Ghosts of blogging future

On Inside PR #2.17, Gini Dietrich and I talked about ghost blogging, a subject that has been haunting the blogosphere for a long time.  Much has been written about the ethics surrounding it. It’s a debate about authorship and authority. If your name appears on a blog, you should be the person who writes it.  Of course there are exceptions, like clearly identified guest posts, but other than that, the ‘rules’ are pretty rigid.

At the risk of unleashing the ire of ghost busters, I wonder if this approach has become too simplistic.

Blogs have moved beyond digital journals to become an effective publishing format. Seth Godin’s recent views on shifting from traditional to electronic publishing tie into this. Social media newsrooms are essentially blog platforms designed to distribute and share content and news without a single author’s point of view. With the confluence of portable digital devices, all-access Wi-Fi and the need to conserve scarce resources (i.e. trees), it’s easy to see how ‘blogger’ could become synonymous with ‘publisher’. A blog house could be the 21st century version of publishing house, home to commercial and non-commercial fiction, non-fiction, humour, travel, cooking, business, text books, anything really – even nameless instruction manuals. Now imagine we add video and real-time conversation to the mix…

I’m not saying we should abandon personal voices and ideas. Far from it. That’s where innovation begins before heading on its circuitous path from indie to establishment.

We should all strive for transparency and authenticity, yet maybe the blog-of-old has outgrown its initial framework and ghost blogging is no longer the issue it once was. Like the printing press, blogs could evolve into the catalyst that reshapes and redefines publishing. Now that’s a bestseller I wouldn’t want to miss!

What do you think?

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Is speed slowing down original thought?

I was recently thinking about some of the great 20th century authors and the volumes they created using a typewriter to bang out their prose (or maybe a pen…). Starting with a finite blank page, typing, x-ing things out, reading it over, scribbling edits by hand, retyping and repeating till they felt their stories were complete. It was a long, solitary and arduous journey. And it produced works of genius.

And I wonder if the passion for immediacy in our web 2.0 world is running counter to that process.  I’m not saying we should hang onto the past. I am saying it sometimes feels like we’re trading speed for reflection.

Yes, we can spew out words and ideas on a keyboard (much like this), quickly read it over, spell check (hopefully), link and publish.  But how much time are we spending rewriting? Looking at our ideas from a different angle, a fresh perspective, the benefit of time; and then revising or maybe starting anew.

These days, I’m getting a lot of  mini aha moments; that is idea-bursts from blogs, tweets, articles and observations online.  And while these are energizing kernels of thought, sometimes they’re not enough. And I crave the brilliance I still get from certain authors or a great, sprawling conversation.

Perhaps we need the equivalent of writerly speed limits, i.e. slow down our prose, choose words more selectively, be a bit less prolific and take that extra time to consider before we hit publish or press send.

Sure we can all be writers. Maybe we need to become reflectors too.

My.sxsw – a recap

Now that the tweets have settled and FourSquare’s down to a dull roar (i.e. most days you’ll find me checked into my office), I thought I’d recap my experiences at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive Festival.

First the highlights:

I guess I’m a Panel Nerd at heart. I go to conferences to listen to people I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to hear, learn things and hopefully open my mind.

Among the sessions that stood out for me were Christie Nicholson’s overview of the interface between human brains and computers. I wanted to try the EEG shower cap that non-invasively reads impulses outside the brain, especially when I saw the video of a journalist who thought of letters and saw them materialize on a screen in front of him.

Danah Boyd offered a challenging keynote on privacy and publicity in a world where we have become our own big brothers: ‘Now social media makes conversations public by default, private through effort. This is a complete shift in the way we used to act.’

Clay Shirky is as engaging and intellectually challenging in person as he is in his book. Here are two nuggets he shared: ‘Abundance is a bigger challenge to society than scarcity’ and ‘behaviour is motivation filtered through opportunity’.

