most unlikely that these interests will back off. Is there some technology that could filter out these activities ? If there isn’t folks at Digg, YouTube and other content sharing sites had better develop it, to stay relevant.

Related article:

Businesses crawling all over YouTube, Facebook

Information on WSJ shall be free, says Rupert Murdoch

November 14, 2007

News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch said yesterday that he intends to make access to The Wall Street Journal’s website free, dropping subscription fees in exchange for anticipated ad revenue, according to this report from the Associated Press.

The proposal by the Wall Street Journal follows similar moves by other top newspapers including The New York Times which made its paid content called Times Select free to all online readers.

All these publications seem to have got the message that as readers move online, they are going to be less willing to pay money for reading news, if only because the news choices are so many on the Web. The option for these newspapers is to add more readers by offering content free, and look to advertising to make up for subscription income. But newspapers like WSJ will have to strike a balance between appealing to a broad audience while retaining their current focused readers. Too much advertising on a site can also put off readers.

Online advertising will also have to progressively replace revenue from print editions, as it is expected that more readers will move online. That and growing competition from non-traditional online media are make-or-break challenges for the newspaper industry.

Data available from the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) in Arlington, Virginia suggests that advertising in print is on the decline. Spending for print ads in newspapers in the second quarter of this year totaled US$10.5 billion, down 10.2 percent from the same period a year earlier, according to a NAA release in August.

However whatever advertising is moving away from print editions of newspapers is not necessarily going to their online sites.

Advertising expenditures for newspaper Web sites increased by 19.3 percent to US$796 million in the second quarter versus the same period a year ago, according to preliminary estimates from the NAA.

This sounds great in isolation. But the newspapers that saw a decline of about US$1 billion in advertising in the second quarter, witnessed an increase of less than $200 million in advertising from its online properties.

As a result, total advertising expenditures at newspaper companies were $11.3 billion for the second quarter of 2007, an 8.6 percent decrease from the same period a year earlier, according to NAA.

The NAA puts down the reduced advertising revenue for newspapers to cyclical swings in the U.S. economy, as well as structural changes in the businesses of major advertisers, which continue to affect print advertising revenue.

In the long-term, online sites like YouTube, and news and opinion sites, set up by former journalists and also by experts on specific topics, could compete for eyeballs and advertising revenue with traditional newspaper web sites. Some of the new media sites have built strong online reputations and brands that down the line could be as strong as that of online editions of mainline newspapers.

YouTube sued in India for copyright infringement

November 7, 2007

Google Inc. and many Internet companies hold that they cannot be held liable for whatever happens on their video sharing and social networking sites. Telephone companies aren’t held liable if people plan a murder over the telephone, so why should Internet companies, according to Google.

An Indian company, the makers of the T-Series music and videos, thinks otherwise. It has sued Google and YouTube for allegedly infringing its copyrights, as a lot of its copyrighted content is claimed to be available without permission on YouTube. A court in Delhi has passed an interim restraining order on Google and YouTube which would require YouTube to pull down all content on their site that could be in infringement of T-Series’ copyrights, according to this report in InfoWorld.

Google has been pushing for an amendment to section 79 of the Indian Information Technology Act 2000 that will remove the liability of network service providers for content posted by users. The current version of section 79 requires that the network service provider prove that the offense or contravention was committed without their knowledge or that they had exercised all due diligence to prevent the commission of such offense or contravention.

Interestingly, T-Series seems to have filed the case under the Indian Copyright Act, and not under the Information Technology Act, according to this blog. The lawyer for T-Series is quoted by Infoworld as saying that YouTube is not a neutral intermediary but a web site that makes money from clicks on advertising on its site.

The dispute between Internet sharing sites and media companies is unlikely to get resolved anytime soon. There have however been moves by companies like NBC Universal and Walt Disney and other media companies who announced last month a set of guidelines for user-generated content (UGC) services, without infringing copyrights. Among the measures proposed is the implementation of filtering technology with the goal to eliminate infringing content on UGC services, including blocking infringing uploads before they are made available to the public. Google was not among these companies, though MySpace was part of the annoucement.

Google seems to be worried that too much control may make sharing and social networking sites less popular. The issue is about how much of control. The media companies are willing to allow fair use of copyrighted content, which is what is required for the flowering of creativity around orginal content. Lowering controls beyond that would be a license for illicit use of copyrighted content.

Just as media companies want to push for copyright enforcement on networking and sharing sites, there is a section of government and society in India that is pushing for greater control over what gets posted on these sites. The offer by Google and other Internet companies to pull down objectionable material post-facto is not seen as good enough. If there can be filters to prevent uploading of copyrighted material, why can’t tech savvy companies come up with filters for pornography for example. Google should listen rather than play the same old tune of intermediary neutrality.

Related article:

Google says don’t shoot the messenger

Businesses crawling all over YouTube, Facebook

November 2, 2007

Guess who is taking a peek at your profile and activities on Facebook, Linkedin, and other social networking sites ? Businesses of course, and they are looking for you.

Social networking sites have become the top tool for hiring IT staff, according to this report in PC World.

