Making the new digital market: A case for an Information Trust Association
Opportunity – How to sustain role of journalism
- Mass-market advertising no longer sufficient
- Information overload puts a premium on attention
- New privacy, identity challenges for open web
- Need to provide service to users one-to-one
- This creates opportunity to manage information for users
What's Needed – Trust, identity and info-commerce
- Need agents/brokers to help individuals with ‘personas’
- Could be news organizations / banks / universities
- Curate and refer information from anywhere
- Provide a mechanism to exchange value ($$$)
- But that requires one-account, one ID
- Also requires ability to aggregate charges among multiple sites
- Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple could “make rules”
- But their leadership would be opposed by others
Solution – Info agents working in exchange framework
- New information brokers/agents/curators/stewards (“infovalets”)
- Individuals have choice to affiliate
- But need someone to make /create the market protocols
- Like Visa, ICANN, 60-cycle power, railroad gauge, FAA, N.Y. Stock Exchange, CableLabs
- Non-stock, membership, possibly program-related investments
- Can start, invest in or contract with for-profits
- Self-sustaining through transaction fees
Tasks – A safe haven for collaboration / standard-setting
- Studious avoidance of antitrust issues
- Enable dynamic pricing competition, mixing “atomized” content
- Extend OpenID to include transfer of “persona,” commerce
- Specify transfer protocols; “box car”
- Specify base terms of service for public users
- Establish info exchange rules (like stock exchange)
- Certify compliance (like Underwriters Laboratories)
- Managing cross-licensing (like BlueTooth Association)
“From Paper to Persona: Managing Privacy and Information Overload; Sustaining Journalism in an Attention Age,” explains how a new public-benefit collaboration could help slow the shrinking of American journalism.
Because of Internet technology, mass-market advertising and the news have come unglued. For the public, information is accessible, but not always trustworthy. Because it is abundant, it’s value varies, because it takes more of our time and attention to make sense of it. In an Attention Age, intrusive marketing technologies can compromise privacy.
News organizations need new revenues to improve journalism’s service to participatory democracy. They might provide a new service to the public besides selling ads and stories. Managing the privacy and information preferences of individuals is one such opportunity.
Using identity technology could allow publishers to become trusted stewards and curators of a reader’s attributes, information preferences and privacy. Other technology could account for payment and access to information at multiple, independent web-wide sources. As a result, publishers could make money offering subscription or per-item access to information shared across a large network of premium sources, personalized for individual readers.
Several media and technology organizations have built proprietary or closed systems to distribute and get compensated for content they control. However successful these closed, siloed systems, outside them lies a larger universe of consumers seeking and using additional news and digital information. Connecting the silos, sharing users and content, could expand consumer choice and the digital information marketplace – an “easy pass” for information.
A public-benefit Information Trust Association could create and administer technical protocols and business rules for a shared user network that exchanges trust, identity and information commerce. (See, “Four-party model – Choice, control for consumers; opportunity for publishers,” or http://wp.me/phs1Y-Z)
It would not itself produce content or have consumers as customers. It would foster technology that allows private networks to join, do business and compete. It would make and enforce marketplace rules respecting consumer privacy and choice.
An advantage of a neutral referee for such a standardized “playing field” is that users could choose among competitive trusted curators and stewards. These service providers could exchange users without having to lose connection with them. They could sell news and other content to each others’ users. Besides stewards or curators, these service providers might be called information brokers, agents or “information valets.”
“From Print to Persona” calls for a summit of the news industry to form a consortium of technology, telecommunications, entertainment, philanthropy and public-interest entities. The Information Trust Association consortium would then invoke needed, existing technology and open the digital-content marketplace.
Because the ITA would have no investors and no profit motive, the ITA should be able then to referee the marketplace, and encourage competitors to participate.
As news and the economics of newspapers come unglued, what will sustain journalism? The answer involves a challenge, and an opportunity.
Five trends enabled by worldwide open networks characterize an Attention Age –- an economy which treats human attention as a scarce and valuable asset. They are transforming information businesses, the future of journalism, participatory democracy and communities:
- Mass-market advertising is giving way to targeted, permission-based, direct marketing. It is no longer sufficient to sustain journalism in print or on air. The two have come almost unglued.
- Abundant, accessible, unbundled information disrupts copyright and makes human attention a scarce resource. Curation is therefore valuable.
- The success of social networks shows there is business and civic value in network collaboration and sharing rather than hoarding or silos.
- We now consider our ‘personas’ – use-specific demographic profiles and interests --- to be valuable. We, and some regulators, assert that value with the concept of “privacy.”
- Publishers are moving from gatekeepers to information valets – curators, stewards, agents and brokers -- offering personalized, customized access to knowledge.
In less than a decade, we have moved from a world of relative information scarcity -- access restricted by a variety of technical choke points, such as presses -- to a world of such information abundance that the average user's challenge is not how to access information, or even how find it, but how to personalize, trust and make sense of it. The Internet has shifted control of this raw information largely from publishers to consumers.
“From Paper to Persona,” observes and assesses the challenge to publishers and journalism posed by the Attention Age. It suggests the next newsroom will originate news, aggregate news from others and deliver this to individuals based on their “persona.” What’s a persona? A set of interests and attributes presented by the user in a particular context such as health care. In a different context or role – say news reading or purchasing – the user might present a different persona, or mix of elements, attributes and interests – all drawn from the same verified dataset of age, sex, race, income and education, interests, lifestyle choices, groups and physical location on earth. The user maintains the core dataset with the help of their curator, agent, broker, steward or “infovalet.”
As a result, the defining challenge for news organizations in the 21st century is no longer just selling ads and charging for proprietary stories, but learning to help the public knowledgeably manage our attention to and sharing of ubiquitous, disaggregated information. The value of news has become the service, not a physical product, or single story.
For publishers, connecting individuals with journalism and information they need to be informed, engaged citizens means asking about their interests, friends and groups -- understanding who they are. The Internet lacks common protocols enabling convenient, trustworthy sharing of identity -- a user’s ‘persona,’ on the user’s terms. Establishing a trust, identity, privacy and information commerce exchange is an opportunity for publishers.
So the challenge and opportunity of sustaining journalism requires that news organizations:
- Acquire technology and skills to perform as trusted managers of identity and privacy, and as curatorial information advisors, agents, stewards, or “infovalets” for their users.
- Collaborate on a shared-user network for trust, identity, privacy and information commerce fostered and governed by a public-benefit entity to support competing agents.
With these two essential steps, publishers can cultivate customized, one-to-one relationships with users, provide them personalized information, and get paid for doing so. Each publisher might make money referring their users to each other’s content -- via a microaccounting exchange system.
The Attention Age represents for journalism institutions slow death, or a chance to experiment and thrive beyond mass-market advertising. They must become better curators, stewards, agents, or “information valets,” for their users. Trust, identity and information value are core issues, affecting access, convenience, privacy and personalization.
To create the agent network and the shared-user network, journalism stakeholders should lead formation of a public-benefit initiative. It would neutrally specify and referee a new marketplace for exchanging trust, identity and information commerce. The Information Trust Association (ITA) would create protocols and business rules that enable appropriate network collaboration and exchange – a level playing field. The ITA would be guided by publishers, broadcasters, telecom and technology companies, account managers, trade groups and the public.
It would foster a common playing field that respects consumer privacy, and facilitates transparent business rules, so content and users can be exchanged and shared, and the consumer can easily move outside of proprietary “silos” among competing options.
The Information Trust Association would make and enforce protocols governing users' "persona" -- personal information -- and allow consumers to barter that information for value across the same microaccounting, or “value exchange,” system. The ITA would guide -- not run -- this trust, identity and information commerce environment – sanctioning and enabling multiple competitive businesses, using common protocols.
The Information Trust Association would steward a marketplace that is open and multi-party. It would allow the sharing of users and value among news, advertising, publishing, entertainment, technology, public and philanthropic services. As “curation agents,” or stewards, publishers might cultivate customized, one-to-one relationships with users, helping maintain their privacy, providing them personalized information -- and getting paid for doing so. ITA can:
- Flexibly support continued operation of closed, proprietary, “siloed” systems by publishers and other enterprises with direct consumer account relationships.
- Enable convenient, trustworthy, personalized services for individuals to find, share and transact for information. Value can be given or received, depending whether the individual needs the information or a marketer needs to reach the individual.
- Foster and transparently govern a new, open, four-party system for consumers to go outside their chosen “silo,” connecting and exchanging value with other content and services -- with identity and privacy under consumer control.
The ITA’s non-equity governance would recognize interests of at least four parties:
- End users,
- Rights-holders and publishers (including authors, artists, information providers and aggregators),
- Neutral authenticators, loggers and aggregators of transactions (the ITA or its contractors) and
- Information agents, curators or “infovalets” -- account managers (banks, telecommunications companies, publishers, billers etc.) whose primary allegiance is to the user.
Within the limits of existing antitrust law, the ITA would convene publishers, technologists, foundations, banks and public in a system for exchanging small bits of content – a microaccounting system -- among multiple independent publishers. Public users would be able to choose from a plurality of information “agents” from which to open a one-ID, one-bill account that links to content from almost anywhere.
The initiative could:
- Contract or license with one or more for-profit entities, funded by investors, to operate elements of a shared-user network for privacy, trust, identity and information commerce.
- Guarantee one-account, one-ID, one-bill simplicity from any of multiple participating trust/identity/commerce providers (“InfoValets”).
- Assure the trustworthiness, and neutrality of enabling technologies.
- Operate transparently within existing antitrust law to provide a platform for competition, which benefits the public.
- Research, test, sanction or commission key technologies.
- Sanction protocols for sharing users and content.
- Use, support and enable existing Internet protocols.
- Through voluntary standards, vest greater choice, control and economic value of their privacy and personal information in the hands of individual citizens.
- Foster and govern multisite user authentication and microaccounting services.
- Support web wide tracking and billing for “atomized” content.
- Simplify the open, competitive exchange of value among users and info suppliers.
Journalism stakeholders should take the lead in collaborating with other stakeholders to establish a public-benefit Information Trust Association. It will seed a market for digital information by helping individuals manage their private identity data, purchase information conveniently from a single account, and be rewarded for looking at sponsored information.
The subheads and enlarged, boxed excerpts on many pages should allow the reader abbreviated access to concepts and recommendations. In addition, an evolving, short executive overview, opportunities for discussion, and links to updates or new references may be accessed from a wiki-format website maintained by the author -- http://www.papertopersona.org
1. Assessing the Opportunity
- The end of mass markets
- Brokering attention, sharing persona
- The end of walled gardens
- Losing control of the network
- From product to service
- Display online: $100B in a several years?
- Atomized content and the iPad – opportunity or threat
- What won’t support news – mass-market advertising
- Blurring of advertising and marketing
- Shift to audiences, not “sites”
- From atomization to clearing house
- Business model collapse: Scarcity to sense making
- The hourglass and the cylinder
- From social good to enlightened personal tastes
- When publishers no longer own the pipes
- In whom do we trust – “persona”
- Public trust through engagement
- Public responsibility – Not passive reception
What might work?
- The Next
- Newsroom and Chris Peck
- Citizens as journalists – new opportunity
- Reaching out – some examples
- The experiments – clues to the next newsroom
- Privacy – Necessary component of personalization?
- U.S. government spurs privacy efforts
- U.S. v. Facebook Connect – the de facto identity card?
- Collaboration as a solution
Summing up and recommendations
- About “advisor-tising”
2. Making the Marketplace
- Trust, identity and commerce
- Paying for news – stories or convenience?
- A new overlay – the shared user network
- Possible answer: The member association?
- Considering antitrust
- Why news organizations need this
- Privacy as a service
- Entrepreneurial opportunities
Conclusion: Next steps for news
- Author’s note / acknowledgements
- Bullet points: A case for an Information TrustAssociation
- ADDENDUM: Nine trust associations that established beneficial networks
- ADDENDUM: Four-party model
- Why this matters: Bob Rosenthal
- Document links
Part One/The Challenge
Assessing the Opportunity
Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google Inc., spoke in July 2010, at a London conference hosted by The Guardian newspaper. From the dawn of humanity to 2003, Schmidt said, five exabytes of information were generated. He said the same amount is now generated in two days (and there is debate that Schmidt’s estimate was quite low). The pace of change is so fast, said Schmidt, “it’s hard for me to keep up and I have done this for my whole life.”
Think about the first Wikileaks disclosure of 76,000 pages of allegedly leaked U.S. military cables about Afghanistan – all apparently considered classified intelligence. The Pentagon was said to have had more than 100 analysts examing those documents to see what damage may have been done by their release. The Pentagon and the news media both had the same challenge with the Wikileaks disclosures – how to make sense, for their own differing purposes, of so much information.
Today, as Google’s Schmidt points out, The Pentagon’s problem is effectively a problem for all of us. It’s hyper information overload delivered soon over 4G networks at 50-megabit speed. In the attention economy, value is created not as easily in the information itself as by those who sift, digest, cull, extract and interpret torrents of information so that it can be usefully understood.
The biggest challenge for citizens and businesses is finding – and sharing — relevant, trustworthy, valuable, actionable news and information hidden in a sea of bits and bytes.
Continued relevance for the work – reporting or otherewise -- of former newspaper companies (in whatever delivered form) will have to be about finding and sharing information that is trustworthy – and finding a way to receive value for doing so . . . Which is more valuable, the flour or the bread?
We are living in a world now where the terms publisher and broadcaster are somewhat anachronistic.
The key for people formerly known as publishers is not to aggregate a mass audience and then sell undifferentiated information and advertising to them. It’s to cultivate customized, one-to-one relationships with consumers -- personalized but probably largely automated. The goal is still to provide them the civic and entertainment information they particularly need (and want) when they want it, and be able to support that effort by getting paid to provide customized, sponsored, commercial information.
The key for users, the biggest challenge is finding – and sharing — relevant, trustworthy, valuable, actionable news and information hidden in a sea of bits and bytes. So it seems pretty clear that the path to continued relevance for the reporting work of former newspaper companies (in whatever form they take) will have to be about finding and sharing information that is trustworthy – and finding a way to receive value for doing so. The value is in the curatorial work, and the new insights, which result, not the raw information to start with. Which is more valuable, the flour or the bread?
The Attention Age and the Information Valet
So we are now in the Attention Age and economy. In it, users seek an experience which values their time and attention, providing them access to the information they need -- from anywhere -- quickly and easily. Before the Internet, this was a role served pretty well by daily ink on paper. Today the product embodiment of that idea -- the newspaper -- is failing to keep up to the task. In April, 2011, James. L. McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research described the current environment as “the end of scarcity” and the “economics of plenty.” The logical extension of his argument is that news organizations must learn how to realize value, and broker attention, primarily from relationships, not from products or stories. In this paper, we argue the information ecosystem is moving toward a new paradigm for news organizations — as a trusted curator/advisor/agent to individuals -- part aggregator, part content creator, part social network, who helps manage consumer discovery and use of digital information. The help might include:
- Controlling access to an individual’s personal demographic or preference information
- Curating and personalizing the storage, receipt, exchange or sharing of information
- Engaging with users to make the news social and participatory
- Enable paying for access to information by subscription, per click or per item.
- Providing value for viewing or accepting commercial offers -- advertising or reward points.
