Category Archives: online communities

Wikipedia Entry on Social Journalism

Just contributed the post below, explaining social journalism, to Wikipedia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Journalism

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My Op Ed in New York Observer

Called “Why Michael Wolff Is Wrong” it addresses social journalism, the Forbes contributor model and the march of new media into hybrid journalism/contributor platforms as most of legacy media stands by. http://bit.ly/OAXj6J

Running in third slide rotation on top of homepage. Cool.

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Great New Rating/Review Non-Profit Website in U.K.

When The Cinnamon Network, a U.K. non-profit, approached Buzzr about creating a website with Buzzr, they had two goals: finding a comprehensive social publishing platform anda platform they could run themselves, without a technical team. After shopping around, Cinnamon Network founder Geoff Knott decided Buzzr was the right solution and in just three weeks, we were able to help them launch an incredibly ambitious website

The Cinnamon Network is a network of over 60 leaders of various Christian denominations and charities who formed in September, 2010 to have conversations with government policy advisers about society and the Church. Members include the Church of England and the Salvation Army.

Their new Buzzr-created website, www.communityfranchising.net connects 4,000 U.K. churches with the dozens of charitable programs available for them to offer to their communities. In addition to comprehensive listings describing non-profit “franchises” that churches can join concerning Family Life, Addiction, Education, Housing, Finding Work, etc., the Cinnamon Network provides a social feedback loop for church leaders to rate and review the programs. The ratings are then combined into an aggregate score.

The website was presented at a meeting of more than 100 CEOS and Denominational leaders. “They see it as a key resource for churches to intelligently inform themselves about charitable franchises,” says Geoffrey Knot of Cinnamon Network.

Rather than create the initial website design and feature configuration themselves, the Cinnamon Network bought the Buzzr Professional Edition Professional Edition They also asked us to create a custom feature, for enhanced and aggregated ratings, which we were glad to do, especially after the Cinnamon Network offered to contribute the feature back to the general Buzzr.com community.

Thanks to the new feature, every franchise program can be created based on seven criteria, such as meeting the needs of the community, seeing people added to church, and training by the franchisor.

We’re incredibly pleased to have The Cinnamon Network as part of the Buzzr platform.

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Scoble Interview About Buzzr

Famed technology blogger Robert Scoble (whom I co-founded FastCompanyTV with in 2008) spoke to me about Buzzr.com, our super-robust platform for ordinary users to create and run great social media-rich websites.  We spoke at the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference a couple of weeks ago. The interview is a broad overview of Buzzr, its capabilities and our intended place in the market.

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Buzzr.com Consumer and Enterprise Editions Open for Business

Big announcements coming out of DrupalCon, the annual conference for the open source platform Drupal, is that Buzzr, our very powerful but easy website building platform, is now available to the public. We launched the consumer edition in beta — a self-service, build your own site tool. And we officially announced the release of Buzzr Enterprise Edition – -a white label, multi-site tool for organizations to empower ordinary users to create social publishing websites. B.E.E. has been in beta for several months, with several clients.

Here’s the press release:

Buzzr.com, a partnership with Drupal powerhouse Lullabot, today announced the official launch of Buzzr Enterprise Edition, a turn-key multi-site white label solution for organizations that need to rapidly and cost-effectively create and maintain many robust websites or microsites.

Buzzr also debuted the beta launch of its Consumer Edition, a self-service platform. Buzzr is fully hosted and features an exceptionally friendly drag and drop interface, as a layer over Drupal, the powerful open source social publishing platform favored by hundreds of thousands of developers, yet previously out of reach for most ordinary users.  One thousand beta accounts will be given out during DrupalCon, a three-day international conference that kicked off today in San Francisco. Trial accounts can be requested at Buzzr.com.

A national sales force will be marketing the Enterprise Edition. The white label platform is initially covering five sectors: non-profits, higher education, media/entertainment, government and consumer goods/services. Sales offices have been opened in the Chicago, San Francisco and New York markets.