So folks try and be careful on Facebook. Forget about being spontaneous on social networking sites, because a single loose comment could make you lose a super job offer.

There aren’t any private spaces online where you can have good, clean spontaneous fun. The corporate world has got its men on these sites. Some of them maybe reporting to your bosses

Some companies are also encouraging their staff to get on to Facebook and generally try to have fun. They believe that this interaction will strengthen bonds among company employees, provide an opportunity to recruit more people, and yes, project a super nice image of the company.

The corporate barbarians are at this gate too. When blogs became popular, and were positioned as expression that was truly spontaneous and not choreographed, companies too piggybacked on the new phenomenon.

If you thought the blogs by corporate executives would provide deep and new insights into their inner feelings, true beliefs, you were in for a big disappointment. It is corporate speak all over again, only a little more casual than a press release, and thoroughly sanitized by the company’s public relations departments.

Competitors have also started using their blogs to take shots at one another – generally the kind of stuff newspapers wouldn’t publish or you couldn’t issue a press release about.

Apart from blogs from corporate executives, which are incidentally closely harvested for news by the media, there are also blogs by folks set up corporate and other interests to defend those interests, discreetly spark of rumors etc etc.

Companies have made a beeline to video sharing sites. If it wasn’t bad enough filtering through third-rate sexy videos, bad jokes, and generally amateurish content, to get to any real nuggets on the video-sharing site, now adding to the clutter are companies who have recognized that YouTube and other sharing and networking sites are a great, and free advertising medium.

So you have video clips of Shaun White endorsing Hewlett-Packard’s Paviliion laptops, or a promotion video by Indian outsourcer, Infosys Technologies Ltd., and another from IBM.

You can’t escape those corporate signposts whether on the TV or on the highway, or online. Welcome to Web 2.0. and to the promise of communities.

Related articles:

Corrupt bloggers: part of the dark underbelly of the Internet

Finding gold on the Net is a long shot

Media companies see the light with Hulu

October 29, 2007

Hulu, an online video service from two large media companies, News Corp. and General Electric’s NBC Universal, started testing its service Monday. Using an advertising based business model, Hulu will have programming from a number of media companies including now shows from Sony Pictures Television and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios.

The move by these companies to move their programming online indicates the growing popularity of online video, as is evident from the success of Google Inc.’s YouTube. Besides adding a revenue stream for these companies, the programming online may also prove to be a promotional medium, providing users a sample of movies and other video that they could then buy on DVDs or view at the local theatre.

Along with Hulu’s own site, the company said its videos would be available through partners such as America Online Inc., MSN and, although links for Hulu on these sites were not apparent at the time of writing, according to a report by Computerworld.

The companies involved are likely to ensure tight control over their copyrights on content, including discouraging download and distribution of their content. Leading Internet and media companies announced earlier this month a set of guidelines for user-generated content (UGC) services, without infringing copyrights.

Among the measures proposed is the implementation of filtering technology with the goal to eliminate infringing content on UGC services, including blocking infringing uploads before they are made available to the public.

Given that the Internet bandwidth required for the services proposed by Hulu is not available even in some parts of the US, Hulu will likely be more popular for viewing short clips from movies, and other short content, rather than as an alternative to television, and other medium for watching TVs.

Related articles:

Media companies announce plans to protect copyright online

Media companies announce plans to protect copyright online

October 19, 2007

Leading Internet and media companies announced Thursday a set of guidelines for user-generated content (UGC) services, without infringing copyrights.

Among the measures proposed is the implementation of filtering technology with the goal to eliminate infringing content on UGC services, including blocking infringing uploads before they are made available to the public.

The companies supporting these principles include CBS Corp., Dailymotion, Fox Entertainment Group, Microsoft Corp., MySpace, NBC Universal, Veoh Networks Inc., Viacom Inc. and The Walt Disney Company, according to statements issued by these companies.

The ease of uploading video content on the Internet has led to the creation of millions of original works by new creators – works that range from scripted programs, to virtuoso musical performances and to humorous skits and social parody, the companies said. It also has resulted in the proliferation of uploaded content that infringes copyrighted works, they warned.

For details of the new content identification and filtering program advocated by these media and Internet companies click this link.

Interestingly the companies say that they are willing to accommodate fair use of copyrighted content. For example, when sending notices and making claims of infringement, copyright owners should accommodate fair use, according to the new principles. Fair use has however not been defined in the principles.

Google Inc., which runs the popular YouTube video sharing site is not a participating member of this program. Google and YouTube are facing a number of copyright-infringement legal suits, including a US$1 billion action filed by Viacom Inc. The company however unveiled on Tuesday content filtering technology, called Video Identification. The technology does not yet allow the blocking of copyrighted content from being uploaded, according to reports.

Google may have to go along with the Internet and media companies, as it has always said that it would like to protect copyrights.

Putting controls on copyrighted content, while allowing for a liberal interpretation of fair use would ensure that YouTube and other such sites continue to be tools for innovation and creativity.

Related article:

The Internet helps RIAA squeeze profits