Amazon Resurrects Orwell Annotations and Opens a New Can of Worms

In an attempt to tie up the Orwell debacle, Amazon is offering affected customers replacement copies of “1984” or “Animal Farm” and the reinstatement of any personal annotations. From the New York Times: Amazon said in an e-mail message to…

In an attempt to tie up the Orwell debacle, Amazon is offering affected customers replacement copies of “1984” or “Animal Farm” and the reinstatement of any personal annotations. From the New York Times:

Amazon said in an e-mail message to those customers that if they chose to have their digital copies restored, they would be able to see any digital annotations they had made. [Emphasis added.]

It’s been more than a month since Amazon extracted the questionable Kindle editions, yet assumed-dead user notes now spring phoenix-like from the Orwellian ashes. Why the delay? Amazon, it would appear, claims jurisdiction over the saving, disassociation, and, if it’s feeling magnanimous or motivated, full reinstatement of user notes according to its own schedule.

Playing devil’s advocate, it may be that Amazon felt the controversy surrounding the Orwell deletions warranted back up of the notes, and perhaps the restoration delay was tied to a rights issue. But even with these (potential) explanations, a “surprise note resurrection” reeks of creepiness. If Amazon didn’t delete annotations associated with illegal books — an unfortunate but reasonable bit of collateral damage — then what does it delete? Are the mistakes and alterations in my shopping cart history burned into a permanent record? Can a deleted S3 file miraculously reanimate? I can’t help but raise an eyebrow toward all of Amazon’s services, which is a shame since I admire the company’s non-Kindle offerings.

Naturally Scarce Products Call “Shotgun.” Advertising, You’re in Back

In an interview with CNBC, Gary Hoenig, general manager for ESPN The Magazine, says the economic downturn put advertising in the hot seat: … the overdependence on advertising is a real crutch for media and this is an opportunity for…

In an interview with CNBC, Gary Hoenig, general manager for ESPN The Magazine, says the economic downturn put advertising in the hot seat:

… the overdependence on advertising is a real crutch for media and this is an opportunity for us to actually get to the consumer and say, “Hey, what are you willing to pay for”?

The advertising conundrum is something I’ve run up against throughout my career. In an odd way, my focus on Web content forced me to confront the detriments of advertising earlier than my print and broadcast comrades because Web ad rates have always been low. The rest of the industry is learning what Web folks already know: ad revenue kinda sucks.

When I started to conceptualize a sustainable model for online content businesses — a project I’ve been working on for quite a while — I pushed advertising to the back burner. It’s still present, and money can certainly be made in the online ad realm, but it’s a rickety foundation for a content business. That’s why I diversified the revenue streams across naturally scarce products (education, consulting, research, in-person events), sponsorships, and advertising. The aggregate is far more stable than advertising alone.

And speaking of that sustainable model for online content businesses project: each section includes a comments area, and I welcome all suggestions and criticisms. The model’s fundamental concepts aren’t original, and I’m certainly not positioning this as anything revolutionary. Rather, it’s a collection of ideas, theories and guidelines that I collected over the years and arranged into a structure. What it becomes and where it goes are up in the air, but I found the organization and writing process quite useful. The framework helps me parse the vast number of perspectives and innovations I run across.

“User” and “Customer” are Different Animals In the Freemium World

The New York Times’ recent piece on Evernote inadvertently cracked open an important question in the “freemium” discussion: What’s the difference between a user and a customer? The language attached to freemium business models requires specificity because these businesses associate…

The New York Times’ recent piece on Evernote inadvertently cracked open an important question in the “freemium” discussion: What’s the difference between a user and a customer?

The language attached to freemium business models requires specificity because these businesses associate expectations with distinct user groups. With freemium, there’s a vast canyon between free access (users) and pay access (customers); they are not synonymous. That’s why the following clarifications are necessary:

User — A visitor who accesses a site, product or platform, but does not pay. Example: I use Dropbox, but I don’t pay for the top-tier services (yet …)

Customer — A converted user who now pays for premium access or services. Example: As my storage needs increase and I become more reliant on Dropbox, I’ll likely convert into a paying customer.