“Buzzr can save organizations months of time getting multi-sites to market and can shave hundreds of thousands of dollars off of development and maintenance costs.” said Buzzr CEO Edward Sussman. “Many companies and organizations maintain dozens of websites without any centralized platform. Buzzr is not only a more cost effective alternative, it can also create websites of much higher quality than ad hoc builds, or websites built with less robust blogging platforms.”

Buzzr enables ordinary users, without Drupal training, to create and run a websites that feature critical Drupal features such as custom content types (such as a restaurant review form), flexible views of content (such as restaurant review forms organized by five star ratings) and fine grained user permissions. Scores of social features are available as standard out-of-the-box, or as Drupal plug ins.

“Buzzr is Drupal made easy,” said Liza Kindred, Business Manager of Lullabot and president of Buzzr. “In our experience, many organizations wish they could better empower their day-to-day site managers and Buzzr allows this. We hope to allow this less technical audience enjoy many of the incredible benefits of Drupal.” Lullabot clients have ranged from Sony Artists, to The Economist, to the Grammys.  The Lullabot team includes the co-lead of the next release of Drupal, the head of the Drupal documentation team, the maintainer of one of the two most critical Drupal modules, and the authors of Understanding Drupal by O’Reilly Press.

Even though the user interface is highly streamlined for ordinary users, the Drupal “under the hood” is still accessible to software engineers who might wish to add or modify Buzzr’s out of-the-box features.  This allows clients to tap into the Drupal’s 5,000 add-on modules. Buzzr will provide code review and continuing support services for clients with their own technical teams, and can also provide customization services through its Buzzr Partner network. Buzzr also integrates website performance and scaling into its hosted platform.

TheGiftCardCafe.com, a pilot white label client, uses the platform to upsell websites its thousands of day spa and beauty salon customers. “Buzzr turned out to be the perfect solution for offering full featured websites to our clients,” said Carl Tuinstra, CEO of TheGiftCardCafe.com “We needed a system that allowed us to rapidly build sites but with enough flexibility to meet a wide variety of business needs. Out of all the “website builder” systems we have tried no other comes close to the features and flexibility.”

Buzzr announced the appointment of Chris Sayre and Chuck Simmons as Vice President of Enterprise Sales. Sayre is a 15-year veteran of software sales. He previously served as senior account executive at Northrop Grumman, an account executive at AT&T, and Director of Business Development at SaaS platform vendor Corent Technology.

“I was attracted to Buzzr because of the large market for organizations that need a lot of websites, yet want to migrate away from static brochure-like websites to more dynamic websites,” said Sayre. Sayre will be focused on the non-profit and higher education markets.

Buzzr will be represented on the west coast, especially for the entertainment and technology sectors, by Communicate.io, a San Francisco based sales and marketing firm.

Sales of the Buzzr platform will primarily be led by Peter Karnig, co-founder and former director of Business Development for Five Across, as well as the current CEO of Grabbit.net. Communicate.io CEO Lisa Padilla (who has worked with Apple, Intuit, HP and others) and partner Fred Davis (a founding team member of Wired, CNET and Ask Jeeves) will also assist in sales and marketing. The team plans to offer some clients an integrated offer of Buzzr and Grabbit, a social media aggregator tied to a social network.

East Coast sales, especially for the media, will be led by Edward Sussman, the CEO of Buzzr and former Executive Vice President of Mansueto Ventures (Inc. and Fast Company magazines).  The office is in New York City.

Instructional videos about the front end of Buzzr can be found at http://buzzr.com/how-to-videos . Buzzr today announced a limited time trial offer of $99 a month for up to 5 sites, a $99 one-time fee for installation and $99 for a one-hour monthly support contact.  Pricing is incremental based on usage, starting at $30 per month, per site, and saves organizations from committing to leasing servers before they know how widespread their adoption will be. Monthly site fees can drop to as low as $14 a site for large organizations.

Buzzr is a member of the Polytechnic Institute of New York University Incubator, supported by the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

“It is great for the reputation and image of our Varick Street incubator to have a tenant with Buzzr’s market presence and technical knowledge,” said Bruce Niswander, director of the NYU/Poly Incubator.  “The nearly universal need for the simplified creation and maintenance of promotional web sites makes Buzzr’s product attractive for use by virtually every resident tenant looking to enhance the commercial impact of their on-line image.”

