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9/14/2011 @ 12:17PM |11,614 views

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Forbes Leadership Forum, Forbes Staff

News, Commentary, and Advice About Leadership

9/14/2011 @ 12:17PM |11,614 views

Forbes Leadership Forum is our home for articles written by people who aren't regular Forbes Leadership contributors with their own pages. It presents pieces by leading thinkers and doers across the worlds of business, public service, academia, and elsewhere.

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By Nick Mehta

I’ll admit it. The first time I saw Marc Benioff speak, I wasn’t that impressed. The chief executive of Salesforce.com wasn’t a typical suave, clean-cut CEO. He didn’t have the black turtleneck cool of Steve Jobs. He came off as a little cheesy.

Yet a couple of weeks ago at Dreamforce 2011, Salesforce.com’s annual user conference, I was honestly in awe. And it wasn’t just because Benioff put together the largest technology conference in the industry or because his company is worth billions and is taking over the IT world. Okay, maybe it was a little because of that.

A lot of people wrote a few weeks ago about what they learned from Steve Jobs. Indeed, even Benioff talked about it. Yet as someone who has spent most of his career selling technology to businesses, I think we can all learn a lot from Benioff, and not just from his business model and technology. Here are a few lessons we can all learn in terms of vision and leadership:

1. Be inclusive. At Dreamforce, I think I heard the term “you” (spoken to the audience) at least a hundred times. “You created the social enterprise.” “You told us you need mobility.” Every presentation involved customer case studies. Salesforce even featured a video from KLM, the airline, that wasn’t related to Salesforce.com at all, but just illustrated a creative use of social media. Benioff clearly wants Salesforce.com to be a community, not just a company. And a community is much harder to stop.

2. Be confrontational. Benioff is not afraid to pick a fight. In fact, he seems to enjoy it. You can’t listen to him give a presentation without hearing a swipe at Oracle and a jab at Bill Gates. He wants to create a narrative about the Salesforce.com community being a revolution against the old guard. Indeed, he even referred to the Arab Spring and a revolution happening in corporate America, in which old guard CEOs, who don’t get the social enterprise, are falling like Qaddafi. He’s calling out his own customers. Many of us in the CEO role are afraid to be provocative. We want to make friends and avoid enemies. And this is good. But playing nice to a fault doesn’t make headlines. And, more important, it doesn’t inspire people—whether they are employees or customers.

3. Be evolving. The term pivot has become almost cliché in the startup world. But while changing directions is impressive and imperative, it’s relatively easy for five people in a garage and much harder for big enterprises. Although Salesforce isn’t Hewlett-Packard yet, it’s not easy to get 5,000 employees to do a 180. Salesforce.com had a good thing going, crushing Siebel with software-as-a-service for CRM (customer relation management). But Benioff saw the arrival of cloud computing, and software-as-a-service was suddenly a thing of the past. Then, just as cloud computing became hot, he perceived the next trend in social media, and shifted his focus to redefining the “social enterprise.” Each time he pivots, he makes the previous phase (for instance, cloud computing) seem obvious and de facto, further cementing his company’s position. And none of his competitors can keep up.

4. Be imitating. For all the flak Benioff gives Microsoft for copying innovations from Apple and others, he’s absolutely willing to imitate where appropriate. Check out Chatter. Benioff openly admits that it’s designed to look like a Facebook inside Salesforce.com. He realized that people understood Facebook, and that enterprises needed a corporate equivalent. He didn’t try to reinvent the wheel and devise a user interface to be more “enterprise-friendly” than Facebook. He almost literally copied the look and feel we all know, down to the latest Chatter Now instant messaging feature, which is a doppelganger of Facebook Chat. The UI may not be innovative, but for corporate users who’ve gone blind after years of looking at 1980s-designed SAP user interfaces, Facebook at work is refreshing and exciting.

5. Be infectious. If you’ve ever been to an IT conference, you realize that if there is a hell it probably includes the typical IT trade show. Bored customers race past booths seeking out free T-shirts, watered down drinks, and scantily clad booth babes. If customers do stop at your booth, they are most likely just eyeing your giveaways, your staff, or both. Yet my company exhibited at Dreamforce this year and we were mobbed. And, no, it wasn’t because our cheesy giveaways were any better than our neighbor’s. Every booth was mobbed. Customers actually wanted to talk and learn. They were excited. In many ways, Salesforce.com has done the unthinkable and made customers feel that they aren’t fighting with vendors, that they and vendors are shoulder-to-shoulder together on the right side of history in an epic battle.

What I first saw as cheesy in Benioff, I now respect as genuine passion. He really believes there is a revolution. Or at least that’s what it feels like. And then you start believing it too.

Heck, the guy with a scruffy five o’clock shadow and a sometimes-frumpy look actually has style.

Nick Mehta is the chief executive officer of LiveOffice. He spent more than five years at Symantec Corporation and at Veritas Software Corporation (now Symantec), where he served as vice president and general manager of the Enterprise Vault information archiving and discovery software business.

Why Your Startup Doesn’t Need a COO

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Why Your Startup Doesn’t Need a COO

If you're new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, or subscribe via email. Thanks for visiting!

It’s very common for startup companies to have COO’s. So I know I’m getting myself into a bit of trouble by writing this. But …

Startups don’t need – shouldn’t have – COOs. I have this conversation with every startup that comes to see me and has a CEO & a COO. I think usually a COO title at a startup is an ego thing. You have two founders and it was agreed that one would get the CEO role so the other needs to call themselves president or COO.

But ask yourself, what does a COO actually do? In a mature company it’s often like a presidential chief of staff. They will often run all of the daily reports into them covering off for finance, sales, marketing, biz dev & HR. Many times they also pick up product and tech, too.

In an early stage start I believe it’s the CEO’s job to manage these functions. It’s pretty tough to convince me in a company of less than 50 people that the CEO can’t handle 6-8 direct reports to manage the various areas of the business.

Often times you find the CEO who really just likes to do product or tech. You can always spot these types because they can’t tell you what their revenue number for last month was or what their sales target is for next month. It’s actually not that uncommon for me to encounter this with young CEOs. What it tells me is that they’re not properly managing their business. They’re not allocating their time properly across all of the business functions, they’re favoring those that they like best.

Similarly I talk to CEOs who can’t do a sales pipeline review with me. They don’t know the details of the deals. They can’t name the key decision makers at their prospect, they can’t tell me who they’re competing against, etc. I once did due diligence on a potential investment where the CEO was projecting $9 million in sales for his next 12 months. His largest account was Coca Cola for which he was projecting $3 million alone. I asked him for a deep dive on the Coca Cola sales campaign and he said, “that ones’ not my deal.”

Ha. And I decided that his startup company was not MY deal.

CEO’s run things. They run their business. If they’re not running their business then perhaps the wrong person was picked as CEO or perhaps they need more mentorship / coaching to better allocate their time.

So what does a COO at a startup do if the CEO should be managing things?

Usually it’s a line function but they’ve been given a lofty title. Of course they “need” the title to convince customers, biz dev partners and VCs that they’re to be taken seriously. Sure.

I think it’s better to take the title of the job for which you will fulfill.  If you’re running sales & marketing then why not VP, Sales & Marketing? If you run product then it’s easy – VP Product.

If the CEO is the “chief strategist” while the COO “runs the company” then I think it’s time for a coup d’état.

What harm having a COO or worse a president? Clarity for staff and decision making.

Like most everything in business I learned by making mistakes at my first company. I was the CEO of my startup and my co-founder was the president. None of our staff really knew what that meant but they knew that he was a co-founder and that he was, well, the president. So from time-to-time he would be talking with the product team about his vision and they would react unbeknownst to me. They were taking direction from the president. But I ran product management.

He liked to weigh in on biz dev deals. We had a VP of Biz Dev. We gave him conflicting view points. He wasn’t really supposed to meddle with these job functions, but as president and co-founder he kind of had the authority to do so. It took me a while to figure out this was going on and when I did I put an end to it.

Over the years I’ve talked to enough startup staff members at respective companies to know that this lack of clarity in decision making can be a real problem at many companies. It’s far more effective to check your ego at the door and align your job function(s) with your title.

When should a company get a COO then?

I’ve had this debate with some very successful VCs who are pro COO. They talk about freeing up the time of the CEO to think bigger picture and plan for the long haul. They talk about the need of the CEO to be chief evangelist, speak at conference, lead executive recruiting, etc. They say that having a COO allows the CEO to remover herself from the continual politics and personnel management that can be a drag on management time. I know this one as I’ve often said, the main job of a CEO is chief psychologist.

I can buy this argument as a company becomes bigger. I think when the company has the complexity of large customers, customer service & SLA management, well established sales processes, continual recruiting because you’re growing, constant press, etc. it may make sense to appoint a COO to handle more of the day-to-day management. I never chose to do that, but I could see how it would work for some.

We were never Google but we got as large as 120 staff and I never felt the need for a COO. I had an amazing CFO who helped me lead budgeting, planning, board reporting and legal matters. I had heads of sales, marketing, business development, product management, technology and customer service. We had team meetings where we discussed each other’s areas and I mostly stepped in when conflicts needed resolving. But at that stage of the company as we were approaching $20 million in sales I think, sure, a COO might have freed up my time a bit.

For now, if you’re early stage, I’m not convinced. It isn’t something that would dissuade me from investing in a company, but I’d want to be very clear with the team what their respective roles were and make sure they were also very clear with their employees.

I think the best way to protect the ego of the rightly deserving status of non-CEO co-founders is to preserve the co-founder name in their title as is, “VP Product & Co-Founder” or “VP Sales & Co-Founder.” Your right place as a member of the team that was there at inception is protected while your functional role is crystal clear.

What have your experiences been?

Image courtesy of Headspring Insights.

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Companies and information: The leaky corporation | The Economist

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The leaky corporation

IN EARLY February Hewlett-Packard showed off its new tablet computer, which it hopes will be a rival to Apple’s iPad. The event was less exciting than it might have been, thanks to the leaking of the design in mid-January. Other technology companies have suffered similar embarrassments lately. Dell’s timetable for bringing tablets to market appeared on a tech-news website. A schedule for new products from NVIDIA, which makes graphics chips, also seeped out.

Geeks aren’t the only ones who can’t keep a secret. In January it emerged that Renault had suspended three senior executives, allegedly for passing on blueprints for electric cars (which the executives deny). An American radio show has claimed to have found the recipe for Coca-Cola’s secret ingredient in an old newspaper photograph. Facebook’s corporate privacy settings went awry when some of the social network’s finances were published. A strategy document from AOL came to light, revealing that the internet and media firm’s journalists were expected to write five to ten articles a day.

Meanwhile, Julian Assange has been doing his best to make bankers sweat. In November the founder of WikiLeaks promised a “megaleak” early in 2011. He was said to be in possession of a hard drive from the laptop of a former executive of an unnamed American bank, containing documents even more toxic than the copiously leaked diplomatic cables from the State Department. They would reveal an “ecosystem of corruption” and “take down a bank or two”.

“I think it’s great,” Mr Assange said in a television interview in January. “We have all these banks squirming, thinking maybe it’s them.” At Bank of America (BofA), widely thought to be the bank in question, an internal investigation began. Had any laptop gone missing? What could be on its hard drive? And how should BofA react if, say, compromising e-mails were leaked?

The bank’s bosses and investigators can relax a bit. Recent reports say that Mr Assange has acknowledged in private that the material may be less revealing than he had suggested. Financial experts would be needed to determine whether any of it was at all newsworthy.

Even so, the WikiLeaks threat and the persistent leaking of other supposedly confidential corporate information have brought an important issue to the fore. Companies are creating an ever-growing pile of digital information, from product designs to employees’ e-mails. Keeping tabs on it all is increasingly hard, not only because there is so much of it but also because of the ease of storing and sending it. Much of this information would do little damage if it seeped into the outside world; some of it, indeed, might well do some good. But some could also be valuable to competitors—or simply embarrassing—and needs to be protected. Companies therefore have to decide what they should try to keep to themselves and how best to secure it.

Trying to prevent leaks by employees or to fight off hackers only helps so much. Powerful forces are pushing companies to become more transparent. Technology is turning the firm, long a safe box for information, into something more like a sieve, unable to contain all its data. Furthermore, transparency can bring huge benefits. “The end result will be more openness,” predicts Bruce Schneier, a data-security guru.

From safe to sieve

When corporate information lived only on paper, which was complemented by microfilm about 50 years ago, it was much easier to manage and protect than it is today. Accountants and archivists classified it; the most secret documents were put in a safe. Copying was difficult: it would have taken Bradley Manning, the soldier who is alleged to have sent the diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, years to photograph or smuggle out all the 250,000 documents he is said to have downloaded—assuming that he was not detected.

Things did not change much when computers first made an appearance in firms. They were used mostly for accounting or other transactions, known as “structured information”. And they were self-contained systems to which few people had access. Even the introduction in the 1980s of more decentralised information-technology (IT) systems and personal computers (PCs) did not make much of a difference. PCs served at first as glorified typewriters.

It was only with the advent of the internet and its corporate counterpart, the intranet, that information began to flow more quickly. Employees had access to lots more data and could exchange electronic messages with the outer world. PCs became a receptacle for huge amounts of “unstructured information”, such as text files and presentations. The banker’s hard drive in Mr Assange’s possession is rumoured to contain several years’ worth of e-mails and attachments.

Now an even more important change is taking place. So far firms have spent their IT budgets mostly on what Geoffrey Moore of TCG Advisors, a firm of consultants, calls “systems of record”, which track the flow of money, products and people within a company and, more recently, its network of suppliers. Now, he says, firms are increasingly investing in “systems of engagement”. By this he means all kinds of technologies that digitise, speed up and automate a firm’s interaction with the outer world.

Mobile devices, video conferencing and online chat are the most obvious examples of these technologies: they allow instant communication. But they are only part of the picture, says Mr Moore. Equally important are a growing number of tools that enable new forms of collaboration: employees collectively edit online documents, called wikis; web-conferencing services help firms and their customers to design products together; and smartphone applications let companies collect information about people’s likes and dislikes and hence about market trends.

It is easy to see how such services will produce ever more data. They are one reason why IDC, a market-research firm, predicts that the “digital universe”, the amount of digital information created and replicated in a year, will increase to 35 zettabytes by 2020, from less than 1 zettabyte in 2009 (see chart); 1 zettabyte is 1 trillion gigabytes, or the equivalent of 250 billion DVDs. But these tools will also make a firm’s borders ever more porous. “WikiLeaks is just a reflection of the problem that more and more data are produced and can leak out,” says John Mancini, president of AIIM, an organisation dedicated to improving information management.

Two other developments are also poking holes in companies’ digital firewalls. One is outsourcing: contractors often need to be connected to their clients’ computer systems. The other is employees’ own gadgets. Younger staff, especially, who are attuned to easy-to-use consumer technology, want to bring their own gear to work. “They don’t like to use a boring corporate BlackBerry,” explains Mr Mancini.

The data drain

As a result, more and more data are seeping out of companies, even of the sort that should be well protected. When Eric Johnson of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and his fellow researchers went through popular file-sharing services last year, they found files that contained health-related information as well as names, addresses and dates of birth. In many cases, explains Mr Johnson, the reason for such leaks is not malice or even recklessness, but that corporate applications are often difficult to use, in particular in health care. To be able to work better with data, employees often transfer them into spreadsheets and other types of files that are easier to manipulate—but also easier to lose control of.

Although most leaks are not deliberate, many are. Renault, for example, claims to be a victim of industrial espionage. In a prominent insider-trading case in the United States, some hedge-fund managers are accused of having benefited from data leaked from Taiwanese semiconductor foundries, including spreadsheets showing the orders and thus the sales expectations of their customers.

Not surprisingly, therefore, companies feel a growing urge to prevent leaks. The pressure is regulatory as well as commercial. Stricter data-protection and other rules are also pushing firms to keep a closer watch on information. In America, for instance, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) introduced security standards for personal health data. In lawsuits companies must be able to produce all relevant digital information in court. No wonder that some executives have taken to using e-mail sparingly or not at all. Whole companies, however, cannot dodge the digital flow.

To help them plug the holes, companies are being offered special types of software. One is called “content management”. Programs sold by Alfresco, EMC Documentum and others let firms keep tabs on their digital content, classify it and define who has access to it. A junior salesman, for instance, will not be able to see the latest financial results before publication—and thus cannot send them to a friend.

