Report recommending ‘Google Tax’ seems rather confused

I’ve had to find time to try and make sense of the argument presented by The Commission of Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society, but going by an article on Paid Content, it’s going to be a fruitless task.

It seems that ‘Making Good Society’ will warn against recycled news and that the Government has to guard against media being owned by the few, with levies on Google to fund new media.

And evidence of that?

It says four publishers control 70 percent of the local and regional press, three companies – BBC, ITN and BSkyB – produce national television news and just four companies have nearly 80 percent of the commercial radio market. Apparently 100+ local and regional newspapers vanished last year:

“The advent of free newspapers, the emergence of 24-hour television news and the popularisation of online and mobile platforms have all contributed to a far more volatile and unstable environment for news organisations.”

So the arguments for taxing digital news aggregation sites are that print,TV and radio are owned by a tiny amount of companies, and local newspapers need propping up despite the fact people are looking elsewhere?


If people are increasingly looking online for their news, then where’s the stimulus for more online news products from a wider range of people? Where’s the suggestion to open up media production, which is far more possible online than ever before? I could start a TV station today on a video streaming site, a radio station by streaming over IP, or any number of text publications, but the biggest challenge for most of these is the cost.

Solving the problem of local newspapers vanishing:

Here’s the idea I’ve been thinking about to solve the problem of local newspapers dying off and leaving a gap in useful local news and information.

Fund an online resource for local news and info – if you’re finding money to do it, then use it to either pay someone at the hub of a local community, or fund ways for them to be able to effectively monetise what they do. Encourage it by people who already exist in the community e.g. librarians, schoolteachers etc who have access to IT equipment, and potentailly news gathering volunteers.

And then allow anyone who doesn’t have internet access to request print copies in person, by text or phone. Forget the cost of printing newspapers and instead use a flyer as a starting point and build from there.

That way you can attempt to kickstart local news sites across the country with a tiny amount of resource, with existing equipment, and with the ability to also reach those who require print for the time being, until eventually everyone ends up online. Plus the information will be more relevant and interesting, and less commercially orientated to please advertisers.

And it’ll hopefully inspire a new generation to try to serve communities by providing information in an engaging way, rather than luring them into a profession which has less and less opportunities as time goes by – after they’ve invested time and money to get into it.

Personally, I’d quite like to know more about what’s going on in the local area, but I’m barely sat still long enough to read a paper, let alone pay for that content on a daily/weekly basis for the percentage which is of interest to me.

But give me an online and smartphone resource I could use to find out the things I really want to know about e.g. local gigs, football games, motorsport, road closures, council tax rises, but leave the rest, and I’d pay a small amount for that so I could check up on it at work or on the train.

Link it into booking tickets, contacting the local council, or watching highlights of the football with pre-roll advertising, and it’d have the chance to make even more.

That’s the future of local services.

The beauty of data and graffiti

The call for media companies to make more out of data has been growing for a while now, but I’ve just seen something that beautifully shows how there’s amazing ways to use data for things most of us haven’t even thought about…

Like many cool things, when I first picked up on it via The Pirate’s Dilemma, and PSFK, I wasn’t entirely sure it was real…

Anyway, this week is apparently Graffiti Markup Language Week:

GML = Graffiti Markup Language from Evan Roth on Vimeo.

As an aside, is it me or are far more digitally-savvy people choosing Vimeo over Youtube?

Anyway, what’s amazing is that there’s actually a markup language for grafitti, which is a specialised XML protocol dedicated to capturing the motion data created by tagging – allowing sharing, studying, cataloguing and analysis.

There’s so much data in our everyday lives which can now be collated, aggregated, analysed, dissected, repurposed, reused, translated, displayed.

And yet comparatively little appears in mainstream news sources – although that seems to be slowly changing.

But any media, marketing or PR effort should be looking at how to effectively use public or proprietary data to inform, entertain, amaze etc..

It’s why I’m still so excited about the One Golden Square Labs project, Compare My Radio, (disclosure, I work for One Golden Square/Absolute Radio). It takes data and uses it for something noone else had done…

Other great examples include The Guardian’s Datastore – a compendium of publicly-available data which can be used for free – Paul Bradshaw has a nice look at it… Or what about Daytum, which allows you to collect and communicate your data on whatever you choose?