“Curation is an increasingly important part of the information value chain,” says social-media expert and former editor Paul Gillin. “In a cacophony of voices, the leader is the one who can make sense fo the din.”
Since 2007, the author has given a name to the provider of such services -- “information valet”.-- and it has been the focus of his research as a Donald W. Reynolds Fellow at the Missouri School of Journalism since fall 2008 -- and earlier, with founding in 1994 of what has become Clickshare Service Corp., and its potentially related patent. The work at Missouri also lead to the creation of a company called CircLabs Inc.
A. Opportunity: The Overview
1. Brokering attention, sharing persona
In 1995, Scott Kurnit left the Prodigy Internet Service and started up a new venture called The Mining Co. Ten years later, it sold to The New York Times Co. for $410 million. The rechristened About.com has been one of the highest-margin businesses that the nation’s premier newspaper company owns. It uses mostly free-lance writers -- experts in their fields -- to produce web-based “news you can use” on thousands of topics – and runs advertising matched to the topics. It was an early example of using the audience to generate content, of which Facebook is a popular corollary.
After Valentines Day, 2011, Kurnit launched with nearly $40 million in venture capital “AdKeeper” – a service that lets consumers tag ads for further examination wherever they see them, and store them in a “Keeper” – a personalized website – for later viewing. Kurnit’s company will make money charging advertisers when consumers view the ads in their “Keeper.” A key investor in AdKeeper – the New York Times Co.
Kurnit hopes his “AdKeeper” button will become ubiquitous on web advertisements. But he also hopes his company could become an early example of the Attention Economy. Because AdKeeper will gradually assemble a profile of the ads – and content pages – its voluntary users visit. And with that, AdKeeper will be able to help users find other information relevant to their interests – news and feature content, not just advertisements. Kurnit promises this ad and content matching will occur only with a user’s permission.
AdKeeper is based in New York. Across the continent, in Palo Alto, Calif., Facebook Inc. began in early January to tout to its users “Facebook Instant Personalization.” If you have a Facebook account, Facebook has begun delivering to a group of about a dozen test partner websites the information you publicly post – your name, location, friends activity and such – instantly – when you arrive at one of the test websites -- Bing, TripAdvisor, Clicker, Rotten Tomatoes, Docs, Pandora, Yelp, and Scribd. As a result, you’ll see things on these websites that relate to your Facebook identity. An early investor in Facebook was Microsoft Inc., owner of Bing.
AdKeeper and Facebook have each identified the key opportunity in the new Attention Economy – helping users to find, share and use in a sea of information the bits that matter to them, when they matter. Newspapers and broadcasters once did this with the best-available technology. They owned the “network” -- presses, and the broadcast licenses. Now the web/mobile network is quasi-public.
And back East, in Alexandria, Va., startup “Personal.com” backed by former AOL Chairman Steve Case and investement bankers Allen & Co. was closing in on launching of a service that will allow consumers to store elements of their “persona” – their interests and demographics. Then Personal will help them broker the use of that data by commercial interests – taking a 10% fee of whatever the consumer earns in the bargain.
AdKeeper, Facebook and Personal.com have each identified the key opportunity in the new Attention Age – helping users to find, share and use in a sea of information the bits that matter to them, when they matter. Newspapers and broadcasters once did this with the best-available technology. They owned the “network” -- presses and the broadcast licenses. Now the network is quasi-public – it’s the wired and wireless Internet. And so long as the people who own the “pipes” – Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and a few others – are forbidden to content-discriminate over who uses them – publishers and broadcasters will no longer have functional monopolies. They must compete on service.
2. The end of walled gardens
In the old Information Age, the newspaper or broadcast station could build silos of content valuable enough that consumers would stay put for the experience. In the new era of the ubiquitous network – these silos are no longer compelling. In the 1990s, it was popular to describe the online, dial-up, off-web experience of America Online users as “a walled garden.” Gardens are wonderful – the pathways are marked, the beds organized, the seasons demarked and the transition to the fields or forests around clear. But surround the garden with a moat or wall, and those inside are trapped, unable to move at will between the organized, curated, trustworthy world of the garden and the open, free, serendipitous, unexpected natural world outside. In the Attention Age, the opportunity for people formerly known as publishers is to be gardeners and nature guides – and to get paid mostly for that work, not so much selling plants.
In an attention economy, value is created by those who sift, digest, cull, curate, extract and interpret torrents of information so that it can be usefully understood. Information creators need for their digital works, and their customers, to be part of the mix.
3. Losing control of the network; end of advertising?
In Boston, at the Berkman Institute for Law and Society at Harvard University a group of technologists lead by Doc Searls have been working for several years on Project Vendor Relationship Management. Their core idea is that the Internet has disrupted the idea of “customer-relationship management”. Why should the vendor be directing the relationship? Shouldn’t the customer be doing so? So one thing we may need to develop is a system that transfers rewards – both monetary and otherwise – in a uniform way across the web. Think of it as airline frequent-flier miles taken out to a grand scale. A number of efforts have been tried in this arena over a decade, but none has achieved scale. In December, 2008, at “Blueprinting the Information Valet Economy,” Searls predicted this will lead to the end of advertising as we know it. Later in this paper we introduce the idea of “advisor-tising” – permission-based sharing of commercial messages with individual users based on their expressed interests and needs.
Newspaper companies produced a product -- the paper – and all of their services were focused on that one product. Now they have to return to considering the core service they provide, and understand that the physical product where they have provided it is increasingly obsolete at doing so. The service was providing a network for commerce, news and entertainment for physical communities. They need to learn how to do it in a new media virtual ecosystem.
AT&T in the 1980s ran advertisements about us being in the "Information Age." We are beyond that now. Information is so plentiful it has little value in most contexts unless is can be assembled, assessed, curated, edited, extracted, described and made easily accessible as knowledge. In the Information Age, value was created merely by connecting users with an ever-increasing supply of real-time data for entertainment purposes and to make business and life decisions. In an attention economy, those who sift, digest, cull, extract and interpret torrents of information so that it can be usefully understood create value. In addition, the elements of our “persona” have commercial value when they can be appropriately shared. That’s why it can be said that we have moved from AT&T’s pronouncement of the Information Age (which by the way benefited a network “pipe” provider by encouraging the exchange of ever more bits and bytes), to an Attention Age, where value is created by getting the right information in the right form to the right person at the right time. And in this new economy, getting someone's attention is increasingly difficult. And our attention has value. In the Attention Age, a new class of curating information valets will help us to manage our attention and share it – in exchange for value.
From product to service
Newspaper companies produced a product -- the paper – and all of their services were focused on that one product. Now they have to return to considering the core service they provide, and understand that the physical product where they have provided it is increasingly obsolete at doing so. The service was providing a network for commerce, news, sharing and entertainment for physical communities. They need to learn how to do it better than Facebook. Now the service is managing an existing network for commerce and news for physical and virtual communities. And their natural dominance in their old physical markets is eroding as virtual competitors – taking advantage of the embedded network called the Internet – reach into newspapers’ geographic territories to provide commerce and news services.
In May, 2011, Columbia University Journalism School Dean of Academic Affairs Bill Grueskin and two colleagues reported on a series of cross-U.S. interviews with editors concluding journalists must rethink their relationships with audiences, supplement the cost-per-thousand model of advertising and embracing the public’s move to mobile access. In the 143-page report “The Story So Far: What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism,” the authors quote Syracuse University journalism professor Vin Crosbie: “Within the span of a single human generation, people’s access to information has shifted from relative scarcity to surplus.” Among eight concluding recommendations, Grueskin’s team specifically recommends redefining the relationships between audiences and advertisers and between publishers and advertisers.
The display advertising market -- $100 billion online in several years?
If companies which own U.S. newspapers want to stay in a growing display advertising game, they are going to have to do so by focusing online, trends suggest. Already, Google alone claims to sell more online display advertising than the entire U.S. daily newspaper industry combined.
If companies that own U.S. newspapers want to stay in a growing display advertising game, they are going to have to do so by focusing online, trends suggest.
Already, Google claims to sell more online display advertising than the entire combined U.S. daily newspaper industry. On Feb. 28, 2011, a top Google Inc. executive predicted the global online display-advertising marketplace could top $100 billion within several years. “We really believe the overall market is a at a tipping point,” said Neal Mohan, Google’s vice president for product management, and he said the company had 1,000 engineers around the world working on it. He said the online display ad market is currently at $20 billion to $25 billion, of which Google has about $2.5 billion.
Google’s estimate for U.S. display online advertising is larger than an April 13, 2011 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP -- firm’s annual survey for the Interactive Advertising Bureau. It said total U.S. web advertising rose 15% to $26 billion in 2010, passing all other classes, including newspaper print advertising (at $22.8 billion), for the first time. U.S. search advertising, dominated by Google, grew slightly more slowly (to between $12 billion and $12.4 billion) but remains 46 percent of the total online, and online display advertising is growing fastest.
Google sells 3-to-4 times more U.S. search advertising alone (at least $10 billion) than the entire U.S. newspaper industry’s online advertising efforts – and the gap is widening. Google says its online display efforts are almost equal to the entire U.S. newspaper industry -- $2.5B.
By comparison, the Newspaper Association of America reports that all U.S. newspapers combined sold $2.7 billion of online advertising in 2009, down from $3.1 billion 2008 and $3.2 billion in 2007. Similar newspaper print advertising totaled $24.8 billion in 2009, down from the historic high of $47.4 billion in 2005. This collapse in newspaper advertising revenue has been accompanied by a companion decline in newsroom staffing, as U.S. Federal Communications researcher Stephen Waldman detailed in a Feb. 28, 2011 talk to community foundations at a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation gathing. Given Google’s estimated 83-percent share of global search advertising, these figures mean Google sells 3-to-4 times more U.S. search advertising alone (at least $10 billion) than the entire U.S. newspaper industry’s online advertising efforts – and the gap is widening. Google says its online display efforts are almost equal to the entire U.S. newspaper industry.
eMarketer Inc. estimated in Nov. 2010 that total U.S. online ad spending marketplace (all types) was $25.8 billion in 2010, and would grow to $40.5 billion by 2014. That represented 15.3% of total media ad spending in 2010 and eMarketer predicts it will comprise 21.5% of total media ad spending by the end of 2014. Online display advertising will be 39.3% of total online ad spending by the end of 2014, eMarketer estimates, up from 34.4% at the end of 2010. Finally, eMarketer thinks U.S.-only online display advertising spending will be at $15.92 billion by end of 2014, up from $8.88 billion at the end of 2010. In January 2011 eMarketer estimated that Google sites in 2010 held 9.6% of the U.S. online display advertising market (banners, video, rich media), compared with 16.2% for all Yahoo sites, 13.6% for all Facebook sites and 5.3% for all AOL sites. Google’s share had tripled in a year; Facebook’s doubled, Yahoo was unchanged and AOL dropped. But the overall share of these top four sites went to 44.7% in 2010 from 34.2% in 2009, eMarketer estimated.
By June, 2011, eMarketer was predicting U.S. advertisers would spend $14.4 billion in 2011 on search advertising – up 19.8% over 2010, and $12.3 billion on display ads online – up 24.5% over last year. By 2015, eMarketer said, online advertising will reach 28% of total U.S. ad spending.
Is there a way for legacy media to turn online advertising to its advantage? Yes, by changing its thinking about advertising from creating and selling to a mass market. Instead, media must market 1-to-1, understanding each user’s information needs and then delivering to them. This will take a new approach and a new voice, not just a new device like the iPad.
Right now, if you want to put advertisements in your iPad application, you have to give a percentage to Apple. So publishers are learning that now that they don’t control the presses, they are having to deal with a new middleman who wants to control the press and get a piece of the action – as much as 40% of ad revenues.
Venture capitalist Mark Suster describes the future of advertising as “integrated” – messages must be related to the environment in which they appear. In an April 2011, essay, he notes that when banner advertisements were introduced in 1994, 78% of viewers “clicked through” to the underlying message. Today, the clickthrough rate is more like 0.2% on average.
Atomized content and the iPad – opportunity or threat?
Last year, when Apple introduced the iPad, publishers initially thought they saw the answer. Because the iPad is a proprietary platform, they thought it might allow them to regain control of their packaging, because they could package subscription “apps” in highly graphical, interactive formats. But wait -- already there are graphically elegant iPad apps like Fluent and FlipBoard, which are aggregating atomized content. It’s disconnected from an information product and remixed, repurposed and re-combined in different ways by different users at different times and for different purposes. They are doing so in useful ways – and this isn’t being done by publishers but by technologists. On the web, Google has done this same thing with the permission of a small group of publishers, with its “FastFlip” service. Will publishers’ drive to own the package – as they were used to owning the press? Will they overcome or be overcome by consumer drive to get our information where we want when we want and from whom we want? Bet on the consumer – and on HTML5. The middleman – entities formerly known as publishers – will have to assemble custom services for individual users. That requires a payment marketplace for atomized content. That would turn atomized content into an opportunity not a threat.
The Apple iPad may not be nirvana for publishers, anyway. There is a roadblock between them and full control of their product on the iPad and . . . it’s Apple. Apple claims up to 200 million credit-card accounts of customers from iTunes and the Apple Store. Right now, if you want to put advertisements in your iPad application, you have to give a percentage to Apple. So publishers are learning that now that they don’t control the presses, they are having to deal with a new middleman who wants to control the press and get a piece of the action – between 30% and 40% of ad revenues. Apple probably won’t be able to sustain such markups as other tablets come out. But the principle is established – he who owns the customer account relationship gets a piece of the pie. With the iPad, Apple takes control of the network, and becomes the press.
Does this make Apple (or Google) a new information valet? We’ll consider that question in Part Two.
What won’t support news – mass-market advertising
If there’s an urgent need sustainable business models for authoritative journalism, they must work for a new world of distribution in which content objects – stories, video, clips, even snippets --- are “atomized.” The uses have to be tracked, so that the content creator can decide how to be compensated – by users, sponsors or both.
The evidence is mass-market advertising will no longer pay for news, in the conventional sense, or rescue journalism alone. But it can be replaced by a new form of marketing that we’ll call “advisor-tizing” – a new focus on permission-based service to the individual.
In one important insight, Feldman said IBM research found that "despite privacy concerns, we found in our global survey that consumers were overwhelmingly willing to exchange information about themselves for information they considered to have value . . . including more relevant content or advertising."
In the old days, publishers and broadcasters gathered millions of people and then presented those "eyeballs" to mass-market advertisers in magazine, newspaper and broadcast products. We called this advertising. Now publishers will provide customized services to users, one user at a time, helping you find products and services you need more smartly, and by invitation. We might call this advisor-tizing, or an information-valet service. Kurnit’s AdKeeper is an early example. The role of "publisher" may become less important, at least in the sense of owning the marketplace of users. It's becoming more a function of helping the user create their own connections.
Marketing “is shifting from a mass marketing one size fits all to a more tailored approach," says Karen B. Feldman, an IBM researcher, told a Dubuque, Iowa, newspaper summit in September, 2009. "This is a fundamental shift in the way the advertising industry works."
Already, Google has shifted from a mass market of one-to-many to a mass market of many to one, she said. "It has huge implications for how advertising is bought and sold, how you target consumers and the analytics of how you find those consumers." In one important insight, Feldman said IBM research found that "despite privacy concerns, we found in our global survey that consumers were overwhelmingly willing to exchange information about themselves for information they considered to have value . . . including more relevant content or advertising."