Another type, in which Symantec and Websense are the market leaders, is “data loss prevention” (DLP). This is software that sits at the edge of a firm’s network and inspects the outgoing data traffic. If it detects sensitive information, it sounds the alarm and can block the incriminating bits. The software is often used to prevent social-security and credit-card numbers from leaving a company—and thus make it comply with HIPAA and similar regulations.

A third field, newer than the first two, is “network forensics”. The idea is to keep an eye on everything that is happening in a corporate network, and thus to detect a leaker. NetWitness, a start-up company, says that its software records all the digital goings-on and then looks for suspicious patterns, creating “real-time situation awareness”, in the words of Edward Schwartz, its chief security officer.

There are also any number of more exotic approaches. Autonomy, a British software firm, offers “bells in the dark”. False records—made-up pieces of e-mail, say—are spread around the network. Because they are false, no one should gain access to them. If somebody does, an alarm is triggered, as a burglar might set off an alarm breaking into a house at night.

These programs deter some leakers and keep employees from doing stupid things. But reality rarely matches the marketing. Content-management programs are hard to use and rarely fully implemented. Role-based access control sounds fine in theory but is difficult in practice. Firms often do not know exactly what access should be assigned to whom. Even if they do, jobs tend to change quickly. A field study of an investment bank by Mr Johnson and his colleagues found that one department of 3,000 employees saw 1,000 organisational changes within only a few months.

This leads to what Mr Johnson calls “over-entitlement”. So that workers can get their jobs done, they are given access to more information than they really need. At the investment bank, more than 50% were over-entitled. Because access is rarely revoked, over time employees gain the right to see more and more. In some companies, Mr Johnson was able to predict a worker’s length of employment from how much access he had. But he adds that if role-based access control is enforced too strictly, employees have too little data to do their jobs.

Similarly, DLP is no guarantee against leaks: because it cannot tell what is in encrypted files, data can be wrapped up and smuggled out. Network forensics can certainly show what is happening in a small group of people working on a top-secret product. But it is hard to see how it can keep track of the ever-growing traffic that passes through or leaves big corporate IT systems, for instance through a simple memory stick (which plugs into a PC and can hold the equivalent of dozens of feature-length films). “Technology can’t solve the problem, just lower the probability of accidents,” explains John Stewart, the chief security officer of Cisco, a maker of networking equipment.

Other experts point out that companies face a fundamental difficulty. There is a tension in handling large amounts of data that can be seen by many people, argues Ross Anderson, of Cambridge University. If a system lets a few people do only very simple things—such as checking whether a product is available—the risks can be managed; but if it lets a lot of people do general inquiries it becomes insecure. SIPRNet, where the American diplomatic cables given to WikiLeaks had been stored, is a case in point: it provided generous access to several hundred thousand people.

In the corporate world, to limit the channels through which data can escape, some companies do not allow employees to bring their own gear to work or to use memory sticks or certain online services. Although firms have probably become more permissive since, a survey by Robert Half Technology, a recruitment agency, found in 2009 that more than half of chief information officers in America blocked the use of sites such as Facebook at work.

Yet this approach comes at a price, and not only because it makes a firm less attractive to Facebook-using, iPhone-toting youngsters. “More openness also creates trust,” argues Jeff Jarvis, a new-media sage who is writing a book about the virtues of transparency, entitled “Public Parts”. Dell, he says, gained a lot of goodwill when it started talking openly about its products’ technical problems, such as exploding laptop batteries. “If you open the kimono, a lot of good things happen,” says Don Tapscott, a management consultant and author: it keeps the company honest, creates more loyalty among employees and lowers transaction costs with suppliers.

More important still, if the McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of a consulting firm, has its numbers right, limiting the adoption of systems of engagement can hurt profits. In a recent survey it found that firms that made extensive use of social networks, wikis and so forth reaped important benefits, including faster decision-making and increased innovation.

How then to strike the right balance between secrecy and transparency? It may be useful to think of a computer network as being like a system of roads. Just like accidents, leaks are bound to happen and attempts to stop the traffic will fail, says Mr Schneier, the security expert. The best way to start reducing accidents may not be employing more technology but making sure that staff understand the rules of the road—and its dangers. Transferring files onto a home PC, for instance, can be a recipe for disaster. It may explain how health data have found their way onto file-sharing networks. If a member of the employee’s family has joined such a network, the data can be replicated on many other computers.

Don’t do that again

Companies also have to set the right incentives. To avoid the problems of role-based access control, Mr Johnson proposes a system akin to a speed trap: it allows users to gain access to more data easily, but records what they do and hands out penalties if they abuse the privilege. He reports that Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker, issues “speeding tickets” to employees who break its rules.

Mr Johnson is the first to admit that this approach is too risky for data that are very valuable or the release of which could cause a lot of damage. But most companies do not even realise what kind of information they have and how valuable or sensitive it is. “They are often trying to protect everything instead of concentrating on the important stuff,” reports John Newton, the chief technology officer of Alfresco.

The “WikiLeaks incident is an opportunity to improve information governance,” wrote Debra Logan, an analyst at Gartner, a research firm, and her colleagues in a recent note. A first step is to decide which data should be kept and for how long; many firms store too much, making leaks more likely. In a second round, says Ms Logan, companies must classify information according to how sensitive it is. “Only then can you have an intelligent discussion about what to protect and what to do when something gets leaked.”

Such an exercise could also be an occasion to develop what Mr Tapscott calls a “transparency strategy”: how closed or open an organisation wants to be. The answer depends on the business it is in. For companies such as Accenture, an IT consultancy and outsourcing firm, security is a priority from the top down because it is dealing with a lot of customer data, says Alastair MacWillson, who runs its security business. Employees must undergo security training regularly. As far as possible, software should control what leaves the company’s network. “If you try to do something with your BlackBerry or your laptop that you should not do,” explains Mr MacWillson, “the system will ask you: ‘Should you really be doing this?’”

At the other end of the scale is the Mozilla Foundation, which leads the development of Firefox, an open-source browser. Transparency is not just a natural inclination but a necessity, says Mitchell Baker, who chairs the foundation. If Mozilla kept its cards close to the chest, its global community of developers would not and could not help write the program. So it keeps secrets to a minimum: employees’ personal information, data that business partners do not want made public and security issues in its software. Everything else can be found somewhere on Mozilla’s many websites. And anyone can take part in its weekly conference calls.

Few companies will go that far. But many will move in this direction. The transparency strategy of Best Buy, an electronics retailer, is that its customers should know as much as its employees. Twitter tells its employees that they can tweet about anything, but that they should not do “stupid things”. In the digital era of exploding quantities of data that are increasingly hard to contain within companies’ systems, more companies are likely to become more transparent. Mr Tapscott and Richard Hunter, another technology savant, may not have been exaggerating much a decade ago, when they wrote books foreseeing “The Naked Corporation” and a “World Without Secrets”.

Hacker News | It is flawed, on two important levels.Airbnb's Unique Selling Point, the factor ...

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Airbnb's Unique Selling Point, the factor upon which its notional $1.3bn value rests, is the claim that it is a marketplace for real people to rent out their own homes - that is to say, the properties in which they themselves live - while they are away or individual rooms in their house while they are present.

This is an intriguing idea and, if you don't think it through, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that most of us have homes, most of us have spare rooms and most of us have vacations, during which our homes lie empty and unproductive. Hotels have been screwing us for years (who hasn't, at some stage, been personally offended by minibar prices?), wouldn't it be great if we could all somehow route around those archaic hotel monopolies?

So, that is the Airbnb pitch, it would clearly be of interest to investors if it could be shown to actually work and, at first glance, it appears that Airbnb has done this - over 2 millions nights have been booked through their system, each raking in a healthy commission of around 15%.

Unfortunately, Airbnb has a dirty little secret, and any of you who have used it will know this: the vast majority of the properties available are actually the same vacation rental properties that have been available for years and are still available through all the other websites, provided by professional landlords with multiple properties - the only real difference is that these landlords charge about 15% more if you book through Airbnb.

Now, when I say majority, I don't mean overwhelming majority but certainly more than half of the actual beds per night. There are, for sure, lots of people new to renting out their places, there are lots of people renting out their actual homes but the point is that they do not represent very many of those two million nights - the two million nights that supposedly prove that Airbnb's unique angle - real people renting to other real people - is a moneymaker.

On closer observation, you will notice that of the many real people listed in a given city, you can look at their photos and read their endearing bios, but their beds are not actually available anywhere near as often as those offered by the pro landlords.

This is because they are real people with real lives - they listed their room because they figured it would be a handy way to make money and perhaps they even bought into Airbnb's charming message that it is an excellent way to meet good-looking hipsters from other countries but, whatever the initial motivation to list, people with real lives often find themselves too busy with real life to deal, right now, with fricking guests.

Also, when they do accept guests, it often doesn't turn out to be the sun-dappled cultural exchange that the Airbnb promotional video so artfully and persuasively suggests. So, very often, upon learning that accepting guests is less about receiving cheeky blowjobs from stunning French models, and more about changing sheets besweated into by fat Greek geeks, a lot of the real people owners tend to drop out of the system by simply blocking off their calendars for months at a time.

So, the supposed point of Airbnb actually represents only a fraction of their actual bookings and perhaps you can see the longterm problem with that. As they reach greater scale, it becomes clear that, actually, the market there are depending upon, the bookings that are bringing in actual revenue, are not some virgin territory, exclusive to innovative Airbnb, but the same hard-bitten professional vacation rental landlords that all the other companies are chasing after.

Certainly, there is nothing there to justify a $1.3bn valuation and if you know anyone who is seriously considering sticking some of their savings into the Airbnb IPO, do them a favor and slap them to their senses.

Now, the second bomb fuse, happily fizzing away, lies in the essential difference between real people who are dabbling in rentals and those hard-bitten pro landlords: the pros know that, while most people are lovely, a regular percentage will surprise you by turning out to be complete scumbags. Pro landlords know this, they've experienced this and they accept it as an unfortunate but inevitable part of doing business.

Now, the real people owners, they aren't necessarily idiots but, certainly, compared to the pros they are sitting ducks. As yet, Airbnb has been fortunate to have been largely of interest to tech hipsters such as ourselves. As a general rule, such people are what is technically known in the industry as "nice", meaning they are unlikely to smash your toilet cistern while in a meth-induced frenzy. Unfortunately, as Airbnb grows and, more importantly, as word filters down to the criminal underclass that all these Macbook-owning fools are opening their doors to anyone, you are going to all sorts of interesting guests turning up and, inevitably, a good old-fashioned crime wave.

You are also going to see some rapes. I am sorry, I don't mean to be crude, but this is going to happen. If you look at Airbnb properties, you'll notice that they are selling the owner as much as the place. This is endearing and I have stayed with some lovely people, but I am always struck by how vulnerable young female owners are. Just for a moment, go to Airbnb and search for rooms within homes in any city. Look at a few and, in particular, take the time to look at the owners - read their charming bios, read the nice things that previous guests have said about them, click to enlarge their photos and admire their young, beautiful, trusting faces.

No, ask yourself this question: given that we know, for a fact, that there are some truly dangerous men out there. And given that we know that rapes occurs in every city, every day. Ask yourself, would you be happy if one of your sisters, needing a little extra dough to cover her mortgage, decided to start renting out a room in her apartment to a different stranger every night?

So, okay, I don't want to dwell too much on the awful implications, the all-too-likely disaster waiting to happen, so, let's think about it as investors - if just ONE person does get raped ... or .... if just one owner CLAIMS to have been raped ... what happens to Airbnb?

Well, obviously, it tarnishes the brand, that much is obvious but, more importantly, it effectively means that far fewer young women will continue to rent out rooms and, you'll notice, women in their twenties make up the majority of the real landlords. Even some who might be willing, themselves, to continue, they will be under tremendous pressure from their family and friends to quit.

So, suddenly, Airbnb's loincloth of real people landlords becomes far smaller and, suddenly, the difference between them and HomeAway is a lot less clear. Suddenly, the IPO become a much harder sell.

And that, my friends, is why Brian Chesky and Paul Graham have gone nuclear, because these two major flaws are slipping beyond their ability to control the story and, after so much hope, it is turning out that Airbnb might not be the next ebay after all, it might just be the next Pets.com.

Ian Bogost - Gamification is Bullshit

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Gamification is Bullshit

My position statement at the Wharton Gamification Symposium

August 8, 2011

In his short treatise On Bullshit, the moral philosopher Harry Frankfurt gives us a useful theory of bullshit. We normally think of bullshit as a synonym—albeit a somewhat vulgar one—for lies or deceit. But Frankfurt argues that bullshit has nothing to do with truth.

Rather, bullshit is used to conceal, to impress or to coerce. Unlike liars, bullshitters have no use for the truth. All that matters to them is hiding their ignorance or bringing about their own benefit.

Gamification is bullshit.

I'm not being flip or glib or provocative. I'm speaking philosophically.

More specifically, gamification is marketing bullshit, invented by consultants as a means to capture the wild, coveted beast that is videogames and to domesticate it for use in the grey, hopeless wasteland of big business, where bullshit already reigns anyway.

Bullshitters are many things, but they are not stupid. The rhetorical power of the word "gamification" is enormous, and it does precisely what the bullshitters want: it takes games—a mysterious, magical, powerful medium that has captured the attention of millions of people—and it makes them accessible in the context of contemporary business.

Gamification is reassuring. It gives Vice Presidents and Brand Managers comfort: they're doing everything right, and they can do even better by adding "a games strategy" to their existing products, slathering on "gaminess" like aioli on ciabatta at the consultant's indulgent sales lunch.

Gamification is easy. It offers simple, repeatable approaches in which benefit, honor, and aesthetics are less important than facility. For the consultants and the startups, that means selling the same bullshit in book, workshop, platform, or API form over and over again, at limited incremental cost. It ticks a box. Social media strategy? Check. Games strategy? Check.

The title of this symposium shorthands these points for me: the slogan "For the Win," accompanied by a turgid budgetary arrow and a tumescent rocket, suggesting the inevitable priapism this powerful pill will bring about—a Viagra for engagement dysfunction, engorgement guaranteed for up to one fiscal quarter.

This rhetorical power derives from the "-ification" rather than from the "game". -ification involves simple, repeatable, proven techniques or devices: you can purify, beautify, falsify, terrify, and so forth. -ification is always easy and repeatable, and it's usually bullshit. Just add points.

Game developers and players have critiqued gamification on the grounds that it gets games wrong, mistaking incidental properties like points and levels for primary features like interactions with behavioral complexity. That may be true, but truth doesn't matter for bullshitters. Indeed, the very point of gamification is to make the sale as easy as possible.

I've suggested the term "exploitationware" as a more accurate name for gamification's true purpose, for those of us still interested in truth. Exploitationware captures gamifiers' real intentions: a grifter's game, pursued to capitalize on a cultural moment, through services about which they have questionable expertise, to bring about results meant to last only long enough to pad their bank accounts before the next bullshit trend comes along.

I am not naive and I am not a fool. I realize that gamification is the easy answer for deploying a perversion of games as a mod marketing miracle. I realize that using games earnestly would mean changing the very operation of most businesses. For those whose goal is to clock out at 5pm having matched the strategy and performance of your competitors, I understand that mediocrity's lips are seductive because they are willing. For the rest, those of you who would consider that games can offer something different and greater than an affirmation of existing corporate practices, the business world has another name for you: they call you "leaders."

The Complexity Challenge of Social Media Marketing

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The Complexity Challenge of Social Media Marketing

April 17th, 2009

Advertising on social networks continues to struggle. But whose fault is this? Are advertisers simply too ignorant and conservative? Are the advertising opportunities that social networks are offering not attractive enough? Or is there maybe a much more complex reason?

There’s little doubt that the social web (formerly known as “Web 2.0″, and often called “social media”) is the media phenomenon of our decade. Hundreds of millions of Internet users spend unbelievable amounts of time on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, countless blogs, discussion forums and other social media sites.

But even though these Web 2.0 sites are amazingly successful in terms of usage hours, their financial success is modest. Facebook’s costs seem to rise siginificantly faster than its ad sales. Youtube is still losing money, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars per year (according to some analysts). Big advertisers such as Procter & Gamble are openly saying that they’re unhappy with the success of their social network campaigns. Many companies dabble in social media marketing, but real success stories are rare. For example, Dell sold PCs for $1 million through Twitter. That’s nice — but Dell needs less than nine minutes through their traditional channels to make that kind of money.

So what’s going wrong here? Are advertisers too conservative? Or are Web 2.0 sites simply not innovative enough when it comes to monetization?