Contact:

Sales:

1-877-77BUZZR (772-8997)

Chris@Buzzr.com (Non-profits and Higher Education, and the Midwest)

Peter@Buzzr.com (Entertainment, Technology Companies, and the West Coast)

Ed@Buzzr.com (Media and the East Coast)

sales@buzzr.com (General sales information)

Media and General Inquiries

Ed Sussman

Ed@Buzzr.com

or call, 1-877-77BUZZR (772-8997)

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Now that Twitter is Writing the First Draft of History, Where Does that Leave Journalists?

Iran changes everything.

Lots of professional journalists are pretty mad at the web. They blame it for sucking away ad dollars that pay their salaries. They view blogs and social media as low quality, unoriginal, and owing their existence to the work produced by real journalists. The wonderful writer Buzzr Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights, spoke for many reporters last year when as a guest on Bob Costas’ HBO show he denounced blogs as being “dedicated to journalistic dishonesty” and responsible for “the complete dumbing down of our society.”

In February of 2008, I wrote an essay for FastCompany.com, a website I ran, called The Media is Social arguing that journalism and community-generated content should become a tightly-integrated hybrid. The digerati approved; lots of professional journalists made it clear to me they did not.

But anyone who still believes that social media is anything other than a powerful force for good and must be part of the new digital journalism (which before too long, will be almost all journalism), isn’t getting the profound media lessons from the 2009 revolution in Iran: Twitter is writing the first draft of history.

We used to say that about journalism. A few reporters in Tehran, though, simply can’t compare to the thousands of Iranians capturing the street revolution on cell phone and digital camera videos, as well as blogs and tweets, and distributing their observations with the help of Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and all sorts of other people-powered channels that didn’t exist five years ago. (Yes, it’s not just Twitter, although Twitter has become emblematic of all social media these days.  It’s just more fun to say than “social media.”)

As the Economist pointed out, CNN was running a Larry King repeat on June 13, just as Twitter lit up with news of the street protests. If you were in the U.S. and wanted to see the protests almost in real time, your only choice was links from Twitter to videos uploaded by Iranian citizens. CNN was wall-to-wall with coverage by June 16th – but what were they showing? A selection of those very same videos from street protesters.

A few journalists were braving the streets (at risk of death) but they couldn’t be everywhere at once.  And the important images – of men and women being shot and beaten by Iranian authorities, and huge crowds assembling – were captured by “citizen journalists,” not pros.

I got tired of watching the same few dramatic videos rerun over and over by CNN. So I went to YouTube and found a channel called “CitizenTube” with dozens of videos from Iran.   Amazing images – large crowds repelling cadres of police by tossing back tear gas canisters thrown at them, bloodied men being hurriedly carried off the streets, calm corners suddenly erupting with storms of people.

How extraordinary if this technology had been available just a few decades ago. The Warsaw ghettos as Jews were murdered in the streets and rounded up on cattle cars. Turkey as its native Armenians were slaughtered during and after WWI.  Cambodia in the time of Pol Pot.

Many of these stories took years or decades to emerge.  How would history have changed in these places with he same flood of citizen media now focused on Iran? Even a great work of investigative journalism, no matter how brilliant and well-documented, does not have anywhere near the impact of thousands of almost real-time videos, photos and accounts by tens of thousands of people.

I’m not arguing that what ills the world will be solved by social media. Only that at least it will be better documented. As the Iran story continues to unfold, if I had to choose between countless citizens with cell phones or, a dozen western journalists in Teheran, I’d choose the former without hesitation.  Journalists are more easily intimidated, more easily followed and often don’t know where and when the action is happening until after the fact.

Yet, I don’t want to sort through all those thousands of videos and tweets and blogs myself.  Nor do I think social media sites have yet created tools to adequately filter out what’s most relevant, though Twitter is coming closest.