Blurring of advertising and marketing
Feldman said the downturn for newspapers is secular, not cyclical, and the advertising downturn is speeding up, not slowing down. Feldman said in the past advertisers trusted newspapers and television. Now a new breed of marketers are going after vehicles where they can understand the audience better and measure the return on investment. Web advertising is on a path to exceed newspaper advertising, she said then. Feldman sees a transformation of mass advertising – which has reached consumers indirectly via publishers and broadcasters – into one-to-one marketing – which goes direct. The opportunities that remain for publishers are to address consumer needs through relevancy, integration and choice – once business models and capabilities are in place.
In the fall of 2009, we spoke to the CEO of a major New York ad agency. He was lamenting that it has become so complicated to place advertising. There are too many channels and too many buys. He is in his 50s so he can likely hang on to retirement. Advertisers can now go direct to their customers, and they want to know who they are. What do you call a message that is delivered just to you, when you requested it, on a customized device, not by a publisher but as the result of a recommendation from a friend? Is that advertising? Or is it just a sponsored message? It used to be that advertising was part of marketing, because businesses needed media to reach their customers. But now they can reach their customers directly via the Internet. Do they need as much advertising anymore? And if they can market to us all directly, we might ask the question – what is our attention worth?
Delivering audiences, not sites; ad CPM pie splinters
In the advertising industry, two trends make it clear that the old publisher role is becoming marginalized if the publisher sees his role as only delivering content in products or on websites. These trends are best illustrated by three slides, which were part of a June 8, 2010 presentation by Tolman Geffs, co-president of Jordan Edmiston Group Inc., a media mergers-and-acquisitions expert. In that and an earlier presentation, Geffs says the “audience ecosystem” for advertising has splintered. No longer does it involve just the advertiser, an agency and a publisher or broadcaster. Now there is an array of infomediaries – data providers, ad exchanges and others – who each collect a portion of the net “cost per thousands” of interactive advertising. In “Geffs’ slide, he says an advertiser might pay $5/thousand impressions, but the publisher may only see $1/thousand of that stream. “There is going to be a land war over how margin gets redivided in the audience world,” says Geffs. “You’re left with a buck for the publisher. It is an interesting picture, I think you would all agree.”
The other trend cited by Geffs, more and more online advertising is placed based upon the audience the advertiser wants to reach – across multiple sites --- rather than based upon reaching a particular publisher’s website. The advertiser is making the observation, Geffs said: “Now I can target my audience in other – cheaper – places.”
Taken together, these two trends help explain why publishers must become Information Valets who help manage the demographic profiles and interests of their users. That's because increasingly they must be willing – and able – to share their audiences across the web – and make money doing so. Some of the larger newspaper publishers appear to be embracing the infomediary role, at least for advertising. An example, QuadrantOne, is a joint venture of Gannett Co. Inc., the New York Times Co., Tribune Co. and Hearst Corp. In an April 4, 2011 announcement headlined: “Publishers Bid to Take Back Control of Online Ad Ecosystem,” Quadrant One said it had formed a “private online advertising exchange for premium publishers.”
Publishers seeing value of profiles?
The QuadrantOne announcement is evidence that publishers are prepared to engage in aggregation of user profiles alongside the advertising industry, says Jeff Chester, director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington, D.C.-based privacy watchdog group. Chester’s view is that this might help sustain journalism – but that it must be done openly and with the consumer’s consent. Chester was among participants in a panel on advertising and privacy at the National Conference for Media Reform April 9, 2011 in Boston. Chester argues publishers and media activists need to get up to speed on network technologies. He said:
“I'd like to think if you told the user exactly what was going on and gave them opt-in control, I think there's a market for that. I think you have to explore not only the contradictions but also the tensions between personalization and ‘anonymization.’ People like this personalization stuff. So you are going to have to compete on that level and that requires the data. I think we need to come up with sustainable, public-interested news organizations. This thing could generate lots of revenues between the advertising and the marketing and subscriber donations for serious news. But I think we need to practice it, we need to try it.”
From atomization to clearing house
Thus the technology, which permits the atomization of advertising – individual ads following consumers across web and mobile sites -- could potentially be applied to the movement of news as well. At the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism, a former daily newspaper publisher Martin C. Langeveld and Prof. Randall Smith are preparing to do research to assess what new business models for news will be created by a world in which atomized content bits can be distributed into a network of new information services governed by means of a digital rights and payments clearinghouse.
AP spins off News Licensing Group
In October, 2010, Associated Press CEO Tom Curley told publishers meeting in Texas that the cooperative owned by U.S. daily newspapers would spin off its News Registry research and-development effort to a new entity to operate it as a “digital-rights clearing house.” NEWS: April 14, 2011) With no formal announcement, the News Licensing Group split off from The AP on July 27, 2011, bringing with it the operations of the AP’s “News Registry” – a service to identify and track the use of digital news content for copyright management. In April, former ABC News President David Westin (then an AP board member) signed on to be its’ CEO, and former Associated Press general counsel Srinandan Kasi became chief operating officer. Also joining the News Licensing Group were some members of AP’s engineering team. As of early July, NLG was setting up an office in New York City, and there were reports it had gathered multiple publishers as investors.
These new services and research – story aggregators and accounts on the iPad, plus the emerging ideas about “content clearing houses” -- point to the critical need to acquire and maintain one-to-one, account-based relationships with users. And to help them access information from anywhere – to create a conversation about the community, not just about the story, and make it all convenient and simple and with a set of value exchanges. Publishers need to be part of the news social network.
These new services and research – story aggregators and accounts on the iPad, plus the emerging ideas about “content clearing houses” – pave the way for an information environment where customer relationships and content are increasingly personalized. This, we will show, points to the critical need for publishers to maintain and acquire one-to-one, account-based relationships with users. And to help them access information from anywhere – to create a conversation about the community, not just about the story, and make it all convenient and simple and with a set of value exchanges – so former publishers can become part of a something we might call a news social network.
Steve Mott, a former journalist, payments-industry executive and strategy consultant, outlined the opportunity for publishers in a two-way, one-to-one relationship world at “Blueprinting the Information Valet Economy,” on Dec. 4, 2008 at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. (AUDIO) He observed:
“Web 2.0 social networking and other manifestations of it has to do with the ability to personalize a buyer’s experience, or user's experience. And personalization leads to permissioning. Permissioning leads to effective transacting where the buyer is in a position to monetize their value to the network, to the people who want to do business with that buyer, to the provides of digital content to that buyer. So when you say getting paid, buyers' getting paid, a buyer is actually contributing information and possibly money, to someone who is providing them goods or content. In return, the buyer's getting certain value that is very important to them. it may not be transactional value, it might be relationship value. It might help them to become more important to some other network, some other exchange of value as opposed to just getting the digital content. So many different business models can I think flourish in a Web.
Web 2.0, because you're putting your characteristics and your preferences and information about yourself out essentially real time, dynamically, into these networks, you now have a passport . . . which allows you to collect that, to use that as a medium of exchange to say here is what my persona -- remember I said last night I said I transact therefore I am. I am now a creature of transactions and this is of more or less value to organizations who are able to capture it. And that's where I think you get from a one-way pull mode to a two way push and pull mode and its truly individualized.”
4. Business-model collapse: From scarcity to sense making
Thus the business model of mass media – dependent upon the functional monopoly of a scarce, central printing press or a scarce, government-issued broadcasting license – is dying. In less than a decade, we have moved from a world of relative information scarcity -- access restricted by a variety of technical choke points -- such as presses -- to a world of such information abundance that the average user's challenge is not how to access information, or even how find it, but how to personalize, save and make sense of it. Thus an opportunity and task for news organizations in the 21st century is less managing access-restricted proprietary information, and more helping the public manage our attention to ubiquitous information, much of it available for free.
The hourglass and the cylinder
This sort of paradigm shift can be expressed with a chart that we have called the hourglass vs. the cylinder (from 1995). In the 20th Century, information moved as if through an hourglass. No matter how many information providers or users, there was always a technological pinch point that forced for economic reasons an editing process – the cost of a big printing press, the speed of a modem, cost of adding pages, or limited hours in the broadcast day. And these barriers to entry – in the hourglass it’s just gravity -- made it difficult for the consumer to send information back up the hourglass pinch points to the information provider. In the 21st century, information moves about as if in a cylinder. Now bandwidth -- the "fat pipe" -- is no longer the most significant constraint. The capital cost of a centralized printing press or the scarce broadcast license is not needed. The real constraint is peoples' ability to digest the huge volume of information coming down the pipe. So users have to join more than ever with editors in deciding which information they will receive.
Actually, the cylinder should be displayed on its side. That’s because there is no longer any reason to depict the information provider as "higher" than the information consumer. In fact it won't be at all clear much of the time who is the consumer and who is the provider, since those roles can reverse as easily as they do during a present-day voice telephone conversation. The Internet as we know it today is not very good at helping with this task.
The identity-based model of journalism is not about dumbing down the news. It is about serving individuals so well that they are getting what they want and what you—the journalist—think they need . . . the identity-based model of journalism focuses on serving the individual while rejecting the notion that general-circulation news has value.
-- Rachel Davis Mersey
In her 2010 book, "Can Journalism Be Saved? Rediscovering America's Appetite for News," Northwestern Medill School of Journalism Prof. Rachel Davis Mersey argues that imposed social-good model of journalism is dead ("give people what they need to know"); that instead news purveyors need to figure out how to understand communities and individuals and meet their information needs as expressed by the communities themselves, rather than divined or assumed by the editor. She argues that mass-market pandering with entertainment/celebrity coverage is not actually what individuals and communities want -- that was just the easy way for the old mass-market driven journalism organizations to try and maintain circulation and viewership. Mersey says concentrating on serving the individual is the way for journalists to best serve their varied audiences -- and democracy. She says people will accept more of what they "need to know" from a source that gives them "what they want to know." In the book, she asserts:
When you really understand someone’s tastes, you can get them to eat whatever you think is best for them. It is all in how you prepare and present it. The same principles apply to news. The identity-based model of journalism is not about dumbing down the news. It is about serving individuals so well that they are getting what they want and what you—the journalist—think they need. In some ways then it may seem that the identity-based model of journalism is not too different from the service principle of the social responsibility model of journalism. But the important distinction is that the identity-based model of journalism focuses on serving the individual while rejecting the notion that general-circulation news has value.
Continuing to operate on the assumption marketers will always need publishers and broadcasters is not a sustainable strategy. There is plenty of data showing that growth of U.S. print advertising volume has slowed, stopped and declined. At least during 2009 and 2010, advertising rates for mass-market “banner” type advertising on the web were in decline. Physical pages or broadcast time slots do not limit advertising inventory.
5. When publishers no longer own the pipes
Because publishers and broadcasters no longer own the “pipes” – the delivery mechanism to reach their users – their own advertisers can now end-run them. In January, the giant consumer electronics retailer Best Buy disclosed it was launching its own online magazine – a potential canary in the coal mine for newspapers, which depend upon Best Buy and other national advertisers for lucrative pre-printed inserts. Advertising Age online described the “Best Buy On,” initiative in a Jan. 3, 2011 article.
Nieman Labs blogger and former newspaper publisher Martin Langeveld writes that:
“Preprints are the last category where newspapers are able to maintain some pricing power, keeping rates up, and have not lost much volume except as a result of circulation declines and sometimes store closings and consolidations. By and large, the major retailers with the notable exception of Wal-Mart still need that weekly preprint distribution to maintain store traffic. In many areas newspapers run TMC distribution systems in which they get paid to distribute to non-subscribers as well as subscribers, so in those cases even the readership loss is not impacting volume, although typically TMC distribution has higher costs. But clearly even this segment is vulnerable. The Associated Press has developed iCircular as an alternative newspapers could operate to distribute circulars on tablets; but in any significant switch to tablet distribution (possible once tablets hit 50% or more of households), retailers would not need newspapers as intermediaries and could reach consumers directly.”
Technologists continue to innovate with one-to-one marketing. The online site ReadWriteWeb reported in January 2011 that Facebook is launching a new ad format called "Sponsored Stories." When a Facebook user clicks on a commercial link within Facebook, the company will turn that into a unsolicited recommendation for the product and display it – with the clicking users name – as an advertisement on the user’s friend’s pages. Said writer Sarah Perez: “This activity can include liking a Facebook page, checking in via Facebook Places or sharing content to the News Feed from a Facebook application.” The ad will display your friend's name, photo, a picture and link to the relevant Facebook Page or application, plus any likes and comments.
In whom do you trust – identity or ‘persona’
On the web today, we are not in control of our own identity presentation, or personas. They are held and managed by advertising networks, and multiple websites, with incomplete information. The next news organization should be adept at understanding and helping us manage our "personas."
As Mersey’s book asserts, news organizations have to get smarter about the needs of their users. One opportunity is to become the trusted companion who helps former readers to manage their identity, information preferences and needs across the public network. We might call the collected data which describes a user’s demographics, preferences and activities the user’s identity. Because the user might wish to present different attributes of identity under different circumstances, we might think of this data as a source of multiple “personas” -- presentations of self, depending upon context. As individuals we have interests, and we have attributes that define us demographically, psycho graphically and socially. On the web today, we are not in control of our identity presentations, or personas. Advertising networks, and multiple websites, with incomplete information, manage them. The next news organization needs to be adept at helping users manage the elements of their identity and use them selectively depending on the circumstances. You might reveal more to your doctor that to your Facebook friend. There’s a potential role for news organizations helping to filter what you share and when you share, and what you receive in return. That's a new opportunity. Selling stories isn't much of a business anymore once decoupled from old-fashioned advertising -- and if the stories aren't unique or moneymaking. Could there be a business in helping people identify, store, share – and sometimes protect -- elements of their virtual persona?
Public trust through public engagement
A colleague of this writer asked: "Would I trust the local editor or publisher with my "persona" the way I might my priest, lawyer or doctor?" That is a profound question for journalists. If we had once earned that trust, at the community level, we have lost and must earn it back. For editors to remain relevant they must figure out how to practice, as retired Seattle Times Executive Editor Mike Fancher puts it, "a new ethic of public trust through public engagement," reestablishing in many ways a trust relationship with citizens – and certainly when helping safekeeping and use personal preferences and interests. That trust would have to include not dipping into the persona when it suits editors for purposes of a story.
At Minnesota Public Radio, the Public Insight Network (PIN) managers grapple with this issue. PIN invites listeners to provide personal contact information and details about their professional or personal expertise. MPR then asks their own listeners to be sources of expert information about stories. But suppose a PIN member became part of a story? For example, what if the accused shooter of Arizona congresswoman Gabriella Giffords had a PIN account? Would MPR go in and report on it? Absolutely not, says Linda Fantin, who directs the network. "Everything sources tell us is confidential unless they give permission for their insights to be broadcast, published, shared publicly or with other news partners." Fantin says MPR would resist a subpoena for any such information.
Editors will grapple with such questions, as they become information valets.
Public responsibility: No more passive reception
An Attention Age -- and Henry Jenkins’ participatory culture -- present new opportunities for sustaining civic journalism -- if news organizations will reinterpret their role to include engagement as custodians, agents, advisors and information valets for the public. But as Dan Gillmor’s new book notes, It also puts new burdens on us as citizens.