This article wants to make a different case: The social web is so fundamentally different from traditional media that we will need decades to really understand it and find the right way to commercialize it. We are at the very beginning of a long development path because social media is structured so differently from everything else that we know.

Until recently, we’ve known two types of media:

First of all, there are media that enable a 1:1 communication between two people. Examples are the telephone or e-mail.

Socweb1
Communication in 1:1 media is closed, which means that no third party (under normal circumstances) can listen in. This secrecy is explicitely guaranteed by postal and telecommunications laws. This intimacy is the reason that 1:1 media don’t really work as advertising channels. Unsolicited telemarketing calls and spam e-mail are the least popular forms of marketing and are often even illegal.

The second form of media are 1:n media. A single sender (for instance a newspaper, a TV or radio station, a traditional website) broadcasts its content to many receivers who typically can’t (or don’t want to) react directly to this communication.

Socweb2

It’s of course well known how to use 1:n media for marketing: Advertisers pay a media company to insert their ad message in the context of the normal media content.

Socweb3

The advertising company basically injects its message into the normal communication stream between the media provider and its customers. The spectrum ranges from a subtle presence with small ads to intrusive interstitials that completely interrupt the flow of content.

MerrillbootsadAll of this seems natural enough. But historically these “classic” forms of advertising needed a surprisingly long time to emerge. Almost 150 years passed from the invention of the printed newspaper (around the year 1600) to the first publication of paid advertising in a paper. The modern ad agency, and with it the professionalization of advertising, emerged around the middle of the 19th century. Modern TV advertising was only invented in the mid-1950s, almost a quarter of a century after the first TV broadcasts. And modern advertising in general, with its strongly focused, typically very emotional messages, packaged more or less creatively, was first developed in the 1960s.

The media industry obviously needed many years to “monetize” 1:n media in the modern sense. It’s therefore maybe not surprising that after only 15 years of the Web as a mass medium and five years of Web 2.0, we have not yet found the ideal form for advertising in these new types of media.

But back to the social web: The specific new quality of this form of media is that it connects many senders with many receivers in a mostly open way. The social web, in other words, is an open n:n medium.

Socweb4

That sounds pretty mundane, but it isn’t. We all understand intuitively how n:n communication in the physical world works. A discussion at the familiy dinner table is n:n, and on a bigger scale a classroom discussion or a town hall meeting would be typical examples.

But when n:n communication suddenly occurs over an open, global, technical medium with persistent storage of all communications, we don’t understand the consequences at all. There is no equivalent in the physical world for an interaction between people that can be accessed by pretty much every person in the world, instantly and (thanks to search engines) with high precision.

Because we have such a limited understanding of this phenomenon, it’s not surprising that ugly social media scandals happen all the time. The recent Youtube scandal around two Domino’s Pizza employees is a typical example. Very obviously, these two people didn’t grasp the consequences of uploading a disgusting video that could signifcantly hurt their employer (not to mention their own future) to a globally accessible platform. But they’re not alone — most Internet users probably don’t fully understand what happens with the content they put on social web sites.

If this is difficult for individuals, it is even more complicated for companies. Big organizations are structured for 1:n communications. Traditional advertising is 1:n. So is customer service: When a consumer tries to contact a company, for instance by calling a 1-800 number to complain, it is a case of 1:n communication. Other customers of the same company don’t learn about that customer’s complaint.

callcenterTraditional market research works in 1:n mode too. A company surveys customers, conducts focus group studies or sells its new products in test markets. The company thereby receives information about what customers think, but the other customers typically don’t get any insight about each other’s opinions, and they don’t influence each other.

Modern corporations master 1:n communications on a very high level of sophistication. They invest significant resources to standardize their communication processes, to push a consistent marketing message and to react to customer contacts in a clearly defined manner. A call center script is a typical part of these standardized communication processes.

All of this works very differently in a n:n medium, and that’s something that completely perplexes most marketers. In a n:n medium, there’s inherently no way to push a marketing message in a controlled and consistent way to a big audience. Consumers can simply ignore the message, can react to it directly or will even come up with parodies or adversarial messages. Advertising in the social web can’t be intrusive, or else it will trigger very negative reactions.

How and where marketers should position their ad message under these conditions is obviously a difficult question. Should they just put ad banners on social media sites? Is sponsoring the right tool? Viral marketing? Direct engagement with users? Or should companies build their own online communities?

Socweb5

The diversity of platforms, formats, interaction modes and ad vehicles in today’s online media is confusing even to experts. Most marketers grew up in a world with a manageable number of different ad channels — TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, direct mail. So it’s no surprise that they are completely helpless when they face the overwhelming complexity of the online world.

Even worse: Consumers are now suddenly able to react to ads, in a very public way. They can also describe and publish their (often negative) experience with a particular product, and this opinion is — on Twitter for instance — made available to a significant number of people, but not necessarily to the actual manufacturer of the product. Some users now even think that it’s the manufacturer’s job to actively get all this feedback. There’s a growing number of people who expect that companies read their tweets and react to complaints automatically. And some companies already do this. Over time, customer service could change from a push to a pull medium.

This rich feedback loop is highly dynamic and impossible to control. Many a well-intentioned viral campaign turned into a marketing disaster, simply because the blogosphere or twittersphere reacted in unexpected ways. A recent example is the “Motrin Moms” Twitter storm. A pharma company put a somewhat unconventional commercial for a pain reliever on its website. It was intended to be ironic and funny. Unfortunately, some female bloggers perceived the video as insulting and started online protests, which in the end forced the company to cancel the campaign. In the world of old media, a campaign stop would have silenced critics very rapidly, but in the echo chamber of online media, the waves of outrage continued for weeks. This is a real nightmare for any old-school marketer.

Motrin-1

So what about all the advisors that big companies pay to develop marketing strategies? Unfortunately, they’re not much help either. Most traditional ad and PR agencies are masters of 1:n communication, but are not less confused about social media than their clients. The frequently outright negative opinions about social media expressed by ad executives are easy to explain: Somebody here feels threatened, and rightfully so. Not even most interactive agencies are strongly positioned when it comes to social media. Let’s be honest: Most corporate websites that are produced by these agencies are just traditional 1:n advertising in a digital form. Real interaction is not their strength.

Traditional companies, particularly large corporations, are fundamentally badly equipped to deal with the open, complex communication processes in n:n media. Their carefully cultivated marketing skills from a 1:n world are actually a detriment to success in a n:n medium, because the discipline of strongly focused 1:n communication directly prevents real interaction with users in social media.

Blogosphere luminaries like Robert Scoble tell companies to simply start very, very transparent “conversations” on social media and to interact with consumers in an authentic and unscripted way. But that’s like telling an elephant to increase its speed by simply starting to fly — great idea, but almost impossible to implement.

So what’s the conclusion?

First of all: The problems of insufficient monetization of social media platforms can’t be solved simply by finding better ad formats or by hiring more competent sales teams. This is a fundamentally different medium, and the biggest and most professional advertisers in the world — large corporations and their ad agencies — are structurally badly prepared to take advantage of this new channel.

A lot of time and many bold experiments will be necessary to find the best way to commercialize social media. Of course, coincidences will play a role, as they have in the development of traditional media. For instance, legend has it that the modern 30 second TV commercial was only invented because TV stations were not able to find enough customers for the sponsoring of a whole show.

Who will be the winners? In the short to medium term, social media is a great marketing opportunity for smaller companies that can interact with their customers in a flexible and personal way. This is a great way to build a loyal customer base without huge resources, just through authenticity and focus.

Larger corporations will need years to adapt to the new reality of 1:n social media, and many will fail. The more Internet users participate in social media (and since even Oprah is now twittering, it’s definitely mainstream), the more important social media will be as a channel to reach customers — just not with the mechanisms of traditional, hierarchically structured advertising, but with new, networked structures that have more in common with real marketplaces.

This is a step of the same magnitude as the invention of mass marketing at the beginning of the 20th century. Mass marketing became possible through 1:n mass media, and it changed the structure of the economy fundamentally. The modern corporation would not be possible without it. It is conceivable that we will see new forms of corporate organization that are driven by the new media that are shaping our private and commercial communication.

In all the daily noise around new social media apps, platform wars or industry scandals, it’s easy to forget that we are experiencing the birth of an entirely new, unusually complex medium. It will take decades to find stable structures and explore viable business models. And we are in for a lot of surprises.

(This is a translated and updated version of an article that I wrote for netzwertig.com, the leading tech blog in German-speaking Europe.)

agoeldi Economy, Technology

Die verlorene Dekade der Musikbranche

February 14th, 2009

Gestern, in der Pizzeria: Im Hintergrund läuft “Pictures of you” von The Cure. Kurzer 80s-Nostalgieanfall. Was, ist das schon zwanzig Jahre her? Und irgendwie kommen meine Frau und ich auf die Frage: An welche Musik wird man sich in 20 Jahren erinnern, im Jahr 2029?

Oder anders gefragt: Was war in unserer aktuellen Dekade musikalisch wirklich neu und bemerkenswert?

Ich will jetzt nicht wie ein nostalgischer alter Sack klingen, obwohl das bei solchen Themen immer unvermeidlich ist, aber: Während die 60er und 80er klar die innovativsten musikalischen Dekaden der Nachkriegsgeschichte waren, gab es schon in den 90ern nicht schrecklich viel Neues.

Dsds2007-1Und die vergangenen knapp zehn Jahre waren ein einziges Ödland. Sagt sogar die stets korrekte Wikipedia im Artikel “Music in the 2000s“. Fundamental geändert hat sich vor allem eins: Wie wir technisch gesehen Musik konsumieren und kaufen.
Aber sonst? Irgendwelche Crossovers zwischen längst erfundenen Stilen, Wiedererfindungen mit Neo-Dies und Nu-Jenes. Ein Durchbruch wie Hip Hop oder wenigstens eine fundamentale Auffrischung wie New Wave ist nirgends zu sehen. Die einzigen Innovationen waren technischer und vor allem marketingorientierter Natur.

Traurig, aber wahr: Die 2000er werden wohl als Dekade in die Geschichte eingehen, deren grösste musikalische Innovation das Fernsehformat “American Idol” / “Deutschland sucht den Superstar” war. Künstlich hochgejubelte Dilletanten statt echter Talente, das ist die traurige Realität.

Die Musikbranche ist in der Kultur das, was die Automobilbranche für die Industrie ist: Die Grundelemente sind alle erfunden, jetzt gibt es nur noch bescheidene inkrementelle Verbesserungen — wenn überhaupt. Zu grossen Innovationssprüngen hat längst keiner mehr den Mut.

Arme Jugend.

agoeldi Art and Design

“Slumdog Millionaire”: The Anti-Blockbuster

February 1st, 2009

If there’s one movie that deserves to win a lot of Oscars this year, it’s “Slumdog Millionaire“.

Slumdog Millionaire PosterThis film was made for about a tenth of the budget of the year’s other hot contenter, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. It certainly doesn’t boast the same kind of all-star cast and breakthrough technical wizardry. Instead it has a heart-warming story that is at the same time funny and thought-provoking, a cast of young, obviously enthusiastic actors and a fresh visual style that fuses a “Bourne Identity”-like vitality with Bollywood aestethics. Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, who also shot some of Lars von Trier’s best movies, certainly did a fantastic job here, as did the rest of the crew.

What’s great to see above all is that a quality movie like this one still can find its way to a mainstream audience without gazillions of marketing money. Just look at the U.S. weekend box office numbers (according to IMDB) since “Slumdog Millionaire” was released in November:

$10,699,629 (USA) (25 January 2009) (1,415 Screens)
$5,849,157 (USA) (18 January 2009) (582 Screens)
$3,782,340 (USA) (11 January 2009) (601 Screens)
$4,690,769 (USA) (4 January 2009) (612 Screens)
$4,301,870 (USA) (28 December 2008) (614 Screens)
$3,053,760 (USA) (21 December 2008) (589 Screens)
$2,175,518 (USA) (14 December 2008) (169 Screens)
$1,402,176 (USA) (7 December 2008) (78 Screens)
$1,346,039 (USA) (30 November 2008) (49 Screens)
$947,795 (USA) (23 November 2008) (32 Screens)
$360,018 (USA) (16 November 2008) (10 Screens)

This gradual audience growth — obviously based on word-of-mouth recommendations — is refreshingly different from the usual Hollywood blockbusters that have one or two strong weekends (bought with a lot of marketing dollars) and then disappear.

Go see it. In my opinion, it’s the movie of the year.

agoeldi Movies

Banker, Boni und volkswirtschaftlicher Blödsinn

February 1st, 2009

Auf beiden Seiten des Atlantik wird gerade heftig über Banker und ihre Boni gestritten. Die Volksseele kocht angesichts der Tatsache, dass an Mitarbeiter von staatlich gestützten Banken (UBS, Bank of America, etc.) Boni in Milliardenhöhe ausgeschüttet werden sollen. Die Banken verteidigen sich: Erstens seien diese Zahlungen vertraglich vereinbart, und zweitens hätten ja viele Mitarbeiter auch einen guten Job trotz Finanzkrise gemacht.

Leider wird meiner Meinung nach diese Diskussion auf der falschen Ebene geführt, nämlich wieder mal nur aus einer sehr kurzfristigen Perspektive. Die langfristig eigentlich interessante Frage ist, welche Stellung die Banken in unserer Wirtschaft bisher eingenommen haben und nach diesem Schlamassel einnehmen sollten — und nur danach als Folge daraus, wie die Bankangestellten fair entschädigt werden sollten. Denn dass die Exzesse der letzten Jahre aufhören müssen und werden, ist wohl allen klar.

Zunächst: Die aktuelle Diskussion ist zu stark von Sozialneid beeinflusst. Dass Leute als Belohnung für echten Erfolg aussergewöhnlich viel Geld verdienen, finde ich absolut normal und unterstützenswert. In einer Marktwirtschaft dient das einem wichtigen Zweck, nämlich die talentiertesten Personen zu den wirtschaftlich erfolgreichsten (und damit auch wirtschaftspolitisch wünschenswerten) Tätigkeiten zu steuern.

Gern weisen Banker darauf hin, dass sie zwar viel verdienen, aber auch in der produktivsten Branche arbeiten. Auf den ersten Blick stimmt das sogar. Ich habe mir mal die Mühe gemacht, aus Daten des Schweizer Bundesamtes für Statistik (BfS) auszurechnen, wie wirtschaftlich “gerecht” das Lohnniveau in verschiedenen Branchen der Schweiz ist.

Die folgende Grafik stellt zwei wesentliche Aussagen gegenüber: Erstens den Anteil der Bruttowertschöpfung verschiedener Branchen an der schweizerischen Gesamtwirtschaft, also das, was die einzelnen Branchen wirklich an nützlicher Leistung produzieren (blaue Balken). Zweitens habe ich den ungefähren Anteil dieser Branchen an der Gesamtlohnsumme eingezeichnet (rote Punkte), berechnet aus dem Medianlohn pro Branche und der Anzahl Vollzeitstellen, die in diesen Wirtschaftssektoren angeboten werden. Die Daten sind von 2006.

Lohnbws-1

Von der Logik her müssten die produktivsten Branchen (also die mit der höchsten Bruttowertschöpfung) auch die höchsten Lohnsummen zahlen. Wie man sofort sieht, ist das nicht der Fall: In der herstellenden Industrie wird scheinbar etwa fair bezahlt, das Baugewerbe oder das Gesundheitswesen zahlen aber eher zu hohe Löhne. Hingegen erscheinen die Mitarbeiter im Kreditgewerbe (also Banken) und der Versicherungswirtschaft relativ gesehen unterbezahlt zu sein. Zwar sind die Durchschnittslöhne in diesen Branchen tatsächlich absolut gesehen am höchsten, aber die Mitarbeiter scheinen pro Kopf auch am meisten Wertschöpfung zu produzieren.

Sind unsere Bankmitarbeiter also eigentlich unterbezahlte Überflieger, die man für ein schlechtes Jahr nicht auch noch durch staaatlich verordneten Bonusverzicht bestrafen sollte?

Im historischen Vergleich scheint sich das zu bestätigen: Die Banken haben ihren Anteil an der wirtschaftlichen Produktion 1994-2006 um etwa 50% gesteigert, aber die Angestellten verdienen “nur” etwa 15% mehr. Umgekehrt hat die herstellende Industrie (und dazu gehört z.B. auch die Chemiebranche) weitgehend stagniert, aber trotzdem nehmen die Mitarbeiter fast 4% mehr nach Hause.