I also enjoyed the networking and the opportunity to get to know new people and exchange ideas with them, as well as actually meeting some of the folks I’ve been reading/following for a while.  That said, you soon realize the stars of SXSWi can only been seen from the planetarium that is the Ausin Convention Centre and not from a middle-American night sky…

Now my.downside:

SXSW is a big party scene – I know that shouldn’t be news – and some people place a premium on VIP lists, jumping the cue and hoarse throats. Now, I went to a few soirees (hey, I am social), but honestly I preferred the ones where you could actually talk to people instead of screaming at the top of your lungs at someone who can’t hear you and who you know is nodding out of politeness. (Or maybe my age is showing.)

Evan William’s keynote was a  major disappointment. We were there to hear the Oracle of Tweet but what we got was a pompous interviewer and little insight. The two convention halls were overflowing at the start of the session and overflowing with people leaving halfway through.  It’s too bad. I’m sure with better questions, Williams would have had something to say.

The quality of the panels was definitely mixed.  I think there should be better curation and guidelines as to who can present on what topic in order to set higher standards. Maybe there should be fewer sessions, with presenters doing their talk more than once.  Also, every room should have had AV so you can hear what people have to say.

For me, the two worst sessions were: A guy who took us through a deck you knew he used to pitch new business – complete with client testimonials; and the panel where one woman extolled the virtues of ‘ads that look like content’ and then rushed out to catch a flight before answering questions, followed by a guy who was so hung-over he looked dumbfounded by every slide he incoherently presented.

If you want to hear more, have a listen to Inside PR #197 where Robert Scoble answers the 4Qs.  I also had an opportunity to interview Brian Solis and Chris Barger, who will be featured on upcoming episodes.

My good friend Gini Dietrich blogged about her decision not to go and makes some valid points.

Special thanks to Keith McArthur and Michelle Kostya for being my panel/social buddies.

Will I make the pilgrimage next year?  I think so – it’s hard to match the overall calibre and energy of the event and the fact that you have thousands of social media practitioners in one place at one time – all trying to figure out the next big social thing.

Tips for creating and distributing viral videos – sxsw

Surprise, have a big reveal, be positive, know your audience.

These are some of the tips presented in the SXSW panel: How to Create a Viral Video, featuring Margaret Gould Stewart from YouTube/Google, Damian Kulas from the band OK Go and Jason Wishnow from TED.  The SXSW hashtag is: # howtocreateviral.

The group began with definitions of what makes a video viral:

Damian: A video is viral if a significant part of the viewership wants to distribute it. Or if it has anything to do with with ‘boobs and kittens’.

Margaret:  It’s all about showing something human, love, laughter, sex…  Lots of videos go viral by accident.

Content matters
Jason: TED Talks tries to spread ideas and its videos – essentially taped lectures – have been viewed 230 million times.  He attributes TED’s success to the fact that they begin all the videos with a bang and incorporate professional, high production values; HD video shot from multiple angles with many cameras.

Damian: Know your audience and what they’re looking for – sometimes ‘homemade’ or rough works best.  Do something impossible and bring it to life; create sense of wonder using the most appropriate production values for each video.  As an example, he showed this backyard dance parody his band made using a static camera.

Margaret: Agrees production values should match content. She mentions research that shows positive content seems to go viral more often than negative videos.  Incorporate elements of surprise and juxtapose the unexpected, as they do in this video of Cookie Monster and a German metal band.

Tips for promoting videos
1. Build a subscriber base/audience and connect with your community.  Get them involved by encouraging them to be creative with you.

2. Enable embedding. Let bloggers embed your videos onto their site.  This is key to building word of mouth. Then, once you’ve achieved a tipping point, people start viewing the original – provided they can find you, which leads to…

3. Meta data – Good titles and tags are essential. But don’t be misleading as that will eventually go against you.  Damian acknowledges sponsors in tags. He likens them to modern day patrons of the arts, or, as he calls them – ‘Metaci’. Sure doing this may spawn some criticism, but it’s better to be transparent.