Mike Fancher’s ethic of engagement, illustrated by the MPR initiative, suggests an important corollary – the public needs to be engaged, too, in our participatory democracy. A ubiquitous, standards-based Internet makes this potentially more logistically possible than ever, yet more intellectually challenging for editors, producers and reporters accustomed to more top-down, one-way environment.
“Information overflow requires us to take an active approach to media, in part to manage the flood pouring over us each day, but also to make informed judgments about the significance of what we see,” writes University of Arizona Prof. Dan Gillmor in his new book, “MediaActive.” He adds: “Being passive receivers of news and information, our custom through the late 20th century era of mass media, isn’t adequate in the new century’s Digital Age mediasphere, where information comes at us from almost everywhere, and from almost anyone.”
Henry Jenkins, a former MIT professor who has moved to the University of Southern California, wrote a 2007 book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. It popularizes the idea that information technology -- the ability of the network to allow real-time exchange and sharing among multiple people physically removed from each other (with serious games and other applications) – is creating a new sort of participatory culture. Before mass media, we received our news on the village square, gossip that we verified. We’re coming full circle. I now get news by watching the feed from my friends on my Facebook page.
So our Attention Age presents new opportunities for sustaining civic journalism, if news organizations will reinterpret their role to include engagement as custodians, agents, advisors and information valets for the public.
B. Opportunity: What Might Work
What might work for the next newsroom
The loss of mass-market advertising as a support system for journalism forces a re-invention of the newsroom’s mission and culture. Let’s consider how that reshaping will look, and how the newsroom “voices” must change.
Starting in 1995, this author began writing that “newspapers were going to face a train wreck once fat pipes came into the home and people could go anywhere for information.” Newspapers would need to learn how to make money referring people to information from anywhere, sharing both users, and content. Today, that is still the challenge. Do we “abandon the news” -- or embrace it, baking it into the new Attention Economy?
Next newsroom services must focus on both finding and sharing. They should create a framework for trust, identity and information commerce. Provide insight, knowledge and community. And save people time and add convenience.
Newspapers and radio stations used to be the best daily window on information we need to get through the day and be engaged citizens. Now we have many more options. And the biggest challenge for citizens and businesses is finding – and sharing — relevant, trustworthy, valuable, actionable news and information hidden in a sea of bits and bytes. Aided by a trust, identity and information commerce network, next newsroom services may focus on finding and sharing. They must provide insight, knowledge and community. And tools to save time and add convenience. Then readers won’t abandon the news, or newsrooms, just newspapers.
The next newsroom should allow you to manage the information you get or give according to the persona you wish to project at that time. That way the broker/agent – your infovalet – might find for you information relevant to your needs and interests. By providing a publisher information about where you live, what you do — or the topics that interest you, users can help the publisher advise you about more relevant, actionable products or services.
Next newsroom services might be able to:
- Make recommendations based upon the pages or resources you are viewing
- Remember things you have said you are — and are not — interested in
- Reward you for your attention and interest
- Help you share offers with your friends
- Recommend a story or resource to friends.
- Accept recommendations from friends
- With permission, see what friends are reading and watching
- Efficiently exchange ideas and insights with professional journalists
- Follow streams of favorite authors, producers, performers and publishers
- Aggregate all your recent “tweets” or “wall” postings
- Present personalized offers from businesses nearby
Facebook – the next newsroom?
The Next Newsroom could be a service organization -- like a law or accounting firm -- and it will be paid accordingly. For now, it will be extremely difficult to convince people to pay for such a service. But as the years go by, it will be seen as an absolutely indispensible way to get through the day. People will become as reliant on their "newshare" as on their doctor, lawyer, accountant, teacher or business colleague, or for their water, gas heating or phone service, all of which are services for which we pay on a project or metered basis.
Measured by these bullet points, is Facebook already an example of a “next newsroom”? It’s an intriguing question.
Chris Peck, the visionary editor of The Commercial Appeal, the daily serving Memphis, Tenn., developed a prototype plan for The Next Newsroom in 2008. You can find it at http://tinyurl.com/nextnewsroom. The Next Newsroom could be a service organization -- like a law or accounting firm -- and it will be paid accordingly. For now, it will be extremely difficult to convince people to pay for such a service. But as the years go by, it will be seen as an absolutely indispensable way to get through the day. People will become as reliant on their news-sharing agent as on their doctor, lawyer, accountant, teacher or business colleague, or for their water, gas heating or phone service, all of which are services for which we pay on a project or metered basis.
Larger cities will have competing "newshares" offering what we might call an information valet services. They will compete in part an on technical ground -- which does the better sort, who finds the real gems, and who provides premium information at the right price bundle. Advertising will be part of all this, but it will be an option -- if you are willing to receive advertising, the cost of your "Newshare" will be less.
So imagine now if you are actually PAID in some form for your attention when you look at a marketing or direct-sponsor message. That payment could be a credit to an account that you can then use to purchase premium information. It would be an ebb and flow of info-currency, depending upon whether it is information you want -- or information someone wants you to have.
In the news social network, each user is also a potential contributor. So there is a built-in capability to produce content and get paid for it. The marketplace will find some equilibrium between production of original content and sharing and recycling of existing content. Some infovalets/newshares will likely be specialists at finding and sharing; others at producing. Where there are "market failures" -- not enough investigative reporting, for example – philanthropic solutions will potentially emerge to fill the need, as they do now.
Citizens as Journalists – The New Opportunity?
With the hourglass pinchpoints gone, the communication pipes available to all, and the work of the journalist increasingly including personal engagement with the custom information needs of users, what of the role of the “citizen journalist”?
With the hourglass pinch points gone, the communication pipes available to all, and the work of the journalist increasingly including personal engagement with the custom information needs of users, what of the role of the “citizen journalist”?
The term is an imperfect attempt to describe a new class of observer and participant in the public sphere.
Citizens using available free tools to operate in the role of journalist represent a fundamental shift in the way information necessary to a democracy is transmitted. It is diminishing the role of professional editors as "gatekeepers" and arbiters of public dialogue. A story of consequence will emerge in spite of the inability of the traditional media to unearth it or cover it – or the desire of governments to censor it. This is good in the sense that it means a worthy story cannot easily be censored by omission. However, is may also be bad, in the sense that unsubstantiated gossip and rumor can elevate to a level perceived as "news," and affect the public sphere in potentially harmful ways. It makes necessary a new role for the traditional journalist -- that of an information valet -- a trusted consultant to the public, helping sift news from nonsense and present each in appropriate context. Now the citizen has easy access to either -- and needs help understanding which is which. Services like NewsTrust.net, begun by Fabrice Florin, allows the public to rate the reliability and quality of news sources. This will gradually be seen as a vital service.
Citizens practicing journalism are not a threat to traditional news organizations. The threat to the media industry is the end of the "pinch points" of expensive presses and limited broadcast licenses. So long as the Internet remains relatively inexpensive, egalitarian and unregulated -- and so long as the suppliers of Internet "pipes" are obligated not to discriminate in their carriage terms on the basis of content (so called "network neutrality") -- the physical limitation on information conveyance from one to many, and from many to many, is gone for the conceivable future. As we’ve noted earlier, this is undermining mass-market advertising as a business model and requiring media companies to rethink how they do business to become more focused on meeting individual information needs. The rise of citizen journalism is not a critical factor in this disruption. It's enabled by it, that's all.
One effect of citizens practicing journalism is a contribution to information overload. There are now so many sources of information on so many topics it is difficult to find time for original thought or analysis. We are literally drowning in information. Hence the need for persona and curation agents -- the information valets. News organizations should be in partnership with citizens who are practicing journalism. In fact, they always should have been. For much of the last 50 years, they were able to make a lot of money and grow without partnering with citizens. Now they will have to, or die. It simply means these news organizations must rethink their relationship with their audiences.
In December, 2010, Journal Register Co. received publicity and plaudits when it announced that it was moving the newsroom of its Torrington, Conn., daily, the Register Citizen into a former factory and setting up a comfy public coffee-bar public space alongside the newsroom, and adding a social-news curator. This notion of a café newsroom was viewed by John Paton, chairman of the newly-emerged-from-bankrupcy chain, as a tangible statement of his belief that JR newsrooms need to intensively reach out to the audience, and bring it aboard. In Michigan, where JR owns a group of smaller dailies and weeklies, its stage flagship, the Oakland [Mich.] Press, has a space full of computers that the public can come in and use – presumably to write columns, or comments, or press releases. It’s called the paper’s Community Media Lab. In Lawrence, Kan., the Lawrence Journal World has been holding citizen-journalism workshops for at least two years. (Other Examples).
The public needs guides and services -- information valets -- which report on the quality and reliability of news sources. This measure of trustworthiness has been the value of brands in the mass-communication era. Over many years, the public formed an impression of the reliability of such brands as The Associated Press or The New York Times or a network news operation, based upon many years of familiarity with their reporting. As new brands emerge, that sense of reliability is unknown and untested. The reliability of Matt Drudge is evolving, as is that of the Huffington Post, after its merger into AOL. What Drudge does, and what HuffPost bloggers do, is similar to a political columnist, who in the print world would be termed a journalist. If what they do is less independent, fact-based reporting and more curation of existing sources, do we need to redefine the concept of journalism to include them?
Experiments: Searching for clues to the next newsroom – at Facebook?
The creation of – or search for -- the next newsroom has barely begun – and it may be found in unlikely places. On March 11, 2011, Joshua Gans posted a commentary on the Harvard Business School Blog in which he argued that Facebook may arguably now be the world’s largest news organization because, as he put it: “News organizations do two major things, commercially speaking: They use news to grab attention and then sell that attention to advertisers.” One of the things Facebook users post to their “walls” is links to news articles. And in a sense, news about your “friends” lives is news to you.
The news ecosystem is changing so fast that picking winners would quickly be out of date. Although we’ll work at it from: http://www.newshare.com/wiki/index.php/Persona-experiments. But here are some to watch, besides Facebook, in news curation, aggregation and charging.
- Quora – A social network built around the idea of posing and answering questions.
- Intersect – Created by a former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, allows participants to create chains of stories that are sorted and rooted in place and time.
- Wikipedia – Still evolving the idea of user-generated news – even though it set out to be an encyclopedia, WikiPedia often is faster than any news organization at creating richly linked and contextual pages about breaking news events.
- The New York Times/NPR – Each leading the way in becoming platform-agnostic news organizations – one a broadcast non-profit, the other a commercial newspaper. In another 10 years, will they be fully competitive?
- Newstrust – The first attempt to invite the public find and rate the quality and trustworthiness of news and news sources.
- Newsy – Real-time analysis of multiple news sources assembled in a review-like format to a multimedia platform.
- Huffington Post/AOL – Dismissed as an “aggregator” by mainstream media, Huffington Post now claims hundreds of editors and reporters and millions of page views. Is it sustainable without linking to the work of legacy media and will it pay for that work?
- Google – Same question as HuffPost – will it pay for the news? HuffPost and Google are already paying millions to The Associated Press and other wire-service sources (the amounts are confidential). Is it enough?
- Ongo – A joint-venture of the New York Times Co., Gannett Co. Inc. and the Washington Post Co., the first baby step by major news organizations to collaborate on a “news portal” in the iPad environment.
- Trove, News.me, Zite and FlipBoard – Four recent launches seeking to personalize news delivery by asking our preferences and leveraging our “social map” – datamining (with our permission) our Twitter, Facebook and RSS feeds.
- Next Issue Media – A joint venture of the first largest U.S. consumer magazine publishers is intended to develop a common presentation platform for tablet devices.
- iTunes Store – With over 200 million credit-card accounts logged in, arguable the largest marketplace for digital information on the planet. Will Apple be able to keep growing, or face objections over its penchant to keep control of the user experience?
- Google OnePass – A competitor to the iTunes Store, an effort to help publishers charge for content.
- Besides Apple and Google, Clickshare Service Corp. and Journalism Online (acquired by R.R. Donnelly & Sons) are among companies offering solutions to news organizations who want to be paid online for news-related content.
- Spot.us – A non-profit San Francisco-based startup testing the idea that readers will voluntarily contribute to a pool supporting pitches for specific news stories. Like U.S. public radio fund-raising, Spot.us challenges the assumption that subscriptions or micropayments are the only way besides advertising to support quality journalism.
Identity and privacy – necessary companions of personalization
For nearly a decade, technologists from major companies like Google and Microsoft have been meeting to explore ideas for the protection and sharing of personal data across the web. To date, however, there has been no apparent link between this effort and the news industry.
There’s rapid growth in public discomfort around the undisclosed use of personal information, such as information about sites visited or transactions completed, by third parties. This may result in significant attempts at regulation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and others to limit the sharing of consumer information among advertising and other networks. This will create an opportunity for a new type of “infomediary” which will act as a representative of the consumer in the brokering and use of personal information in exchange for value.
The drive to regulate privacy now gaining momentum in Washington did not arise without prompting. From Scott Kurnit’s AdKeeper, to Google’s AdSense and, as of July, the beta “Google-Plus,” Internet and mobile services increasingly understand the opportunity to personalize relationships with individual users. Doing so means tracking their movements and actions, or asking them for information about their preferences. If, when and how consumers give permission for this tracking necessary to personalization is the core of a policy debate labeled broadly, and sometimes emotionally, as about “privacy.” The technical debate is how the networks like the Internet manage our “identity.” Most of us think of our identity as how we appear, where we live, who our friends are, what interests us and what we do. On the Internet those things are translated into data – called “attributes.” A collection of attributes make up our identity for purposes of an online transaction or event. Experts who study Internet identity systems call this collect of attributes a “persona.” An individual might want to have different personas for different purposes – what you share with your health provider is different from what you share on your Facebook page or with your news provider.
For a decade, the independent, non-profit Identity Commons have convened meetings including individuals from companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Myspace, SUN, Oracle, Salesforce and Novell to explore ideas for the protection and sharing of personal data across the web. A core idea is to put more control over data in the hands of individual users. Besides such enterprise and consumer technology companies, Identity Commons, has diverse participants from small startups and interested independent individuals. To date, however, there has been no significant participation by news or publishing interests. Google is also supporter of the Open Identity Exchange, founded recently by the OpenID Foundation and Information Card Foundation. Some of the participants or supporters of both groups have been working with the White House and U.S. Commerce Department on roles for the government.
So far, little coordinated effort has reached the marketplace from these industry efforts. In the meantime, a large private identity system has emerged – Facebook Connect. Hundreds of thousands of websites allow users to “log in” with their Facebook identity. What these sites receive as a result is some basic information about us, courtesy of Facebook. The idea that a single company – with over 700 million user accounts – might become a defacto private registrar for web, raises important questions of competition, privacy and control. One person concerned is Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt. “Historically in the Internet,” Schmidt said in a May 31 interview, “such a fundamental service wouldn’t be owned by a single company. I think the industry would benefit from an alternative to that . . . ” Of course, Google is seeking to be an alternative, itself hold hundreds of millions of user accounts for email, video, mobile and other services.