Nun stellt sich aber natürlich die Frage, wie die beeindruckende Wertschöpfung der Banken eigentlich entsteht. Der betrachtete Zeitraum 1994-2006 war mit einem kurzen Unterbruch eine der stärksten Phasen, die die Finanzmärkte je erlebt haben. Wie wirkt sich das auf die Ergebnisse der Banken aus?

Wenn man den Wertschöpfungsanteil der Banken mal einfach so naiv der Börsenentwicklung (in diesem Fall dem Swiss Market Index) gegenüberstellt, zeigt sich ein erstaunliches Muster.

Wertsmi
Ganz offensichtlich war die Börse die entscheidende Triebfeder für die so beeindruckend gestiegene Wertschöpfung bei den Banken. Die Statistik unterscheidet nämlich nicht, ob da auch wirklich etwas “produziert” wurde, sondern berücksichtigt ausschliesslich finanzielle Grössen, auch wenn die aus volkswirtschaftlich weniger attraktiven Tätigkeiten wie etwa dem Eigenhandel von Banken stammen.

Schauen wir uns als Beispiel mal an, wie etwa die UBS ihr Geld verdient. Im wesentlichen macht eine moderne Bank aus drei Geschäftstätigkeiten Gewinn:

1) aus dem klassischen Zinsgeschäft, also dem Entgegennehmen von Spargelden und dem Gewähren von Krediten
2) aus Dienstleistungen und Kommissionen, primär im Investmentbanking und der Vermögensverwaltung
3) dem Handelsgeschäft, in dem Banken auf eigene Rechnung an der Börse dealen (also letztlich spekulieren).

Gewinnsmi

Wenn man diese drei Komponenten der Börsenentwicklung gegenüberstellt, zeigt sich ein nicht unerwartetes Muster: Das Handelsgeschäft geht im Gleichschritt mit der Börse hoch und runter. Die UBS reitet da also lediglich die Marktentwicklung, wofür sie als grosse Bank gut positioniert ist. Ähnlich sieht es beim Dienstleistungs- und Kommissionsgeschäft aus, da das klassische Investmentbanking stark von der Aktivität an den Finanzmärkten abhängt.

Und hier kommen wir langsam zum Kern des Problems: Ausgesprochen beunruhigend ist die Tatsache, dass die UBS beispielsweise im guten Börsenjahr 2006 nur gerade knapp 19% ihres Gewinns mit dem klassischen Brot-und-Butter-Zinsgeschäft erwirtschaftet hat. Der Löwenanteil von 81% kam aus den börsennahen Geschäftsbereichen.

Wenn man die Zahlen noch etwas genauer auseinandernimmt, kommt man schnell zum Schluss, dass die UBS — genau wie die meisten anderen Grossbanken — in den letzten Jahren etwa 60% ihrer Gewinne mit Tätigkeiten produziert hat, die man etwas bösartig verkürzend als “Zocken an der Börse” umschreiben könnte. Der volkswirtschaftlich eigentlich primär wünschenswerte Tätigkeitsbereich einer Bank — das klassische Zinsgeschäft — ist in den letzten zwei Dekaden immer mehr zu kurz gekommen.

Die stolz rapportierte “Wertschöpfung” der Banken bestand also zu einem grossen Teil aus weitgehend fiktiven Gewinnen, Resultat immer komplexerer Finanzinstrumente und aufgeblähter Börsenbewertungen. Und eins ist klar: Dass diese grossen Banken, die einst so stabil erschienen, jetzt in so fundamentalen Schwierigkeiten stecken, ist ausschliesslich dieser Tatsache zuzuschreiben. Im Moment werden weltweit hunderte von Milliarden an Steuergeldern investiert, um die wirtschaftlich erwünschten Teile von Institutionen zu retten, die sich schon lange dem puren Casino-Kapitalismus verschrieben haben und damit dramatisch gescheitert sind. Denn leider lassen sich die für die Wirtschaft essentiellen Teile des Bankensystems nicht einfach so aus diesen Gebilden heraustrennen. Offensichtlich ist das alles volkswirtschaftlich absurd, aber bedauerlicherweise wohl unumgänglich.

So gesehen ist die Diskussion um Banker-Boni auch umso befremdlicher. Das Wachstum der Unternehmensergebnisse, mit denen die stattlich gewachsenen Bankerlöhne über viele Jahre hinweg finanziert wurden, stammte keineswegs aus dem “seriösen” traditionellen Geschäft. Sicher, der durchschnittliche Bankmitarbeiter am Schalter hat nie exzessive Vergütungen kassiert. Aber man kann wohl klar sagen, dass es der ganzen Branche dank dieser Finanzblase unverhältnismässig gut ging, nicht nur den Topmanagern und Investmentbank-Gurus. Die Bankbranche hat fast in allen Bereichen über ihre Verhältnisse gelebt.

Darum ist es wirklich unverständlich, wenn jetzt Politiker zulassen, dass staatlich gestützte Banken auch noch Boni ausschütten. Das Gegenteil wäre richtig: Die Banken sollten sich so schnell wie möglich gesundschrumpfen, und das betrifft nicht zuletzt das Vergütungsniveau. Da darf es nicht um Sensibilitäten gehen oder um einzelne Abteilungen, die ja möglicherweise gut gearbeitet haben. Die ganze Branche braucht einen umfassenden Reset, und zwar schnell.

Und zum oft vorgebrachten Argument, dass die besten Leute die betroffenen Banken verlassen würden, wenn sie keinen Bonus bekommen, kann man nur sagen: Hervorragend. Gut so. Denn das ist genau der Zweck von Lohnunterschieden: Die fähigen Leute in die Firmen und Branchen zu ziehen, die gut gemanaged sind und wirklich etwas Substanzhaltiges produzieren. Denn genau so sollte Marktwirtschaft funktionieren.

agoeldi Economy

“Benjamin Button”: Can special effects be too good?

January 31st, 2009

Last weekend, my wife and I went to see “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button“, the movie that received the highest number of Oscar nominations this year. Frankly, I wasn’t too thrilled about the movie itself, although it was obviously done very well from a technical standpoint (which is what you would expect from a David Fincher movie).

However, when I later read more about the digital special effects that were used in that movie, I was simply amazed. Since I’m pretty interested in movie technology myself, I can usually spot digital effects. They still tend to look artificial in most cases, particularly when humans are generated digitally.

I therefore was very surprised to find out that the “old” Benjamin Button in the first part of the movie was not played by Brad Pitt under a lot of make-up, but was actually generated digitally. I did not suspect that for a single second during the movie. Some scenes that played at sea very obviously used digital backgrounds, but I never recognized the actual main character as a digital object.

Benjaminbutton
The clip on this page here explains how this was done. Amazing technology!

The scary thing about this is not only that apparently technology has advanced so far that entirely artifical actors seem possible. It’s also that even relative experts don’t recognize these effects as the illusions that they are. And I don’t mean myself, but the members of the Academy of Motion Pictures that will soon vote about who will receive the Oscars. Actually, “Benjamin Button” might be in danger to embarassingly win an Oscar for make-up, but maybe not for special effects, because even people in the movie business don’t recognize this as a digital effect. The movie studios behind “Benjamin Button” have therefore produced a closed website for Academy members that explains everything, in the hope to get the nod in the right category.

And they clearly should receive the SFX Oscar. This is really a breakthrough.

agoeldi Movies, Technology

Was, noch ein Blog? Yet another blog?

January 31st, 2009

Ja. Aber keine Angst, wird nicht sehr anspruchsvoll.

Der eine oder andere Leser wird vielleicht wissen, dass ich seit bald vier Jahren blogge. Zuerst war das auf meinem eigenen Blog “Beobachtungen zur Medienkonvergenz”, das 2008 dann im Gruppenblog netzwertig.com aufgegangen ist. Netzwertig.com ist inzwischen eins der meistgelesenen (und -verlinkten) deutschsprachigen Blogs und kümmert sich primär um Internet- und Technologiethemen.

Aber da das Leben nicht nur aus Internet besteht, hatte ich seit einiger Zeit wieder das Bedürfnis nach einem persönlichen Blog, in dem auch andere Themen Platz haben. Und dank Blogwerk-Obertechie Philip steht das jetzt auch schon in voller Pracht zur Verfügung, freundlicherweise gehostet auf Blogwerk-Infrastruktur. Danke!

Dieses Blog hier wird vermutlich mehrheitlich in Deutsch geführt, mit gelegentlichen englischen Beiträgen.

————–

Yes. But don’t worry, it won’t get too sophisticated.

I’ve been blogging since 2005, for the first three years on my own technology and media-oriented blog “Beobachtungen zur Medienkonvergenz” (Observations about media convergence). Last year, I merged that blog with the new group blog netzwertig.com, which is produced by Blogwerk AG, a blog publisher of which I’m also a shareholder. Netzwertig.com is now one of the most widely read German blogs and writes mainly about technology and the Internet economy.

But since there’s more to life than the Internet, I’ve felt for a while that it would be good to have a new personal blog where I can write about other topics. And here it is, just installed by Blogwerk webmaster Philip. Thanks!

This blog will probably be mostly in German, but with some English articles from time to time.

agoeldi General

iPad publishing: time to switch to v2.0

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iPad publishing: time to switch to v2.0

There is no way around this fact: the first batch of magazines adapted to the iPad failed to deliver. Six months after the initial excitement, the mood has turned turned sour. See the figures below, they show the downturn in circulation for the much publicized iPad versions of a few American magazines:
- Wired: 100,000 downloads in June, 22,500 in October and November : down 78%. According to the Magazine Publishers Association, that’s not even a meager 3% of the average print copy circulation for the first half of 2010 — for an iconic tech magazine…
- Vanity Fair: 10,500 in August, 8,700 in November, down 17% and less 1% of the print sales.  (These numbers include single copy sales and subscriptions, which represent the bulk of the print revenues for US magazines).

According to WWD, using figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation, several high profiles glossies show the same pattern: iPad downloads are in sharp decline everywhere.

For this regular user, such numbers do not come as a surprise. I’ve been reading Wired and Vanity Fair in paper form for years. As a non-US reader, the benefit of the iPad version was obvious: instant availability, no need to look for a higher-end newsstand providing international fodder. Plus a serious discount: at a European kiosk, a glossy can fetch €9 or $12; on the iPad, it’s $3.99, I was getting a bargain for my monthly fix. Plus extras such as the occasional video, and the convenience of back issues loaded in the memory chip of my tablet…

What went wrong, then?

1 / Comparison kills. I began to harbor some doubts when traveling to the United States: I realized that, instinctively, I was picking up the very same magazines at newsstands. With the product available at the right combination of time, price and location at nearby kiosks, having it on my iPad suddenly lost its appeal.
A (retroactively obvious) fact emerges: a magazine designed for print is much better on, ahem… paper than on bits. The browsing experience, the photographs, even the sensation of reading long form articles are all more enjoyable on a physical glossy. Publishers lured themselves into thinking electronic convenience plus a dash of add-ons would fill the gap between paper and tablet. Nope, they didn’t. Once ubiquitous availability removed the storage advantage (which only appeals to the road-warriors segment), the magazine on paper won. (Newspapers are a different story).

2 / Convenience. OK, videos or interactive graphics are fun, but they can feel gadgety, creating a kind of visual noise that detracts from the reading experience. Also, the convenience of back issues stored on the device is oversold: in the paper world, when it comes to retrieving an old article, no one will dive into a pile of magazines anymore, that’s the internet’s job. Similarly, due to the rigid browsing experience on a tablet, very few will be tempted to leaf through back issues stored on their device. Carrying a year’s worth of non-searchable issues is therefore useless.

3 / Execution. As I write this column, I download the January 3rd edition of the New Yorker. At least, I’m trying to. The mostly black & white weekly weighs about 100 megabytes and the download stream is erratic. The latest issue of Vanity Fair took several days to finish downloading. (To be fair, the 700 Mb of the latest Wired issue, loaded with videos, was done in a matter of minutes, while the previous one took a solid hour).
Here is what is acceptable: The Economist. Wether I pop up my iPad or my iPhone, the app knows I’m a subscriber and prompts me, showing with the latest issue’s cover. One button. Download. Twenty seconds on a wi-fi, less than two minutes on a 3G network. No login, no purchase confirmation. In addition, my subscription grants me constant and seamless access to the magazine’s web site.

4 / Price. Asking the consumer to pay the same price for an electronic product with a debatable advantage is a bad idea. Two ill-advised concepts (also applicable to newspapers) are at stake here.
Even if they deny it, many publishers are still in the “let’s defend the paper” mode. From a theoretical strategic perspective, a bold move would call for accentuating the decline of the doomed part of the business to give more oxygen to the promising one. Even though a measure of caution is understandable when going through such a transition, the dominant sandbag posture is by no means justified. Its effect is simply to delay the inevitable.
The second idea reflects a related tendency to yield to short-term financial pressures: an electronic magazine costs less to produce? Let’s first and foremost restore our depleted margins. This will have two dangerous consequences: for one, it discourages true innovation; and second, it opens a wide field for pure players unburdened by the past. Until now, publishers have been somewhat preserved by the high barrier to entry into their business: their financial power and business acumen notwithstanding, tech companies have been consistently unable to build a serious editorial venture. This might not last as traditional publications are shrinking and as a new breed of journalists will be more than happy to forgo some of their elders’ prestige in exchange for the freedom to create new and exciting publications.

It would be unfair to blame publishers such as Condé Nast for the the disappointing performances of their iPad first steps. Six months to adjust to a completely new medium seems acceptable. And the current experiences still produce some helpful lessons.

#1 Don’t try and replicate old concepts. Go for new ones. The balance between text and photographs, for instance, needs to be reinvented. The way images are presented and even produced must also be adapted to the new medium. This would be a better use of an art director’s team than, month after month, redesigning a landscape version of a magazine originally intended for a page, like Wired or Time have been doing.

#2 Make up your mind. For tablets, the choice will be between rich media magazine — again, yet to be invented – and content centric, Economist-like, i.e. less sexy but efficient. Ideally, news content for nomad devices should come in two flavors: one, loaded with multimedia, dedicated to tablets that will mostly connect through wi-fi, and another lighter version designed for the mobile phone’s small screen, which relies on low-speed cellular networks.

#3 Encapsulate the web. Personally, right before catching the subway, for a speedy and efficient offline reading, I’d love to have my iPad quickly download a set of 200 URLs of my favorites newspapers web sites. (In real life, cellular data networks still are painfully clunky). With the web, we take for granted things such as multi-layer reading, search and recommendation engines. Unless tablet publishers find a way to offer a unique e-magazine-like experience, these features will be missed.

#3 Price wisely. Don’t expect a wide adoption for the e-version of a magazine (or a newspaper) priced at the same level as the paper version. The pricing structure for online news content begins to emerge. In its recent report (PDF here), the Pew Research Center released data consistent with most publishers’ estimations. People who regularly buy content on the net are willing to spend about $10 a month, which could translate to a yearly ARPU of $100-$120.

If you thing that’s small, just consider the ARPU of advertising supported websites: very few are above the $10/year water line. Another conclusion of the Pew survey: the paid-for market remains highly segmented. Have a peek at this table:

Those who are willing to pay for content are definitely the richest and the most educated. Not necessarily bad news: after all, many businesses thrive in luxury markets….

frederic.filloux@mondaynote.com

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35 Comments

  1. An interesting column with many strong points. I would make one observation if I could…You seem to be ignoring the fact that very few people truly have access to magazines over the IPAD, which is approaching 10 million users. The comparison I would make would be to the early days of cable TV in the US. When cable only reached 10 million homes, the platforn could not support new networks like CNN or ESPN. It was only when the started to reach 30,40 or 50% of homes in the US when the economics started to work for content providers. Give this new medium time before tearing it up!

  2. That iPad magazine subscriptions are plummeting as iPad sales are soaring shows a large disconnect between what people want to do with an iPad. Of course, it could also reflect a lack of marketing or a lack of the right business model to encourage people to consume their “print” in digital form. Paper is an excellent medium: high resoultion, portable, tactile, robust, instant-on and shareable.

  3. One other observation regarding the failure of magazines and/or newspapers, at least as far as the German market is concerned:
    Most of them are simple PDF transfers of the print version. You can double-tap to zoom in and read the articles just fine, but all pictures become blurry. You often have to navigate page by page and can’t jump to sections of interest to you. As an example, I refer to you Axel Springer’s iKiosk, which has most of their (German) newspapers and magazines available. To expect people to pay money for this kind of experience is ridiculous.

