rGn

Editor at Digg, before that at Reuters

The Anonymous Chat Tool You Need To Try

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A couple days ago, I stumbled across a link to this thing called ghostpost.io. Basically it’s a super low friction, anonymous chat tool that lets you create different rooms on the fly by changing what comes after the “.io” in the URL. 

Ghostpost.io isn’t anything revolutionary. But what makes it interesting is that, unlike Twitter or Facebook there’s zero on-boarding. You just talk. 

Here’s how I ended up using it. A group of ‘internet friends’ were trying to plan post-work drinks on Twitter and just ended up pissing each other off (and everyone who followed us) with incessant back and forth @ replies. So, I created a random room (http://ghostpost.io/pregame) and tweeted out the link so that we didn’t have to make plans over Twitter anymore. What ensued was a totally unstructured, stupid and fun conversation more reminiscent of an AOL chatroom. 

Right now, at least among a certain kind of user, there’s a demand for a place to have side-conversations away from your mass networks like Twitter or Facebook. Google+ and Branch try to fill this need, but they’re really structured and ask a lot of you before you actually get into a conversation. Ghostpost.io just gives you the room, and you start talking. 

What’s so refreshing is that it’s messy and disposable. It doesn’t care about being clean and having a sleek UI, it’s a hack. Who knows if I or anyone else will be using this a week from now. But right now, it gives me what I want, asks for nothing in return and gets out of my way. 

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President Obama wipes a tear while talking about the Newtown school shooting.

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President Obama wipes a tear while talking about the Newtown school shooting.

Twitter Wants to Put Social Media Editors Out of Business

                      

Social media editors thrive on chaos. Colleagues of mine like Anthony De Rosa (@AntDeRosa) and Matthew Keys (@ProducerMatthew) spend a ton of time poring over obscure tweets to find great content. For the regular user, it’s not easy to find the @ReallyVirtual's of the world. As a result, people follow social media editors to do that job for them. Twitter, however, has just taken a big step aimed at making the discovery of great content easier and reining in the chaos.

A few days ago Twitter released its first curated hashtag page in partnership with Nascar (here’s the page itself). The goal of this page and future iterations is to filter through the noise in a basic hashtag search and turn it into a neat, curated feed for ordinary users. Instead of burying a great behind-the-scenes pic uploaded by a driver beneath a mountain of less interesting hashtagged tweets, Twitter wants to surface this kind of content and present it in a clean product. With hashtag pages, Twitter is essentially cutting out the social media editor, the middle man in content discovery. 

This expansion into directly curating content is a continuation of Twitter taking the fate of its product into its own hands. TweetDeck created an invaluable, power-user experience, so Twitter bought them. Flipboard figured out a way to make content more visual and consumable, so Twitter created the Discover section. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that Twitter could iterate on its hashtag product to create something that covers breaking news events, the bread and butter of social media editors.  

Entire companies have been built on filling holes in Twitter’s product. TweetDeck, Hootsuite, GeoFeedia, Flipboard and many others grew on pain points unresolved by Twitter’s product. The job of the social media editor is no different. 

Now, social media editors will be an indispensable resource to Twitter for some time, and it’s possible that direct curation will never be fully productized. But the clarification that the hashtag product is designed for events not brands along with the hiring of Mark Luckie (@marksluckie) as Twitter’s Creative Content Manager for Journalism suggest otherwise. Social media editors probably won’t go away; they just may become much less important to the overall Twitter ecosystem and to the ordinary user. 

Twitter revolutionized journalism once before, and news organizations responded with the social media editor. Now it seems that the social media editor, the reaction to disruption, could be a victim of it. 

(Photo via http://bit.ly/LZcTBO)

Sometimes a Tweet is Worth a Thousand Words

Instead of wasting everyone’s time with a banal press release few would share, McDonald’s took down NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s proposed ban on large sugary drinks with a simple tweet. 

Facebook: The Party is Over

                               

Mark: You want to end the party at eleven.

Eduardo: I’m trying to pay for the party.

Mark: There won’t be a party unless it’s cool.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK

It’s eleven o’clock and a ton of people just found out Facebook’s party is over. 

Facebook had a pretty terrible day yesterday press-wise. In the morning, an AP/CNBC poll discovered nearly half of Americans think the social network is a passing fad. A few hours later, Wall Street Journal reported that General Motors planned to pull its advertising. At nearly the same time, serendipity served up a third-party infographic (published by WSJ) showing click through rates to be far below average on Facebook’s display ads. These three stories are doing a ton of damage to Facebook’s image by attacking two core parts of its narrative that are usually untouched: the party and how Facebook pays for the party. 

