You can still find the group of people who care about the same weird thing you do

The internet’s ability to connect continues to matter.

Reading through Farhad Manjoo’s piece “How Online Hobbyists Can Reaffirm Your Faith in the Internet,” I was reminded of one of the internet’s great gifts: frictionless affinity.

The ability to find a couple hundred people — maybe even a few thousand — who are interested in that one hobby, movie, TV show, team, etc. that you’re excited about is an amazing thing. I’ve experienced this a bunch of times, most notably with communities that formed around “The X-Files” and “Lost.” I had a blast writing and theorizing and talking about these shows. Those experiences wouldn’t have happened if I’d been limited by geography or time. My enthusiasm would have been stunted, and that’s just not right. If you love something, you should be able to really love it.

What’s important here is that the great things about the internet still exist. They’re still built in. And if we choose to emphasize those attributes, to double down on what’s good and avoid the pitfalls that are clearer now than ever before, it can continue to benefit us.

Heads up, traditional media! Pay very close attention to what OK Go just did

It’s rare when you see such a clear example of the Internet’s disruption: OK Go, the band best known for its clever music videos, has severed ties with its record label, EMI. The reason? The label is caught in old-think…

It’s rare when you see such a clear example of the Internet’s disruption: OK Go, the band best known for its clever music videos, has severed ties with its record label, EMI. The reason? The label is caught in old-think and wants to disable the embed function on the group’s web-based videos.

OK Go … God bless ’em … told EMI to politely bugger off. The band knows embedding is an absolute must-have if you want to harness the web’s power.

Speaking of which, here’s the group’s latest masterpiece:

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…

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.

Social media doesn’t make money directly, but it still has enormous value

Perhaps it’s a function of the intricate tracking the Web provides, but I’m still amazed at media’s inability to grasp the secondary (and often, tertiary) value of community efforts. So let’s make this as clear as clear can be: Twitter,…

Perhaps it’s a function of the intricate tracking the Web provides, but I’m still amazed at media’s inability to grasp the secondary (and often, tertiary) value of community efforts.

So let’s make this as clear as clear can be: Twitter, Facebook, forums and other social media functions rarely make money directly. Their value comes from the attention they gather and the opportunities that attention creates. If you have a mass of people who have willingly opted-in to your messaging, you damn well better put useful, for-pay products in front of them. Otherwise, all you’ve got is a social club.

This recent piece from Forbes does a nice job tearing down the direct-revenue mindset.

The glory of a thought process, as illustrated by John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is leaving BusinessWeek to start a new business (not exactly a newsflash, I know). I generally don’t care much if a bigwig leaves a position to venture out on his or her own. That happens all the…

John A. Byrne is leaving BusinessWeek to start a new business (not exactly a newsflash, I know). I generally don’t care much if a bigwig leaves a position to venture out on his or her own. That happens all the time. But Byrne is different. BusinessWeek, for all its financial trouble, has a phenomenal web presence, and much of that was built under Byrne’s watch. He’s also a guy who inherently understands the power of direct communication with the audience. Just take a look at his Twitter feed. How many editors engage like that?

And then there’s this …

In a blog post announcing his new venture, he articulates the beliefs that guide his thinking about digital content:

I have three fundamental beliefs that inform my thinking: 1) Print advertising will never come back. There are just too many options for advertisers today and too much pressure on rates. Sadly, success in print will be measured in single-digit declines, forever. 2) Online advertising will never offset those declines nor save print. There’s far too much competition online and far too much available inventory; and 3) Users will not pay for content, unless they’re convinced it has immediate and tangible value. Very little journalism meets that standard today. Do we really need 57 versions of a story on Bernie Madoff pleading guilty?

That’s a beautiful paragraph. Here’s why:

  1. He’s dead on.
  2. It illustrates the type of structural thinking that turns vague ideas into real businesses. We need more editors and publishers who work this way. Big ideas and grand plans cannot stand on their own. They have to be crammed into a structure — a mental furnace that burns away assumptions. Otherwise, all you’ve got is brain-based vaporware. That useless, fluffy business school nonsense that gets retweeted, and buzzed, and expanded into book form. We’ve got enough of that.

I speak from experience with this structure stuff. I used to wander aimlessly through the “future of content” world, distracted by shiny new things and influenced by flavor-of-the-week thinking (I once thought micropayments were totally going to happen … ugh.) But six months ago I decided to map out my own structure for all this digital disruption business. The result is this. I have no idea if it has any value as an actual business model, but the writing process forced me to hone and articulate the thousands of rants and opinions brewing in my head. Now, when I’m confronted with a new idea or perspective, I can feed it into this structure and quickly examine the various angles. It’s helped me tremendously. I’ve got my footing now.

“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.