U.S. government seeks to spur private-led privacy efforts
Mostly because of the lack of an industry collaborative solution, and perhaps also mindful of Facebook as a default single identity provider, on April 15, 2011, the Obama administration, with both a news release and YouTube video unveiled its “National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace.” It calls in a 55-page-document for the government to support (with an initial $25 million in grants) development of competitive, private technologies that interoperate. They would allow consumers to choose among providers of one ID, which works at multiple web sites and services. The plan envisions no central database of information. “Other countries have chosen to rely on government-led initiatives to essentially create national identity cards,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in explaining the initiative and why it’s needed. “Having a single issuer of identities creates unacceptable privacy and civil liberties issues.” The idea is to have multiple identity providers that are part of the same system. The big question – what will guide the operation of the system? We will examine that question in Part Two.
Earlier, in June 2010, a Commerce Department unit released a white paper on the subject, in an initiative spearheaded by a White House advisor on cyber security, Howard A. Schmidt. The report called for designating a federal agency to lead the public-private sector efforts to implement the blueprint, and for the federal government to lead the way in the adoption of secure digital identities. While Commerce Department seems to have been designated by the Obama administration as the lead agency, the Department of Homeland Security is also involved.
Since consumer use of the World Wide Web advanced in the mid-1990s, the public has become gradually aware of a fundamental tradeoff between privacy and personalization. This paper argues that news organizations must offer a personalized service to users . . . To do this means adopting a consumer-facing, consumer-enabling privacy attitude and infrastructures.
Since consumer use of the World Wide Web advanced in the mid-1990s, the public has become gradually aware of a fundamental tradeoff between privacy and personalization. This paper argues that news organizations must offer a personalized service to users -- that the mass market has less commercial value. To do so, however, means knowing something – instantly – about the attributes and interests of each user.
This is not an entirely new role for news organizations. Newspapers have had home-delivery subscribers and newsstand readers. Just by knowing their address, they could infer things about the home readers; they knew little about the anonymous newsstand readers. On a survey basis, TV stations knew about the broad attributes of their viewers through A.C. Nielsen Co. viewer panels. On the web, no one is completely anonymous. Every device connected to the Internet has a unique identifier – an Internet Protocol number for a session, at least, and perhaps a unique machine identifier. As we all join social networks or other web services requiring a “log in,” we provide more information that may allow us to be identified as a unique user. So what’s the trade off? Now hundreds or perhaps thousands of independent services on the web know where we are located and perhaps even who we are.
Thus, to engage in offering personalized service, news organizations must meet the challenge of acquiring and using – at least temporarily – sensitive demographic and preference information from their subscribers. To do this means adopting a consumer-facing, consumer-enabling privacy attitude and infrastructures.
Concern about privacy is a modern policy issue. In small-town colonial America, indeed in any small community – town, school, and workplace – we expected to surrender most of our privacy in our day-to-day activities. We knew, in a general sense, who was aware of what we were doing, and we had a pretty good idea of what they could or would do with that knowledge. In the physical world, we can manage what is known about us by where we work, play, live and with whom we associate. In the Attention Age, information about our online “personas” has no physical boundaries. And we really don’t know who is following our activity.
Legislative opening bell: Kerry-McCain “bill of rights”
Most of the current efforts to tackle Internet privacy as a policy issue appear designed to restore a sense that the individual can control when and how personally identifiable information is released – as well as who can use it and for what purposes. On April 12, 2011 Sens. John Kerry and John McCain introduced a commercial privacy bill of rights act designed to thread the need among the interests of major social networks like Facebook, advertisers, web publishers and consumers. Almost simultaneously, four privacy-rights groups objected to key provisions of the 44-page proposal, including: Lack of a “do-not-track” approach, and giving too much oversight to the Commerce Department, rather than to states or the Federal Trade Commission.
The core objective of the Kerry-McCain bill – of any privacy enhancing effort – is to increase consumer choice and knowledge of the personalization-privacy tradeoff. In the Attention Age, there is now a business opportunity for entities – the Information Valets – that help the public manage their persona. (Also see, Privacy as a Service)
The growing sensitivity of privacy issues is illustrated by this story: On the morning of April 20, 2011, two writers on the O’Reilly Radar weblog reported they had documented that the then-latest version of the operating system installed by Apple on its iPhone4 smart phones was creating a file on the phone – “consolidated.db” -- storing a chronological list of location coordinates for the phone’s user. The O’Reilly report by Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden, and other stories, speculated that this could give authorities the ability to subpoena location histories of the phone’s user, or could be used for marketing purposes. Allan and Warden noted there they had no evidence the file was being accessed or was accessible, but they also made available a program they had written to check the file. Initially, Apple had not commented on the stories. By the evening of April 20, U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said he had sent a letter to Apple asking a series of questions about the disclosure. Franken chairs a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law. The next day, Wired.com followed up and said Apple had disclosed is geodata-collection practices in a July, 2010 letter to two other congressmen and other stories cited similar tracking by Google’s Android software. But the story quickly became one of the most talked about items on the web, and provoked two New York Times stories over two days.
Uncle Sam vs. Facebook Connect as de facto identity card?
With over 500 million registered users, Facebook now manages more digital “identities” than any state driver’s license facility, any single bank, or most governments, a prospect that worries some observers.
Whether one likes the idea or not, a role for government in assuring a reliable identity system on the web would be in stark contrast to what is happening now. With over 500 million registered users, Facebook now manages more digital “identities” than any state driver’s license facility, any single bank, or most governments, a prospect that worries some observers. “Although it's not apparent to many, Facebook is in the process of transforming itself from the world's most popular social-media website into a critical part of the Internet's identity infrastructure,” Simson S. Garfinkel, a privacy expert wrote in the Jan. 5, 2011 edition of the MIT Technology Review. On April 19, 2011, Facebook announced new privacy and security features, including two-factor authentication (already implemented by Google).
Paul Trevithick pioneered creation of digital type fonts in the 1990s and now runs an Internet startup, Azigo Inc. focused on helping users manager their online identity. Trevithick is blunt in his assessment of the situation: A decade or more of multiple, uncoordinated, industry and academic efforts to develop an agreed specification for user identity management on the web have been a failure. He includes his own "information cards" effort, which he has worked with Microsoft on for a few years. Trevithick says the result is that Facebook Connect is becoming the de facto identity standard for the web -- one company, a closed, proprietary system where Facebook has all our data, with little or no rules about how they use it. Trevithick can't fathom why many big companies are blithely encouraging their customers to use Facebook Connect for all their online identity needs.
The politics and business of “do-no-not-track”
Within a marketplace, which includes dozens of online advertising networks, data aggregators and real-time bidding and demographic-trading exchanges, the four largest beneficiaries are like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and AOL Inc. Two of them, Google and Microsoft, also make and give away the two of the three most popular web browsers – Google Chrome and Microsoft Internet Explorer. These browsers are the technology which allow so-called “cookies” – text files store on user computers – to help with the tracking of consumer viewing habits on the web.
In late 2010 Microsoft announced that version 9 of its browser would include an optional “do-not-track” request that could be manually invoked by the user. A website would be under no obligation to honor the electronic “do-no-track” request, but at least a consumer can uniformly make the request. Microsoft’s decision was characterized as a breakthrough, because it represent a loss for the company’s web advertising divisions and a win for its browser developers, who sought to be competitive in the privacy arena with the Mozilla Corp., make of Firefox, the No. 2 browser after Internet Explorer. Mozilla, owned by a non-profit foundation with no direct advertising ties, too the lead on adding the “do-not-track” request function.
The resolution of this dispute involves likely billions of dollars and the future of the way interactive advertising is tracked and sold. If “do-not-track” becomes law, it would likely create overnight a strong opportunity for “Information Valets” who broker sensitive personal information on consumers’ behalf.
On April 13, 2011, Apple announced it would mimic Firefox and Microsoft and add “do-not-track” to the Safari browser it gives away on Apple devices. As of this writing, Google – the dominant beneficiary of online advertising – has yet to offer “do-not-track” as a standard part of its fast-growing Google Chrome browser, although the company reportedly offers a “Keep My Opt-Outs” add-on which will let users request their data not be used for ad targeting.
Opponents of the Kerry-McCain bill say that leaving “do-not-track” as a consumer-invoked option with no legal force is inadequate. They want the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to be able to make rules requiring web marketers to respect a do-not-track request as a matter of law. A June, 2011, U.S. Federal Communications Commission staff report entitled “The Technology and Information Needs of Communities,” argued that the behavioral advertising made possible by consumer tracking is an important way to make hometown journalism more profitable.
The resolution of this dispute involves likely billions of dollars and the future of the way interactive advertising is tracked and sold. If “do-not-track” becomes law, it would overnight create a strong need for “Information Valets” who broker sensitive personal information on consumers’ behalf.
The inevitable connection between personalization and privacy
The drive to regulate privacy now gaining momentum in Washington did not arise without prompting. From Scott Kurnit’s AdKeeper, to Google’s AdSense and, as of July, the beta “Google-Plus,” Internet and mobile services increasingly understand the opportunity to personalize relationships with individual users. Doing so means tracking their movements and actions, or asking them for information about their preferences. If, when and how consumers give permission for this tracking necessary to personalization is the core of a policy debate labeled broadly as about “privacy.”
The “filter bubble” – consequence of perfect personalization?
There are other consequences of the drive to personalize. Eli Pariser, the co-founder and former executive director of the political advocacy group “MoveOn,” authored a book released May 12, 2011 entitled: “The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You.” The filter bubble describes the inclination of Google and other services to provide search results unique to each user. This means a reduce in our shared experience within the public sphere. A Google search result is not like a static front page, seen by all. It is different for each user. Pariser argues that this may cause us to become less informed about other ideas and more isolated in our thinking.
Pariser argues in a nine-minute “TED Talk” that as the gatekeeping role of journalists and been overtaken by the web, the power of algorithmic personalization is creating new challenges for the future of democracy. He urges programmers at Facebook, Google and other places to accept an ethical responsibility to think about the impact that perfect personalization with have if it creates a “web of one” – where we each have a different experience which is controlled unknowingly by our clicks.
Collaboration to rationalize content economy?
We’ve noted that another consequence of personalization and one-to-one technologies is a gradual end to mass markets. This has devastated the business model of journalism – which formerly depended upon relatively undifferentiated advertising sold in a bundled print or broadcast package for which high advertising rates could be maintained. Retired Seattle Times Executive Editor Mike Fancher, besides pioneering work on "a new ethic of public trust through public engagement," (cited earlier) has also completed a white paper for the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation entitled “Re-Imaging Journalism: Local News for a Networked World." In it, Fancher calls for media companies to “become active leaders in developing trustworthy behaviorally targeted advertising.” He says the news industry must develop shared principles and mechanisms to rationalize the online content economy, and improved audience metrics and research. Fancher cites the work of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities and says:
“What is needed is an open, voluntary, and collaborative process to help rationalize the online journalism content economy. This process could be convened by neutral entities. The design of the process would include emphasis on the experience of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. The convening would be in line with the Knight Commission’s recommendation for policies that support innovation, competition and business models that provide marketplace incentives for quality journalism by traditional and nontraditional entities.”
Fancher’s paper also quotes Chris Ahearn, president of media at Thomson Reuters, who blogged in 2009:
“Let’s stop whining and start having real conversations across party lines. Let’s get online publishers, search engines, aggregators, ad networks, and self-publishers (bloggers) in a virtual room and determine how we can all get along. I do not believe any one of us should be the self-appointed Internet police; agreeing on a code of conduct and ethics is in everyone’s best interests. Our news ecosystem is evolving and learning how it can be open, diverse, inclusive and effective. With all the new tools and capabilities we should be entering a new golden age of journalism—call it journalism 3.0. Let’s identify how we can birth it and agree what is ‘fair use’ or ‘fair compensation’ and have a conversation about how we can work together to fuel a vibrant, productive and trusted digital news industry. Let’s identify business models that are inclusive and that create a win-win relationship for all parties.”
In Part Two of “Paper to Persona,” we’ll suggest an idea in keeping with Fancher’s and Ahearn’s calls.
Part One: Summing Up
Journalism is expensive, and mass-market web advertising alone will not sustain it. Rather, news organizations must become adept at “advisor-tising” – permission-based sharing of commercial messages with individual users based on their expressed interests and needs. Publishers charging only for their own content without making it part of a shared-user network put up walls that destroy the brilliant utility of the open web. Newsrooms must rethink the nature of “voice” to become interactive, participatory and collaborative.
In short, sustaining journalism requires rethinking the very notion of advertising, and of news as a service, not a product.
Thus in the Attention Age, the news and broadcast industries must:
In short, sustaining journa-lism requires rethinking the very notion of advertising, and of news as a service, not a product . . . The news industry should migrate from its historic role as the most-trusted consumer information source in print to “infor-mation valet” -- a ubiqui-tous curator, advisor, authenticator and retailer of news, entertainment and service info from anywhere.
- Migrate from an historic role as the most-trusted consumer information source to the “information valet” -- a ubiquitous curator, advisor, authenticator and retailer of personalized news, entertainment and service information from anywhere.
- Aggregate for advertisers and sponsors audience measurement and selected demographic data optionally provided by unique users whose identity persists across a federated network. The network should track, aggregate, sort and share revenues, including payments to users for the use of their “persona.” The user should be in control of the data use and flow concerning them.
- Put in place technology for the optional sharing of content by subscription or click with dynamic, variable pricing and bundling options.
Revenues and advertising will be shared, but each owner-user of the collaborative will retain complete control of its existing customer (reader/advertiser) base, including name and account information. Demographics will be shared only based upon the opt-in permissions set by consumers and the joint business rules of the collaborative owners.
The initial form is likely to be a news-based social network, with strongly relevant content, absolute control for users over their demographic and financial data, and a means to share, sell and buy content from multiple sources with a single account. The network will support news content creators by delivering high-value commercial content to end users; and will enable a two-way flow of payments or reward points in consumer accounts.
“Information valets” might anchor such networks – trusted agents who help consumers manage their privacy and take control themselves of their online identity –- their “persona” –- out of the hands of product- or service-selling vendors. But the establishment of such a network entails making some key decisions about how trust and identity are established -- maintained. So far, public and private efforts in this area have not coalesced on any common solution. In the next section, “Making the Marketplace,” we’ll propose governance and operating structure for assembling the solution.
Making the Marketplace
Trust, Identity, and Commerce: The Internet's Missing Links
To earn new revenue, news organizations need to quickly migrate from their historic role as the most-trusted source of information from the product-oriented print world to a service-oriented digital “ecosystem.” An information-industry collaborative to define and govern a shared-user network layered upon the basic Internet could help. A hybrid non-profit / for-profit approach could lead to the emergence of a news-based social network: Strongly relevant content, absolute control for users over their demographic and financial data, and a means to share, sell and buy content from multiple sources with a single account.
So far, we’ve argued that news organizations are, increasingly, all in a service business. How will they get paid? Service businesses are based upon ongoing trust relationships, rather than the single arms length purchase of a product. In these relationships, you know your customer and their needs. The three building blocks are therefore trust, identity and commerce.
Trust is the basic building block of human and business relationships. Without it, commerce is not possible because people/companies will face uncertainty. Trust can be direct (one-to-one) or proxied. Most of our trust relationships are proxied, and they are generally based upon historical knowledge. The basic Internet does not support trust because connections (relationships) can be "stateless" and ephemeral. There have been many "hacks" to overcome this (such as website Secure Certificates), but the core problem evolves from the fact that interactions are via a wire or wireless, not in person.
