Category Archives: Stories of Note

The cult of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly

As a kid, I used to live for new editions of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly. Apparently, I wasn’t alone:

American boys growing up in the 1980s approached Beckett Baseball Card Monthly with something like religious reverence. For many of us, it was the first magazine we bought and the only one we leafed through regularly. The magazine’s circulation eventually reached about 1 million, with many of those issues no doubt destined for the book bags of young boys. We walked the school hallways in the ’80s with our Becketts sandwiched between our textbooks, and we followed the price fluctuations of our favorite players with slavish devotion. Beckett’s valuations served as the foundation for all card trades.

And just so everyone realizes how serious/geeky I was about baseball cards: I worked at The Baseball Shop in Orleans, Ma. through most of high school. I loved this stuff.

This video won’t save book publishing, but it sure is creative

The magazine industry might want to consult the following video the next time they’re fighting for consumers’ hearts and minds.

Be sure to watch the whole thing. It’s not what it initially appears to be. And you might want to gird yourself for the inevitable torrent of copycats to come.

Facebook Connect and lock-in through ubiquity

FacebookHere’s an interesting piece from the New York Times that looks at Facebook Connect’s growing role as a sign-on / social graph utility. Twitter and Google have similar products. Why is this important? This excerpt sums it up:

Since Facebook Connect was introduced in December 2008, more than 80,000 Web sites and services have put the log-in feature to use, said Ethan Beard, director of the Facebook developer network … “Facebook is evolving through Facebook Connect into much more than a Web site,” said Mr. Beard, who works closely with Facebook’s community of third-party developers. “It’s also a technology and a service to provide social plumbing and creating a social layer the whole Web can leverage.” [Emphasis added.]

These sign-on services, along with other APIs, attempt to achieve lock-in through ubiquity. That’s infinitely fascinating to me. Take Twitter, for example. It’s become the standard for micromessaging (or microblogging or whatever you want to call it) not by forcing people into a silo, but by allowing the Twitter service to seep into the web’s nooks and crannies. Put another way: “platform” is way more powerful than “website.”

The Long Tail and iPhone app usage: Nothing surprising here

From The New York Times:

The average iPhone or iPod Touch owner uses 5 to 10 apps regularly, according to Flurry, a research firm that studies mobile trends. This despite the surfeit of available apps: some 140,000 and counting.

I’ve seen the same stat mentioned before. Heck, I referenced that stat in a piece I wrote. But what I find surprising is that anyone is surprised by this. It’s the behavioral equivalent of the Long Tail: a few apps get frequent use — the blockbusters — while the others wane after post-installation popularity or, even worse, don’t get downloaded at all.

Instead of this broad-based stuff, what I’d really like to see is data that links up people’s interests/professions with their most-used apps.

God bless Apple’s anti-vaporware stance

Kudos to Joel Johnson for elegantly noting one of Apple’s most profound strengths: it doesn’t muck about in vaporware.

From Gizmodo:

The fact that Apple does not reveal prototypes but shipping products is the fundamental difference between their entire business strategy and that of the rest of the industry. It evokes a feeling of trust between Apple and consumers — that when Apple actually reveals a product, it’s something that they’re confident enough to support for years to come.

Put another way …

Maybe it’s a Scottish thing

I’ve always wondered why I’m so obsessive about using every last bit of content. A post from Steve Forbes suggests heritage might be the culprit:

In essence my grandfather B.C. Forbes, a penniless Scottish immigrant who founded our company, was a blogger. He hated the idea of not being able to use all of the material he gathered while reporting. That was one of the reasons that propelled him to start Forbes magazine in addition to his column — so that he could publish all of the information he compiled.

I like that. It’s a far better conclusion than pure psychosis.

And since you’re here, you might want to check out my Twitter feed, my FriendFeed account, my Tumblr, my Google Reader Shared Items page, and my LinkedIn group.

Hey, journalists, this is why you need a blog

A phenomenal post from Jason Fry at the National Sports Journalism Center:

When I started Faith and Fear in Flushing with my friend Greg Prince in the winter of 2005, I’d been at The Wall Street Journal Online for nearly 10 years. But despite all that time as a Web guy, I’d adopted some rather unhealthy attitudes. I was studiously uninterested in knowing how many readers read my columns, and only took a passing interest in their reactions to them. I thought that my job was to be a thinker and a writer. Worrying about traffic numbers? That was somebody else’s job – and a lesser calling.

This was arrogant and dumb, and a few weeks of writing Faith and Fear showed me that. On my own blog, the numbers were of immense interest to me. I pored over them every day in an effort to figure out what posts were connecting with readers and what posts weren’t. I was singing for my supper, and it made me a better columnist. If a column was well written but didn’t seem to connect, I wasn’t happy with it. I no longer dismissed Web traffic as not my job, complained about writing promos for my stuff, or gave reader comments and emails short shrift. And I realized those folks on the business side were critical to our collective success, and could teach me things. [Emphasis added.]

I’ll add this: journalism’s biggest mistake was allowing business apathy/hatred among the editorial ranks. That’s a far more egregious “sin” than publishing free Web content.

Followers aren’t readers, so let’s stop fooling ourselves

Anil Dash follows up his great post on Twitter’s suggested user list with an equally great piece that politely challenges Twitter follower counts. As he notes, analytics and inflated self-importance are nothing new:

It’s a bit like when I worked at a newspaper: Every reporter thought “Well, our circulation is a million copies, that must mean a million people read my column.” Facing the reality that only 10,000 of those people read the column, or that perhaps only 1,000 of them were reading the advertisement on the opposite page, forced a useful and important reckoning into some false assumptions that were underpinning that industry’s workings.

The key here — and Dash mentions this in his post — is to dispel overblown notions so analytics become useful. Follower counts have value, just as page views, uniques, user-session times, circulation figures and subscription numbers do. But all those numbers have to be filtered through the realities of passivity and engagement.

Would freelancers build businesses if it was easier?

I’m as pro-freelance as they come, but Scott Shane makes an excellent point in his BusinessWeek piece “Beware the Freelance Economy“:

What if the shift toward non-employer businesses reflects a belief that building a business with employees has become too much of a hassle? Entrepreneurs don’t want to deal with issues of health insurance and managing people and all of the things that come with building an organization. So instead they are tending to start more non-employer businesses, with the result that the firms they establish are less substantial and contribute less to employment than the startups created in decades past.

I’m intrigued by his point about the hassle of health insurance. That’s key. If that obstacle was reduced, would some of those non-employers consider hiring workers? And wouldn’t that create opportunities for those small businesses to grow? And, extending that idea further, wouldn’t a percentage of those small firms inevitably transform into large, important businesses? Luck alone would allow for that.

My parents own a small business and I’ve watched them engage in an annual struggle with overhead. Health insurance being the most notable expense. Bearing witness to that shaped my own entrepreneurial instincts. I have no interest in taking on what I perceive to be the “extraneous” expense of employees. But if the system was different, if it was easier to hire employees and provide them with appropriate benefits, I would absolutely reevaluate my perspective.

Sidenote: What Shane addresses in this column is the hint of an issue, and I appreciate that. There might be nothing to the rise of non-employer businesses. But there might be something to it, too. I like his approach here. It’s not run-of-the-mill, hey-look-at-me punditry. He’s workshopping an idea in a public forum.