  4. IMO, I want two things from e-mags which they currently don’t deliver: 1. The ability to save and search articles so I can refer to them later. Paper is horrible at this. 2. Prices that reflect the true cost of editing and publishing content, not chopping down trees, printing on paper, and then delivering that paper on trucks to the newstand or via snail mail.

    I do disagree with the author’s first point. I find the idea of having all of my magazines on a single device that I can carry everywhere and read anywhere *enormously* appealing (and “green” to boot).

    In the end, I think publishers just haven’t figured out how to truly leverage the medium yet.

  5. There’s a great deal of valuable insight here, for which, many thanks.

    I have a question for Robert (comment 4). What do you consider that fair price to be once paper, printing and physical distribution are removed from the equation? i’ve been researching the viability of a tablet-only magazine and even with all those costs taken out, the economics are pretty unforgiving.

    For a magazine-like proposition to have sufficient value to entice people to pay for it, you’d need to offer a magazine-like level of material – say, equivalent to 80 or so pages of original editorial, with a variety of voices and viewpoints. That means you’re looking at a team of at least a dozen writers and more photogrphers/illustrators/videographers/etc.. Let’s say they’re all freelance professionals, so the quality should be decent and you don’t have to pay salaries, and maybe they’d be prepared to work for lower rates than they’d get from established commercial titles because they want to do something more independent and maybe get to cover stories they can’t cover for mainstream outlets. Maybe they’d even forego a fee entirely and work for a share of profits. Let’s also assume you can eliminate a load of ongoing design and subbing costs by publishing your app via a CMS to predesigned templates, and you find someone who can build you that system affordably. And let’s also say you opt to take a huge gamble and each self-edit your work, and don’t get any insurance against libel and other publishing liabilities (because you won’t be able to afford it so you hope that trying hard to avoid mistakes, and keeping your fingers crossed, will be sufficient). You have to also concede that you won’t earn any income from ads from the first edition, because nobody knows how many (if any) you’ll sell.

    Even after all that you’re still looking near – *very* conservatively – $50,000-worth of time and effort from those involved just to get one edition published. And that’s only if your content is in a subject area which isn’t expensive to cover, where the stories come to you and don’t cost you anything to research and report. Let’s say you do a really solid PR job and promote your new title relentlessly via social media and you manage to sell 5000 copies (which, from the figures above, looks to be more or less impossible given that you won’t have the visibility or marketing resources of major publishing houses, and they can only manage to shift twice that of their world-famous flagship brands). The cost of editorial on that basis would leave you witha “cover price” of $10 – though you’d need to make it nearer $15 if you’re planning to sell via the Apple App Store because they take a 30 per cent commission. And that’s clearly unsustainable, especially for a product which won’t boast a fraction of the sophisticated presentation of titles produced by established publishers. Yet if you charge a considerably lower price you can only break even by selling Wired June numbers, which would require phenomenal good luck even if you had a million or two to drop on a marketing campaign.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the barriers to entry remain almost as high for tablet publishing as for print – at least, for independent start-ups. You can’t really hope to produce something people will want to buy at a price they’d be willing to pay for a brand new title from an unproven new company. I can see why established publishers have stuck to porting established brands rather than setting up new tablet-specific titles, and suspect that one of the lessons being drawn is that sales are so bad there’s no point even considering tablet-only titles for the foreseeable future. In the process, though opportunities are being wasted and the possibilities of the medium remain unexplored, because those with enough money don’t see the point in experimenting and those who had hoped that tablets might offer a cheap and efficient route to market are, at the moment, finding that this is sadly but most definitely not the case.

  6. mags on the ipad? like listening to a symphony on a walkie-talkie. useless compared to the real thing.

  7. One important why is missing, probably the most important. Access from tablets and phones must be rising dramatically, not for the apps but for the web sites. This is because they integrate into the social stream and the web at large. You can’t link to an app.

  8. Just like paying for Netflix vs pirating movies, I’ll buy ipad mags when convenience, value ads and user experience outweigh cost.

  9. Adds :)

  10. “It would be unfair to blame publishers”.. I think that publishers didn’t understood the Web ten years ago, and now the ipad and mobile devices.

    Related post in french : http://www.pascalrossini.com/wordpress/2010/12/les-magazines-papier-sur-lipad-un-succs-mitig/

  11. Bry Wolf, Cry Pad. Even more reasons in a blog post published almost at the same time:

    http://www.garfors.com/2011/01/cry-wolf-cry-pad.html

  12. Good points in the article. I was wondering myself, why I’m underwhelmed by the couple of magazines, Adobe is going to put down into our throats with its inferior frameworks.

    And I don’t like those magazines, and here’s why: when WIRED showed up on the iPad, I was very enthusiastic. In fact, I couldn’t wait to get hands on the first issue and was deeply disappointed, when I got my iPad. All the important things, all the specific things an iPad can do better than a PC weren’t here in the E-Magazines. No Copy/Paste, no enhancing of the fonts, and the layouts are very print-old-fashioned.

    Then Branson went in with “Project”. I gave it a (second) chance, ’cos Branson often gets it better. Bottom line: same inferior Adobe-framework, some good ideas, an awful layout, that is not iPad-like in any way.

    So the iPad Magazines failed? Maybe. Maybe not, because iPad-language is so new, that we all will have to CO-DEVELOP the new language. Remember the first MTV-Programmes? It was some sort of rollercoaster-tv back then, and the MTV-ductus had to develop through years (that MTV is dead by now is another story …).

    I’m confident, that “Magazines” will survive on the iPad (and similar devices). But they won‘t look like now – lots of jpgs arranged as articles, filled up with video, sound and other gimmicks.

    They will more likely look like Flipboard. Flipboard is the beginning. Imagine a “Magazine” edited professionally with the possibilities of the Web, touchbased and made by people who know good journalism – and you will have the choice to arrange your individual “Magazine”, that is to be paid of course.

    THAT will indeed be the future. Give it some time …

  13. This segment is not yet ripe. People get excited and they download the digital format out of hype. Later, they realize that the old thing is still better. Comparison is inevitable. Until a revolutionary new e-zine format can convince people to download their magazine on their tablet and completely ditch the paper, then people will continue to patronize the printed version. I am interested how mobile technologies like QR code is also changing how we use printed media. I don’t know yet. So far I am not contended how majority of digital magazines are delivered.

  14. Oh, I would blame the publishers. They seized the iPad as a way to try to recapture their control over the experience of their editorial products (a serial experience dictated by an editor), brands, and business model. They used the iPad to try to step back. Finally having realized the power of the link, the cut it off. The iPad apps we have seen from publishers are their last gasp.

    The fundamental problem: Content is not an app. Apps need to *do* something. Content works quite well on the web. With HTML5, any of the bells and whistles that are shown on an app to “enhance” (that is, tart up) content can be done on the browser … with links!

  15. I clicked through from Jeff Jarvis’s tweet out of curiosity and want to first say thank you for citing our (the Pew Internet Project’s) data.

    Professionally, I would agree with MV that this segment of the market is not yet ripe. I also agree with the critique of publishers who do not yet know how to take advantage (just as they didn’t in 1995 — I have some hilarious memories from my days helping to launch usnews.com).

    Personally, I just spent a very enjoyable 20-minute bus ride with the iPad version of Martha Stewart Living. I loved the before-and-after photos of her house/garden/apple tart. It’s not perfect, but it’s worth a look as a model for what a digital mag could be.

  16. 1. The content in these apps is mostly being repurposed after the print issue is put to bed, by a few people put in charge of publishing it via the app. That’s not a digital-first practice; it’s the same error newspapers and magazines made for years (and many still do) with respect to the web. The writers and photographers who create the content are not even being asked to consider app functionality.

    2. On the web, the whole idea of an “issue” is dead. Content is atomized, navigation is via links, and consumers have long ago learned to surf and explore. If an app is an attempt to put the genie back into the bottle, to package up content into weekly or monthly “issues,” without links and social functionality, it will fail.

    3. Success may come for publishers who abandon packaged, dated “issues”, who instead deliver a personalized content stream, who enable social functionality and links, and who involve writers, photographers, editors and designers fully in the creation of app-based content.

    4. Because tablets are leisure devices more so than computers or even smartphones, the real monetization opportunity on apps will not come from selling subscriptions or advertising, but by inventing new ways to interact with customers: facilitating conversations and blending news, social media and brand messages in order to actually sell stuff and facilitate transactions — in short, to leverage those new relationships of trust into brand new streams of revenue.

    (I made these points back in March here: http://newsafternewspapers.blogspot.com/2010/03/ipad-strategies-for-publishers.html)

  17. Jeff,

    I agree wholeheartedly about HTML5. Anyone contemplating a new publication targeted at tablets would be daft not to work in that format, they’d also be able to publish as a web app and thus expand their notional market beyond tablet owners to everyone with a browser, albeit without touch-screen functionality.

    However, the overall point I was making still stands: the pricing will be key, and for individuals or independent outfits without a significant bankroll reliant on word-of-mouth and social media to promote and market the app, you have to both be cheap enough to entice the curious while charging enough to give yourself a chance of covering costs from sales alone in the short term. That is a significant problem, and may well be the key factor holding back all development in this emergent sector: at present what we seem to be seeing is that those with money enough to spend hold back because they’re not seeing returns significant enough to justify further investment, and independents who are keen to try something new and different are stymied by the significant costs of doing business in this (slightly) new marketplace.

    I guess my disappointment is that I thought that, maybe, here was a new business model for people in my position (freelance journalists, as opposed to staffers). So far my business relies on two models – sell my work for a flat fee to a publisher, who then has to work out how to monetise that investment, usually by bundling it with other relevant content in an online or physical package; or self-publish my work and aim to attract income by selling advertising around it, soliciting voluntary donations on the page (Paypal, Tipjar, etc.) or by getting commissions from products sold via links on the page where it’s published. The paywall experiments of Murdoch notwithstanding, it’s already clear that for standalone journalists the chances of charging people to view work online are nil, so the tablet/app concept appeals because, even though the numbers so far are small, it appears that there is a section of the market that is willing to pay to access journalism through this system. And while the necessity of opening it up to outbound links is clear and the desirability of finding some way to open it to inbound ones would clearly help to promote it, the main benefit it offers is for journalists to actually be able to sell their work directly to their readers without going through a middleman.

    But if the economies mean that the only way this will work is by chasing the same mass-market numbers that established publishers achieve with their print products, then development of the sector won’t happen from the independents. If the established publishers aren’t pushing it either, then we may never get to see what this format is capable of being.

  18. You could blame publishers. Sure.

    Or you could blame readers for expecting a whole industry to change within a couple months of the launch of a product.

    But then why did readers expect so much… The trouble was in the overhyping of the product by Apple and tech pundits, creating expectations that could not be met so quickly.

    Readership will come back as the industry adapts, it’s called maturing (see The Internet).

  19. Thank you, FF, for the ringing down the curtain on Versioon 1.0 of tablet magazines. Shipping is a feature, and some rather big media cos. shipped. They and we all got the subjective and objective data on what didn’t work; nobody went bankrupt, and (especially this week) no one’s dismissing the tablet form-factor as a fad. We all just might be *learning* something.

  20. Great article Frédèric. I think you’ve got it.
    Why do so many people expect do much from eMags when the genre is still finding its way? The early Web was simplistic and sparse. Today it is richer and there is a long way yet to go.
    I disagree with gregorylent. I look to media for content. I am not interested in spurious pictures or videos. It is the textual content that contains the core message that I might be interested in. I don’t need to be entertained if I am after information although relevant multimedia supplements can be great. But it is the message that matters. The style of presentation is far less important and busy busy pages are a pain to wade through. Many page designers produce output I would expect from a demented spider on crack cocaine. Your point about the Economist is well made. It is just right for its genre – rich in information and ideas, has gravitas and isn’t noisy.
    Give eMags time.
    I also disagree that it is impossible for new entrants to gain a toehold in eMags. It’s not easy but, if the content is good, if it hits the spots it aims to hit for readers, it can start small and build a following. We are all drowning in an ocean of information. One answer that will serve and sell to many is abstraction and opinion with links to other related content like full-res pictures and video/audio. Links are key to offering information in a palatable form. Cover the core ideas simply and link to the rest. Give the reader the right to choose how much or how little he wants to review.
    I see a market for 99c a month SIG eMags that can shine. It will be a struggle for the first 12-24 months but the idea is to build profitability through scalability. The key to scale in the e-Reading market is usefulness of content at a low price. Ad revenues can kick in gradually to put some icing on that cake.
    I hope to see many low-cost magazines covering SIG genres.
    I believe that the days of the publishing empire are numbered if they do not grasp the nettle of the new measures of Price to Value in publishing.

  21. I agree with dave on Apple overhyping the ipad, but its almost seems this is what every company does for a new gadget they develope. I mean its all about selling your product, seems sometimes companies forget to match what they say their product can do with what the product itself can actually do. Also with new technology you need to give it time to develop, I mean rome wasn’t built in a day

  22. For everyone who feels it is fair or unfair to blame the pulishers is missing the fact that the new technology just came out, and is not available to everyone yet. Only about 10 million people have access like Jeff says. It is not quite a digital breakthrough that people can all have as easy as buying from the street. I feel the writter and editor made paper magazine’s better because only the rich and luxurous people ready only from the interent or there IPAD, and also the paper magazine is a better ready on his opinion.

  23. Comparison Kills: This is a habit of yours and many content consumers. Availability of the information in other mediums like digital have been around for quite some time. The publicThere was a reason or intent of you entering a publication kiosk, be it at an airport or mall, you instinctively went in to look for various publications that either were not available to you on your iPad or were touting an article that interested you.

    Convenience: The interactivity seeming gimmicky is one of 2 things, either it is because the publication is indeed using it as a gimmick to sell more content and presenting it to the user as such or, this is the ramifications of other publications use of it spilling over to those that are using the available options in order to provide a more rich and engaging experience to the content that was previously unavailable to do.

    Execution: The execution is something that cannot be commented on in full yet. As you state earlier, the technology has been available for the last 6 months and is. mostly / only, on 1 device. Many publishers are trying to embrace the technology as it is coming out, something that the printing industry is not well known for to begin with. The filesize concerns with many of the current methods of providing content is well known to producers of the content and it is something that many of the vendors of the solutions are looking at solving. Their initial concerns were more focused on, as with any new and emerging technology, being the early leader.

    Price: Publishing costs for digital and printed material are very similar. Contrary to many peoples’ beliefs, providing an engaging, content rich article, let alone full publication, is a time consuming and difficult thing to do. Video production needs time to work on the post production, interactive elements have to be tested for various bugs, content has to be developed, designed, and placed in a layout for multiple orientations and soon to be multiple aspect ratios. Then there is the service of providing the content to the end user. Bandwidth, like stated in Execution, is something that is currently a concern for both consumers and content providers. This comes with a price. The cost of manufacturing the digital edition, in most cases, exceeds that of the printed with the exception of the actual physical printing and shipping. That cost is taken up in the distribution at this time by Apple. Any in-app purchases will be cut by 30% to the producers. There are a multitude of costs that I am not mentioning as I only have so much room, however know that there are even more to come for anybody developing this technology.

    #1 Don’t try…: I agree mostly with this statement however believe, and am trying to, put together a group up publishers that can work with the technologies available and that are being developed to create a sort of standard for aspects of best practice. For instance, notification of navigation options for users, file size guidelines, format standards, etc…

    #2 Make up your Mind: This is coming and has been on the road map for all publishers and solution providers. The problem is that because the technology is a mere 6 months old and for the majority of that, there has been only 1 ‘tablet’ device available, it is hard to develop for products that do not exist and for markets that still have yet to decide what they are.

    #3 Encapsulate the web: This is coming. Trust me on this. I have and I know others that are developing abilities for just this. It is something that both magazines and newspaper publishers want most likely more than you.

    #4 Price wisely: As stated above, price is something that a lot of people have yet to understand when they talk about the cost of the digital version. The one thing that will help however is the understanding that publishers want to know you. They want to understand who you are, your interests, and who impacts your life. Advertising is the one thing that most of the publishing industry leans on. If the advertisements in publications were able to target individuals directly along with provide an engaging experience to the user, publications would be able to charge the advertisers more and in turn reduce the cost of the issue itself. The cost of the publications to produce would remain the same but the economical balance shifts.

  24. @Jarvis Have you re-bought an iPad yet? Because as far as I recall you took it back to the store after 2 weeks(?). X millions iPad buyers seem to disagree with your quote that “the iPad falls between two devices; it will fail”.