And the visual ways of communicating data can attract attention – particularly when we have so much text and so many moving pictures coming into our space on a daily basis…

There’s no excuse for producing anything which doesn’t have decent data behind it (I’m not suggesting 100% perfection…but so much isn’t good enough), and there’s no reason why I should accept 100% of people like something because you asked 20, and they all said yes.

And allow us to explore it, play with it, and produce our own interpretations – and export it into other places…

The two digital publishing models of the near future

Two approaches to digital content creation and publishing are taking hold – and sadly neither of them are equivalent to the way most traditional publishers are set up.

The first is the ‘battery farm’ approach – as seen by aol. and several companies targeting content creation for primarily SEO purposes. Gather as many writers and journalists as you can keep in a warehouse, and get them to churn out as much content as possible for as many places as possible. And in the case of some companies, develop and use tools to see what people are actively searching for at the time to create the right content to capitalise on that interest (e.g. Yahoo).

The second is the ‘blogger’s niche’ approach. Start projects with just one or two people trialling an idea, see if it works, and if sustainable, built into a network model which can mean virtual offices and teams spread out wherever someone has an idea for niche content which could work. This is where you’re more likely to find great writing and insight in terms of longer, more thoughtful articles by people who can wax lyrically about their subject. See the likes of b5media, Techcrunch, Mashable, etc, etc.

The problem for traditional media companies is that they’re not geared up for either of these plans. They might have large numbers of content creators, but these people are grouped around specific products in the magazine industry, for example. The groups are too small to churn out content – and aren’t geared up yet for producing content for anyone else. Meanwhile they’re too large to use the network model – only the very smallest print magazine editorial teams are anything near compact enough, and even then the infrastructure and processes already in place mean it would be easier to scrap it all and start again.

This is all assuming a business model predominantly based on advertising revenue, which requires increasingly low costs in order to drive any profits. Other production method will exist hand-in-hand with different business models. But they will need to be created around the new business model, rather than vice-versa.

Journalists, marketers and job losses…

I need to tread carefully with this post, which came from a link via @davidcushman and @ajkeen. The article in question is Journos Losing Jobs at Three Times Rate of Average Workers which looks at the number of journalists being laid off in the U.S.

To put it in context, I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid losing any fulltime roles, although I’ve been part three large scale redundancies for companies. Plus as a child, my father was made redundant and was unemployed for quite a while (during one of the previous times of crisis for the British economy). But at the same time, I don’t think the current wave of media unemployment is necessarily a bad thing overall (Obviously I know how bad it can be for the individuals involved).

The reason being that this can’t have been unexpected by anyone. The media industry has been struggling for a while, and roles like writing (and I’m also referencing  marketing in this as it shares a lot of the same occupational traits) are always in the firing line. I don’t think there’s ever been a point in my career when I’ve thought about either my editorial or marketing roles as being secure position for life – they’re an evolving set of challenges. We’re not talking about air traffic controllers, brain surgeons or even bin men (garbage men?).

Picture by Jeff Youngstrom on Flickr (CC Licence)

Picture by Jeff Youngstrom on Flickr (CC Licence)

But the modern writer, journalist or marketer has a huge advantage over those other roles – a sacked air traffic controller can’t get sacked and respond by building his own airport, but it’s possible to publish online, on mobile and even in print for free in a matter of minutes. A brain surgeon isn’t likely to build his own operating theatre, but a digital marketer can easily create an online business and find people with a need for their services.

I’m not saying monetising editorial or building a marketing business are in any way easy or guaranteed to be a success. I’m simply saying that the barriers to doing your own thing in the media, whether that’s text-based, audio, visual or promotion-based, has never been easier to my knowledge, and in a time when the big companies are generally struggling, there are advantages to being small and nimble.

