In the July 26 "New Yorker," New York Times Co. president Arthur Sulzberger Jr. lamented he's spending half his time these days on Internet issues, and the company lacks a Clue.
Well Art (you also said you wanted your own nickname), I'm back from vacation, and today is your lucky day. Let's get some lunch and talk about it...
Your strengths are your large, talented staff and the financial muscle to take a long-term view. We need that around the Web, welcome aboard. Now, if you can gut that ivory tower attitude from your journalists (or get new ones), we can begin building New York Interactive, the server that serves the people (and makes you a fortune).
Let's start by integrating all the databases available, for the benefit of those reporters. You need to build a template of the living city, with every building, business, and family accounted for. A lot of that data is already around. Now, overlay on that Police incident reports as soon as they're available. Map these reports to your city. Now you've got stories on the city's most surprising danger zones - high demographic blocks with high crime.
Don't just do that story and run. Stick around to organize chats in those buildings, conferences on those blocks. Get people talking to each other, even if it's just from inside their homes, and build a Neighborhood Watch. (Also, fill in that database on that block, make it complete.) That's right, Art, a follow-up story is called for, to applaud your success. (I like the way you think.)
More important, this reporting exercise builds a set of databases and services that reinforce each other. The more data on who's moving and who's where you have, the more effective your database becomes for reporters...and the business side. Imagine if offices on Park Avenue knew all their choices for lunch, and could order-in conveniently, pre-paying by credit card through your site. (You can route the orders via fax, route the money via credit networks.) That's not an ad revenue stream, it's an e-commerce revenue stream. It's not an investment by those who pay you, but a commission they're happy to fork over. (Use your napkin, Art, you're drooling.) And you can build these commissions into every transaction the city makes, if you have the customers' loyalty and if you're providing them real value.
Your goal, starting with the highest-income, most time-stressed community in the world, is to link people to the data and merchants that will ease their real lives right now. As it becomes profitable in Manhattan, you build it throughout the city and into the suburbs. It's a big investment, in time and money, but the returns are enormous, and the results are as unassailable as your present position.
This is what's happening anyway, at outfits like Ticketmaster-CitySearch. (You might want to sue for links to Ticketmaster's ticketing while you're at it.) What you're doing is integrating your newsgathering with data, making your whole effort far more interactive and personal, and using your size to reach the destination before anyone else. The goal is to use the technology (Web, e-mail, conferencing, chat, databases) to build a more intimate city. Interactive, intimate - that can make your town a very attractive place to live. And of course you're the gatekeeper.
If you don't want the job, of course, your competitors will eventually figure it out. CitySearch is already starting to build New York Interactive. So is AOL, so soon will Rupert Murdoch. This is where the world is going, and whoever gets there first gets the pot of gold. Once you're crystal on the goal, everything else becomes organization and implementation - things I know you can do well.
Oh, you're welcome. No I don't need a job, and I didn't do this for the money. This is what journalists try to do, help people, and you had that deer-in-the-headlights look in your magazine picture. OK, you can pick up the check for lunch. (I had the dog with everything...can you spring for an Orange Julius, too?)
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I'll be in New York August 17-19, covering the Jupiter Conference on Online Advertising for ClickZ. Hope to see you there.
ClickZ, has me putting a "clued-in" spin on the day's news. I'm also a semi-regular on TechEdge Radio and I'm continuing monthly columns for NetMarketing, Boardwatch, and Intellectual Capital. I'll also begin work soon with the IC folk on a book project concerning politics and the Internet, which will appear first on the Web. A-Clue.Com is also the Monday e-commerce column of Andover.News. Buy my book now. Subscription instructions are at the bottom of each issue.
Remember that it's still journalism -- checking the news, calling people, listening carefully and writing on deadline -- which keeps the Clues coming. If you're looking for excellent work, give me a call at 404-373-7634. Now back to the show...
Desperately Seeking Control
Internet riches have thrown the blinders of insta-wealth on lots of people who should know better. Folks are over-reaching, sending lawyers out to do a negotiator's job, and basically acting like idiots.
What does Adam.Com expect to get from suing Drkoop because it hasn't gotten the best deal on its databases? Adam seems to think it's going to overtake the good doctor as a patient's portal. The publicity may be more damaging than the settlement may be beneficial. The same stupidity overtook the Associated Press when it demanded New York officials remove photos it took at Woodstock the cops were trying to use to identify rioters . (The cops finally caved saying they hadn't gotten any leads.) What you do is give them a fair use license and a press conference, not an angry lawyer letter.
