News consumption graphs

Akamai has charts showing current online news consumption around the world. Peak in North America: 2.4 million visitors per minute. I’d say that’s enough audience to build a business model around.

(Thanks to Michael Owen for the link.)

Digg and other cutting-edge stuff

OK, I may be the last person to discover the wonders of digg, but that doesn’t mean I can’t write about it. Digg is essentially a link repository coupled with a user rating system. It does certain things very well — namely, collecting and filtering links to interesting stories in real time based on popularity. And it does other things poorly — such as providing context and hierarchy.

Digg, which until recently limited itself to tech topics, is expanding into other content areas. As a result, it will probably be decried as another insidious attempt (a la Google News) to rid online news of human editors, which would be missing the point. As with Google News, if you take away the good content at the source, there’s nothing left to “digg.”

One of the things I’m looking forward to seeing on digg is the promised live visualization of popular topics. Imagine something like Yahoo’s Buzz Index updated in real time. Talk about having your finger on the pulse of the net!

And speaking of cool ways to visualize news topics… Check out this very slick Flash interface to Google News:


More extremely nifty stuff here.

Google News bias?

My OJR piece on political bias in Google News search results is generating some discussion in the blogosphere.

Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Watch offers up a thoughtful critique of my thesis (on which the article is based), and he makes some very good points. He points out a few flaws I failed to acknowledge in my paper (PDF), but I still believe my conclusion — that non-traditional news sources account for most of the bias in Google News search results — is valid.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know.

The smoke seen ’round the world

I guess somebody had to do it… MSNBC has trained a webcam on the Sistine Chapel chimney from which a puff of white smoke will herald the selection of a new pope. Some will no doubt see the “SmokeCam” as a revolution in you-are-there journalism. Now you, too, can experience the anticipation that comes with staring up at a chimney for hours at a time, waiting for the next round of papal balloting to end. Wake me up when someone says, “Habemus papam!”

Confession: I lied, and it was justified

What’s wrong with this picture?


Everything. Let me explain.

For one, I never should have seen this, the registration screen for the San Jose Mercury News site. But today I ended up here, even though I already had an account in Knight Ridder’s database (KR, which owns the Merc, keeps a single database of users for all its sites). Had I logged in from home, my browser would have been recognized automatically, but I was at work, and my password — the standard one I use for most sites when I don’t care about security — wouldn’t take. Because the login process is transparent when I’m at home, I couldn’t remember how long the Mercury News had been requiring registration and, come to think of it, I wasn’t even positive that I had an account.

So I filled out the registration form — and lied. But my deceit has weighed on my conscience all day, so I have to come clean and tell you why I did it, and why I shouldn’t have had to. Because I work in online news, I understand the need to have as much useful demographic information on visitors as possible, mainly in order to sell targeted advertising. So I will gladly (and honestly) supply such information as birth date, gender and ZIP code. I might even tell you what I do for a living or how much schooling I have. But I will not provide, for purposes of gaining access to a “free” site, personally identifiable information — no matter how nicely I am asked. This includes:

  • My full name (I’d give my first name, perhaps)
  • My address
  • My telephone number (which the Merc didn’t ask for but other sites have required)

It takes a lot of gall to request this information in the first place, but it’s just laughable to think that people will answer honestly. The most frequently used excuse for this practice is the need to compare users’ contact information with newspaper subscription records in order to provide subscriber-only benefits online. To which I say: I have never subscribed to the Mercury News and I likely never will. If I do and the paper offers some online perk to subscribers only, then — maybe —

Kinsley preaches to the crowd

I went to a forum Tuesday night featuring Michael Kinsley, the founding editor of Slate and the new editorial/opinion editor for the Los Angeles Times. Some of you might also remember him from his role opposite Pat Buchanan and Robert Novak on CNN’s Crossfire. Kinsley, in conversation with KPCC Radio’s Larry Mantle, shined some light on his new role and his plans for the Times’ opinion pages.

He described his vision of the op-ed page as a place to balance the views expressed by the newspaper in its editorials. So, if the editorial page leans left (as most would suggest the Times’ does), the op-ed page, Kinsley suggested, should move to the right to counter it. It’s an interesting idea, but it didn’t seem to resonate with the overwhelmingly liberal audience (a mention of conservative Times cartoonist Michael Ramirez brought hisses and jeers from the 300 or so people in attendance).