Notable things: Tumblr’s pride is justified, but misplaced; newspaper ad sales are on a very long slide; indoor navigation has an accuracy problem

Here’s the headline: “Tumblr boasts nearly 170 million monthly visitors

Only that’s not quite right. Those 170 million monthly visitors aren’t going to Tumblr.com for the sake of visiting Tumblr. They’re looking at this kind of thing (and rightfully so, because it’s awesome).

That’s an important difference. I have no issue if those numbers are meant to show the rise of Tumblr as a publishing platform. But if the stats are trying to place Tumblr in the same domain as other top sites, we need to take a step back and consider the context.

Here’s Quantcast’s* current list of the top 10 sites “based on the number of people in the United States who visit each site within a month”:

  1. Google; 194,407,568 [monthly people in the U.S.]
  2. YouTube; 174,158,768
  3. Facebook; 140,719,136
  4. MSN; 98,480,592
  5. Twitter; 91,263,448
  6. Yahoo; 79,030,880
  7. Amazon; 76,791,592
  8. Wikipedia; 68,114,712
  9. Microsoft; 63,044,600
  10. Huffingtonpost; 61,289,024

Tumblr is a publishing platform / discovery tool. The only other sites in the top 10 that compare — and this is a reach — are YouTube and Twitter. Both of those sites are also utilities — a significant portion of their engagement and distribution occurs off-site via embeds and external tools. Tumblr doesn’t really work that way.

Tumblr is closer to WordPress.com and Blogger, and that comparison is where things get interesting.

From the same Quantcast stats:

No. 15: Tumblr; 51,947,516 [monthly people in the U.S.]
No. 17: WordPress: 51,182,896
No. 19: Blogger: 48,293,848

Tumblr certainly has something to celebrate, but it isn’t the thing that’s being played up.

*I’m using Quantcast data because that’s the source of the “170 million” figure. The validity of Quantcast’s numbers is beyond the scope of this admittedly feeble examination.


Alan Mutter says newspaper ad sales have fallen 25 quarters in a row:

It is a testimony to the legendarily high operating margins of the [newspaper] industry and the considerable cost-slashing skills of contemporary publishers that nearly all the newspapers in business in mid-2006, when the trouble began, are still plugging along today.

The full piece is worth a read.


Last week I said I need an app for finding products in stores. Sadly, that’s an itch that will remain itchy for some time:

Analysts caution that the technology is still immature, with high costs and accuracy issues keeping more prospective customers on the sidelines. Adding more Wi-Fi access points and other hardware is expensive. Most indoor positioning systems, even using Wi-Fi, still miss the precise location by several feet. And there aren’t enough high-end smartphones in the market that can handle indoor positioning. [Emphasis added.]

“Several feet” isn’t good enough when you can’t find the damn Tobasco sauce.

Newspapers’ odd infatuation with unnecessary explanation [Quote]

The software industry has a concept known as “legacy code,” meaning old stuff that is left in software programs, even after they are revised and updated, so that they will still work with older operating systems. The equivalent exists in…

The software industry has a concept known as “legacy code,” meaning old stuff that is left in software programs, even after they are revised and updated, so that they will still work with older operating systems. The equivalent exists in newspaper stories, which are written to accommodate readers who have just emerged from a coma or a coal mine. — Michael Kinsley, “ Cut This Story!

Revealed! The true motivations behind survey data

Alan Mutter looks at the face-palm-inducing results from a recent newspaper publisher survey. Apparently, execs have high hopes for 2010. Very, very high hopes. Ridiculousness aside (and these results are truly ridiculous), I found the end of Mutter’s piece quite…

Alan Mutter looks at the face-palm-inducing results from a recent newspaper publisher survey. Apparently, execs have high hopes for 2010. Very, very high hopes.

Ridiculousness aside (and these results are truly ridiculous), I found the end of Mutter’s piece quite interesting. I think most survey data is crap because it has no way of incorporating the qualitative, subconscious motivations of respondents. People are emotional creatures with wacky ideas. Yet, survey companies and analysts throw projections out there under the billowy banner of Truth.

That’s why I was heartened to see the underlying explanations/motivations laid out by one of the guys behind this newspaper survey. This is the type of honesty surveys need:

  • “Wishful thinking.”
  • “Print people over-estimating the potential of online (which is the sole factor contributing positive gain).”
  • “Corporate insistence to make the online look better.”
  • “If I don’t show better numbers, they’ll cut my budget.
  • “Optimism is better than slitting your wrists.”

Yes! A thousand times yes! This is the meaty, emotionally-honest stuff I want to see. It forces people to take surveys with a grain of salt. Surveys have some value, I’ll give you that, but they’re only a reference point. That’s it. The end-all-be-all, we’re-sure-this-will-happen authoritarian perspective is useless.

An exclusive search engine deal for newspapers can’t be far off

Reports suggest Microsoft is courting European publishers for some sort of Bing-based news thing. Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch continues to shake his fist at Google. Cory Doctorow connects the potential dots at Boing Boing: So here’s what I think it going…

Reports suggest Microsoft is courting European publishers for some sort of Bing-based news thing. Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch continues to shake his fist at Google. Cory Doctorow connects the potential dots at Boing Boing:

So here’s what I think it going on. Murdoch has no intention of shutting down search-engine traffic to his sites, but he’s still having lurid fantasies inspired by the momentary insanity that caused Google to pay him for the exclusive right to index MySpace (thus momentarily rendering MySpace a visionary business-move instead of a ten-minutes-behind-the-curve cash-dump).

So what he’s hoping is that a second-tier search engine like Bing or Ask (or, better yet, some search tool you’ve never heard of that just got $50MM in venture capital) will give him half a year’s operating budget in exchange for a competitive advantage over Google.

Toss in the growing idea that Twitter, Facebook and other recommendation-based results are now more important than Google traffic and we’ve got a very interesting set of signals.

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 …)