    Now that doesn’t mean I disagree with you on HTML5 being the future vs apps, but your negativity is bad.

  25. After reading this article, I agree that reading an actual magazine on paper rather than on an iPad is more beneficial. I prefer reading an actual magazine rather than using technology because I am able to “dog ear”a page or rip out a page that I want to keep and use (i.e tips on something). You cannot do this with an iPad. I have an iPad and rarely use it. I rarely use it mainly because I also have a Macbook and an iPhone, and find that owning an iPad is no different than using either of these machines. I only use my iPad to buy books. I like using the iPad for reading books because I usually get irritated reading from paperbacks for several reasons. However, I agree with this article on the fact that actual magazines and newspapers are better than reading a newspaper or magazine on an iPad. I also agree that they should not charge the same price.

  26. One thing not mentioned is the roll of advertisers in digital magazines. Advertising helps offset some of the production costs. Print advertisers look at magazine circulation, readership income, and quality of product to determine where they spend their ad dollars. With digital editions of magazines, will advertisers back out?

    Will there be more opportunity for advertisers to get more for their buck? Can they change their ad mid issue? I believe there is an opportunity somewhere in all this, but it’s evolving too fast to keep up.

  27. when the ipad first came out, i was so excited to get one because instead of carrying around a bunch of books and magazines, i would have it all on one device. Now after having the iPad for a couple of months, i feel like i have bought more printed magazines and books than i have bought on the iPad. Printed books are so much easier to read than reading books/ magazines on the iPad. iPads dont have as much to offer as magazines do. Perfumes/ samples of products, for example. You cant smell a perfume while reading Vogue on the iPad. So, not only are magazines being hurt by this, but companies putting samples of there products are in the magazine are being hurt also. Also, i think iPads should lower the price of the book/magazines. They should not charge the same price as they would if you were buying the printed version.

  28. I think the article makes a very good point about e-magazines taking away from the “fun” of browsing through magazine aisle at your local bookstore or grocery store. I have considered many times getting an e-reader because I enjoy reading and I think it would be great to just be able to download another book wherever I have wi-fi. Although it would be very efficient for when I travel, there is just something about having the physical book, and besides I wouldn’t have anything to put on my bookshelves. Being the nerd that I am, I also enjoy browsing around Books-A-Million whenever I have free time. I also think the ipad itself still has a long way to go before some people are convinced they “need” one.

  29. I think that this article is very interesting and helpful for people that are in between buying an Ipad or e-reader. I believe that once these devices get more advanced that they could very easily be more popular than physical books or magazines. The idea of having all of your favorite readings all on one device sounds very appealing. I do agree with many comments on how having the physical book or reading material in your hand is more satisfying but times are changing. Ipads and e-readers may very well be the future of reading in no time at all.

  30. The iPad is the most overrated device by the media industry. They simply think that taking paper content adding some mulitmedia like video and, volià, they will have a winning platform on the iPad.

    Well, as your article has shown that is not the case. First, the media industry has to understand what new media is all about. And unfortunately, multimediality is the most unimportant ideosyncracy of new media. Activity, Interactivity, Ubiquity of the media are by far more important. Second, design new business model that fit to new media. Do we know what will be the winning business model? Unfortunately, no. We have to experiment and work via try & error.

    Take a look at http://blog.business-model-innovation.com/2009/09/who-says-paper-is-dead-business-model-innovation-in-the-newspaper-industry/

    By the way, I earn money with my free content. No ads, no direkt income from my blog but I can share some ideas on business model innovation, a niche topic in strategic management. And via good articles, I get payed jobs. Can newspapers do this? Not with sticking to their traditionell content model.

  31. Thanks Frederic for your great blog on “Failing ipad Magazines” the best we have read so far!
    It’s a very thorough analysis of what is happening and it explains why TRVL is probably one of the only magazines which is doing well.
    It’s iPad exclusive, it’s free, it’s reinventing magazine publishing and not surprisingly it sees a steady increase in both positive feedback and downloads.
    Kind regards,
    Jochem Wijnands

  32. Still early days, but evolution is rapid…from my experience speaking with all sorts of publishers, most do get that their CMS will become very important moving forward with custom HTML applications. In addition, templates are now available to make the design transition quite easy. Many may in fact use their own feeds to be read in these new web environments. Readers certainly appreciate dynamic content coupled with an “app-like” reading experience.

  33. What is the problem with an iPad magazine being a magazine on an iPad? Why does it also need to do other things such as iron shirts, make the tea or have sex? It’s a magazine!

  34. As a former hack, I can see many people’s expectations about creating content are a little, um, naive. If you want to create a title that works, be ready to support two years of loss before knowing if your title has a chance to fly. You could get lucky, but you’re better planning for the mid-term.

  35. It would be nice if Apple developed tools for creating content on the iPad. Why leave it to Adobe, they obviously haven’t cared enough to develop an App specifically for content creation on tablets.

38 Trackbacks

  1. Därför är försäljningen av tidningsappar på iPad inte så dålig…

    Förra veckan skrev jag om att försäljningssiffrorna för iPad-utgåvorna av tidningar har haft en sjunkande trend. Flera stora amerikanska titlar har fått se försäljningen dala. Nu publicerar Mashable en bra artikel som försöker förklara varför. En intre…

  2. [...] BONS CONSELHOS para quem acha que fazer dinheiro com o iPad são favas contadas – iPad publishing: time to switch to v2.0. [...]

  3. [...] war brewing between Apple and Google to win over the magazine business even as media mavens have all but declared the iPad magazine dead on arrival. In the interest of setting expectations–especially as we await the news of iPad [...]

  4. [...] iPad Publishing: Time to Switch to v2.0 – Monday Note [...]

  5. [...] Magazines on the i-Pad and why they are not working. [...]

  6. [...] iPad publishing: time to switch to v2.0 [...]

  7. [...] motivazioni “tecniche” dell’insuccesso, il peso dei dowloads, la cattiva fattura delle applicazioni, il costo eccessivo, ed altro [...]

  8. [...] semanas estamos viendo  varios análisis de la necesidad de evolucionar las app ipad hacia el ipad 2.0 (menos dependencia del medio impreso y [...]

  9. [...] [...]

  10. [...] Another good article and observation around digital magazines and newspapers is written by Frédéric Filloux in the Monday Note blog. [...]

  11. [...] een app wordt, dan wordt het een app die iets kan DOEN (zoals Jarvis al aangeeft in de discussie op mondaynote.com). En apps werken alleen goed als ze one-purpose zijn. Een moodboard. Een puzzel. Een wekker. Een [...]

  12. [...] reports of the quick decline in downloads for mainstream magazines have people buzzing. Why the drop?  Are people just not willing to pay for magazines on the iPad? [...]

  13. [...] Frédéric Filloux di Monday Note, i motivi sono molti. Prima di vederli assieme, è meglio ricordare una caratteristica cruciale del web: la frenesia. [...]

  14. [...] iPad publishing: time to switch to v2.0 | Monday Note [...]

  15. [...] iPad Publishing [...]

  16. [...] It seems not.Here are some other views on the iPad magazine failure:Frédéric Filloux writing at Monday Note:“Don’t expect a wide adoption for the e-version of a magazine (or a newspaper) priced at [...]

  17. [...] of magazines adapted to the iPad failed to deliver, writes Frédéric Filloux of Mondaynote in the best blog we have read about the [...]

  18. [...] iPad publishing: time to switch to v2.0 | Monday Note [...]

  19. [...] eerste nummer bekijken that’s it. Er moeten nog veel lessen geleerd worden. Hier een artikel met een [...]

  20. [...] iPad publishing: time to switch to v2.0 | Monday Note [...]

  21. [...] venta de revistas en iPad han terminado en un sonoro fracaso como nos explica Frédéric Filloux en iPad publishing: time to switch to v2.0, mientras que -a pesar de todo- los nuevos soportes están liquidando los hábitos y prácticas de [...]

  22. [...] tijdschriften als Wired en Vanity Fair zitten zes maanden na de eerste euforie al met de kater. Hun app-verkopen lopen snel terug. Waarom? Omdat je geen printmodel moet kopiëren naar een app, [...]

  23. [...] par av de gode internasjonale mediebloggene har reflektert litt rundt hva dette kan skyldes. Monday Note lister opp flere ting de mener har gått galt. Blant annet noen gode poenger om “execution”, eller gjennomføringskvaliteten på det [...]

  24. [...] Monday Note chuck in their thoughts on same. [...]

  25. [...] sul settore dei contenuti digitali”. E’ ciò che Frédéric Filloux sintetizza nel primo dei quattro insegnamenti che il calo delle vendite dei primi magazine su iPad hanno lasciato: Don’t try and replicate old [...]

  26. [...] i dati sulle vendite delle applicazioni editoriali per iPad e penso che in troppi (con le solite eccezioni) siano ancora convinti che l’innovazione tecnologica da sola sia sufficiente: gli editori [...]

  27. [...] CES 2011 现场专题iSeed 访谈iShout 投稿英雄榜BBS 论坛关于#ifanrLive!Event12一iPad 出版业:是时候 2.0 了 张恒 于 2011-1-12,07:00 Comments (0)  归类于:Tablet & eBook & Netbook, 业界趋势  标签: iPad, Tablet & eBook & Netbook.这是 Frédéric Filloux 的一篇关于 iPad 电子杂志的思考文章,他总结了电子版的优劣,也说出了自己期待的一些改进点。这将会是乔布斯即将带来的 2.0 吗?谁都不能否认这个事实:iPad 上的第一批电子杂志并没有达到预期的效果。最初六个月的兴奋期过去,现在情况已经越来越糟,下面列出的一些数据,足以说明这个问题:《连线》(Wired):在六月份的下载量是 10 万次,在十月和十一月的下载量是 2 万 2 千次,下降了 78%。出版商表示,它只占到实体出版量的 3%,简直微不足道,这可是一本典型的科技杂志。《名利场》(Vanity Fair):在八月份的下载量是 1 万次,在十一月的下载量是 8700 次,下降了 17%。这只占到实体出版量的 1%。根据 WWD 的统计数据,电子杂志的下降趋势几乎蔓延到整个 iPad 平台。作为一名普通读者,其实这样的数据并不让人惊讶,我这么多年已经习惯于阅读纸质的《连线》和《名利场》。但是,对于非美国本土读者来说,iPad 版的优点显而易见:没必要煞费苦心寻找高级报刊亭,你随时都能获取到新鲜的杂志,而且,电子版的价格或许还更加优惠呢。在欧洲一本 9 欧元或 12 美元的杂志,在 iPad 上可能只卖 3.99 美元,电子杂志里还额外赠送一些视频,多棒啊。优点这么多,下载量却逐月下降,这是怎么回事啊?1.质感我发现,在报刊亭上拿起杂志,会出于本能地跟周围的杂志进行对比,然后决定是否购买。而在 iPad 上呢?突然间它就失去了这种魅力。更明显的情况是,印刷精美的纸质杂志,比印在比特流上的电子杂志更好。阅读的体验,排版,照片,甚至纸的物理光泽,都让人更加愉悦。出版社试图在电子版上增加一些额外的惊喜(例如视频)来填补它跟纸质杂志的差距,但他们失败了。纸质杂志赢了。(电子报纸是另外一回事)2.便利OK,交互式体验很有趣,能够用声音和视频营造出一些气氛。但这也是一种噪音,它降低了阅读的乐趣。或许有人会说,电子版的方便之处是便于搜索。是的,要想在一堆旧杂志中寻找一篇旧文章,还真不是件容易的事。但是,当你真把一整年的杂志储存在 iPad 上时,又有多少机会去翻阅旧刊呢?3.下载当我写这篇文章时,我试图下载 1 月 3 号的《纽约客》,连接速度很不稳定,100 MB 的体积要花费很长时间才能下载完毕。而最新一期的《名利场》甚至下载了几天时间才搞定。《经济学人》就不错,在我的 iPod 和 iPhone 上都装了,打开这个 App ,它就能显示出最新一期的封面和下载按钮。下载的过程很快,WiFi 环境下 20 秒完成,3G 环境下 2 分钟也够了。不需要登录帐号,也没有繁琐的确认流程。4.价格要求消费者用纸质杂志的价钱购买电子版是不明智的。这是屈服于短期的资金压力吗?电子杂志的成本到底低不低?其实出版商一直在设立门槛,来保护自己的业务。科技公司无法进入这个领域。这带来的危险后果是阻碍了真正的创新。所以,根据目前 iPad 上的经验,可以总结出一些教训。1.不要再抱着陈旧的观念了,拥抱新事物。在文字和图片之间取得新的平衡。例如,图片呈现的方式必须适应新媒体。或许还应该雇佣新的美工团队,重新设计杂志在横屏上的表现。《连线》和《时代》正在这么干。2.选择合适的道路。对于杂志来说,有两条路:一是像《经济学人》那样走纯文字的道路,二是走多媒体道路。理想状况下,可以两者兼顾。为小屏幕,低网速的设备提供文字内容,为大屏幕,高网速的设备提供多媒体内容。3.离线阅读。我自己喜欢在地铁等离线状态下快速阅读一些东西。所以我的 iPad 可以一次性下载 200 个网站的内容,然后慢慢阅读。在现实生活中,蜂窝网络总是痛苦而缓慢的。联网时,理所当然地使用搜索和推荐等功能,但出版商要考虑到离线的状态。4.价格更诱人。不要指望把电子版的杂志卖到纸质版的价钱。Pew 研究中心的数据显示,大多数用户只愿意每月花 10 美元来购买网络内容。这样算下来用户每年的支出会是 100-120 美元,这个数字也不小了。要知道很多以广告为生的网站,每年每用户的收益才 10 美元。当然现阶段收入最高的群体是电子杂志的主力消费人群,就像这张图显示的:不知道默多克和乔布斯联手打造的新媒体,会不会让 iPad 电子杂志浴火重生。2.0 ,来吧。via mondaynote [...]

  28. [...] via mondaynote [...]

  29. [...] via mondaynote [...]

  30. [...] estadi primerenc i amb una tecnologia que cal desenvolupar. Els analistes insisteixen que continuem fent revistes de paper per acabar veient-les en una pantalla tàctil, i que això, s’acaba [...]

  31. [...] WWD recently reported, iPad magazine sales are in sharp decline in many places, and French media commentator Frédéric Filloux argues media organisations have to acknowledge that the first batch of media iPad apps have simply [...]

  32. [...] Filloux, on Monday Note, writes about the current problems with iPad publications. “There is no way around this fact: the first [...]

  33. [...] risposta a questi interrogativi epocali sembra darla già Frédéric Filloux su Monday Note, secondo cui è inutile girare attorno alla questione: la prima sfornata di riviste adattate all’iPad ha [...]

  34. [...] como resolver esta questão? Bom, sugestões podem ser encontradas no Monday Note. A tarefa não é simples e não existe receita mágica. Os desafios são colocar o preço correto [...]

  35. [...] El precio es la gran cuestión. Por qué pagar más por la suscripción a una aplicación del iPad que a la revista en papel. Los [...]

  36. [...] El precio es la gran cuestión. Por qué pagar más por la suscripción a una aplicación del iPad que a la revista en papel. Los [...]

  37. [...] Den franske mediekommentatoren Frédéric Filloux mener de skuffende salgstallene for internasjonale mediers iPad-apps gjør at vi må bare innse at den første bølgen med medieapps for iPad har mislykkes. [...]

  38. [...] or games, but not necessarily for content applications (see previous Monday Notes on the subject:  iPad publishing: time to switch to v2.0 , Rebooting Web Publishing Design , Key Success Factors for a tablet-only “paper” ). In fact, [...]

Die Kinder der Facebook-Revolution

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Die Kinder der Facebook-Revolution

Wie kommt es zu Umstürzen? Mit Armut und Unterdrückung allein lassen sich Revolutionen nicht erklären. Massenproteste hängen vom Bestrafungsrisiko eines jeden Einzelnen ab. Das verringert sich, wenn Proteste über das Internet koordiniert werden.

Von Thomas Apolte und Marie Möller

Generation Facebook? Ein Demonstrant mit Transparent in KairoGeneration Facebook? Ein Demonstrant mit Transparent in Kairo

19. Februar 2011 

Wie die Weltöffentlichkeit vor mehr als zwei Jahrzehnten in einer Mischung aus Faszination und Sorge auf die ehemals sozialistischen Staaten Mittel- und Osteuropas schaute, blickt sie nun auf Ägypten. Hier wie dort scheint ein Volk bereit, sein Geschick selbst in die Hand zu nehmen, sich nicht mehr bevormunden zu lassen und die Herrschenden nach Jahrzehnten der Misswirtschaft und des Machtmissbrauchs in die Flucht zu schlagen.