I realize this entire post teeters on nitpicky semantics, but heated debates require clear boundaries.

Sidenote: I highly recommend the Times’ Evernote story. It’s a great representation of the opportunities and obstacles that come with freemium models, and it has actual numbers.

Yes, But How Do You Feel? Sentiment Joins the Web Analytics Toolset

The New York Times examines sentiment analysis: An emerging field known as sentiment analysis is taking shape around one of the computer world’s unexplored frontiers: translating the vagaries of human emotion into hard data. This is more than just an…

The New York Times examines sentiment analysis:

An emerging field known as sentiment analysis is taking shape around one of the computer world’s unexplored frontiers: translating the vagaries of human emotion into hard data.

This is more than just an interesting programming exercise. For many businesses, online opinion has turned into a kind of virtual currency that can make or break a product in the marketplace.

Amy Martin briefly mentioned sentiment during her presentation at Twitter Boot Camp in June (the sentiment stuff is in slide No. 9). The concept caught my attention because it strays from typical number-centric measurements like page views, user-session times or velocity. For someone like me, who believes numbers and non-numerical “soft” analysis must exist in harmony, it injects a much-needed psychological component into the audience dynamic. This commingling of data and feelings is why NBC Local’s mood tool is so interesting.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves with the touchy feely business. Sentiment’s power as a data point is limited because it’s a loaded concept with infinite variations. If my “positive” could be your “neutral,” how can a measurement tool adequately capture sentiment on a broad, numerical level? It can’t. Not reliably, anyway. Wild swings and spikes will appear in graphs, but small percentage shifts between open-ended terms are too ambiguous to rely upon. That’s why sentiment needs to function as a general data point for online engagement. It’s a single tool on a big analytics workbench.

“Twitter Effect” Story Covers Consumer Tech Without the Hysteria (… It’s About Time)

I was ready to rip this Twitter Effect story for being one of many “trend out of thin air” pieces commonly found in consumer-centric technology coverage. But I was pleasantly surprised to have my initial assumptions proven incorrect. The headline…

I was ready to rip this Twitter Effect story for being one of many “trend out of thin air” pieces commonly found in consumer-centric technology coverage. But I was pleasantly surprised to have my initial assumptions proven incorrect.

The headline teeters on hype, but the story itself asks a reasonable question — do rapid-fire Twitter reviews influence film revenue? — and (gasp!) presents multiple viewpoints that don’t glom on to comfortable conclusions. The piece, which is really worth a read, says Twitter might influence receipts for some films. It’s nice to see nuance for a change.

“Set It and Forget It” Doesn’t Apply to Comments

Fred Wilson discusses the effort behind good user comments and conversations: But if the author of the news story, or opinion piece, or blog post, tends to the comments, replies to the good ones, signals the bad ones, chastises the…

Fred Wilson discusses the effort behind good user comments and conversations:

But if the author of the news story, or opinion piece, or blog post, tends to the comments, replies to the good ones, signals the bad ones, chastises the loudmouth bullies, and generally runs the comment threads like a serious discussion group, a serious discussion will result.

It’s an issue for the news industry because tending to comment threads is not part of a journalist’s traditional job. But I would argue that it is now and they ought to get busy doing it. For one, the journalists that do it and do it well will be better read. And they’ll be better informed. They’ll get tips in the comment threads. They’ll get constructive criticism that will help them do their job better. And they’ll get leads on new stories before others will.

I’ll add this: The tipping point for comments is when users stop talking to the author of a piece and start conversing intelligently with each other. Reaching this commenting utopia requires an inclusive mindset from the original author/writer/poster. You have to value discourse, not just top-down pontification.

The Wall Street Journal is Not a Newspaper

Rupert Murdoch continues to bang the drum for pay walls: “Quality journalism is not cheap,” Mr Murdoch said, noting that the success of The Wall Street Journal’s online subscription offering has convinced him that consumers will pay for news online…

Rupert Murdoch continues to bang the drum for pay walls:

“Quality journalism is not cheap,” Mr Murdoch said, noting that the success of The Wall Street Journal’s online subscription offering has convinced him that consumers will pay for news online that differentiates itself from the mass of information available free on the web. “A newspaper that gives away its content is simply cannibalising its ability to produce good reporting.”

