Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Live blogging today from the Googleplex

To retain the sense of spontaneity, this post has not been edited -- it's essentially a stream-of-consciousness report as I wrote it from Building No. 40 at the Googleplex.

I'm spending the day in Building No. 40 at the Googleplex in Mountain View, California, attending the Media Technology Summit organized by UC-Berkeley. I'll be updating this blog through the day and provide a more coherent report in a few days.

Remember, Google didn't exist 11 years ago. It now owns a campus of 40+ buildings. We've already run into a bit of the Google paranoia. One of our attendees was snooping around the hall, opening and doors and such. Sure enough, security appeared from nowhere with, "May we help you?" If I don't come out of here (or if I have a far-away look in my eyes when I do), contact my wife and my attorney, not necessarily in that order.

For Twitterers out there, the hashtag for the conference is #mts, which will allow you to follow all the Tweets live during the conference -- looks like there may a dozen people tweeting using that hashtag.

The first speaker, John Temple, former editor and publisher of the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News, is telling the poignant story of the newspaper's death. So far, he's blaming on the newspaper's delay in embracing the Internet. Oddly, he's not talking about the fact that, as an eventual JOA market, Denver was clearly not going to support two major newspapers. The war with the Post resulted in slashed ad and circulation rates, which likely would have killed one of the papers even absent the Internet. It is clear to me, and several others with whom I spoke at lunch, that there were so many more factors than the emergence of the Internet that ultimately led to the Rocky's demise. It would be interesting to hear the perspective of Mark Contreras from E.W. Scripps, who is attending the conference.

It's an interesting, sad story, but Temple's conclusions strike me as all-too-familiar and easy -- the Rocky was to slow to adapt to the Internet, but there was precious little offered by way of real alternatives.

And now, we're off on gee-whiz technology that I'm not going to write about. If you're interested, go to Twitter and search the hashtag #mts.

It's mid-morning and we're hearing from Thomas Tague, vice president of Thomson-Reuters,talking about his project, Open Calais. It's essentially a way to automate the process of tagging stories (way, way over-simplified). What I find interesting is that he's operating under the assumption that, once a story is on the Internet, it's fair game to anyone to take it, post it, and tag it. Copyrights are so 20th century. That aside, this is a web-based product built by and for news organizations -- probably worth a look. Google the name and check out the web site.

Open Calais is free and seems to have some great potential in archiving, investigative journalism and indexing, at the very least. Best presentation of the morning session. Time for a break.

The late morning session features executives from Google, Microsoft and Piper Jaffray, blue-skying about the future of consumer-driven online technology. The upshot of this session is that the availability of content will continue to expand apace, but the challenge to the consumer is to manage it and the challenge to providers is the business model. Blair Westlake of Microsoft is particularly certain that journalism will survive and thrive and that people will be willing to pay for it in due time. He also came up with the best line of the morning: "People associate the Internet with free like they associate deep fried with fatty." Personally, I've always associated deep-fried with delicious.

Lunch was in the lovely Google courtyard, where we joined the employees under blue skies in 75-degree temperatures. I am disappointed to report, however, that there was no live music.

We're now learning about "The Whuffie Factor," and I suggest that if you really want to know what that means, try, um, Google. Our speaker, Tara Hunt, vaguely reminds me of Meghan McCain. Once again, we are being talked down to by a young person who finds journalism uncool and who assumes that we haven't a clue about that thing with the all the tubes, the "Internets". My favorite quote of hers, taken directly from her PPT: “If you can succeed in making your readers feel smarter, more in control, sexier, excited and more interesting themselves, then you will win.” As I've written elsewhere, I'm trying to figure out how to work that into a slogan for my newspaper.

And now we turn to Mikolaj Piskorski, a Harvard professor, who speaks remarkably quickly and well for a man who speaks English as a second language. He has a whole bunch of data about social networks and is very entertaining, but I'm not sure, at least yet, what to do with the data.

OK, here's something: Integrate your advertising with the content. Well, duh, but he makes the point in a way even I can understand. In other words, if your content is likely to attract women, don't try to sell a power saw on the page. Paired with the companion presentation by Bill Heil, it was really, really interesting but not necessarily helpful to a newspaper publisher in Idaho. If you want all of the research, Google Piskorski and Heil at Harvard Business School -- it'll be coming out next month.

In the Q&A the question is how to use social networking in our context, as journalists. The answer is, I think, that's not what these things were built for. Also, someone asks why Twitter can be valued at $1 billion. Harvard Prof. Piskorski simply says that it'll be hard for Twitter to "capture that value."

Next we have Krishna Bharat, principal scientist and founder of Google News. The summary of his short presentation: We want to distribute the news you generate and share with you a portion of the revenue we generate by doing so. Thank you. Thankyouverymuch.

I don't mean to sound snarky, but here's more snark: Lila King, a senior producer at CNN responsible for CNN's iReport, believes that the truth can be found by stitching together small pieces of a story from citizen journalists. You decide.

Daniel X. O'Neil, co-founder of He seems a little angry and arrogant, in a charming kind of way. He has an interesting web site (just go look at it), but some simplistic ideas about what news is. "News," he says," is what happened." Who, what, when, where, why, and how is so yesterday.

Up next is Richard Gingras, CEO of Salon Media. He's very smart and straightforward, but, honestly, doesn't have a lot for me. It would be wrong to summarize his comments like this: Aw, don't worry about making money -- I gotta sugar-daddy.

Finally, the last speaker of the day before cocktails, dinner and a "conversation with Peter Chernin, former COO of News Corp." -- John Thornton, chairman of a new venture, The Texas Tribune. His basic premise: Capital "J" journalism -- the "iron core" -- has never been profitable, a fact that has been exposed by the "unbundling" of news by the Internet. He's entertaining and convincing but doesn't really have much data to back him up.

I suppose the issue for me is that the difference between a non-profit and a for-profit operation, aside from paying some taxes, isn't all that much money.

Late-night update: At dinner, in an off-the record "conversation" and brief Q&A, former News Corp. COO Peter Chernin evaded questions but left the indelible impression that he's very smart. He also talks very fast, but I think English is his primary language.


  1. Thanks for the summary. I followed the presentations on twitter (better than nothing) but got a lot of "told a joke, a journalist and a snowman walk into a bar"
    No punchline. I need the punchline.
    Do you happen to know if any of the presentations/transcripts will be available online? I saw John Temple's "Lessons from the RMN." But, didn't see links to others.

  2. Yes, some of the presentations can be found at Just search "Media Technology Summit" on that site. For the record -- I posted the "told a joke" tweet and it didn't really happen. I was being goofy. I'll be tweeting and posting another blog post here on tomorrow's sessions as well.