BlogWorld and New Media Expo: 15 October 2009 – Las Vegas, NV

BlogWorld and New Media Expo 2009

The Journalism Ice Age is here

You can’t talk about new media in 2010 without looking at the impact it has had on journalism this year. Several workshops and keynotes were dedicated to addressing the fact that we now get our latest news from a myriad of social sources like Twitter, Facebook page updates and blogs. Social Media might be at odds with traditional media but progress is being made. During the Death and Rebirth of Journalism panel–CCN’s Don Lemon, Current TV’s Joanna Drake Earl, expert radio host Hugh Hewitt, NYU journalism professor/blogger Jay Rosen—all agreed that “traditional media and new media will have to coexist”. Although, that’s a big step forward. The panel didn’t provide much of a clear or bold prediction on what that future symbiotic partnership will look like. They decided to let time answer that question.

But can we at least get a glimpse of the future of journalism? Heading into 2010, it looks like we’re at least headed in the right direction. And the panel also agreed on the fact that many bloggers link back to major new sites. Does that mean that news organizations and bloggers want to work together? It depends who you talk you. “They’re going to have to,” said Don Lemon as he answered the question and tweeted from his mobile phone. “It’s a no-brainer to include social media in their platform. Doing so allows journalists to be transparent, authentic. CNN encourages us to be everywhere. Sure, some people are being exploitive by social media, but I’m not. CCN asked me to come to Blogworld so I came because it’s where the future of news and social media conversations are happening.” Another important and lingering question that was discussed but yet went unanswered was “where will the next generation of journalists come from”? Some on the panel said that bloggers might be the new journalists as the craft unfolds and new media develops.

Could a hybrid of traditional and citizen journalism be the future? You could look at the model of Al Gore’s San Francisco-based network Current TV. Its CEO Joanna Drake Earl spoke about how Current has been successful by mixing professional journalists telling stories not covered in mainstream media with unique viewer-created content. She said their approach seems to satisfy their audiences without sacrificing journalistic integrity.

The whole point of the panel was to discuss the fact that old journalism is dead and a new one is being born. But old or new, we still need journalists to report the truth. But if social media keeps giving more people the freedom to “make” their own news, how do we filter, find it and categorize it? What new tools and platforms are being created to help reader and journalist alike navigate the clutter?

New social, meme trackers and news media filtering tools:

Will we have to fend for ourselves in the internet’s swarming and ever-increasing amount of overwhelming digital ephemera in 2010? Besides conversation and discussion, BlogWorld also provided the opportunity to check out new applicable platform and search tools to help us navigate the myriad rivers of user-generated content, tweets and blog posts that will continue to come rushing at us.

You can search via Google for keywords or set up an Alert in a feed Reeder or maybe even a real-time search in Twitter. But still, as more of us join the digital conversation across the socialsphere, social search has become the growing trend and problem to solve. Brands want to know who and what is talking about them. And news organizations need tools to filter all the streams of possible stories popping up, trending and developing on Twitter or blogs. Many developers showcased their platforms at BlogWorld and I had the opportunity to speak with the CEOs of Thoora and Twingly, who with their social search and aggregate platforms seek to solve the content filtering conundrum for journalists, bloggers and readers. During the beta stage, Twingly has offered an exclusive test run the first 500 readers before the service is available in 2010. Use POPMATTERS for the beta code when visiting to set up an account.

On the main exhibit floor Thoora CEO Michael Lee popped open his laptop and took me through a test of Thoora, a real-time news discovery service, which was publically unveiled for the first time at BlogWorld. When I asked how Thoora will tear down the silos of social and traditional media, Lee says the platform empowers users by merging content streams into a manageable dashboard that is customizable. “We’re right in the middle of the transition where a blogger or even someone with a twitter account can break a news story. So Thoora organizes tweets, blogs posts and news articles to reflect the living and breathing nature of news. It brings together all the blog commentary, tweets and breaking news to give a more accurate and complete picture of a particular topic.