When the TCP/IP protocol was developed, the network was designed to assign an IP number to a given machine on the network. In order to get on the network, you just had to be able to do so through a connected machine. And so that meant other users of the network were also just machine "nodes." You could know positively what machine you were connected to, but not WHOM you were connected to. There have been many "hacks" for this, too, the principal one being user name/passwords, which is great but not perfect. Identity can best be verified in a trust environment (see trust, above) where there is an ongoing relationship with some entity that will certify to the network that you are whom you say you are such as in research papers. That's why organizations that have long term, financial relationships with people (such as banks or newspapers with subscribers and the like) are in the best position to help certify identity.
We think of commerce as involving money. But there are other forms of commerce. You can trade on your reputation. You can barter your privacy. But unless trust and a method of assuring identity are present, you are at risk of having your money, your reputation or your privacy misappropriated without your knowledge or consent.
Paying for the news – stories or convenience?
". . . [I]f solutions aren't obvious, the report's overall message is: Will the future leaders of journalism please, please stand up?"
It's time for the nation's news creators, aggregators and technologists to do so -- together.
If the news ecosystem requires a focus on service rather than a specific product, then what will consumers pay for – stories or a larger experience? A study by Next Issue Media, the magazine consortium studying digital adoption trends, forecast that e-reader, or digital magazine editions read on tablet computer devices, will generate more than $3 billion in new, annual advertising and circulation revenue by 2014. The study assumed that other vendors, including Google, would develop e-readers devices of their own besides the Apple iPad. The assumption of the Next Issue Media-financed study is that the experience of consuming news and information on tablet devices will be different from print. There is actually a rich history of success at asking people to pay for information delivered electronically:
Throughout the 1980s and earlier, until the World Wide Web achieved scale, Prodigy, AOL, Compuserve, The Source, Delphi, Lexis-Nexis and countless other “online services” billed for access and specific articles. But when the U.S. news industry began using the web from 1994 forward, it quickly abandoned efforts to charge, because it looked like a faster, easier route to prosperity was to sell advertising instead. Attempts to introduce charging systems on the web itself floundered because of this. Given the choice between free and paid, consumers chose free.
What’s different today?
- Advertising competition on the web has driven down prices, leading most publishers to believe it is not a sole source for revenue.
- As discussed earlier, advertising is itself evolving to one-to-one marketing, changing the technologies and likely incumbents. Google now sells more advertising than any legacy media company.
- Free information is so devalued and so frequently untrustworthy that the public is now looking for alternatives that save time, promise reliability and are always available from multiple platforms.
Appeals for micropayments in Auletta’s book from Stanford, Google
In his 2009 book, “Googled: The End of the World As We Know It,” New Yorker writer Ken Auletta wrote: “A free web is not always free.” He continued:
“The Web needs another revenue stream. The Internet grew to adulthood as a largely "free" medium but only by using the advertising-reliant model pioneered by radio and television broadcasting. As Stanford President Hennessy had told me, echoing a heretical thought I encountered more and more while reporting this book. ‘We should have made a micro-payment system work.’ Free works for Google search. It will work for other sites. But it does not work for most content businesses. Whether the right model is micro-payments, or subscriptions, or pay-for-services, or some combination of these is less important than making an effort to end advertising dependency.
“Even Wired editor Chris Anderson, who once more forcefully advocated that free was the perfect model (his 2009 book is titled, Free), has been intellectually honest and amended his position. Blaming the deep recession, Anderson appended a ‘Coda’ chapter near the end of his new book in which he wrote that he now believes ‘Free is not enough. It also has to be matched with Paid.’ [Google then-CEO] Eric Schmidt also shifted his view on charging for content on the Internet. ‘My current view of the world,’ he told me in April 2009, ‘is you end up with advertising and micro-payments and big payments based on’ the nature of the audience.”
The New Web Overlay
Proposing a shared-user network for trust, identity and information commerce
What’s needed is a new overlay on the existing web, compliant with and supportive of existing web protocols, which specifies uniform methods for exchanging information about user identity, trust and the exchange of value in commerce – an “easy pass” or passport or digital calling card.
The Internet wasn't conceived or engineered with any protocol for settling information transactions or handling incremental billing of digital objects or quality-of-service. It is expected to now perform in these areas. Some of the same objections to “national identity cards” create First Amendment and privacy concerns when the government proposes to play more than an advisory role in managing web identity or management. However, many news industry experts consulted in our research recognize that a payment protocol which afforded one-ID, one-password, one-bill access to information, with payments aggregated and settled to legacy payment systems would be transformational in handling a world of “atomized” – disaggregated, multi-source content.
What’s needed is a new overlay on the existing web, compliant with and supportive of existing web protocols, which specifies uniform methods for exchanging information about user identity, trust and the exchange of value in commerce – an “easy pass” or passport or digital calling card. An Information Trust Association (ITA) can bring together these three vital threads – trust, identity and commerce. Unless they are woven together, the Internet will fail to embody the best relationships of the physical world. They are inseparable building blocks of a free market for digital information.”
Step One – Form a non-stock Information Trust Association with a role to manage or implement standards, protocols, systems, services or technologies that, in whole or in part, contribute to the support or advancement of journalism, of communities, or of participatory democracy.
Step Two – Contract with or license one or more for-profit entities, funded by investors, to operate the elements of the shared-user network for trust, identity and information commerce.
Who is available to forge that protocol and cause its adoption? Technical standards bodies seem ill equipped to efficiently handle the task. Unilateral action by the very largest technical players (IBM, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, AOL) could be regarded as suspect by the major publishers and banks. Action by the bank/credit-card orbit might be challenged by content owners and user representatives.
Any approach "owned" by a small group of equity investors is likely to meet one of two fates:
- Either it will be sandbagged by enough competitors such that it will fail to gain critical-mass acceptance. An example: Abortive efforts by competing technology companies to develop a standard for short-distance wireless device communications until the formation of the BlueTooth Special Interest Group association.
- Or, it will have such a compelling consumer offering that it will grow exponentially, creating a functional monopoly and outsized pricing control. Examples: Google and online advertising; Facebook and social marketing.
So establishing the system is a non-trivial assignment, because of the challenge of finding a balance between chaos and inadvertent monopolization. If the entities doing so are not governments, then private capital must play a role and be rewarded for doing so. We propose this be done in a two-step process:
This system . . . platform . . . clearing house . . . should uniformly exchange payments for the sharing of text, video, music, game plays, entertainment, advertising views, etc., across the Internet. It could, for example, manage background -- wholesale -- payments for content that is repurposed for advertising gain by bloggers, collecting, sorting and settling copyright and other value exchanges among users, publishers and aggregators. Consumer users should have a choice of providers – agents – for accessing services, with one account and one ID providing simple access to multiple resources.
This user-centric system for sharing trust and identity, and for exchanging and settling value (including payments), for digital information should allow multiple agents -- or “infovalets” -- to compete for and serve customers . . . The mission of the Information Trust Association could be to help sustain, update and enrich the values and purposes of journalism through collaboration among news media, the public and public-focused institutions.
There is an urgent challenge for journalists to find a way beyond mass-market advertising to underwrite – and profit from -- the free flow of civic information. The ITA concept suggests business opportunities for entrepreneurs. Trust, identity and commerce are the core issues. The ability to trust who you are dealing with, what they are doing with elements of your identity, and that fair compensation can be exchanged for value received. Such a system will produce important benefits for users including convenience, privacy, personalization and relevant advertising. Some of these issues have been addressed in other venues by the credit card and telecom industries. The intention is to seek the best knowledge about analogous historical practices, and then convene and foster the right solutions for the future. While many of the conveners of the ITA would come from the perspective of journalism’s vital role in sustaining participatory democracy, the challenges and opportunities affect the nation’s public information infrastructure broadly.
This user-centric system for sharing trust and identity, and for exchanging and settling value (including payments), for digital information should allow multiple agents -- or “infovalets” -- to compete for and serve customers. These customers will have varied topical interests and varied personal appetites for sharing demographic information about themselves in exchange for something of value. It needs a free, open market for digital information -- and attention.
The mission of the Information Trust Association could be to help sustain, update and enrich the values and purposes of journalism through collaboration among news media, the public and public-focused institutions. Major technology, publishing, advertising, consumer and philanthropic organizations might underwrite ITA. It would then guide the creation of new standards and a platform for exchange of user authentication and transaction records. That would enable a competitive market for information, respecting and enabling consumer privacy and choice.
“ITA should be underwritten by major technology, publishing, advertising, consumer and philanthropic organizations. It would guide the creation of new standards and a platform for exchange of user authentication and transaction records which enables a competitive market for information, respecting and enabling consumer privacy and choice.”
Elements of the publishing and information industries are converging and evolving such that no existing trade organization, by itself, has the credibility to make broad policy that sticks. What’s needed is a new non-profit association that handles trust from the perspective of the needs and privacy of users, journalism, publishing, entertainment, finance – and perhaps even health. Because an identity and trust framework for the web should be flexible enough to handle all levels of trust and identity, from news reading right up to secure exchange of health records or even national-security secrets. It can start with the low-risk stuff -- like news -- but ought to be thought out from the perspective of permitting the more critical stuff as it becomes stable and understood.
Very generally, this R&D collaborative will need to address issues of content ownership, copyright protection, personalization, privacy, advertising and content payments in a networked media environment. Solutions that are broadly applicable across journalistic, publishing and entertainment enterprises will require the existence of a neutral organization that can responsibly address and mitigate antitrust issues. Think of it as akin to establishing the gauge of the railroad, or the grid frequency of alternating current, but not the size of boxcars, the schedule or price of freight, or electricity.
Like common-gauge railroad tracks, a stock exchange, interstate highways or our standard, 60-cycle continental electric grid, this platform should create a level – but competitive -- playing field – for the things sought by speakers at a December 2009, U.S. Federal Trade Commission forum:
- The "gold-standard" measurement of user-access to web resources sought by Scripps newspaper executive (and 2010 Newspaper Association of America boardchairman) Mark Contreras at a 2009 U.S. Federal Trade Commission hearing.
- The opportunity (but not the requirement) to charge for content sought by News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch.
- The user-controlled, personalized advertising, which will allow Arianna Huffington's AOL-merged Huffington Post to thrive without charging.
- And the accountability to users for their privacy sought by the Center for Digital Democracy's Jeff Chester.
A possible answer -- the member association?
The realization has to form that the need for a information commerce clearing association is so critical, and the solution so obvious, that a critical-mass of participants will agree simultaneously. The largest publishers are waiting for this to occur, but are afraid to sacrifice market share or risk exposure to legal challenge by taking the first steps. An Information Trust Association can legitimize and start of that rapid coalescence, or phase change.
What should be the corporate for of the Information Trust Association?
Could the answer be a member association, similar in many respects to the origins of Visa? Until it became a public-stock company two years ago, Visa comprised four non-stock companies aligned under the Visa International Services Association. The Visa companies employed about 6,000 people worldwide: Visa International Service Association; Visa USA, Inc.; Visa Europe Ltd; and Visa Canada Association. Together they comprised the Visa International Services Association.
This model is actually familiar to newspaper publishers, who formed The Associated Press in 1848 as a news-gathering cooperative and have continued to govern it under the Membership Corporations Law of the State of New York, without stock and without profits, raising "assessments" each year to match the operating requirements of the service. Neither of these organizations, however, recognizes in any formal way the interests of the consumers of the service they offer. Visa did not recognize in its governance structure the rights of merchants, and its member owners converted Visa to a public-stock company in 2008.
An Information Trust Association will need, if it is to find broad support, to recognize in its governance structure the interests of at least four different constituencies: rights-holders (authors/artists),publishers (information providers/aggregators), account managers (banks, telecommunications companies, publishers, billers etc.), and end-users.
In his 2007 essay, “The Three Phase of Information Revolution,” family newspaper owner (now Syracuse University professor) Vin Crosbie explored the idea of “the commercially neutral system” for payments.
As we have spoken over three years with publishers, telecommunications companies, ISPs, banks, researchers and consumers, we have heard universal acceptance of the notion that one-ID, one-bill access to digital information anywhere represents "goodness" -- and equally universal skepticism that we or anyone else can scramble the chicken/egg, content/audience-owner mix. Somehow the realization has to form in the marketplace that the need for an information commerce clearing association is so critical, and the solution so obvious, that a critical mass of participants will agree simultaneously. The largest publishers are waiting for this to occur, but are afraid to sacrifice market share or risk exposure to legal challenge by taking the first steps (and also to some degree concerned about the impact on the dominant model of advertiser-support of information delivery). The idea behind the Information Trust Association is to legitimize and direct the start of that rapid coalescence or phase change.
Major technology, publishing, advertising, consumer and philanthropic organizations could underwrite ITA. It would guide the creation of new standards and a platform for exchange of user authentication and transaction records which enables a competitive market for information, respecting and enabling consumer privacy and choice."
“Solutions that are broadly applicable across journalistic, publishing and entertainment enterprises will require the existence of a neutral organization that can responsibly address and mitigate antitrust issues. Think of it as akin to establishing the gauge of the railroad, or the grid frequency of alternating current, but not the size of boxcars, the schedule or price of freight, or electricity.”
The government and private antitrust prosecutions of Visa and MasterCard served notice that the public interest requires significant consideration of the competitive aspects of any effort to collude around the formation of an information payments structure.
The proposed Information Trust Association would develop protocols and standards, and authorize the operation by private contractors of a cooperative authentication and logging service – a “clearing house” for managing trust and identity of users, and the recording and financial settlement of system transactions among business participants. The authentication and logging service is a “trusted third party” who is known and trusted by information vendors, user “infovalets” or information curation agents, and end users.
The trusted third-party need never know the name or unique identifying information of the user. Nor may it intervene in anyway with the setting of prices. Information vendors set a wholesale price; service providers pay that wholesale price and then "retail" the information to their end users at whatever price they wish -- above or below the wholesale price they are charged. These are entirely market functions. A cooperative authentication and logging service need never "own" any information; it merely notes and processes settlement data provided by a wholesale seller and a retailing buyer. University of Missouri Law Prof. Thomas Lambert considered antitrust issues involving industry collaboration in a June 24, 2010 talk at a conference in Columbia, Mo. In the talk, Lambert said it is often considered within the law for competitors to agree upon technical standards, which will facilitate market expansion where pricing and service options are not considered or shared. Standard-setting is usually pro-competition, he said, where it reduces transaction costs and increases choice for the public and where the total marketplace is more valuable to the public interest than the sum of its parts. The threshold question a court might consider is: Are the standards necessary to make the market work? Competitors need to be certain they do not seek to discuss or agree on anything that isn't necessary to make the market work.
It is often considered within the law for competitors to agree upon technical standards which will facilitate market expansion where pricing and service options are not considered or shared. Standard-setting is usually pro-competition where it reduces transaction costs and increases choice for the public and where the total market-place is more valuable to the public interest than the sum of its parts.
Collaboration necessary to establish the system needs to occur around issues such as transmission protocols, field sizes, attributes and contents, levels of authentication and security and optional service features. There need be no common discussion or understanding regarding price or the acquisition or use of personal information. Consistent with the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case (Associated Press et al. v. United States, 65 S.Ct. 1416, June 18, 1945) forbidding The Associated Press to blackball from membership a competing newspaper in a founding member's home city, access to the facilities of Information Trust Association authentication and logging services must be open on an equal basis to all classes of competitors.