Mit solchen Ereignissen lebt der Traum vom gerechten Aufstand der Unterdrückten wieder auf. Er ist so alt wie die Menschheit, er hat Philosophen und Literaten fasziniert und nicht zuletzt auch das einfache Volk selbst. Stets glaubten und hofften die Menschen, dass fortwährende Unterdrückung Widerstand erzeugt und dass sich dieser Widerstand früher oder später zu einem Sturm der Revolution auswachsen muss, welcher die ungerechten Herrscher von ihrem Thron fegt. Indes, je genauer man sich die Dinge ansieht, desto größer werden die Zweifel. Denn wenn es wahr wäre,wie wäre dann die jahrzehntealte Herrschaft des Regimes in Nordkorea zu erklären? Schließlich: Wie wäre dann die Jahrzehnte währende Herrschaft Mubaraks selbst zu erklären?

Siegestrunken in KairoSiegestrunken in Kairo

Die vielleicht traurige Wahrheit ist, dass sich autoritäre Regime vor der Masse der Bevölkerung nur selten fürchten müssen. Mehr noch: Zwischen Armut und Unterdrückung der Bevölkerung und der Wahrscheinlichkeit einer Revolution besteht nach allem, was wir wissen, kein Zusammenhang. Unterdrückte Bevölkerungen zeigen oft über Jahrzehnte hinweg keinerlei Anzeichen von Widerstand und nehmen stoisch hin, dass sie mehr und mehr in Armut und Hunger versinken. Dann aber beobachten wir hin und wieder ein plötzliches Aufbegehren, einen geradezu rauschhaften Aufruhr, welcher sich - meist ausgelöst von scheinbar unbedeutenden Ereignissen - explosionsartig verbreitet und entweder mit einer brutalen Niederwerfung endet oder mit dem Kollaps des Regimes. Und noch etwas beobachten wir: Die Zahl der Fälle, in denen eine Revolution in eine anhaltende Verbesserung der Lage der Bevölkerung mündet, ist leider klein.

Das gilt sogar für Hitler, Stalin oder Mao

Unterdrückung und Armut sind höchstens die notwendige Bedingung einer Revolution. Mit der hinreichenden Bedingung ist es wie mit dem am Hals der Katze klingelnden Glöckchen, von dem die Mäuse träumen, weil es deren Leben so viel sicherer machte. Das Problem der Mäuse aber ist: Wer soll der Katze das Glöckchen umbinden? Ist es einmal da, so ist jede Maus geschützt, egal ob sie sich mutig am Umbinden des Glöckchens beteiligt hatte oder nicht. So lässt jede Maus der anderen gern den Vortritt, und am Ende bleiben sie alle ungeschützt. Ganz analog dazu ist es bei einer Revolution: Wer es in ruhigen Zeiten wagt, einem Diktator die Stirn zu bieten, riskiert seine Freiheit, seine persönliche und berufliche Perspektive und vielleicht gar sein Leben. Am Ende aber könnten alle davon profitieren, wenn einer den Mut hätte, den Diktator zu verjagen.

Aber es kommt noch schlimmer: Eigentlich ist es nie ein einzelner Diktator, der ein Land beherrscht, und das gilt sogar für die Übelsten ihrer Zunft, wie Hitler, Stalin oder Mao. Sie alle sind auf ein System von Loyalitäten in Verwaltung, Polizeiapparat, Geheimdiensten und Militär angewiesen. Deshalb ist es in der Regel nicht damit getan, den Diktator selbst zu aus dem Amt zu entfernen. Man muss es schaffen, das System der Loyalitäten rund um das Regime insgesamt aus den Angeln zu heben. Das gelingt aber nur, wenn eine kritische Masse wichtiger Funktionsträger im Umfeld des Regimes zu einem Wechsel ihrer persönlichen Loyalität bewogen wird.

Kann ein einzelner Mensch etwas dazu beitragen, die Einschätzung hoher Funktionsträger über die Zukunft eines Regimes zu ändern und damit deren Loyalität zu drehen? Die Antwort hängt davon ab, wer der einzelne Mensch ist. Ist er beispielsweise selbst ein hoher Funktionsträger, so mag er in der Lage sein, seinen Kollegen satte Belohnungen für den Fall in Aussicht zu stellen, dass sie sich für den Sturz des Diktators starkmachen. Sind diese Versprechungen glaubwürdig und ist jedes Versprechen an jeden Funktionsträger auch jedem anderen Funktionsträger bekannt, so entsteht ein Gleichgewicht der gegenseitigen Erwartungen. Denn dann wird jeder Funktionsträger es für wahrscheinlich halten, dass alle anderen Funktionsträger die Seiten wechseln, was auch ihm nahelegt, die Seiten zu wechseln. In der Folge kippt das Regime. So etwas geschieht relativ häufig in Diktaturen, aber leider hat es nichts mit einem Volksaufstand zu tun, denn es findet innerhalb konkurrierender Eliten statt. Entsprechend lässt ein solcher Machtwechsel die Bevölkerung in der Regel leer ausgehen.

Auch wenn es zunächst zynisch klingt

Ein wirklicher Volksaufstand erfordert naturgemäß Aktionen einer großen Zahl eher unbedeutender Menschen des Volkes. Kann aber ein einzelner von ihnen hoffen, einen spürbaren Beitrag dazu zu leisten? Das müsste er schließlich, denn sonst wären seine Bemühungen vergebens. Nur: Es geht offenbar nur im Konzert mit einer hinreichend großen Zahl von anderen einfachen Bürgern, und hier fangen die Probleme an. Denn wie soll eine zumeist aus vielen Millionen Menschen bestehende Bevölkerung das Koordinationsproblem bewältigen, welches damit verbunden ist, dass man sich in großer Zahl zur gleichen Zeit und am gleichen Ort zu gefährlichen Protestaktionen zusammenfinden muss mit dem Ziel, eine kritische Masse hoher Funktionsträger vom baldigen Ende des Regimes zu überzeugen, damit diese ihre Loyalität wechseln?

Proteste in KairoProteste in Kairo

Der politische Ökonom Gordon Tullock hat schon 1971 auf das Grundproblem hingewiesen. Auch wenn es zunächst zynisch klingt: Für den Erfolg einer Protestaktion mit vielen tausend, vielleicht Millionen Teilnehmern ist es letztlich unerheblich, ob ein einzelner Mensch sich ebenfalls für die Teilnahme entscheidet oder nicht. Umgekehrt aber drohen ihm im Falle einer Teilnahme mit nicht geringer Wahrscheinlichkeit erhebliche Konsequenzen, etwa in Form von Strafen oder Verletzungen. Strenggenommen ist es daher für einen einzelnen Menschen völlig irrational, an einer solchen Aktion teilzunehmen.

Tullock schloss daraus, dass man mit dem Zweck des Umsturzes die Teilnahme an Massenprotesten nicht erklären kann. Er vermutete andere Motive. Hierzu könnte das vielleicht befriedigende Gefühl gehören, dabei gewesen zu sein und seinen Freunden bewiesen zu haben, dass man sich zu den Werten bekennt, für die der Aufstand steht. Das hat Konsequenzen, und die bestehen hauptsächlich darin, dass die Wahrscheinlichkeit der Teilnahme an Massenprotesten sehr sensibel auf Veränderungen des Erwartungswerts der Bestrafung eines Aufständischen reagiert. Unter dem Erwartungswert der Bestrafung versteht man die Höhe der Strafe, multipliziert mit der Wahrscheinlichkeit, dass sie tatsächlich verhängt wird. Und hierin liegt der Schlüssel zum Verständnis der Dynamik von Volksaufständen.

Wenn die Bestrafungswahrscheinlichkeit sinkt

Vor einem Laden in ÄgyptenVor einem Laden in Ägypten

Ist die Wahrscheinlichkeit der Bestrafung groß, so ist auch der Erwartungswert der Strafe groß. Überlegt sich ein Individuum unter diesen Bedingungen die Sache genau, so wird es feststellen: Protestiere ich, so wird das den Erfolg der Revolution praktisch nicht beeinflussen. Ich werde aber mit hoher Wahrscheinlichkeit eine Strafe erdulden müssen. Ist die Bestrafungswahrscheinlichkeit hingegen gering, so weiß es: Ich habe zwar kaum Einfluss auf den Fortgang der Revolution, aber ich muss auch kaum mit einer Strafe rechnen. Wenn es dem Individuum einfach nur wichtig ist, dabei zu sein, so wird es genau dann dabei sein, wenn die Bestrafungswahrscheinlichkeit nicht zu hoch ist. Daraus folgt die erste wichtige Regel für einen Diktator. Sie lautet: Schaffe ein Überwachungssystem, welches jeden Bürger zu jedem Zeitpunkt im Unklaren darüber lässt, ob er gerade beobachtet wird oder nicht. Diktatoren bespitzeln ihre Bürger vielleicht nicht so sehr deshalb auf Schritt und Tritt, weil sie wirklich alles über ihre Bürger wissen müssten; vielmehr sollen die Bürger wegen der allgegenwärtigen Bespitzelung zu keinem Zeitpunkt einschätzen können, welche Konsequenzen ihnen bei unbotmäßigem Verhalten drohen. Das ist für einen Diktator fast lebenswichtig.

Je mehr Menschen an Umsturzaktionen teilnehmen, desto eher verlieren die Spitzel den Überblick und desto mehr sinkt die Bestrafungswahrscheinlichkeit. In der Sprache der Spieltheorie gibt es daher je nach Ausgangslage zwei Gleichgewichte. Erstens: Ist die Bestrafungswahrscheinlichkeit zunächst hinreichend hoch, so sinkt die Zahl der Teilnehmer an Protestaktionen, was die Bestrafungswahrscheinlichkeit weiter steigen lässt. Die Aktionen versanden. Das zweite Gleichgewicht: Hat die Bestrafungswahrscheinlichkeit einmal einen kritischen Wert unterschritten, so zieht dies weitere Protestierende an, womit die Bestrafungswahrscheinlichkeit weiter sinkt, was wiederum weitere Protestierende anzieht, und so weiter. Zunächst kleine Proteste können sich jetzt schnell zu unkontrollierbaren Massenaktionen auswachsen. Hat sich das zweite Gleichgewicht einmal eingestellt, dann kann ein Regime den Erwartungswert der Bestrafungen nur noch mit sichtbar drastischen Strafmaßen wieder ansteigen lassen, denn über die Bestrafungswahrscheinlichkeit hat es die Kontrolle verloren. So sah das chinesische Regime 1989 nur noch einen Weg zur Rettung seiner Macht: indem es mit brutaler Gewalt auf dem Platz des Himmlischen Friedens zuschlug.

Fassen wir zusammen: Will eine Bevölkerung ihre Unterdrücker abschütteln, so muss sie sich zur selben Zeit in so großer Zahl zusammenfinden, dass die Sicherheitskräfte den Überblick verlieren und daher die Wahrscheinlichkeit einer Strafe für jeden Teilnehmer so weit sinkt, dass er von Strafen nicht mehr abgeschreckt werden kann. Genau das müsste anschließend eine hinreichend große Zahl hoher Funktionsträger zum Wechsel ihrer Loyalität veranlassen.

Was ist der „fokale Punkt“?

Nur: Solange noch keine Massen auf der Straße sind, ist die Wahrscheinlichkeit einer Bestrafung hoch, und es kann für keinen einzelnen Menschen sinnvoll sein, den ersten Schritt zu tun. Wie könnte man also dafür sorgen, dass mit einem Schlag Hunderttausende auf der Straße stehen, damit die Bestrafungswahrscheinlichkeit unter ihre kritische Schwelle fällt? Wer soll es wagen, den ersten Schritt zu tun? Hierin auch liegt der Grund, warum ein Regime sich um die Masse der Bevölkerung in der Regel keine großen Sorgen machen muss. Denn mit einer hohen Bestrafungswahrscheinlichkeit ist es einem einfachen Menschen ebenso unmöglich, die Lawine einer Massenrevolution in Gang zu setzen, wie es einer Maus unmöglich ist, einer Katze ein Glöckchen umzuhängen. Jeder Protest versandet daher schnell, dazu bedarf es nur ein paar Verhaftungen. Nur manchmal will irgendein Zufall, dass die Dinge sich in einer Weise fügen, dass ein Regime für einen Moment die Kontrolle verliert, und solche Momente können in der Tat Revolutionen auslösen. Leider hat die Wahrscheinlichkeit, dass es solche Momente gibt, mit der Lage der Bevölkerung nichts zu tun. Sie entstehen nicht etwa deshalb häufiger, weil eine Bevölkerung arm und unterdrückt ist. Zunehmende Unterdrückung erhöht daher nicht die Wahrscheinlichkeit einer Revolution.

Der Nobelpreisträger Thomas Schelling, einer der originellsten Köpfe der politischen Ökonomik, stellte einmal die Frage, wie wohl zwei Menschen handeln würden, die sich an einem bestimmten Tag in einer bestimmten Stadt verabredet, aber versehentlich den genauen Ort oder die Uhrzeit nicht bestimmt haben. Es spricht viel dafür, dass jeder von ihnen um 12 Uhr mittags oder um 20 Uhr abends zur Verabredung geht, und man wird vielleicht den Bahnhof, sicher aber die gemeinsame Lieblingskneipe aufsuchen. Denn alles dies erhöht die Wahrscheinlichkeit einer zufälligen Übereinstimmung. Einen Ort, den beide mit der höchsten Wahrscheinlichkeit als den Ort einschätzen, den der jeweils andere wählt, nannte Schelling einen „fokalen Punkt“. Hätte eine revolutionsbereite Bevölkerung einen solchen fokalen Punkt, dann könnte dies das Ende eines Regimes bedeuten. Denn dann könnte die Bevölkerung mit einem Schlag die Bestrafungswahrscheinlichkeit aller Teilnehmer unter die kritische Schwelle drücken und im Anschluss die Erwartungen der hohen Funktionsträger auf einen Regimewechsel hin ausrichten. Aber zu dem fokalen Punkt gehören nicht nur Zeit und Ort von Protesten, sondern viel mehr: das Wissen um den Wunsch aller anderen nach einem Regimewechsel sowie die Bereitschaft der anderen zur Teilnahme an einer Revolution und zur Loyalität mit allen Revolutionären. Wenn das nicht alles gleichzeitig zueinander passt, ist jeder in höchster Gefahr, der sich aus seiner Deckung begibt.

Daraus folgt die zweite wichtige Regel eines autoritären Regimes: Vermeide und unterbinde alles, was der Bevölkerung als fokaler Punkt dienen könnte. Deshalb gibt es in autoritären Systemen in aller Regel keine Versammlungsfreiheit, und die Bildung von Verbänden oder gar harmlosen Sportvereinen ist meist unter strikter staatlicher Aufsicht. Nicolae Ceauescu hat es vermutlich das Leben gekostet, dass er am 21. Dezember 1989 grob gegen die zweite Regel autoritärer Regime verstieß. Auf einer regierungsseitig initiierten Jubelkundgebung für das Regime in Bukarest konnten die zunächst spärlichen, dann aber schnell um sich greifenden Rufe gegen Ceauescu schließlich nicht mehr unterbunden werden, und die Situation geriet außer Kontrolle. Der Diktator selbst hatte die Masse formiert und ihr einen fokalen Punkt geboten.

Der vielleicht größte Vorteil der Demokratie

In Polen gelang es den Kommunisten nie, die Versammlung der unzufriedenen Bevölkerung in der katholische Kirche zu unterbinden. So kam es immer wieder zu Aufständen, und aus der Kirche heraus entstand auch die Solidarno. In dem Begriff der Montagsdemonstrationen der untergehenden DDR steckt schon das Element eines fokalen Punktes, auch wenn es dort insgesamt natürlich weit mehr als der Vereinbarung eines Wochentags bedurft hat. Und für die ägyptischen Protestierenden dürften die Ereignisse in Tunesien Teil eines fokalen Punktes gewesen sein.