Lee says that most platforms tend to focus on the sources and Thoora indexes everything into one page so you can see everything that’s going on in real-time on that topic. “We rank everything by size of reaction. The audience and not just news editors can determine what gets pushed to the top. You can focus on many different topics and not just breaking news because you’ll be able to track developing stories since we index every blog, considering language and content. Lee aims to answer one of the content pitfalls of the interwebs. “Generally only five percent of the blogosphere is cross linked so you’re never able to find the most relevant topics.”

Thoora’s set up is to mainly focus on general story context and values the contribution of how the content adds to the overall story. As an example, he cites pro tennis player Serena Williams’s outburst story. When that story broke he says Thoora found a pro tennis player’s blog who knew the rules and provided very valuable content, which would have never been found because most platforms like Technorati index content by authority. “The real-time search takes into account all the different factors that go into news gathering and uses them to bring together the most complete and useful collection of content.”

Thoora appears to be a viable tool that will help journalists and readers in the long run, but we’ll have to see what role it’ll play this year as real-time social media continues to be a main source of news. As the beta version develops and more people use Thoora, we’ll have to see if it’s truly useful solution for journalists, bloggers and readers alike.

Taking a more user-generated and community approach to social meme tracking is Twingly, a service that enables social filtering in real-time search to help people easily track any topic, brand or person. Twingly CEO Martin Källström says his channel-based platform protects people from information overload and encourages the like-mind to create communities based on their channel content. “People can curate their own channel and invite others to filter out what’s important.”

Combining favorite qualities of social networking site Facebook and link sharing site Digg, Källström says Twingly cuts away all the noise giving people the opportunity to be their own channel “editor” which he hopes will create value centered around people enjoying the content each user curates. Twingly will launch in February 2010, so he’s showing me an exclusive beta version explaining that development began with “a preview application process” to limit growth. At the time of our chat in the BlogWorld conference hall, Twingly had 124 subscribers, 250 unique channels and 500 people waiting to create more channels—everything from music and news to tattoo and dog breeding.

It’s clear that Källström aims to put a personal touch and more democracy into social meme search and aggregation. He doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel but instead solve the noise and clutter problems created by Twitter and hopefully bring like-minded people together to build strong communities around specific and shared topics of interest. Twingly is designed to put context to the articles, aggregate them via an extensive global coverage and then let the user’s dashboard present memes visually as social proof of what’s most important to the community that user has created.

During the testing stages, Källström says users have asked for a channel directory to easily locate memes. And brands have expressed interest in using Twingly to track consumer and influencer conversations in a closed channel service. So as a possible future revenue stream or sponsorship model, he’s considering creating a B2B model where companies could sponsor channels. Social meme searchers and new journalist and content junkies appear to have some cool tools to work with. But what about the music industry? Does the future look bright for artist, labels and fans on the social horizon?

Big Music and Social Media: Who’s Killing Who?

Is social and new media killing or giving to life to the music industry? Do these mediums help album sales and give fans more intimate access to your favorite artists? Does the music industry see the social and new media as an ally or the enemy? There were a lot of questions to answer as a panel of music industry folk discussed how Social Media is Saving and Killing the Music Industry. On the panel was Steve Koskie, CEO of Lifestyle destination site Dip Dive, created by the Black Eyed Peas.

Though the panel didn’t make many specific predictions on what the future would look like for social media and the music industry, Koskie did speak his mind on micro-blogging and the dismal future of a fading social networking giant. “Twitter will come and go. In the end those kind of social media tools are really only a way to help tell the story of the artist and their music. Look at Myspace. It’s a wasteland that will soon dissolve. I believe in cycles and none of us really know when the next one will start.”

And what do the major labels think? Jeremy Holley, Vice President of Consumer & Interactive for Warner Brothers Records, said Warner Brothers is focusing on the “tangible”, meaning strong sales show that fans still want special vinyl releases or specially packaged CDs and other unique content. “We’re testing different portals by offering more VIP packages for concerts and releases and focusing on the premium bundling.”