Why news organizations need the shared-user network
As news consumers migrate from print or broadcast online, the percentage of time they spend on news-oriented websites is in the low single digits. Services should allow place-based news organizations, legacy or new media, to deepen and extend their service by branding and providing an always-on stream of headlines, recommendations, social-networking opportunities and commercial messages to the opt-in user throughout their online session. For newspapers and local broadcasters, this creates the opportunity to earn a larger share of online “timespend” through profile-driven customization highlighting local- and topic-specific information. Results: More effective advertising and the opportunity to experiment with subscriptions.
It will need a platform for trust, identity and information commerce to work: http://www.tinyurl.com/infotrust
Google or PayPal handle commerce, but not elements of identity beyond what’s necessary to get paid. Facebook is moving to handle identity, but might not be trusted for commerce, and faces looming regulatory scrutiny because of its dominance. None of these players (yet) have a core connection to civic information or journalism. Each might migrate services into news or information aggregation, identity management or payments. A trust, identity and information commerce framework would allow them -- and legacy news organizations -- to do so across a common playing field where consumer privacy is respected, business rules are transparent and the consumer can easily move among competing options.
Microaccounting – Aggregation for two-way payments
Google or PayPal handle commerce, but not elements of identity beyond what’s necessary to get paid. Facebook is moving to handle identity, but might not be trusted for commerce, and faces looming regulatory scrutiny because of its dominance. None of these players (yet) have a core connection to civic information or journalism. Each might migrate services into news or information aggregation, identity management or payments. A trust, identity and information commerce framework would allow them -- and legacy news organizations -- to do so across a common playing field where consumer privacy is respected, business rules are transparent and the consumer can easily move among competing options.
What's then needed is a microaccounting system, which is a "door that swings both ways" -- to use a term coined by Martin Langeveld, a veteran New England daily newspaper publisher and co-founder of CircLabs Inc.
Sometimes, as a user, you’ll be rewarded for looking at, downloading or doing something. Other times, you’ll be asked to reward a site or vendor or former publisher for providing you information or insight that helps you with your life chores, your business your my recreation. A third possibility – you might be paid for offering original writing or other content into the news social network. A microaccounting system can keep track of these debits and credits and settle them periodically to the banking system. Services like Spot.us, can present the offers that are worth paying for -- or being paid for.
Thus, still to be established – the system that records all the debit/credit activity across multiple websites and aggregates them for settlement to the banking system. The system should not require that users pay-per-click, although that feature should be an option. It should allow users to be part of a subscription network, in which the user pays a flat monthly fee (perhaps bundled with their print or online news subscription) and the collaborating content owners settle access by each other's users to resources in background.
Privacy as a service
But the competition for mass-audience advertising on the web is such that it seems hard to imagine sustainable rates will ever support the amount of original reporting the United States has enjoyed for the last 50 years. Audiences are now atomizing and the only future for advertising is in presenting targeted messages to individual users. This means the entity that earns the right to receive value for advertising is going to be the one that does the best job of understanding and then servicing the needs of an individual user — including privacy. In the information-service economy, your information valet will be paid for arranging your attention when you look at an ad, and that payment will be a credit to an account and will offset your purchase of premium information. This represents an ebb and flow of attention and info-currency, depending upon whether it is information someone wants you to have, information you want -- or information you provide.
Vint Cerf and his colleagues engineered and specified TCP-IP as the standard protocol for moving bits and bytes across the Internet. It was a standard – like the power grid or railroad gauge -- that has been a foundation for higher-level innovation and “network neutrality.”
An Information Trust Association could establish voluntary standards for sharing user information and commerce across TCP-IP networks. Just as with Cerf, his colleagues and TCP/IP as a platform standard, the specification of protocols and operating rules for the Attention Age news social network, guided by the non-profit ITA, would unleash some predictable – and also unforeseen – entrepreneurial opportunity. Here are three possibilities:
- One or more entities might emerge to handle the authentication, exchange, logging, sorting and settlement of access events across the web or mobile devices.
- Others might provide a foundation for consumers to barter the information they own – demographics, preferences, writing, observations – seamlessly across networks. Doc Searls calls these examples of The Fourth Party.
- Others might enable settlement of accumulated charges to the banking system.
Still others might be able to improve the security and portability of medical records.
Conclusion: Next Steps For News
What needs to happen now?
All sides are searching for a way to win, a way to attract new users, or keep from losing the ones they already have. What if we could create an ecosystem in which they all win by providing transparent, reliable, competitive, trustworthy services to consumers whose allegiance they share rather than balkanize?
Throughout this paper, we have asserted these points:
- Information has come unbundled, and no copyright laws will change that
- Journalism is expensive, and mass-market web advertising alone will not sustain it.
- Sustaining journalism requires rethinking mass-market advertising, and news as a service rather than a product.
- Advertising is giving way to targeted, permission-based, direct marketing
- Publishers in the old gatekeeper role won’t necessarily be in the marketing loop
- Consumers are aware of privacy and the value of their attention
- Trust and identity are building blocks of the new information ecosystem
- A new kind of information valet service can earn value finding what you need
Single-site charging for content puts up walls that destroy the brilliant utility of the open web. An Information Trust Association could establish voluntary protocols for a free market for digital information that support and extend existing web protocols.
To be compelling, the system must have solid technology, a structure that enables the new-media service economy, and a motivating mission and culture. It must be ubiquitous, yet never be owned or controlled by either the government or a dominant private, for-profit entity. It should to be massively distributed and — in some fashion —collaboratively owned. It should ride on the existing web, and not interfere with it.
The news industry may participate in a new Information Trust Economy by:
- Migrating from its historic role as the most-trusted consumer information source in print broadcast or web to a ubiquitous advisor, authenticator and retailer of news, entertainment and service information from anywhere.
- Aggregating for advertisers opt-in audience measurement and selected demographic data by unique, authorizing users whose identity can then persists across a federated network that also tracks, aggregates, sorts and shares revenues.
- Putting in place technology for the optional sharing of content by subscription or click with sophisticated, dynamic pricing and bundling options that eliminate walls.
- Conveners must step forward to establish an Information Trust Association that is global in perspective. The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri has laid some groundwork through the “Blueprinting the Information Valet Economy,” and “From Gatekeeper to Information Valet,“ series of events.
- Government and private users of the Internet and public mobile networks can assess whether they can achieve more freedom, convenience and trust by supporting a collaborative, transparent, independent effort to create a free, open, four-party market for digital information, rather than a closed, three-party market controlled by a dominant private entity.
The news industry needs to provide a service in which consumers can have one account at their home-based former-newspaper or broadcaster and use it to acquire information from multiple websites, with one-account, one-ID, one bill, privacy-protected simplicity. The system shouldn’t just enable purchase of content by users, but also allow marketers to pay users for their attention -- viewing ads or other sponsored resources.
The system should not require that users pay-per-click, although that feature could be an option. It should allow users to be part of a subscription network, in which the user pays a flat monthly fee (perhaps bundled with their print or online news subscription) and the collaborating content owners settle access by each other's users to resources in background.
The ITA: A scenario where everyone wins? http://www.newshare.com/ita.pdf
Making the Marketplace: Recommendations
News providers need a way to increase the range of services they offer their readers, users and customers in order to support the values, principles and purposes of journalism. They need to be able to serve as the gateway – the InfoValet -- for more of their users’ information and service needs through an emerging social network. Most now realize that advertising alone may not support the ongoing newsgathering efforts that comprise their unique competitive advantage.
They need an application of Internet technology that allows companies to sell digital information to each other's customers without having to share the names, addresses or credit data of those customers. With such technology, news competitors can have a level playing field – a free market for digital information -- to compete on product, pricing and service across new markets.
Until now, publishers tried to limit access to non-owned information and keep their audience on their own site (an impulse which contradicts the technological capabilities of the web and the desires of consumers not to be “boxed in”). A new set of rules and protocol could give publishers economic incentives to cooperate in selling information, offering product information and exchanging users through an automatic, wholesale-retail, transaction aggregation.
Public benefits paramount
The initiative should contract with or license with one or more for-profit entities, funded by investors, to operate elements of the shared-user network for trust, identity and information commerce. The network should be compliant with and supportive of all existing Internet protocols.
While helpful to publishers and other information sellers, the overriding intention of the market-forming efforts should be public benefits that:
- Vest greater control and economic value of their privacy and personal information in the hands of individual citizens.
- Simplify the open, competitive exchange of value among users and information suppliers.
- Guarantee one-account, one-ID, one-bill simplicity from any of multiple participating trust/identity/commerce providers (“InfoValets”).
- Assure the trustworthiness, and neutrality of enabling technologies.
We conclude with three recommendations:
1. Undertake an Information Trust Association initiative
A public-benefit initiative with the working title of “Information Trust Association” should be initiated by a founding meeting held during 2011. A clear institutional leader must emerge to lead the convening and launch it.
Foundations, publishers, broadcasters, technology companies, account managers, and related trade groups should undertake to define and seed a global marketplace for digital information through a shared-user network enabling mutual trust, identity and commerce. The marketplace convener should undertake to define – and license -- standards, protocols, systems, services or technologies that, in whole or in part, contribute to the support or advancement of journalism, communities and participatory democracy.
The initiative should contract with or license with one or more for-profit entities, funded by investors, to operate elements of the shared-user network for trust, identity and information commerce. The network should be compliant with and supportive of all existing Internet protocols. It should support a large number of competitive information agents or “InfoValets” -- Fourth Parties beyond the (1) users, (2) sellers and (3) system managers -- who assist users with their accounts, information and commerce.
Elements of the initiative might be undertaken by existing organizations, both profit and non-profit, coordinated by an “Information Trust Association” (ITA) that also assesses issues of user identity and trust – “persona” – necessarily intertwined with information commerce. A digital all-content clearing house or collaborative, such as envisioned by The Associated Press, could work closely with an ITA.
Elements of the initiative might be undertaken by existing organizations, both profit and non-profit, coordinated by an “Information Trust Association” (ITA) that also assesses issues of user identity and trust – “persona” – necessarily intertwined with information commerce. A digital all-content clearing house or collaborative, being spun-up by by The Associated Press, the News Licensing Group, could work closely with an ITA. (NEWS: April 14, 2011)
Besides commercial beneficiaries, a representative list of useful collaborators and supporters might include, besides content providers, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Federal Trade Commission, Federal Communications Commission, the Robert R. McCormick Founda-tion, the Google Foundation, the Mozilla Founda-tion, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the World Wide Web Consortium, the Open Net-working Foundation, the Internet Governance Project at Syracuse University, the Information Trust Institute at the University of Illinois, the MIT Media Lab, the Center for Public Integrity, the Annenberg Innovation Lab and Center for the Digital Future (both at USC), the Craigslist Foundation, the Identity Commons, Ford Foundation, Radio Television Digital News Association, ICANN, the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, the World Wide Web Foundation, Thomson Reuters, the Open Identity Exchange, The Associated Press, the American Press Institute, the Media Management Center, the Nieman Foundation and the Berkman Institute (both at Harvard University), the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, the Online News Association, the Software & Information Industry Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Audit Bureau of Circulations, Consumers Union, the American Advertising Federation, the Online Publishers Association, the American Newspaper Digital Access Corp., leading journalism schools, world and U.S. state press associations.
The ITA could also:
- Champion consumer choice and user-centric privacy control
- Establish voluntary privacy, trust and identity standards
- Research, test and commission key technologies
- Sanction protocols for sharing users and content
- Create, foster and govern multisite user authentication services
- Enable web-side microaccounting and subscription settlement
- Support web wide tracking and billing for “atomized” content
2. Operate transparently within existing antitrust law
In the United States, ample precedents exist for industry cooperation which does not violate antitrust law when it promotes the creation of standards or marketplaces which increase rather than reduce consumer choice. An Information Trust Association initiative should operate transparently within these precedents, without the need for any special consideration by U.S. or world monopolies authorities.
3. (Financial) support for the proposition that journalism matters to democracies
Well sustained by traditional business models, America’s journalists saw little need to measure or document a relationship between participatory democracy and independent, fact-based reporting on civic issues. The Pulitzer Prize and dozens of other news-media prizes, awards and citations are necessary but not sufficient, because they are not focused primarily on reaching the broad public. The revenues received by the ITA from the licensing or providing services not needed for operations, technical research and development should sustain public-focused news- and media-literacy efforts that document – and even create -- trustworthy “journalism that matters.”
Too big a challenge? It can’t be
The infrastructure for privacy, trust, identity and information commerce will not just happen. It will take a thoughtful, sustained effort by foundations, scholars, publishers, broadcasters, technologists, lawyers, governments, banks, entertainment companies and the public. For at least 15 years, the author has heard news industry executives dismiss the possibility that a new open marketplace for digital information could emerge because (a) it was “too big an idea.” We might once have said that:
a. Building and flying a 900,000-pound aircraft such as the latest Boeing 747’s was too big an idea.
b. Coordinating for multiple tasks the power of 200,000 networked individual computers (one estimate of Google’s infrastructure) was too big an idea.
c. Processing 81 billion transactions a year (up to 300 million/day) among 29 million merchants and 16,000 financial institutions worth $3.8 trillion (as Visa did in 2007-2008)
was too big an idea.
These ideas evolved over time, as may the work of an ITA, once begun.
On March 14, 2011, the Pew Project on Excellence in Journalism’s 2011 State of the News Media annual report observed that beyond shrinking ad revenues print and broadcast mass audiences “a more fundamental challenge to journalism became clearer in the last year.” It continued:
“The biggest issue ahead may not be lack of audience or even lack of new revenue experiments. It may be that in the digital realm the news industry is no longer in control of its own future . . . And the new players take a share of the revenue and in many cases also control the audience data.”
Two years earlier, in a story about PEJ’s 2009 "State of the News Media" report, Time Magazine's M.J. Stephey wrote March 16, 2009:" . . . [I]f solutions aren't obvious, the report's overall message is: Will the future leaders of journalism please, please stand up?"
In a March 30, 2009 talk at the NewsVision Conference, Vivian Schiller, then CEO of National Public Radio said: "We need many news organizations to keep our country strong. We need to help each other. We need to partner, we need to experiment and we need to accept and agree that we will continue, we will not accept failure and we need to keep trying and trying different models until we get it right."
It's time for the world’s information creators, aggregators, technologists and citizens to stand and create an open playing field for privacy, trust, identity and information commerce.
The author acknowledges the support of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI), and its program of one-year research fellowships, without which this paper would not have been possible. RJI graciously awarded him a one-year fellowship in 2008-2009 to work on “The Information Valet Project.” Densmore has since been an ongoing consultant to RJI, and is a cofounder of CircLabs Inc. and founder of Clickshare Service Corp., which (only for the sake of full disclosure) may hold a relevant patent. A member of the Journalism That Matters collaborative and director of the Media Giraffe Project at UMass Amherst, he is a career journalist, entrepreneur and researcher on the future and sustainability of journalism. He may be reached at Densmore@rjionline.org / http://tinyurl.com/densmore / Twitter: @infovalet / http://www.densmoreassociates.com
The author’s general knowledge of media innovation comes from work as director of the Media Giraffe Project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is a former U.S. reporter for The Associated Press, trade media and as publisher of weekly newspapers. In 1997 and earlier, he wrote that “newspapers are going to face a train wreck once fat pipes came into the home and people could go anywhere for information.” Newspapers, he wrote, would need to learn how to make money referring people to information from anywhere, sharing both users, and content.