This also happens to people who are already rich, because richer is better and richest is best (and a king ain't satisfied until he owns everything, the Boss adds. Local Realtors should be working hard to expand circulation of their property listings, so buyers will find them faster and homes will sell. Instead, they sign brain-dead exclusivity deals with sites like Homestore.Com, which then fall under antitrust scrutiny . In perhaps the most brain dead move of all, Amazon.Com is going into the consumer electronics business with no Clue at all what it takes to succeed. They're even allegedly selling gray-market goods and poisoning their customers' warrantees. . Why? Because they want to sell everything, now, before someone else does.
Here's a pop quiz, class. What should they be doing instead? That's correct, finding allies and using them correctly. Checkout.Com (http://www.checkout.com) may never gain traction as an online record store, but by using coupons from Ralph's (the owners are investors) to draw shoppers into the store they at least have a Clue. The Clue is to always look at things from the customer's perspective. Greed makes fools of us all.
Upsets in the Instant Messaging Fight
By all rights, Microsoft should make mincemeat of America Online in the fight over Instant Messaging. It seems to have the interests of users on its side. If everyone can IM everyone else, isn't that better than being restricted to AOL or MSN users?
Unfortunately, Microsoft's history as a bully that sees innovation, copies it, then integrates it to crush the innovator is coming back to haunt it. The Clued-in folks at News.Com detail all this in a great collection of stories and an editorial . AOL has also been awake, licensing its service to the two largest "independent" ISPs, Mindspring and Earthlink . Customers getting real service get access to good AOL stuff, and the companies that serve them become AOL allies. Smart, very smart.
Ethics in this Business
Back in 1977, when I was formally introduced to this trade at Northwestern's Medill School, we were told emphatically not to look for the silver lining. Money was for b-school graduates, law school graduates and med school graduates. A good journalist would, like the divinity school graduate, forsake filthy luchre. If you want a nice house, get a spouse with a nice job. (Point taken .)
At that time Medill was training its people for newspaper jobs drawing salaries of maybe $850/month, like my first gig at the Houston Business Journal . We were to be glad to get it, and even as we watched fools make billions we were to avoid even their free buffets before press conferences. (Well, maybe an olive, and a Coke if you're really thirsty. But just one!)
If you want to make money, we were told, get out of the game. That's what Rosalind Resnick finally did. She started her own company, NetCreations Inc., launched an (ethical) opt-in list service, PostMaster Direct , and she's going public. She's going to be rich and God bless her for that. Meanwhile, Chris Nolan put her hand in the cookie jar. She took some free stock from someone she covered (hardly any, really), and got kicked back to the dog-collaring beat at the San Jose Mercury News . In my day, we'd have fired her, and made sure she never worked again.
The truth is, Medill was wrong. Thanks to the Internet you can make your way in this business, and make great money. I'm living proof (as are such NU grads as Dan Janal). You don't have to sacrifice your ethics. And what if you choose to become an entrepreneur in your own right? Well, who do you think endows those schools, anyway?
Times Reporters Don't Get It
The downside of corporate ethics is that reporters become dependent on their employer. For business reporters this is dangerous because if their employer is stupid their own judgment may go out the window. Since most newspaper companies are hopelessly, aggressively Clueless, this means even good reporters make dumb mistakes.
Here's a fine example from the registration-required Web site of Art Sulzberger's New York Times. Bob Tedeschi writes that "permission marketing" will become ineffective as more companies use it. Well, fatigue will set in as everyone launches lists, but if he had read the book he would understand that the concept is much deeper than that.
So, let's repeat it, because Bob was asleep during the lesson. Permission Marketing isn't e-mail marketing. It's not about getting permission to spam people. Permission Marketing pays people for attention, pays them for loyalty, and works to make purchases automatic. No one can get tired of being treated right.
Clued-in is Catalog City, a search engine with a simple business plan of distributing catalogs to buyers.
Clueless is CDNow.Com, which renewed spamming of its customers after its merger with N2K. In many cases, these are now ex-customers. And before the folks at CDNow complain here's a Clue for them. The recipients (or victims) of e-mail decide what is spam. If I decide you spammed me, you spammed me, and I won't do business with you in the future. (Microsoft Office and NetCenter, take note.)
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