Stand back… Wordsplosion!

Whenever my wife and I are out and about, we always either cringe or laugh at the ridiculous signs people put out in public. Especially signs for businesses, where the ostensibly make their living from not looking too stupid all the time. I mean, if you want my money, I gotta have some kind of trust in your ability to deliver your goods or services, so get that sign, menu, flyer, newsletter, web site right.

For those that experience similar spelling and punctation double-takes out there, I highly recommend the new blog Wordsplosion!

Fun stuff.

Dell Mini 9 inbound

I’ve got a new Dell Mini 9 headed my way later this month. It’s one of those teeny-weeny micro laptops — “netbooks” — that have all the kids excited these days. I’m curious if it can be an iPhone-with-a-keyboard for me as I bounce around from meeting to meeting inside and outside the office.

I live much of my worklife in Google Apps now, so simply having a keyboard, a reasonable screen and live ‘Net access is enough for me.

I’m also going to hand it to a couple of in-house journalists to see if this might make a good field laptop for remote reporting, including video chatting and such. I only wish Apple had made one of these first. Or maybe after I try it, I’ll understand why Steve Jobs skipped out on this party.

The cost was under $500 with shipping and I configured it with a slimmed-down copy of Windows XP, 1GB of RAM, a 640×480 webcam, and a 16GB solid state drive. Plus I’m picking up a 16GB SDHC card to pop into the side and a wireless mouse. I ordered a couple days after launch earlier this month and in theory I should see it next week sometime.

More info after I’ve played with it for a while.

Great survey… Have you taken it?

I know in a political election year we all cringe when someone approaches us with a “survey,” especially since those are almost always slanted to one side or the other. But here’s a great one — the PubForge Open Source Collaboration Survey. If you or someone at your public media station haven’t yet taken the survey, please do so right away.

The early results are interesting, as promoted by new media leader Dale Hobson (North Country Public Radio) in a recent e-mail to public radio folks (excerpted here):

Open source software has been widely adopted by stations as a whole: A majority of stations utilize open source software for some aspect of their online service. Where open source tools are not in use, there is considerable interest in finding ways to use them.

Allocating resources to web development and maintenance is critically low:

  • More than half (55%) of respondents have ZERO full-time employees developing their website.

Top of the development list–stations are looking for:

  • 72% – Freestanding player for streams, archives and user created playlists
  • 72% – Tools to integrate existing social media networks into public media sites
  • 68% – Complete CMS website solution, including audio file management
  • 66% – Software to enable more community participation for public media
  • 61% – Application for supporting micro payments (granular giving) to enable giving around specific content

In addition, the survey provides a snapshot of how stations are managing web content, what in-house skills and tools are available to them, how they are tracking visitors, and what they want to be able to do online, given the necessary resources.

There are more charts, more quotes and summary statements if you visit the site to see it all.

We need these kinds of surveys to be as accurate as possible, and the results are already illuminating. If you’re at a station, work with the web, and have just a few minutes, please take the survey.

What happens to web stats when Sarah Palin seekers stop by

On an average day over the last several months, APRN.ORG (the web site for news from the Alaska Public Radio Network), our daily web visit count (according to Google Analytics) was usually under 1,000.  On a good day, we’d spike to maybe 1,200. On a great day, we’d spike to 1,500.

But once Sarah Palin was selected as the Republican VP nominee, you can imagine what happened.

As shown in the graph above, we suddenly spiked to nearly 5,200 visits in a single day, and hit over the 3,000 mark a couple times the following week.

Our traffic is dying down now, almost to normal levels. But what a ride that was. I only wish we had a dedicated web team to do more stuff. Maybe someday.

Another nail in the AP coffin

There have been so many great news services popping up in the last few years in the online space. has been one of the big success stories. They make most of their money on a print edition distributed on Capitol Hill and K Street in DC, but their web property is followed nationally and their writers and pundits regularly appear on talking-head shows.

Now they’re undermining the Associated Press. Good for them.

At the rate things are changing for the AP and the news business in general, you’d think the AP would unleash a new plan to get folks interested in their services again. But I think not. The AP is still a juggernaut in the news business with a long way to go before their execs begin to freak out over lost customers and revenue. It sure is interesting to watch, though.

Back from the dead / digital collaboration

It’s has been — and remains — insane at the office these days. We’re in the midst of a pledge period for TV, we’re preparing for another one in FM, and for the most part it’s my first run-through these events as the person ultimately in charge of our streams, so there’s a learning curve. I’m finding it easy to pick things up — it just takes time. Plus, the company is still shaking out some of the changes from about a month ago as we radically redesigned the management structure. So far, so good.

I’ve been neglecting Twitter and Facebook and this site for nearly a month as these events have played out. Luckily, it’s kind of a quiet period in public media as folks work through pledge drives and just get back into the non-summer swing of things.

Yet this past week a critical post went up from Dennis Haarsager that’s required reading for pubradio folks and I think for public TV folks as well:

It makes a good deal of sense to me, as it gives a revitalized reason/purpose for national/local collaboration, as opposed to simple distribution. I’m not quite convinced it can be successful, but it’s got a shot if a critical mass of system leaders get on board. I know I’m paying attention.

That said, I’m concerned about future collaborations of all kinds, especially in the wake of a semi-private discussion in which I participated recently.

It seems public media’s chief difficulty today is not one of distribution, but one of mission. Why are we here, really? And do we all share the same response to that question? “Public service,” is not a real answer. We need a product, a specific service that can bind all of us together.

Personally, I think that’s news. I’ve railed against the national TV news media before for their lack of real public service, and I’ve suggested that public media’s greatest strength comes from news.  Not music, not arts and culture, not high society, but news. (Those other things are nice-to-haves, but they aren’t core things around which we can easily collaborate on various geographic or business scales.)

What does news, as a primary mission for public, have going for it?

  • The Associated Press is breaking down as newspapers and stations — including my own — tell the AP to take a flying leap with their high costs and their regurgitated stories
  • Newspapers are distracted as their profits crumble and they seem unable to find a way forward
  • TV news is an abysmal, rancid landfill of time-wasters and poor information
  • New low-cost journalism methods (not necessarily bad stuff, by the way) is on the rise, both in video and print, offering us new opportunities
  • Digital exchange of information and finished media products has never been faster, cheaper or easier
  • We have a public service mission unparalleled in the commercial world — a world setup to distribute commercials, not thoughtful information

NPR grew as media consumers discovered that quality news and information was, in fact, a good thing to have around. It grew in an otherwise toxic radio environment.

We have a chance, now, I think, to develop this shared mission and build collaborative structures around that. At the moment, Haarsager’s initial diagram (PDF) speaks to a broader service set than news alone. But keep the mission focused and the distribution / collaboration system begins to make sense.

Anything new that proposes to simplify collaboration in an ecosystem of diverse and often competing missions probably won’t get us very far.