Beyond the essential financial and logistical help of the RJI, specific thanks go to Bill Anderson, Phil Aucutt, Joe Bergeron, Carole Christine, Roger Gafke, Dean Mills, Martin Langeveld, Elizabeth Osder, Chuck Peters, Randy Picht, Greg Schermer, James Shaffer, Norman Sims, Paul Trevithick, Buzz Wurzer and Jeff Vander Clute – plus the author’s father, also Bill Densmore -- for healthy skepticism, particular research advice or draft paper editing assistance. Also vital have been the contributions of time from hundreds of experts interviewed in the publishing, journalism, technology and education spheres over the course of this research – especially those who participated in any of three “Blueprinting the Information Valet Economy,” gatherings supported by RJI in 2008, 2009 and 2010, listed here:
- “Blueprinting the Information Valet Economy,” Dec. 3-5, 2008:Program Link / Participant Link
- “From Gatekeeper to Information Valet,” May 27, 2009:Program Link / Participant Link
- “From Blueprint to Building,” June 23-25, 2010:Program Link / Participant Link
Trust associations that established beneficial networks: Nine examples
The intrastructure that will allow for trust, identity and information commerce – the just-in-time flower view – will not just happen. It will take a thoughtful effort by publishers, technologists, scholars, lawyers, governments, banks, entertainment companies and the public. How might this happen?
In thinking about how you create that universal web trust, identity and commerce infrastructure, its useful to think about analogies in other industries. Here are eight:
- Marketplace trust assurance – Underwriters Laboratories for electrical equipment
- BlueTooth SIG (association) for making mobile devices able to communicate wirelessly
- ICANN for making the Internet’s domain name service work
- CableLabs for engineering that benefits the cable industry
- Continental railroads deciding on uniform track widths for interconnectivity
- The U.S. bank ACH network rules for electronic funds transfers
- The Associated Press, a non-profit cooperative owned by U.S. dailies
- Visa, once a nonstock association of the world’s banks (now a publicly traded company)
- The New York Stock Exchange, until a few years ago, a nonprofit formed so that brokers and investors could make money.
- In the United States, electrical cords you might buy at a hardware store all have a tag on them certifying they have been checked for safety by Underwriters Laboratories. That’s one example of an industry collaborating in a way that has nothing to do with pricing or serving or competition. It’s around creating an important consumer benefit – this cord is not likely to cause a fire in my house.
- We might also think about the BlueTooth Special Interest Group. The way your earbud communicates with your cell phone, or the way your laptop communicates with a wireless keyboard, is via the BlueTooth protocol. It’s a very complicated set of voluntary industry rules about how wireless radio devices handshake and connect with each other. There were multiple companies that had patents in that area and they were all competing just the way Sony and VHS video recording formats competed until VHS effectively won. The industry, with appropriate advice on antitrust oversight, formed a non-profit association that cross-licensed all of those rights and developed protocols. There is still competition on the price of earbuds and they each have different features. But one earbud knows how to connect uniformly with other BlueTooth devices – regardless of manufacturer.
- Another example is the non-profit, public-benefit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, (ICANN). It’s the core entity that owns the root domain name servers on the Internet. It makes sure when we type in infotrust.org or RJIOnline.org, we all go to the same place and addresses are uniformly propagated. While ICANN has no way to require participation in the domain-name service, that system is so useful at creating a seamless network of connections anywhere that virtually all nations and services do – except those bent on fraud or political control.
- CableLabs is the non-profit development laboratory that works with cable television operators globally to create new business opportunities based on innovative technologies.
- Think about when railroads got started. Some of them had different gauge tracks – and still do on different continents. The United States standard is different from Europe. At least in North America, if you’ve got a boxcar, you can build it with the same width wheels as all other boxcars and run it across the U.S., Canada and Mexico without a problem.
- The National Automated Clearing House Association is an affiliation of U.S. banks that lets you do electronic funds transfers and electronic bill paying by establishing standards.
- The Associated Press is another example of a non-profit cooperative. U.S. publishers formed it in 1848 as a newsgathering cooperative and have continued to govern it under the Membership Corporations Law of the State of New York, without stock and without profits, raising "assessments" each year to match the operating requirements of the service. It organized because newspapers had a technical problem – there wasn’t enough bandwidth on the telegraph network to get multiple reports from the battlefronts of the Mexican-American War. So publishers pooled and shared the same factual reports sent by a reporter via telegraph to all points. And then individual newspapers embellished the factual reports with their own perspective into their own news stories.
- Visa: Dee Hock was head of a small bank in Washington state in the 1960s. His bank was working with the Bank of America, then in San Francisco, when Bank of America had a card called the BankAmericard. Bank of America owned that. And Bank of America said to Dee Hock, in effect: “We have a real problem, we are trying to get all these banks around the country to carry the BankAmericard. And they don’t want to do it because they are perceiving the BankAmericard as our brand, and they are afraid that if they promote our brand, some of our customers are going to become Bank of America customers instead of the local banks customer.”And you know what Dee Hock said? He said, instead of trying to make the BankAmericard a national brand, why don’t you profit by giving the idea away. Form a nonstock corporation, the Visa International Service Association, and share control of that association with hundreds of corresponding banks who you have been trying to do business with. And let’s give it a new brand, a brand of its own not connect with Bank of America. And that became the Visa card, the most phenomenally successful network for the exchange of value in the history of the planet. And it spawned a competitor, MasterCard, and it completely overtook the American Express model.And that business model is this: If you have an American Express card, your account is with American Express. But if you have a Visa or MasterCard, your account is with whichever bank you signed up with – it’s not with Visa or MasterCard. Those are acceptance brands only. They run the system in the background for the benefit of their bank members. It’s the wholesale in the background.The vision of associations run for the benefit of members lasted for 40 years or more and established the worldwide convenience of credit and now debits cards. An industry took a situation where no one was winning – consumers, banks, merchants – and created a new idea, or network in which everyone began winning. In terms of the ubiquity of a card that works anywhere on the planet, in terms of the convenience and trustworthiness of that card system – unbeatable.On March 19, 2008, the banks that formed Visa took it public in the largest initial public offering in U.S. history, raising $18 billion, ending its unique non-stock structure.
- The New York Stock Exchange. Formed under a buttonwood tree in 1792 by a group of brokers, for most of two centuries it was the world’s premier marketplace for the exchange of corporate equity. Yet while brokers, banks and investors – its members -- grew and prospered, the NYSE did not – it stayed a non-profit, member association until March 2006. Until then, its only mission was to make and govern an efficient marketplace.
"Four-party model"” — choice, control for consumers; opportunity for publishers?
By Bill Densmore & Buzz Wurzer
The open Internet has shifted access and control of digital information largely from publishers to consumers. Many publishers are struggling to make money. Consumers have access to ubiquitous information, but have trouble sorting it or acquiring the most trustworthy knowledge.
How might we create a new playing field that affords increased choice and control for consumers, and new business opportunity for publishers as well?
Here’s a scenario. You’ll see shortly why we call it the “four-party model.”
Let me ask you to envision two initiatives – one involving available technology and the other requiring business collaboration — working together to expand the universe of users beyond the limits of these closed, proprietary systems, create an open marketplace for digital content, and enhance consumer privacy.
Several media and technology organizations have built proprietary or closed systems to distribute and get compensated for content they control. However successful these closed, siloed systems, outside them lies a larger universe of consumers seeking and using additional news and digital information. Connecting the silos could expand consumer choice and the digital information marketplace.
Let us ask you to envision two initiatives – one involving available technology and the other requiring business collaboration. They could work together to expand the universe of users beyond the limits of these closed, proprietary systems, create an open marketplace for digital content, and enhance consumer privacy.
First, the open-marketplace technology would work with and expand the closed systems. It would allow news consumers to venture outside a publisher’s proprietary system, subscribe to or pay for digital content from any other source. At the same time, news consumers from other proprietary systems can travel, visit, view and acquiring content from remote services. In either case, system capabilities allow tracking and payment to occur.
In short, the technology places in effect a hybrid closed/open system. Thus it provides unlimited audience and revenue growth potential for all participating information providers. Equally important, it makes it efficient for consumers to access news and information they choose – without boundaries and without multiple accounts or IDs.
Second, now please envision the business collaboration as an independent Information Trust Association. It would foster and enforce open protocols to allow registered users in closed systems to be recognized, selectively and privately use their credentials to transact with any other participating closed system. The ITA would be a public-benefit organization with a global perspective and governance. It would not itself produce content or have consumers as customers. It would fostering technology that allows private networks to join, do business and compete. It would make and enforce marketplace rules respecting consumer privacy and choice. A summit of major news, information and technology providers is necessary to embrace the ITA, invoke needed technology and open the digital-content marketplace.
Illustrating why four parties trump three
A summit of major news, information and technology providers is necessary to embrace the ITA, invoke needed technology and open the digital-content marketplace.
A key insight driving this vision is that an open “four-party” approach to information commerce promotes consumer choice and opens up markets better than “three parties.”
It was in November, 1994 that we first began thinking about “the four-party model.” We formed a small team to help find a solution to what we saw as a looming train wreck for newspapers. When “fat pipes” — high-speed Internet services — reached American homes, people would be able to easily go anywhere for vital information. The role of the physical aggregator, the print newspaper, would be diminished.
And so we began thinking: How could we develop a service that would allow news organizations to take on a new role referring their users to digital information from anywhere — and getting paid for doing so. Then-colleagues David Oliver and Michael Callahan worked with the author on a solution — which came to be called Clickshare. The core idea was that news organization (or internet service providers, we thought), would become agents for consumers — similar to a real-estate broker who represents the buyer instead of the seller.
In days before the World Wide Web, information aggregators like Compuserve, AOL, Lexis-Nexis and others gathered information into their network and then sold it. Each was its own “silo” — you couldn’t move from one to the other without changing networks and logging on with a different ID. That’s the way Apple’s iTunes store works today. They look like this:
In 1994, in the web information ecosystem, we expected there would be four parties — (1) the consumer end-user, (2) the vendor information provider (3) a neutral third-party who manages trust and transactions among all parties and (4) the consumer end-user’s agent. In this way, a user could have one account with a single must-trusted “Information Valet,” and that account would work at lots of other places — sort of like a credit card being presentable at stores worldwide.
A good analogy is to Visa vs. American Express. Visa has no consumer accounts — it’s bank members do. Banks re the fourth party. All American Express cards have accounts at Amex — the third party. Like Apple and iTunes. The big distinction is that a four-party model is a fully distributed network approach, while the Amex, Apple etc. three-party approach is not. Content distribution and sales in a networked environment like the web should use an open, networked model in which any publisher can sell any content.
In 1994, we thought a “four-party model” sustaining a trust ecosystem for information commerce would look like this:
What publishers and content creators gain is the ability for any content item to easily reach any consumer, with content fees and/or advertising revenue flowing back to content owners/originators. This is possible by “sharing” users — via a “federated authentication” service.
The “home base” was where the consumer had their account, and where personal demographic and personal interests data were stored — to be shared only with the user’s permission.
Imagine the information ecosystem starting to look like this:
Actually, newspapers were agents for the consumer in the old physical-delivery world. They licensed syndicated content and wire stories, added local news and commerce to create a useful information stew for communities. We thought they should be given the technology to continue in that role in cyberspace. But it didn’t exist. Because the information would have to be personalized and procured and resold by the agent in a nanosecond. And there would have to be an accounting system to track and settle all of those atomic content transactions. Have you ever used a transponder on your car to pass through toll booths without stopping? You know how those “easy pass” systems now interoperate from state to state.
Now the Internet is a deep, wide place, and so its fairly likely that just one authentication and logging service (the transaction logger and trust/identity manager) isn’t going to be enough. That would put one entity — or one nation — in a role akin to Big Brother. So we envisioned a network with authentication and logging services that would “talk to each other” and exchange data — although not personally identifiable information. And if you became distrustful of one network’s authentication and logging service, you could quit it and sign up with a different network. So that ecosystem would look like this: Perhaps Google would be one of the authen-tication and logging services. Facebook might run one. Micro-soft another. The banking industry, with its good friend IBM, might run another.
Perhaps governments would each run one. But the crucial challenge is to avoid going back to the “silo” days of AOL and Compuserve. To use another physical analogy — we want your web identity to be a “passport” that gets you in and out of silos/networks with little hassle.
Virtual travel should be easy! No stopping at tollbooths and fumbling for money. No need to present your credentials at a checkpoint. All of that handled by your information valet, transparently governed by rules made by an international public-benefit organization.
That’s why we need an Information Trust Association — a public-benefit organization with global perspective and governance — that can make and enforce protocols and business roles for being a part of the network. Think of it as designing the rules and playing field for football so that teams can then engage and the public can be entertained.
Or making a market for digital information.
Bill Densmore is a consulting fellow to the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and the founder of Clickshare Service Corp. Buzz Wurzer is a consultant and former media executive who headed major newspaper sales operations for Tribune Co. and digital technology initiatives for The Hearst Corp.
Why the ITA idea is important: A story about civic journalism and information control
Why is it important to put a public-benefit infrastructure in place for Internet trust, identity and information commerce? Because both the ability to inform citizens, and protect their privacy against unchecked government and private-purpose encroachment, are at play.
As a 21-year-old New York Times reporter, Robert J. Rosenthal worked on the Pentagon Papers story. Both a winner and judge of Pulitzer prizes, he has run since 2008 the non-profit Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley, Calif. CIR receives grants and donations to prepare quality, civic-issues journalism which it then sells to the state’s legacy news organizations through its “California Watch” initiative.
“We are distributing stories to very wide audiences on every platform the way they want to get it,” Rosenthal said during a TEDx talk April 2, 2011 in San Francisco. “Now the challenge is how do you sustain this?”
He continued a few minutes later in the talk:
“What we are seeking around the world today and what's happening through social media is a huge ability to transform and get people to engage and get audience. The opposite side of that which we haven't talked about today is the ability of others, governments really or corporate interests, to use that same technology to control information, control movement, to control people, really spy on people. There's going to be a balance we're going to see going forward and a conflict really about the openness and the democratization of technology.”
Rosenthal explained that a few days after his talk, CIJ would release a data-driven story that had taken 18 months to report, about dangerous unpreparedness in California’s public-school building infrastructure for a large earthquake. To get the story out, he cited relationships forged with most of the state’s media and even the innovative approach of preparing coloring books for school children in the schools to engage with the problem.
"We are charging for out content,” Rosenthal concluded. “That story probably cost us three-quarters of a million dollars to do; we'll probably get about $30,000 in revenue. So I want to ask all of you . . . to really think about how with your brainpower, your understanding of technology your understand of where this is going and how social media is moving, how information is moving, how new platforms are going to be created, to somehow come together and work with people like me to solve this problem and really serve society. This is a crucial issue for all of us. It's a global issue, it’s a local issue and it’s something we have to really educate the public about and find a solution.”