Twitter has tools for real people to recommend stuff they like best on the service: “RT”, or retweet, is one; another is the follower/following system – everyone on the service gets to choose whose posts to follow. Doesn’t take too long, usually, to decide if someone is worth your time. People also can set up their own “hash tags” to create a stream of tweets on the same subject. Google has its analytics engine and YouTube its star ratings and recommendation engine to help filter the wheat from the chafe. But Twitter is mostly human powered, and that seems to work best for following real-time news.

Journalists everywhere need to jump in to the fray. I think one of the most critical functions of news organization expecting to survive and thrive over the next few years will be to curate and analyze social media content, whether collected from external sources, (the New York Times blog, The Lede, is headed in this direction) or from their own readers (CNN’s iReport is a great early example.)

News organizations should spend time developing their own networks of reliable sources from among the social media masses; and they need to give context as to whether particular content being disseminated online is trustworthy.  And even with professional analysis, readers still want to see the original material – and I think, a lot of it.  Summarizing is not enough – readers want video embeds, real-time tweet round ups, and links out to the best material. Major media websites have been way too parsimonious to date with engaging their readers with the rest of the web.

Curating and analyzing social media can be an important and honorable journalistic endeavor – the digital equivalent of working an old-fashioned beat, ferreting out good sources, not being misled by others.

Right now, trusted media brands are in a good place to serve this role. And trumpet what they’re doing prominently on their homepages, instead of relegating it to a side blog. As with everything on the web, if the mainstream companies don’t get it fast enough, start-ups will.

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Paper Cuts

Is journalism really in danger?

Newspapers and magazines are shutting down, long-time reporter friends of mine are going back to school to become teachers and public policy experts, and a colleague of mine who teaches journalism confided that to justify his school’s value to students, he thought it had to be looked at as a general training ground for the liberal arts.

Not too long ago, at a closed-door gathering that brought together a bunch of well-known journalists to discuss the future of their profession, the specter of a journalistic apocalypse was raised. Government officials and corporate chieftans would go unchecked by investigative reporters, all laid off as a result of advertising dollars being siphoned by the internet. Incompetent or fool-hardy “citizen journalists” would have no idea how to get a story, and if they ended up in the wrong place a the wrong time, especially overseas, they’d be tossed in jail without the protection of a high-profile media brand. This final point drew much head nodding and discussion.

I originally intended for this article to sort through the shifting economics of the media industry. I was spurred on by an observation of a colleague of mine at an important, large news organization. He told me that his company’s web revenue was coming close to equaling the total staff budget for every journalist and editorial type at the place. Many hundreds of journalists.  And 10 times as many people were getting their news via the website than the print publication.  Yet, the print publication was still bringing in about eight or nine times as much money as the website, a strange by-product of many years of severe underpricing of web advertising by powerful media brands. Web advertising was a “bonus” or “value ad,” discounted or given away to support the sale of print or broadcast advertising, which was losing its value as the public migrated to the web. Now it’s too late to jack up the online prices.

From a pure economic standpoint, if this particular company shut down their print edition, enough ad dollars would flow from print to online that every journalist at the place could keep their job. But no way is that going to happen anytime soon. Too many people have their livelihood tied to dead trees. Truckers and printers and print ad sales people and those executives whose compensation is justified by big revenue numbers and selling advertisers on the experience of holding paper in their hands. The cost of maintaining real estate is another big problem for traditional publishers: internal politics nearly always make it difficult to shut down or reduce the space of large offices made much less necessary in the age of work-anywhere-with-your-laptop and online collaboration tools. The legacy issues standing in the way of restructuring are probably every bit as tough as those faced by the U.S. auto industry.

So, even with the recessions speeding the transition, the transformation process is likely going to be drawn out. To staunch the bleeding, cuts are being made across the board– give backs negotiated with the trade unions, departments combined, and journalists laid off. For most papers and magazines, what’s happening is a slow, painful path to exclusively publishing online that could be greatly accelerated, with fewer journalist jobs lost, if  media companies were more willing to quickly restructure themselves.

