What does Free Mean to you?

July 16, 2009

youtubeThere are many ongoing debates on whether or not the nature of free information on the web can continue to last.  As free content continues to put at risk the traditional media sources that charge their customers to get the information, it also has proven tourblesome for many of the companies that offer the free content.

For example, this story from the New York Times discusses the many issues with Youtube.  As Google continues to try to find big money in advertising dollars for the most popular video sharing site on the web, the cost of storing the infinite amount of videos uploaded to the site everyday is out of control.  It appears that no amount of advertising can possibly make up for the money lost just on server space each year.  Therefore, at this point, Youtube looks like a failing business for Google, and one they will need to evaluate over time.

In addition to Google, there are entire industries that are caught in between free models and paid models.  For example, CNBC recently aired a special on the porn industry, and how they are caught trying to embrace the internet and trying to protect their profits at the same time.  For porn, free videos online have taken a big swipe at profits from paid sites as well as dvd sales, which some say are down close to 30% this year.

Once something is available for free, it decreases the likelihood that anyone would want to pay for it.  Whereas in the past you could say, “you get what you pay for”, nowadays the quality of content and information you can get for free is many times just as good as the stuff that you pay for.  We are approaching a time and a place where Free is costing businesses a fortune.  And eventually, Free may hit a brick wall.

How much is Google willing to lose on Youtube before they charge you to upload videos?  How much is Facebook willing to lose before they charge you to share photos, or to write on someone’s wall?  How much are we all willing to pay to use the sites we love so dearly?

Right now there is no balance between free and pay. The time is coming when we need to find that balance or internet users and businesses alike are in for a major shock.


Where is Our News Going?

January 19, 2009

breaking-newsSeth Godin will have you believe that major media companies are on the way out. But is that really the case?

I would argue the opposite, though I add a warning that if these companies do not innovate in the way they obtain and dispense information, they’re dead. I think that, in the area of news, these major corporate networks are still best situated to develop their technology and deliver information to the public in new and relevant ways.

Why Major News Organization Can Still Win

  1. Access – these organizations have the credibility and network skills to get inside information. They can access people at the highest levels, in all parts of the world, and deliver the most up to date information from anywhere.
  2. Money – Established corporate networks have the resources needed to overhaul their technology. It’s true that they need to re-evaluate their real time and web efforts, but they have the ability to do that. Find the value that your readers are looking for and give it to them, no questions asked.
  3. Loyalty – People are less loyal these days to brands or companies because “shopping around” has become much easier. However, when it comes to news and other important information, there is a credibility factor that is difficult to get around. People are not as comfortable getting news from lesser known blogs or other online sources.

What They Need to Do

  1. Personalization – The web and other mobile technologies have allowed people to customize the information they get, and how they see it. Make it easy for readers to sign up for alerts in certain areas, and give them the information how they ask for it.
  2. Email – Utilize email systems to let people get the news they want when they want it. All the stories you run should be available in email format, and people should not have to ask for them more than once.
  3. Social MediaTwitter and other social networks have become valuable resources for providing and passing along important news as it breaks. There is no reason that a news service cannot tap into that “real time” power and use it. Learn how to capitalize on these systems and incorporate them into your strategy.
  4. Blogs, blog readers, and bookmarking – Stories need to be passed from person to person to spread. Newsworthy is a term that now applies to something that deserves to be relayed on to friends. Incorporate blogging and social bookmarking tools to your website to give people the option to spread the best stories. This builds brand awareness and keeps you relevant.
  5. Feedback – Reach out for and pay attention to your readers’ opinions. This can be on a story by story basis or feedback on your services in general. Listen to people because if there is anything that the social web has taught us, it’s that we all have something to say.

The major thing that these corporate news services and media companies have to acknowledge is that the old way of doing things no longer works. Evaluate where your information is coming from and how it is getting out. Learn that people want access to the information they are interested in, no fluff, and they want it free. Give that to them and then rebuild accordingly. It’s time to fight for your readers our die.

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FluTrends from Google: Information Innovation

November 12, 2008

Making big news yesterday was the announcing of Google FluTrends.  The idea is simple: use search trends and data to track the spread of the flu virus throughout the country.

Google has long been able to track everything that people are searching for, and they have used that data to find trends, recommend certain search phrases, and track where their users go for answers.  Most people that use Google may not realize this, but they know a whole lot about you by “watching you search”.  This has brought up privacy concerns for a long time, but the company built on the motto “Don’t be evil” seems to be using this data to help people.

annual_cdc_comparison1

Google FluTrends is one example of an innovative way to use this information for good.  Google can see where their users are searching for things like “flu symptons”, “flu shots”, or anything else flu related.  Now obviously there will be people with the flu that don’t search, and people who search it just for information and not because they have it, but overall this system works well.

Now, even the government is taking interest.  Whereas normal health reporting agencies will notify when and where the flu is most active within 10 days, Google FluTrends can do it almost instantly.  In many ways, it can predict the outbreak, and help health officials prepare.  The goal is to get the vaccination in the hands of those that need it most before things get too bad.

In my opinion, when a company like Google has this type of information, they have a moral responsibility to use it to help people.  And if this new “product” proves useful this flu season, it is an ingenious way to use their power for good.

For more information on projects they are working on at Google, visit www.google.org.


From Simple to Complex and Back Again

August 13, 2008

One day we woke up and we had the internet. At least that is how it feels for my generation. All of the sudden, businesses had websites. All of the sudden, there were business online that did not exist offline. And all of the sudden, we had options.

The history of business on the internet is not an easy one to decipher, but there is one fairly interesting trend that stands out. In the beginning, regular “brick and mortar” companies used the internet to supplement their offline activities. They had simple websites with general information about products and services, and how they could be found or contacted. The URL was the name of the company and all was right with the world.

Then, internet businesses (dot com’s) were born. These companies did not exist in any form in the pre-internet days. Most did not even have any type of “brick and mortar” setup. It was all about the website. These websites grew from simple to complex very quickly, offering more and more options to their users. There was a push to put the most information in one place so that users did not have to use other websites to get information that they could just as easily get from you.

Over the next few years, even after the bubble burst, the goal for many websites was much the same. Add context, give options, dump information on the customer and become the self-proclaimed “one-stop-shop” online. And all was right with the world.

But more recently, the opposite is happening. Google has a cap on the number of words it puts on its home page. Woot offers one product a day. Twitter limits you to one, 140 word status update. Simplicity is gaining importance. Today’s online consumers will surf the web for the right site with the right information for them. Websites that have a simple, direct message that is easy to use and understand are developing huge followings.

“Kill the clutter”, is the message from users and developers alike. Keep it simple, do one thing, and do it the best. This trend is picking up steam right now, where will you take it?