There’s a fine distinction within this excerpt: The Wall Street Journal is not a newspaper. It’s a provider of targeted information that its audience uses to guide financial decisions. The value proposition is driven by the actions and outcomes the information facilitates. General news rarely offers this type of value, which means the commonalities between the WSJ and newspapers are limited to bits, print, ink and distribution.

That’s not to say the WSJ doesn’t provide a lesson for general news publishers. The key is to provide tangible, actionable value for the audience via content. That’s what WSJ subscribers are buying (or configuring …)

1-800-Flowers.com Facebook Store Good Step Forward for Online Retail

1-800-Flowers.com has opened the first retail store within Facebook, according to the Associated Press (don’t worry AP, I won’t quote you). This is what the Facebook shopping experience looks like: Seems like you’re shopping in a widget, right? You are….

1-800-Flowers.com has opened the first retail store within Facebook, according to the Associated Press (don’t worry AP, I won’t quote you).

This is what the Facebook shopping experience looks like:

1-800-Flowers.com Facebook Store

1-800-Flowers.com Facebook Store

Seems like you’re shopping in a widget, right? You are. And that’s awesome.

Shopping within a widget or ad is nothing new. The 1-800-Flowers.com move is notable because a major retailer offering its products through a massive audience platform is evidence the big companies are starting to get it: They need to sell their goods where audiences already gather.

Creating a retail experience within a popular social networking service is an important acknowledgement that online audiences are empowered to go where they want, when they want. Companies need to work with audience behavior, not bend it to their will.

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Piracy Is About Choice, Not Free

Spotify co-founder Daniel Ek just landed a future customer (me) with this comment in the New York Times: “Piracy is essentially the consumer’s wish to have everything on demand. It’s not like people want to necessarily have it for free,”…

Spotify co-founder Daniel Ek just landed a future customer (me) with this comment in the New York Times:

“Piracy is essentially the consumer’s wish to have everything on demand. It’s not like people want to necessarily have it for free,” Mr. Ek said. The problem is that there have not been commercial services “that allowed people to discover new music and easily share music with friends,” he said.

Well put.

Content Creators vs. Content Aggregators: Can’t We All Get Along?

ReadWriteWeb looks at the increasing popularity of Breaking News Online, a news aggregator that’s harnessing the power of Twitter and other Web platforms (and it just happens to be run by a 19-year-old). Within the piece, ReadWriteWeb hits on the…

ReadWriteWeb looks at the increasing popularity of Breaking News Online, a news aggregator that’s harnessing the power of Twitter and other Web platforms (and it just happens to be run by a 19-year-old). Within the piece, ReadWriteWeb hits on the central issue of aggregators: can they use original content created by other outlets to turn popularity into profit?

All of this is fascinating, but isn’t BNO still just an aggregator? In traditional media outlets “aggregator” is a dirty word (unless they are the ones doing the aggregation). In fact, Breaking News Online does very little original reporting. The company is going to monetize its research flow, editorial judgment, distribution channels…and links to other peoples’ content. If BNO is successful, there is a real risk of original content publishers objecting to the fact that someone else has found a way to make money off of (links sending traffic to) their content.

This aggregator antagonism needs to end. Like it or not, content creators ultimately benefit from the increased exposure and traffic aggregators supply. Creators are generally lousy at Web distribution because they can’t shake the allure of lock in (you need to read my content on my site), but aggregators — unencumbered by oldthink — know the value of broad and diffuse distribution. Compare Breaking News Online’s Twitter presence with that of most mainstream outlets and you can see the stark difference: BNO understands you have to serve the audience through the platforms where it’s already congregating. Repurposing RSS feeds as tweets isn’t enough.

What kills me about all this content creator chest pounding is that these organizations are missing the central point: As long as aggregators point traffic back to source sites, both sides benefit in this relationship.