Hi folks. I’ve temporarily abandoned this blog in favour of writing TV reviews, something I’m currently feeling more passionate towards. So if you’re interested, check it out. Right now I’m reviewing season one of the show Alias, starting right from the beginning. So come, follow me to a new home and, hopefully, enjoy.
Blogs Are Becoming More Mainstream
I love blogs. I really do. I spend a great deal of my time reading them, on subjects from television to intellectual property law to food to my friends’ miscellaneous travelogues/music reviews/rambling blogs. I read a lot more blogs than I do newspapers or magazines. So why does it make me happy that the Financial Times (FT) is putting one of its blogs behind a paywall? It will help make blogs more of an integral part of newspapers and less of an optional addendum.
Paywalls for blogs is a good sign
Many online news sources, from the FT to Reuters, have blogs. But these blogs are usually detached from the main site, as though they were an afterthought. Someone at the newspaper saw how many people like blogs and thought: “My newspaper should have a blog.” This separation can be as simple as the URL.
To go back to the FT as an example, one of their blogs that I read, Dear Economist, is hosted at blogs.ft.com/undercover rather than ft.com/undercover. This might seem superficial to you, but it’s representative of the way newspapers treat blogs. They’re not quite part of the newspaper, they’re often written differently (sometimes, the amount of links used in a blog is out of the ordinary, too) and sometimes the opinion of the blogger is not the same as the opinion of the employer:
Felix Salmon is a Reuters blogger. Any views expressed may or may not be his own, but in any case are very unlikely to be those of his employer.
This quote is meant as a joke (I think) but to me it signifies even more that blogs are somehow less than newspaper columnists. When was the last time you picked up a newspaper and saw a disclaimer like this under the name of your favourite TV critic columnist? I’ve never seen anything like it in print.
Columnist and bloggers: what’s the difference?
Online-only news sources I read, which are basically blogs (here’s a food-related example), often have multiple contributing authors who write on specific subjects. The difference between the way Serious Eats organizes their posts and the way the FT does is that all of the posts are part of Serious Eats. They’re not separate entities like the FT bloggers.
So I am looking on the bright side of the paywall extension to blogs and hoping that the blogs might one day get more recognition in print. As people start to read regular print columnists on internet-enabled devices (iPads, smartphones, etc.) the integration of blogs becomes more important. I want the FT to ask themselves what the difference between a blogger and a columnist is, and start to realize that maybe there’s merit to merging the two, perhaps hosting them at columnists.ft.com.
Let’s Kill All the Lawyers, Kill ‘em Tonight
This song’s on my mind because I just saw The Eagles play a few nights ago, and only last night realized that this was a Shakespeare reference (thanks to a silly lawyer drama that I watch). But the sentiment of the line I quoted has also been on my mind a lot with regard to the law firm of Dunlap, Grubb, & Weaver and their campaign of suing thousands of alleged file-sharers (or threatening to sue, at least).
But it’s legal
Yeah, what these lawyers are doing isn’t illegal. The actual laws they are enforcing are good: protect copyrights, get money for indie filmmakers (including the makers of The Hurt Locker and Far Cry). They even go as far as to say that their intent is to “SAVE CINEMA.” The unfortunate part is how they go about doing it and the maximum fine that exists for illegally purchasing a movie. Here’s a hint, the maximum fine for illegally downloading a movie is a LOT more than the max for shoplifting in Washington, D.C. where the law firm is located. $150,000 for downloading, $300 for shoplifting.
I think one of the worst parts of this campaign is that they advertise as a company that wants to save cinema. Suing individual downloaders is not going to do that. Being creative and coming up with a way to get people to see these indie movies (hey, did you know that lots of people downloading a movie means your movie gets buzz, and so people might go see it?) will be worth a lot more in the long run than grabbing cash from the alleged file-sharers.
I keep saying alleged because all the law firm gets as evidence is the IP address of the supposed criminals. If we lived in a world where it was completely impossible for two people to use the same computer, the same wireless at the neighbourhood coffee shop, to spoof another person’s IP, etc. etc. then this would be pretty solid evidence. Your IP would be like your computer’s DNA or fingerprint.
