Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

How to create a free searchable listings site

June 20, 2007

It is a constant source of annoyance to me that I have to pay for TimeOut, the London listing magazine, and they don’t have all their listings on the web. So I’ve been thinking for a while on how a newspaper could create a free listings and reviews site. I think this could be done very easily by introducing your community of bloggers to microformats. Don’t worry, it’s not complicated, here’s how you can do it.

Obviously you’ve already engaged the bloggers that write about your community. Bringing bloggers into the fold is nothing spectacularly innovative. These people should be your eyes and ears, reporting on things you can’t get reporters to, and providing leads for stories.

Now you want to aggregate the events that your bloggers are going to. After all they have been chosen as thought leaders and taste makers in your community. If you’re able to pull it together in a nice way – hey presto! – free listings. The problem is that simply searching blog posts and lumping them together will not produce a format that is as easy to use as the TimeOut listings page.

Luckily this problem can be solved by microformats. With microformats information is entered in a certain computer recognisable format that makes it easy to search and display. (The whole formatting of data is linked to Web3.0 and the semantic web – if you like using annoying zeitgeisty words). Let me explain how this would work:

i) Your approved blogger is writing about which band they will see in a week.

ii) As opposed to just writing a post about it the blogger also enters the information into an ‘Event’ microformat. Imagine it as an online form you fill in, with certain boxes for certain information.

iii) This information is entered under a certain format. Now, as opposed to searching for information by key word, your aggregator can simply can bring back all information labelled ‘Event’. Standard data to be entered could be Date, Location, Band, Genre, Preview, Band website.

iv) As this data is entered so clearly it can now be retrieved by a machine in a far more easily searchable, flexible and readable format.

v) Users can now search by Date, Band, Genre as the machine can splice and display this information easily. Want to search all bands in your area in the next week? It could display the information by Location. You get the picture.

vi) Reward bloggers who enter content in this way. You might have to give them cash, though recognition and traffic might be enough.

The ‘Event’ microfromat doesn’t yet exist, but it could be very similar to hCalendar. This is already used by some bloggers to format event information they put on their blog. It doesn’t have the Genre or Band website labels we spoke about, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be that difficult to change. (By the way, I have run this idea past Stew our developer guy and he says it makes sense).

This would be especially easy if blog platforms incorporated microformats within them as most bloggers don’t know HTML, but I’m sure there could be a way round this.

And there we go – a TimeOut killer.

ps. If there are any sites out there that already do this, then apologies, but I haven’t seen one.

Site design is the new editorial

May 1, 2007

Just came across a nice little piece on why the comments you see on Slashdot are generally of a higher standard than the one’s on Digg. As your comments are now your content it shows nicely how site design and moderating systems are the new editorial.

Atthe base the problem is that Digg’s moderation system makes it easier for bad comments to show up, as they have to be voted down five times to disappear. Most people can’t be bothered to vote down one lame comment in a sea of lame comments, abbreviations and insults, that rarely happens.

However, at Slashdot the set up is different. Your comment can be hidden more easily, therefore you’ll put more effort into it, as “OMG this is lAme!!!!!11111!!!1111!” will not get shown. By creating the right incentive system for users, you will increase the quality of the content they provide. Maybe pay them. (via 25HoursADay).

- I do realise I have been away from this blog for a while, without so much as an explanation. I quite like it like that, as though Lord Lucan just wandered back into his kitchen one day and asked for a cup of tea. Needless to say we’ve been very busy and PRS is getting extremely exciting.

Subscriptions add value and anonymous blogs are great

March 9, 2007

If you’re into the web then that headline could only be more controversial if I included the word “macaca”. Free is good and human voice is essential are two of the guiding principles of the internet today, but these have slightly stuck in my craw. This post has been brewing for a while, but a conversation with Jeff Jarvis yesterday, when he came to talk to the Project Red Stripe team, gave me the impetus to finish it, partly because Jeff didn’t like it when I suggested these ideas.

Let’s begin : Information wants to be free goes the mantra, so media organisations should drop the paywall. Maybe it does, but that is quite a Web1.0 idea, because it imagines that newspapers, for example, only distribute information. They are outlets, so in that model it can make sense to get as much info out as far as possible. However, lets look at the post-broadcast idea of news sites. Let’s look at communities.

Media outlets have communities floating around them and it is imperative that we enable them (I hear you loud and clear on that Jeff). The value of the community is the quality of the discourse that you enable users to have. In this model free is not, necessarily, the answer. Free means no barrier to entry of the community. Free means no cost sommunication. Those conditions are spam agar.

Anyone who’s MySpaced for a bit will know what happens in that system. And, if you want to receive random emails from bands, standups and webcam girls, it might be the thing for you. Not for most people. This shows that an open, free, system is not always the answer.

Contrast that with the exclusive SmallWorld model (the social network for rich kids), which really limits the amount of invites each user gets. This model enables rich kids, who value exclusivity, to be themselves. They don’t want to sound stupid when they start the group “Don’t you hate it when your chauffeur forgets to chill the champagne”. And they don’t like the hassle they could get elsewhere, so this suits them.

Indeed, when Jeff was talking about Davos, he made the point that the five layers of Swiss police made the quality of the conversation possible. The exclusivity keeps the raff riff out so world leaders can be themselves. (And, Jeff, please correct me if I’ve misrepresented your view point).

Bearing in mind that a media organisation can’t be invite only (or can it?) then a sub is a good way of increasing the quality of the conversation, because you’re not going to spend money to spam. It also gives power to the community leader as any trollish behaviour can be met with a sanction that nullifies the user’s investment – say a three month no comment ban.

So two benefits of a sub are the barrier for entry and the possibility to sanction anti-social communication, all of which leads to a better conversation.

What about anonymity? Now this one is slightly more specific to The Economist, where we have a fine tradition of anonymous writing. And this is something that readers love. The voice of The Economist is renowned for being witty, erudite and concise. But why do we have it on our blogs? Surely we can lighten up there? Anonymity means unaccountability, blandness and nasty power relationship, or so the internetters would have it. At a tactical level it just wouldn’t make sense to have one section of the Economist personal, with the magazine unchanged.

My real problem with Jeff’s POV was when he said the internet expects blogs to be a certain way, so we should do it. To my mind, that’s no reason to do anything. There’s no point losing this great Economist USP just to comply with internet orthodoxies. So the second lesson would be you don’t have to do things the “web2.0 way” just because its expected of you, but adapt these technologies to your circumstances and your community.


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