Free wifi by Cmicblog on Flickr

Free wifi by Cmicblog on Flickr (CC licence)

And the costs are getting increasingly small – the bare minimum is a Netbook and somewhere with free wifi. Or just ask any techy friends for any old laptops/desktops they might want to give away for a while. Can’t afford an operating system? Use Ubuntu. Can’t afford Word? Open Office. Photoshop? GIMP (not an insult, honest!). Newswires? Build your own feed of information using Google Reader and Twitter. If you want to start earning money, you can put a blog on Blogger for free (about the only hosted free service to allow adverts), or spring for a cheap hosting package from the likes of Godaddy and then go wild with WordPress. Or even publish your own book via Lulu.

And that’s just the start, but it’s perfectly possible to begin creating your personal empire with a donated or sub-£200 computer and some free wifi access.

I’m not saying that you’ll have a sustainable living wage a week later, but the biggest barrier to creating anything like this is time, and that’s something you’d actually have. And even if you’d rather go back into paid employment when possible, in the meantime you’ve built up digital knowledge and a digital calling card for people to find.

And just be glad you’re not a brain surgeon after all…

Anecdotal insight into Twitter usage and Pear report backlash

Last night I spent a fair bit of time chatting about Twitter with a friend in the publishing industry, as we talked about how useful we find it, and how it has replaced some of our usage of email and Facebook. We’re both around 30, and we’re both mixing professional and personal use to connect with work contacts and friends.

And yet, sat on the train home surrounded by 10+ teenagers chatting away, there was not a single Twitter mention – overhearing them without trying to eavesdrop, my ears naturally picked up the 5 or 6 mentions of Facebook.

Anecdotal experiences are always interesting, but I’ve also been following the spread of Twitter surveys like the Pear Analytics ‘pointless babble’ whitepaper. By categorising 2000 tweets in English and in the US and putting them into buckets for News, Spam, Self-Promotion, Pointless Babble, Conversational and Pass-Along Value, they concluded that Pointless Babble makes up 40.55% of tweets, followed by Conversational and only 3.6% are news.

Many places simply repeated the study, but two people I respect a lot have responded:

There’s a great post by Stephen Fry, pointing out that Twitter was never advertised as anything other than a means to connect to people.

‘The clue’s in the name of the service: Twitter. It’s not called Roar, Assert, Debate or Reason, it’s called Twitter. As in the chirruping of birds.’

And the always well-reasoned research mind of Danah Boyd looks at whether the fact that conversation, both online and offline, tends to be social, is actually a good thing, anyway – and our obsession with trying to claim some measure of perceived value

‘I vote that we stop dismissing Twitter just because the majority of people who are joining its ranks are there to be social. We like the fact that humans are social. It’s good for society.’

Well worth reading…

Media people on Twitter – an interview with me from April

I don’t think I’ve posted the interview that I did with George Hopkin back in April as part of his ‘Media People on Twitter’ series, but as he’s kindly agreed to share the whole series, I thought I’d start with myself!

‘More Twitter hints, tips, etc. from power Twitterers from the world of UK media. This time it’s Dan Thornton, Community Marketing Manager at Bauer Media (Heat, Empire and many others). (NB: I’ve since left, and joined Absolute Radio as Digital Marketing Manager)

* What did you think about the concept when you first heard about Twitter?

The idea made sense for quick communications with friends, but like the founders, I couldn’t imagine how it would grow in terms of size – and especially the ways to use it. The uses of hashtags are staggering in terms of potential.

* Do you recall your first tweet?

Thankfully no. Probably ‘Hello’ or something similar.

* How did you use Twitter to begin with?

Like most people, I signed up, posted a couple of messages, and then ignored it for a bit because I didn’t see the value.

That changed with my first @ messages, and suddenly I became addicted to being able to communicate so easily with so many people

* How has your use of Twitter changed?

It hasn’t really. It probably should, as I’ve gone from a small group of friends to having over 2,000 following and followers. But I find it hard to only talk about marketing or the internet. And at least this way, people won’t be surprised or disappointed in the long term when I talk about motorcycles or Xbox instead!

* What do you want from Twitter?

From a personal point of view I just want to be able to interact with more great people, and be able to build better relationships with them.