But unfortunately your computer’s IP is more like your favourite perfume. It can rub off on other people, they can buy the same kind as you, or just steal a spritz here and there when you’re not looking. Does that sound like shoddy evidence to you? It sounds like shoddy evidence to me.
Downloading one file for personal use: $5 for an MP3, $40-50 for a movie, $100 for a video game.
Sharing one file: $25-50 for an MP3, $150-300 for a movie, $500-1000 for a video game.
This seems much more reasonable. Unfortunately, at this price, the US Copyright Group probably wouldn’t find it very profitable to sue all these alleged file-sharers. Fortunately, there are groups and judges more sympathetic to the victims of Group’s extortion-like suits, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Judge Rosemary Collyer.
What is The Ideas Project?
The Idea Project is a collection of articles, videos, links, podcasts and other media that focus on communications and social media. It has videos from experts like Clay Shirky and Chris Anderson, an editor at Wired. You can navigate through various themes (Business/Investing, New Applications, etc.), a list of experts or a Q&A section.
What’s the archetype?
It’s not a site I immediately understood. But as soon as I found it, I knew I wanted to write about it. It’s not one element of the site that’s unique; there are other sites that have a question/answer format, a video format, etc. but the combination of all its elements. It’s a lot like a well-moderated open thread on a forum. Community members and experts pop by to give their opinion and answer questions while a lot of other non-members (lurkers) sit on the sidelines and watch the goings-on.
What’s so good about The Ideas Project?
For a site about communication and social media, it’s important to reflect the good qualities of social media (providing interesting links, connecting people) and The Ideas Project does so admirably. The home page is clearly designed to introduce people to the kind of content the site provides and also the newest, highest recommended stuff.
Here’s some content
Last time I wrote a Blog Archetypes post, I put up some samples of articles to illustrate a point. I’m not really doing the same thing here, but in this and future Blog Archetypes posts I’ll give you a few links to stuff I read or watched on the site I’m talking about.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube — Do We Need Widgets for Everything?
Before you read past this sentence, take a minute and look at a blog or news website that you frequent. Back yet? What widgets did you see there? (By widgets, I am referring to little boxes that appear either on the right or left side of the main body of a website. On my blog, the widgets you see are my Twitter feed, a list of categories, and recent posts.)
Chances are you’ve seen at least one of these widgets before. But I want to talk about the one that tells you how many Facebook fans a website has and displays the pictures of (usually) 10 random fans. Every time I see it, I cringe. I couldn’t care less about the fact that a given website has 5,625 fans and that four of them are named Deanna, Tracy, Michelle and Ralph. That’s not a random selection, it’s from looking at a safe social networking practice article on Examiner.com.
Websites should avoid widgets like the Facebook friends one. Widgets aren’t about displaying your fan base or popularity but about helping your reader. If you want to have a button that allows visitors to become a fan on Facebook, great (that’s included as part of the Facebook fan widget). But keep it small and focused so it doesn’t clutter; having some empty space in your sidebar isn’t a problem.
Which Widgets Work
If the Facebook fan widget is an example of what doesn’t work for me–it doesn’t help the reader, feels like they’re thrusting “become a fan” in your face–what does work?
- Popular articles. This widget is great for getting visitors to look deeper into your content without you having to link to older articles in each new post, which can be awkward if it starts to look too forced.
- Recent articles. See above.
- Related videos. Maureen Ryan’s TV blog is a great example of “related videos” done well. The videos are always current and often related to a specific article — they’re not just gratuitously there. Also see all the other widgets on her blog, such as the “Tonight in Prime Time” schedule. Tying your widgets in to your site content is the best way to make them relevant and useful rather than just dead weight in your sidebar.
- Blog roll. Related blogs/websites that visitors might be interested in.
- Tags and categories. Help your readers find the content they like; making it difficult to search for specific content is a good way to get me to leave your website.
Above all, widgets should be of use to the reader. Even advertisements do more for me than seeing how many Facebook fans your website has. And if advertising is more appealing to me than your widget, that is a problem.