Hierin wird der vielleicht größte Vorteil der Demokratie deutlich: Erstens wird der Bevölkerung in festgeschriebenen Zeitabständen und Orten der fokale Punkt für einen koordinierten „Umsturz“ der Regierung zur Verfügung gestellt: die Wahl. Die Ironie ist, dass die Regierung dies auch noch selbst organisieren muss. Zweitens werden die persönlichen Kosten einer Umsturzbeteiligung auf den sonntäglichen Spaziergang zum Wahllokal reduziert. Hierdurch entsteht genau jener Zusammenhang, der Revolutionen abseits unserer romantischen Träume fehlt: der Zusammenhang zwischen der Unzufriedenheit der Bevölkerung und der Wahrscheinlichkeit des Machtverlusts der Regierung.

Die Bevölkerung in einer Diktatur ist dagegen darauf angewiesen, dass sich mehr oder weniger zufällig auftretende Faktoren zu einem fokalen Punkt verdichten, was vielleicht in Jahrzehnten größter Entbehrungen nicht geschieht. Plattformen wie Twitter und Facebook dürften indes auch künftig sprichwörtlich revolutionär wirken, auch wenn sie formale demokratische Strukturen nie ersetzen können. Aber sie erleichtern die Koordination revolutionärer Aktivitäten so sehr, dass sich künftig deutlich häufiger fokale Punkte zusammenbrauen könnten. Insoweit ist der Begriff der Facebook-Revolution durchaus treffend.

Mit Facebook-Unterstützung haben es die Ägypter geschafft

Aber auch eine Facebook-Revolution beseitigt keine Diktatur, sondern nur eine Regierung. Denn der Weg des Umsturzes geht immer über den Wechsel der Loyalität hoher Funktionsträger. Nichts garantiert den Protestierenden von der Straße aber, dass diese den Diktator nicht einfach durch sich selbst ersetzen, statt demokratische Strukturen einzuführen. Regelmäßig singen alle Gruppen und Personen in der Stunde der Revolution das Lied vom Wohl des Volkes. Aber ist die Lage erst einmal beruhigt, dann können sich die neuen Amtsinhaber daranmachen, die Faktoren, die sich zum fokalen Punkt verdichtet haben, wieder in ihrem Sinne anzuordnen. Ist das erst einmal geschehen, dann brauchen sie sich um das Wohl der Bevölkerung wiederum nicht zu scheren, dann sind sie die neuen Herrscher. Pierre Vergniaud, der vier Jahre nach der Französischen Revolution von den Jakobinern zum Schafott geführt wurde, fasste das in seinen berühmten letzten Worten zusammen: Die Revolution ist wie Saturn, sie frisst ihre eigenen Kinder.

Tatsächlich ist die Zahl der Staaten, in denen demokratische Strukturen oder auch nur bessere Herrscher auf eine Revolution folgten, sehr überschaubar, wenngleich es sie gibt. Aber Demokratie braucht mehr als Mehrheitsentscheidungen. Sie braucht ein feingesponnenes Netz von Institutionen und Kontrollmechanismen, welche tief in der Gesellschaft verankert sind. Nur so können neue Herrscher unter die Kontrolle demokratischer Regeln gebracht werden, ohne dass man auf die Formierung eines neuen fokalen Punktes warten muss.

Damit das funktioniert, darf im Prinzip keine bedeutende oder unbedeutende Machtposition an keiner Stelle der Gesellschaft sicher sein vor Wettbewerbern, welche den Trägern dieser Macht über allgemein akzeptierte Regeln die Position streitig machen könnten, und das bis in die letzte Amtsstube und in die letzte staatliche oder halbstaatliche Organisation hinein. Deshalb ist die Entwicklung der modernen rechtsstaatlichen Demokratien eine so große Kulturleistung, aber sie realisierte sich auf einem steinigen Weg voller Rückschläge und Neuanfänge. Mit Facebook-Unterstützung haben es die Ägypter geschafft, einer Katze das Glöckchen umzuhängen. Nun kommt es darauf an, Regeln zu schaffen, die auch jeder neuen Katze ein solches verordnen. Das ist noch einmal eine ganz neue Aufgabe. Sollte sie aber gelingen, dann könnte das der Anfang zur Herausbildung demokratischer Strukturen in Ägypten sein.

Thomas Apolte (50) ist Professor für Volkswirtschaftslehre am Centrum für Interdisziplinäre Wirtschaftsforschung der Westfälischen Wilhelms-Universität in Münster und seit November auch Dekan der Wirtschaftswissenschaftlichen Fakultät. Studiert hat Apolte - nach einer Ausbildung zum Elektroinstallateur in seinem Heimatort Krefeld - an der Universität Duisburg. Seine Dissertation über „Die politische Ökonomie der Systemtransformation“ wurde mehrfach ausgezeichnet.

Marie Möller (27) ist Diplom-Volkswirtin und wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin bei Thomas Apolte in Münster. Neben ihrem Studium hat sie als Mathe-Tutorin am Institut für Statistik und Ökonometrie der Freien Universität Berlin gearbeitet. In ihrer Diplomarbeit hat sich die Berlinerin mit Intergenerationaler Mobilität und Chancengleichheit befasst. Derzeit untersucht sie die Zusammenhänge zwischen Demokratiegrad und Wohlstandsniveau. (hig.)

Text: F.A.Z.
Bildmaterial: dpa, REUTERS

© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung GmbH 2011.
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Die wichtigste strategische Frage der Medienbranche

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Die wichtigste strategische Frage der Medienbranche

by Thomas Knüwer on 16. Februar 2011

Erst war es Google, der böse Textausschnitt-Abgreifer. Nun ist es Apple, der widerliche Kundendatenschützer.

Es scheint, Medienmanager brauchen einfach ein Feindbild. Irgendjemand, der ihnen vorspielt, ihre Probleme seien nicht hausgemacht. Dass die Leser, Zuhörer, Zuschauer sich gar nicht ändern, sondern nur weggelockt würden von den tollen Offerten ihrer Häuser. Das ist Apple der böse schwarze Mann im Rollkragenpulli, Google, der große böse Wolf vor dem Verzehr von Großmutter Friede. All diese Scharmützel füllen den Tag und das anscheinend sogar sehr gut, wie das Beispiel Christoph Keese zeigt: Der Mann hat für gar nichts anderes mehr Zeit.

Tatsächlich aber lenken Ipad-Abos und Google News die Entscheider von einer  Frage ab, um die sie nicht herumkommen werden. Es ist die alles entscheidende strategische Frage der kommenden Jahre. Und wer heute noch keine Antwort darauf hat, sollte schleunigst eine finden.

Die Frage lautet: Woher und wie kommen künftig die Links aus dem Social Web auf meine Seiten?

Das klingt profan. Es verlinkt halt irgendwer schon. Und derzeit machen die Besucher, die von Facebook, Blogs oder Twitter auf Nachrichtenseiten kommen in Deutschland noch eine Zahl aus, die unter “nett” kategorisiert wird.

Das aber wird sich absehbar ändern. In den USA verschiebt Facebook schon heute mehr Leser auf Nachrichtenseiten als Google. Auch in Germany wird das in absehbarer Zeit so sein. Denn was viele, die im Web unterwegs sind, ahnten bestätigte Ende vergangenen Jahres ja eine Studie des der Web-Euphorie unverdächtigen Ifo-Instituts: Internet-Nutzer sind stärker interessiert an gesellschaftlichen Themen – sie sind besonders Nachrichten-affin. Dies ist eine Kernzielgruppe journalistischer Inhalte.

Es ist nur logisch, dass die Weitergabe von interessanten Informationen bei ihnen im Rahmen der digitalen Kommunikation einen besonders breiten Raum einnimmt. Das hat nicht mal was mit Facebook oder Twitter zu tun. Erinnern wir uns nur an jenen 11. September 2001. Als in New York die Türme stürzten, brach das Internet zusammen. Grund war der erhöhte Nachrichtenbedarf der Menschen. Viele, es war Bürozeit in der westlichen Welt, erfuhren zunächst über E-Mail von der Katastrophe. Und weil der gemeine Arbeitsplatz eher kein Fernsehgerät bereithält suchten sie nach Nachrichten und nach Livestreams der Online-Angebote von TV-Sendern.

Viele Menschen erfahren heute bereits zuerst über das Social Web von für sie interessanten Nachrichten. Redaktionen, die im Rahmen dieser Informationsweitergabe mitarbeiten, haben eine reelle Chance, mehr Leser zu erreichen.

(Fotos: Shutterstock)

Ein Beispiel dafür ist NPR, sozusagen der öffentlich-rechtliche Rundfunk in den USA (Details zum System bei Wikipedia): über eine Million Anhänger auf Facebook, über zwei Millionen Follower auf Twitter, die Homepage erreicht 12 Millionen Besuch im Monat, bis zu zwei Millionen Seitenabrufe im Monat kommen direkt via Facebook rein.

Unter 40.000 Facebook-Nutzern führte NPR nun eine Studie zu deren Nachrichtennutzung im Social Web gemacht. Die Ergebnisse sind beeindruckend:

  • 96% der Befragten nutzen Facebook täglich.
  • 51% sagen, Facebook sei ein bedeutender Nachrichtenkanal für sie.
  • 72,3% erwarten, dass ihre Freunde interessante Nachrichten digital mitteilen.
  • 84% klicken regelmäßig auf Links, die NPR auf Facebook weitergibt.
  • 74% haben in den vergangenen fünf Monaten mindestens einmal eine NPR-Geschichte über Facebook weitergerreicht.

Weitere Ergebnisse der Studie gibt es hier:

Die Veränderung der Nachrichtenfilterung zeigt sich auch bei der Ipad-App Flipboard. Diese greift Links aus dem Facebook- und Twitter-Strom des Nutzers ab und zeigt Anrisse der dahinter liegenden Web-Seiten in einer Art Zeitschriften-Optik an. So entsteht das personalisierte Ipad-Magazin.

Flipboard ist da so eine Art Mutter 2.0. In meiner ersten Zeit in Düsseldorf, Mitte der 90er, telefonierte ich täglich mit meiner Mutter. Warum? Die “Rheinische Post” schrieb – aus mir unverständlichen Gründen – herzlich wenig über den von mir heiß geliebten SC Preußen Münster. “Westfälische Nachrichten” und “Münstersche Zeitung” hatten zu dieser Zeit aber noch keinen Online-Auftritt. Deshalb durfte meine Mutter mir die neusten Nachrichten über den SCP aus der Lokalzeitung vorlesen. Nun aber kann ich Nachrichten aus der Heimat sehr einfach in meinen News-Konsum integrieren, sogar der Club selbst twittert ja.

Das zeigt: Früher waren wir durch die physische Restriktion klassischer Medien gebunden an die Nachrichtenauswahl, die Redakteure für uns trafen. Sie aber richtete sich an die Masse der Leser, sie war der Durchschnitt. Keiner von uns aber ist Durchschnitt, wir haben alle individuelle Interessen.

Deutsche Redaktionen aber haben ein Problem mit der Idee, mehr als einen automatisierten Strom von Nachrichten rauszuhauen. In den meisten Häusern ist das Social Web ein Hobby einzelner Redakteure. Spiegel Online, zum Beispiel, hat auf Facebook nur 116.000 Fans – das scheint mir wenig. Was die Redaktion da vermarktet, scheint aber nur auf die Generierung von Kommentaren gezielt. Penetrant wird jede Meldung mit einer Frage abgeschlossen. Die Auswahl der Artikel ist noch dazu eklektisch: Es ist nicht klar, was da weitergerreicht wird, eine Strategie ist nicht erkennbar.

Zugegeben, es gibt Ausnahmen: Der Westen twittert gut, Kommunikation eingeschlossen. Andere tun es ihm nach. Doch wenn ich bequem Nachrichten der Seite weitergeben will, dann geht das schon nicht mehr – kein Facebook Share, kein Twitter, keine Social Bookmarks. Letztere sind ohnehin ein Problem. Blind integrieren Verlage eine Flut solcher Weitergabedienste ohne sich zu fragen, welche Sinn ergeben. Wenn ich als Nutzer aber erstmal zwischen 35 Icons das gewünschte heraussuchen muss, gebe ich gleich auf.

Kreative Lösungen mag schon gar keiner finden. Es ist traurig, dass Frank Westphal sein Hobbyprojekt Rivva aufgegeben hat – und kein Medienhaus die Riesenchance erkannt hat, die in der Idee der Plattform liegt. Dort landeten Artikel vorne, die von einem ausgewählten Kanon vertrauenswürdiger Quellen verlinkt wurden.

Ebenso bedauerlich ist das Ende der Kooperation von Handelsblatt.com, Wirtschaftswoche.de und Twingly. Ein Programmfensterchen zeigte bei den Wirtschaftsseiten Blogs an, die auf den Artikel verlinkten. Das half dem Suchmaschinenranking der Nachrichtenangebote und liefert ein paar Leser an die verlinkenden Blogs. Die gute Idee wurde nie recht unterstützt, verschämt ob der Möglichkeit, die Leser könnten etwas anderes lesen, wurde das Twingly-Fenster in die rechte Spalte abgeschoben statt es – was nur logisch wäre – unter die Artikel zu platzieren.

Mein Eindruck ist: Die Entscheider in den Medienhäusern haben noch nicht begriffen, welche Bedeutung das Social Web in den kommenden Jahren für ihre Online-Angebote spielen wird. Wahrscheinlich wird es enden wie immer in der Digitaltität: Irgendwann fällt einem Manager oder Chefredakteur etwas auf. Dann ist es schon spät, das Einarbeiten mühsam – also schreit man wieder nach Gerichten oder politischer Hilfe.

Facebook ist der nächste Feind, an dem sich die Döpfners reiben werden. Dann werden sie die Fackeln rauspacken und versuchen, das Schloss Zuckerstein zu erstürmen. Und auch daran werden sie scheitern.

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37signals vs Zappos

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Feature 132

37signals vs Zappos

By Ryan Carson

10 February 2011 | Category: Web Industry

Recently 37signals opened their new office. It's beautiful and functional, with public spaces so you can chat and hang out, and private spaces when you really need some peace and quiet - all beautifully designed. Looks like the perfect office. The perfect culture. But is it really?

I just finished reading Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh and I now believe Zappos’ chaotic and messy offices are much more effective at promoting happiness and innovation. Please keep reading to find out why. At the end, I’d love to hear your opinion.

First, let’s compare the offices of Zappos and 37signals visually …

Zappos Headquarters in Las Vegas

Photo of Tony Hsieh's desk

An expanse of desks, with tons of ribbons hanging from the ceiling. Messy but fun.

A crazy wall of fabric put up around a cubicle at Zappos

37signals Headquarters in Chicago

Photo of 37signals office with one person talking to another at a desk, with a lot of open space around them

Photo of a conference room with glass walls in the 37signals office

Photo of a hallway at 37signals with a lot of open space

Two different approaches?

Jason Fried (President of 37signals) and Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos) both have similar views on business. A quick read of 37signals’ book Rework or the Zappos Culture Doc will reveal that.

So what’s going on? How can two tremendously successful and passionate businesses manifest themselves in such dramatically different ways? And which one is better?

Giving control away

The primary thing that I took away from Delivering Happiness was this: If you want to have an amazing company culture, you have to give your team control of three things:

  1. Their career
  2. Their work
  3. Their surroundings

Happy employees need to be able to positively affect these things.

I’m focusing on ‘surroundings’ in this post, so let’s dive into that.

Zappos let their team do whatever the hell they want with their desks and environment. The goofier and weirder, the better. They actively encourage mischief and fun.

Something tells me that if someone at 37signals put up a huge green and blue tent around their desk, they wouldn’t get a high-five in the hallway. The unspoken message to 37signals employees is this: “Don’t touch. Don’t put your stamp on this office.”

The trouble with a perfectly designed office is that there’s little room for individuality or fun. Yes, they have blackboards at 37signals’ office, but that’s not enough. People need the freedom to customize their environment and express their personality on a permanent basis.

I’m with Jason when it comes to aesthetic, I value clean lines, gorgeous textures and tidiness. But that’s just me and I shouldn’t force that on my team.

Your office ≠ your product

We all need to break the myth that your company’s culture and office needs to match your end product.

Everyone knows that zappos.com provides insanely awesome customer service. Their site is also very usable and functional. Their product is amazing and well designed, but their office is a wreck. They’re a billion dollar company and their CEO’s office is a small cubicle with fake vines hanging from the ceiling and a blowup monkey hanging on the wall.

This is proof that you can promote weirdness and fun at your office, without compromising the integrity of your product or sacrificing profits.

Every founder dreams of designing and creating an office like 37signals have done, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for their Team.

Love to hear your thoughts!

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