From a business/tech point of view, I’d like to see more disclosure from businesses of their direct results to be able to build up a bigger body of proven evidence, and I hope the use of Twitter will speed up the changes needed in almost every business strategy to become more relevant and useful to consumers.

And a way to delete multiple DMs at once!

* Have you attended a tweetup?

Yep. Some small gatherings, and the Twinterval organised by the founders of Twestival – really annoys me I’ve missed both Twestivals so far due to work/family commitments.

* Have you evangelised Twitter? If so, any success?

I’ve promoted it to friends and colleagues, and seen a reasonable number join – although the mainstream media coverage has done more if I’m honest!

I’ve also introduced several titles to using it, and the early indications are that it’s becoming a valuable communication tool for marketing, PR, customer service and engagement.

Oh, and I do run a blog dedicated to microblogging (Including Tumblr, Seesmic etc alongside Twitter) at (Update: Now no longer running, but all posts have been imported onto

* Do you have any self-imposed policies regarding your use of Twitter?

Not really – just apply a bit of common sense before I mention anything regarding work or personal items about my family. I’m pretty open about myself, but I have to respect my employers, colleagues and family.

* How do you see your use of Twitter developing this year?

I think the only change for my personal account is that I’m following less people – I’m reaching the limit of how many people I could hope to have meaningful interactions with.

For business use, I can’t really say until the Twitter monetisation plans are in place, but I’d expect it to be a core part of almost every digital marketing plan.

Daniel blogs at And you can follow him on Twitter here.

Interview originally posted at

Is the media having less effect of my purchasing?

You might want to sit down, but I’ve just spent some money on physical entertainment media. Or to put it another way, I bought some books and DVDs for the first time in ages.

I’d actually been looking for a work-related book which doesn’t seem to be available in bookshops, so that will be an online purchase, but in the meantime, I though I’d treat myself.

Interestingly, I’d spent a while choosing the unavailable book, so was at a bit of a loose end, and ended up coming out with three purchases – and as far as I’m consciously aware, I hadn’t seen advertising or media reviews etc of any of them:

Buyology: How Everything We Believe About Why We Buy is Wrong by Martin Lindstrom was bought mainly on the strength of the topic, and the foreword written by Paco Underhill, whose book on Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping I’ve previously read and enjoyed.

Code: Version 2.0 by Lawrence Lessig was purely chosen on the articles I’ve read by him and interviews I’ve watched with him.

And from the non ‘tech geek’ world, I also picked up:
Lukas Moodysson Presents (4 Disc Box Set) [DVD] – I’ve already seen three of the four films, but wanted to watch the fourth, and revisit the first two (Lilya 4-Ever is a well-made film, but is the most relentlessly bleak film I think I’ve ever seen). I’m also using it to improve my Swedish language abilities, and be able to lend ‘Show Me Love’ (the original title is better but far more offensive!) and Tilsammens to the rest of my family – and they all understand DVDs!

I thought I was all done, but there wasn’t any peer recommendation to prove this whole social media thing.

Until I got home.

The first I heard about the Xbox Live only release of Battlefield 1943 was via two friends of mine as we chatted. I hadn’t been online on the Xbox for a while due to the work/commuting/family combination, and as a result, I hadn’t been looking at gaming sites.

And within 10 minutes, I’d paid 1200 Microsoft points (About £10 or so), and downloaded the game.

It’s having a number of server issues at the moment, but the basic game is pretty good, and the online distribution of a ‘full’ game is interesting.

It’s being followed up today by the release via Xbox Live of 1 vs 100, which is an online gaming show with real prizes, which should be interesting.

Peer recommendations and loyalty aren’t new, of course. But generally they’d be prompted for me by either an event (my plumbing has broke, who can fix it?), or by media awareness (this game is coming out, is anyone else buying it?).

It seems as if the weighting has now changed, and the peer/loyalty aspect is what then might result in someone sharing a helpful media review, or just leading me straight to a purchase.

Johnston Press manage a Facebook facepalm moment…

I honestly don’t know where to begin with this one. Paid Content UK has revealed Johnston Press is banning employee access to Facebook, requiring journalists to ask permission from their department head, and contact the IT department.