4. And finally, make sure you distribute your video on multiple sites so more people can find it.

What’s next? Lights, camera, action…

Here comes a great read… Clay Shirky book review

Every once in a while you read a book with such fresh ideas, clarity, crisp writing and aha moments that it literally jumps off the page.

I recently had that experience with Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky.

For anyone who hasn’t read the book, it’s an essential text that examines social networks from a historical, theoretical and practical perspective; seamlessly interweaving present and past. The author provides a context to better understand the ch-ch-changes unfolding all around us.

Shirky, a consultant and adjunct professor in the graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, has a deep grasp of social media and a straightforward way of articulating complex ideas.  He contends we’re in the midst of a communications revolution, akin to the creation of Gutenberg’s printing press. And because we’re enmeshed in it, no one can predict exactly where we’re heading and what new developments we will see.  As an example, he cites the publishing industry and the fact that when the printing press was invented, few could predict it would spawn a bookselling industry and portability of shared knowledge – the parallels with smart phones are not hard to see.

He also talks about professions like journalism and how they’re based on a scarcity of resources. This makes sense. Not too long ago (last year?), all journalists were specialists in their field, employed by media companies (another scarce resource) to present and interpret news.  Along comes social networking and all of a sudden anyone can report news – and does.  We’re not talking about quality or talent or editorial integrity – just the act of reporting.

According to Shirky, the ‘management’ function of the industry has changed. In the past, editors would hear about a story and send a reporter to cover it. These days, it’s hard to find breaking news that citizen journalists haven’t uncovered because they happen to be there and have the technology at hand.

These are just a few of the topics Clay Shirky covers in a book that’s hard to put down, poses questions and challenges us to imagine the future that’s just around the corner.

New Canadian communications journal coming soon

A hallmark of any profession is its body of knowledge, something we have been lacking in PR.  That may change with the launch of a new publication, the Journal of Professional Communication (announced at the Canadian PR Leadership Summit).

Edited by professors Alex Sevigny and Terry Flynn and based at McMaster University’s Department of Communication Studies and Multimedia, the Journal will be a digital publication that ‘explores the intersections between public relations practice, communication and new media theory, communication management, as well as digital arts and design. (Disclosure: I sometimes teach at McMaster.)

It will feature case studies, interviews, peer-reviewed articles and commentary on current communications trends and our evolving profession.  Of course, the content is contingent on the quality of the contributors, but I’m looking forward to a thought-provoking discussion and debate.

For anyone familiar with the inner workings of academe, starting a new publication is no easy task and I want to congratulate Terry and Alex on this worthwhile endeavour. While there’s no website or start date yet, I’ll continue to share details as they become available.

How are you reading?

Normally, the question we’d ask is: what are you reading? As in content you’ll hopefully share. And, of course, that’s key.

But with the recent announcement that Canada’s largest newspaper chain put itself in bankruptcy protection and with all the drastic  changes to MSM in the past year or so, I wonder if media, and publishers in general, should also be asking the question: how.

It’s common knowledge we’re in a state of print transition. And, while it’s certainly a different order of magnitude, it reminds me of the switch from professional typesetters to DIY typesetting on computers. There’s a large empty building on Dupont Street in Toronto that stands as a somewhat bleak monument to that change.

But while it took down an industry, it didn’t alter the fact that we need (and enjoy) text.

It’s human nature to like and stay loyal to the familiar ways of doing things: poring over the morning paper, appreciating the visual textures of magazines, the pleasure of reading a book that seems to be speaking directly to you.

I love to do all of these. But more important is the fact that I just plain love to read.

These days I almost never read the print edition of a newspaper for news anymore – I get that from different sources, mostly online. But I do read the paper for more in-depth stories, opinion and because I don’t yet have a reader that I can take to the kitchen table (it’s on my list…).

I think media and publishers have to take some big chances, accept that the printed page has faded and act accordingly. Only then will they be able to start thinking creatively about the ‘how’; as in how are they going to provide us with a fresh and innovative way to read, share and engage with their content. And yes, make some money, too.

They need to get out of their comfort zone; we need to get out of ours.