Social media can’t give an artist what they don’t have. Either you got or you don’t. “You still need to have talent,” asserts Chief Xcel, DJ/producer for hip hop duo Blackalicious. “Social media or a slick YouTube video doesn’t make you an instant star. Today more than ever, you must know how to perform live because most artists today make their money through touring. Social media tools don’t make it any easier to perform live or sell albums; they just allow you to have a closer connection with your fans.”

Taking Chief Xcel’s thoughts one step further, rapper Jermaine Dupri called out the music business and his peers during the New Celebrity panel and BlogWorld Press conference. Speaking for a legion of other music artists that have been empowered by social media, Dupri boldly explained how he’s embraced social media platforms to thwart the big music business model and gain more control of his music and fan relationships. “Social media has shocked a lot of people in the music industry because over several years the industry has gotten lazy. And now they’re paying the price. I’m trying to get around the middle man. It’s not really any tougher than it was twenty years ago, necessarily. It’s the fact that the gatekeepers and the middle men don’t want to change.”

Cutting to the core of why most musicians and celebrities don’t fully embrace social media’s rigorous demands of constant updates and tweet and blog posts, a roar of cheers arose after Dupri said “Blogging is hard work and it’s about being involved. The music business got really lazy. And if you’re a lazy musician, then social media isn’t for you. Top musician bloggers in the industry don’t blog on the weekends because they think it’s their time off. That’s fine but that tells me that they don’t understand social media. I’m [at BlogWorld] to break new ground and encourage those guys to change their business.”

Dupri said the heart of his struggle has been with the control of the corporate suits. “They told me you can do it for less, and then we’re going to stop giving money. But right now [the corporate suits] don’t think [social media] works. They told me my YouTube numbers don’t affect my record sales. That’s just not true because I know that I can sell 30,000 [albums] in 30 minutes because of the following I have on Twitter and YouTube. For the fan it’s all about the immediacy and authenticity. And I can give them that with social media tools.”

Dupri’s comments stuck with me as I left BlogWorld. True social media has given artists more control over their music and the relationship with their fans. Artists like Matisyahu, John Mayer, ?uest Love, Taylor Swift, etc. have all taken to tweeting as a way to be more available and transparent with fans. But do fans feels more connected? And does the connection make the music better? Is the listening experience on record and during concerts more personal? If Dupri, the social media experts, and the largest BlogWorld Expo attendance ever are any indication of what’s in store for 2010, then the next challenge for us is to strengthen the communities we’ve created in 2009 and stop “playing around” as Brogan commands.

What does not playing around mean to me? It means using social media to strengthen my existing relationships, discover and network with like-minded but geographically distant peers/colleagues, and embark on daily pixilated self-expression. If you haven’t picked up on the theme yet, I’ll say it again. We all use social media for different reasons. Brands track reputation and sentiment, some lurk, some network, and others do a mix of everything. The sheer fact that social media plays to basic human needs tells me that it was never a fad to begin with. And going into 2010, social and new media will continue to mirror, enhance and give greater opportunities to those who want to connect, get or be affirmed and self-express.

No, I’m not going to make any 2010 predictions (besides the Cubs winning the World Series). But I’ll share a few closing nuggets that you can tweet, share or blog about. Skeptic or enthusiast, I hope you discover new social media tools to make your communities more authentic, your businesses more transparent and your inner-circle relationships more intimate. For those of you using social and new media sociologically, I hope you see social media as a digital mirror reflecting the developing parts of human behavior and follow your curiosity to new revelations.

Expect it. In 2010, there will be lurkers, interacters, creators, enthusiasts and selfish narcissistic dweebs like there have always been on the interwebs. But as I mentioned earlier, the challenge will be clearing out the clutter and noise, so we can get to the meaningful content and build the relationships that matter to us the most.