Apparently it’s due to Facebook comprising more than half of the company’s outbound internet traffic. (They’re by no means alone in this…I can vouch for plenty of media and non-media business with the same traffic ratios).

PaidContent raises two important points – journalists are finding the site incredibly useful for their work, and Johnston titles run their own Facebook pages already!

In addition, I’d remind Johnston that it’s a media/content company, and everyone in the company should be able to not only use Facebook for work-related tasks, but also to be thinking about how Johnston will exist in the networked world.

And I’d see how many people in the Johnstone offices are now checking their mobiles more often…

It makes a smuch sense as banning people from reading printed news.

Of utmost importance for businesses to remember

There’s a great article by Umair Haque on ‘Why the war against file-sharing is unwinnable‘, which was collected in a post on Music Industry Manifesto.

And one quote particularly stood out for me as being an essential element of business:

‘No business has a right to profit, sell, or even to produce. All are privileges that society grants businesses.’

That’s why I feel discussions about newspapers, music, advertising etc sometimes miss the point. It doesn’t matter how strongly a publisher might feel newspapers are entitled to survive, or whether a prominent musician feels file sharing and digital music is hurting his future income.

It’s down to whether society, in a viable number, feel a business model has the right to profit.

In closing, Umair notes:

’21st century economics are radically decentralized. Wars against networks are unwinnable — when orthodox organizations are the ones fighting them. Only networks (or markets and communities, if you’re a long-time reader) can fight other networks.

Want a better music/media/etc. “business model”? The understanding that hierarchies are dominated by networks is the key — and the failure to understand it is exactly why the media industry is so deeply in decay.’

Thoughts on the MA in Social Media

There’s been a lot of discussion about the new MA in Social Media course being offered by Birmingham City University. On the one hand, the mainstream media reports from the Guardian and Daily Telegraph have focused on criticism – on the other, people like the esteemed PR professional Neville Hobson have looked more in-depth at what the course actually offers and the benefits it can bring to individuals and the PR industry.

What’s interesting is looking at the proposed opportunities for individuals completing the 48 week, £4000 MA course:

  • Become a social media consultant (and understand what that means);
  • Develop innovative and low cost communication strategies for third sector organisations using social media tools;
  • Develop innovative and alternative media projects;
  • Work with existing mainstream media organisations as they develop social media strategies;
  • Enhance your skills and contribute to the development of new professional practice in PR, marketing communications and web design;
  • Continue to develop a scholarly interest in social media as part of a further research degree;
  • Contribute to the development of the social media industry.

I’m torn because I’d jump at the chance to focus on the more scholarly and research aspects of social media/marketing/PR without the bothersome concentration on results and profits that comes from social media and marketing as an occupation.

At the same time, I’m immensely greatful for the focus and concentration that being gainfully employed in social media and marketing brings – it means a real need for effective strategy, implementation, monitoring and selection of channels for starters.

The big question for me is whether paying £4000 as an individual will be recouped any time soon? Even with employment placements during the course, will organisations need growing numbers of MA-level social media specialists, either within the organisation or as consultants, and how big is that demand at the moment? Would an MA influence you over and above practical experience and past work?

Certainly anyone already established in a social media role at a managerial level should be able to tick pretty much all the boxes the MA aims to deliver – and are those roles going to be offered to those graduating the course, or people more like myself who spent time in journalism and publishing, gaining additional experience in marketing and social media, before making the switch?

And how many social media concetrated roles are still seen as entry level positions? Will there be a switch in the near future?

I’d be more comfortable with social media being wholly integrated into digital marketing and general marketing courses and qualifications, certainly in the immediate future, but with the opportunity to specialise for elements of the course, giving people a better chance of being able to gain employment in a larger range of roles, but am I being overly cautious? And does the world need more social media specialists and consultants, when there is already a plethora of very good (and some bad) in the space already?

There’s a very good amount of interesting discussion on the course on Twitter, with the hashtag #masocialmedia.

And here’s the video introduction to the course:

Jon Hickman: MA in Social Media from Kasper Sorensen on Vimeo.