Not everyone can do it. Their content just isn’t going to be perceived as valuable enough by readers and advertisers and/or the publications won’t understand the importance of community and reader involvement on their sites– a story for another time. And a few don’t need to do it unless they want to — their content is so valuable that readers and advertisers will continue to pay enough to cover the deep expenses of printing and distribution. e.g.The Harvard Business Review or The National Journal.

Some media types are hoping if they hold out long enough, the Kindle and its ilk will more or less save their world via a printless print facsimile. Kindle fans working in journalism love it because the page format looks like print newspapers and magazines. As I see it,  Kindles are nice, especially for reading books, but they aren’t going to take the place of websites for newspapers and magazines: the flood of information and community on the internet needs to become part of the DNA of media companies. A reproduction of existing print pages just isn’t going to cut it and those who make too big a bet on it will easily be outmaneuvered.

Eventually, most big media brands are going to have to voluntarily get a lot smaller (although the good ones will be able to maintain the size of their edit staffs), or involuntarily be forced into bankruptcy. Newer media brands, without legacy restructuring issues, will become more competitive if established brands take too long to dig themselves out of their structural problems.  Models for low-cost digital publishing are quickly emerging. My new company, Buzzr.com, might eventually help here on the technology front with advanced and inexpensive publishing tools tightly integrated with social media. Generating sufficient revenue for these new, small online publishers to stay afloat, though, is currently an unsolved problem. That won’t last. I know of two start ups, currently in stealth mode, with great potential solutions for helping local publishers increase their revenue. I’m sure there are dozens of others in the works.

But will upstart websites, or revamped and much smaller existing news organizations, be up to the task of  creating great journalism? You’ll recall I said that at that closed door meeting of big-wig journalists there was much discussion about the importance of big media brands protecting properly credentialed journalists from the imperiousness of foreign governments. A blogger pursuing a story could be tossed into jail and no one would notice. Major media-brand reporters feel more protected, so they presumably, are more probing, more daring, more likely to get the story.

The world now know this assessment is false. What’s going on in Iran with Twitter and cellphones and YouTube is far beyond the capacity any mainstream news organization to collect and disseminate information. It appears some people are perfectly willing to risk dying to stand in the street and take cell phone videos. Meanwhile, most foreign reporters are confined to their hotels or being thrown out of the country.

And so where does that leave journalism?  The classic role of the investigative journalist, of Seymour Hersh uncovering the My Lai massacre, of Sydney Schanberg and Dith Pran bringing the Killing Fields to the world’s attention, is permanently undermined. And not for the worse. There are about 4 billion mobile phones in the world. About 65% of cell phones are in the developing world, and about half of the world’s residents will have mobile phones by 2012, according to the U.N. Whether it’s famine or war crimes, it’s increasingly unlikely that major events will go unnoticed and undocumented. And this is a great social good.

And this is where the original intent for this article shifted: too many journalists are hostile to the emerging models of new media, even if the net social benefit is significant. It makes it more difficult to rally to the defense of journalists if they refuse to participate in what’s happening. “Journalism is just for journalists” is no longer a defensible position. So, yes, there may very well be a catastrophe for some journalists — but it’s a self-inflicted wound.

The value a journalist still brings to the party in a situation like Iran is sorting through all the information and making sense of it for readers. Perhaps that seems a lot less special to some than breaking exclusives based on first-hand reporting. In fact, it’s not all that different from being a blogger, policy expert, or historian, and I expect we’ll see great contributions to journalism from all of these quarters. Welcome to the party.

I think people will very much value good analysis.  They can’t easily make sense of the flood of unfiltered information coming their way.  Great journalism can emerge when the record created by ordinary people is interpreted by professsionals. It’s largely because of the potential of this combination that I’m not all that worried that journalism is going to suffer in the long term. Painful restructuring ahead?  Yes. Lower pay for journalists?  Yes.  Less paper? Yes.  Greater competition? Yes. Worse journalism? I don’t think so. I think it’s going to become clear post-Iran 2009 that the information gained by the emergence of new media is outweighing the losses we’re suffering with print media.

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