Now, Facebook has by no means had a free pass in the past when it comes to coverage. Privacy concerns have bloodied the company’s reputation repeatedly, and tech blogs give the network its fair share of grief. Rarely though do you see three stories on the same day from mainstream news outlets attacking two of its sacred cows: revenue potential and “coolness.”

First, the narrative of how Facebook pays for the party has just taken a sizable hit. With a major advertiser like GM literally saying that paid ads have "little effect on consumers," it becomes much more difficult to sell social (as opposed to Google’s approach) as the optimal way to target ads. Adding insult to injury, the WSJ published this infographic that showed Facebook’s click through rate on display ads to not only be just 1/8th Google’s, but also below the average for US banner ads as a whole. While paid ads are only part of Facebook’s overall experience, they are a gigantic part of its business. If more anecdotes and data appear knocking the effect of paid ads, it won’t be long before advertisers start shrinking their still fledgling budgets devoted to Facebook. 

Second, the party itself just isn’t cool anymore. Of the three articles the most damaging is CNBC’s and AP’s finding that nearly half of Americans feel Facebook is just a passing fad. Since its inception, Facebook has traded in an invaluable currency - it was undeniably cool. Ordinary consumers loved the company because it was radically transforming how they connected with friends, and investors fell over themselves trying to get a piece of its unprecedented growth. That narrative has rightly held up for quite some time, but it’s coming to an end. When Facebook announced the Instagram acquisition, many feared that Facebook (supposedly a company with its finger on the zeitgeist) would wreck the newer and “cooler” Instagram. This 12 year old summed it up best when she said, “Facebook is stupid and for old people.” 

Facebook’s party just isn’t cool anymore, and the ads that pay for it don’t really work that well. The party’s over, and it’s no fun when all your friends figure that out right before your birthday IPO. 

Corgis and Journalism Want to Coexist

A few hours ago, Nick Denton took a shot at BuzzFeed in Gawker’s new commenting section. 

Ben Smith’s quick-hit campaign “scoops” are about as viral as cat videos. That fits with Buzzfeed. But I suspect Smith has too much respect for journalistic accuracy to be comfortable with Jonah Peretti’s stunts. Remember that Buzzfeed’s founder made his name with fake news, like the Nike letter ([www.guardian.co.uk]). And Peretti’s craving for the quick viral fix will not be satisfied by the nourishing fare put out by prestige hires like Doree Shafrir and Matt Buchanan. Either before or after acquisition, Buzzfeed will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. (Gawker)

Denton’s main point is that meaty journalism like John Herrman’s excellent explainer on internet copyright simply can’t sit peacefully alongside this stately frog. He claims that reporters like Ben Smith can’t and won’t countenance the deluge of dishwater cats and kitten picnics. As a result, Denton hints that BuzzFeed will inevitably be torn apart by a kind of civil war pitting meme against journalist. 

Denton would have a very fair point if it weren’t for the fact that every “real” journalist who has joined BuzzFeed has likely done so embracing the site’s meme driven DNA and business model. When Ben Smith was brought on as Editor-In-Chief, it’s hard to imagine that Peretti somehow sold him on the job by making the site’s future out to be something it’s not.

More than anything, Smith probably signed on believing in BuzzFeed’s business model of getting people to come for the fashionable ducks strutting in couture and stay for the real reporting. The model probably works something like this. BuzzFeed mints page views off of super viral posts (like this one that has over 2.5 million views in about a week) and then leverages the accompanying revenue to fund the kind of reporting that guys like Matt Buchanan live to do. Over time, repeat visitors start coming back not just for the adorable bear cubs but also for their daily political or tech news. Sure, a lot of folks are just looking for their next anthropomorphized animal fix and will never touch the real news. But a percentage will start making BuzzFeed their one stop shop for content on the web. Given the ridiculous reach of their viral posts, that percentage could eventually become bigger than the daily traffic for dedicated news sites. Sell some ads against that traffic, and you’ve got a pretty nice (and profitable) business.

As far as I can tell, BuzzFeed isn’t going away any time soon thanks to what appears to be pretty sound business model engineered from the ground up to take advantage of the web as it is today, not as it was two years or even one year ago. But really, BuzzFeed’s probable future success can all be traced back to one immutable law of nature. Corgis and journalism just naturally want to live together. 

(Corgi image courtesy of BuzzFeed ‘duh’ / Newspaper image from here)