March 5th, 2007

Who’s Right About The Social Media Revolution — The People Or The Revolutionaries?

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What are we to conclude from stark contrast between the (sometimes breathless) praise of USA Today’s “social media” redesign among tech/media bloggers and commentators (with some saying they didn’t go far enough), and the near universal rejection of the redesign among USA Today readers who commented on it? Could it be that it’s really the social media revolutionaries who “don’t get it” when they assume that what the people want is to rise up against the media autocracy and take control, when in fact what most people want is to get high quality information from a reliable source? Or are the negative comments on USA Today’s redesign merely a reflection of the small percentage of users who are always disgruntled when you make a change?

As with most things, I think the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Tech/media bloggers do tend to overestimate the demand for “social” everything among the masses of mainstream users, while many media companies have indeed been slow to take even obvious steps like allowing every item of content to accept comments.

Bottom line is that whether you think USA Today went too far or not far enough, the reality is that the only way for them to find out was to try. So kudos to them for trying and, hopefully, learning. The rest of us in media are fortunate to be able to learn from their experiment as well.

Beyond that, my only other comment is that the word “social” continues to obfuscate more than it elucidates — if you told the average USA Today user that the redesign made the site more “social,” they’d probably have no idea what you’re talking about. But if you said, you can now add your comments to any story and create a profile that keeps track of all your comments, and you can also vote on whether you think a story is important, they’d be able to make a real judgement about the value to them, which will inevitably range from high value to no value.

Comments (48 Responses so far)

  1. Meraki wires square mile in SF with WiFi The T-List Who’s Right About The Social Media Revolution — The People Or The Revolutionaries? Buffett: “If The Internet Had Come Along First, Newspapers As We Know Them Probably Would Never Have Existed” IBM’s Many Eyes App After One Month

  2. thoughtfully within each article’s masthead box, they do not explain what the random small colored blocks mean throughout the interface, the bottom half of each page looks like someone just gave up and never designed it, etc., etc. Scott Karp had this to say about the redesign: “What are we to conclude from stark contrast between the (sometimes breathless) praise of USA Today’s “social media” redesign among tech/media bloggers and commentators, and the near universal rejection of the redesign among USA

  3. action in the event of an HTTP DoS or DDoS attack or brute force attack.” Confessions of an Empty-Nester the tale of how a couple moved downtowm from the burbs Octopart “Octopart is a search engine for electronic parts.” if done well, that is awesome! Who’s Right About The Social Media Revolution — The People Or The Revolutionaries? “…if you told the average USA Today user that the redesign made the site more “social,” they’d probably have no idea what you’re talking about…” well, duh. Three solid Gmail productivity tips

  4. Who’s Right About The Social Media Revolution — The People Or The Revolutionaries? » Publishing 2.0

  5. Who’s Right About The Social Media Revolution — The People Or The Revolutionaries? — What are we to conclude from stark contrast between the (sometimes breathless) praise of USA Today’s “social media” redesign among tech/media bloggers and commentators (with some saying they didn’t go far enough)

  6. Scott Karp / Publishing 2.0 : Who’s Right About The Social Media Revolution — The People Or The Revolutionaries?

  7. It’s the people, always.

  8. points out

  9. Scott Carp, over on publishing 2.0, has a good post up about USA Today noting the disconnect between the praise of the new design by bloggers and social media commentators, and the negative comments from the actual readers of the paper. It’s a good reminder that real people tend to react

  10. Who’s Right About The Social Media Revolution — The People Or The Revolutionaries? — What are we to conclude from stark contrast between the (sometimes breathless) praise of USA Today’s “social media” redesign among tech/media bloggers and commentators (with some saying they didn’t go far enough)

  11. Who’s Right About The Social Media Revolution — The People Or The Revolutionaries? » Publishing 2.0

  12. “Bottom line is that whether you think USA Today went too far or not far enough, the reality is that the only way for them to find out was to try. So kudos to them for trying and, hopefully, learning.” Originally posted by dblinks from del.icio.us/dblinks, ReBlogged by yatta on Mar 6, 2007 at 12:01 PM

  13. This echoes a similar conclusion from the recent USA Today debacle

  14. allt en del av teknikutvecklingens charm. Det påverkar också i vilken takt företag, organisationer och traditionella medier anammar de nya möjligheterna. Scott Karp bidrar med en intressant reflektion kring detta när han besvarar sin egen fråga: Who’s Right About The Social Media Revolution — The People Or The Revolutionaries? Could it be that it’s really the social media revolutionaries who “don’t get it” when they assume that what the people want is to rise up against the media autocracy and take control, when in fact what most people want is to get high quality

  15. Forrester Analyst Josh Bernoff who says “Don’t look back. […] But don’t stand pat. […] Bring the readers into the print paper.” From my perspective, Scott Karp asks the most interesting question though, which is “Who is right about the Social Media Revolution – The People or The Revolutionaries?“  There are three very important things to consider in all of this. 1. USA Today audience is largely aligned with “fast food oriented media consumption” Simply put, there are not enough people in the early majority (chasm crossing analysis) of

  16. wonders why the recommendations of the last city Task Force on this issue haven’t bourne fruit. Worcester Indymedia: This has been a busy couple of weeks at the intersection of community journalism and the internet; USA Today launched a redesign, and the Center for Citizen Media published a fantastic report on community, journalism, and technology. And now Worcester Indymedia’s new site is in beta-testing! This has been a long time coming. (P.S. The old site is broken again. I hope that the

  17. ir arÄ« skeptiÄ·i, kas ir aizdomājuÅ¡ies – bet varbÅ«t sociālo mediju revolÅ«cija ir tikai mÅ«su iztÄ“les auglis? Ja 92% auditorijas ir neapmierināti ar revolucionārajām izmaiņām, tad kam gan ir taisnÄ«ba – auditorijai vai revolucionāriem (tā vaicā Skots Karps). VarbÅ«t mÄ“s, tehnogÄ«ki, gluži vienkārÅ¡i pārvÄ“rtÄ“jam vidÄ“jo aritmÄ“tisko lasÄ«tāju? ArÄ« Tonijs Hangs spriež (piesaucot to paÅ¡u Netscape piemÄ“ru) – varbÅ«t publika vÄ“l nav gatava, varbÅ«t USA Today nāk gadus piecus par agru? Bet varbÅ«t

  18. [IMG Collapsed]Who’s in your knowledge network? 3 days ago via Yahoo! Search blog You’ve got a burning question and you know someone out there has got the answer. We’ve all be… [IMG Collapsed]Who’s Right About The Social Media Revolution — The People Or The Revolutionaries? 6 days ago via Publishing 2.0 What are we to conclude from stark contrast between the (sometimes breathless) praise of USA … View all 30 features

  19. Scott Karp asks us ‘Who’s right about the social media revolution – the people or the revolutionaries?’ I studied the patterns behind revolutions for a whole term in my final year at Cambridge. The moment of disconnect between the mass population and the

  20. comparison] A. Sundararajan’s Weblog[comparison] Farecast.com[comparison] Wicket Impressions, moving from Spring MVC / WebFlow « Incremental Operations [socialmedia] Planet Social Media Research[socialmedia] Whos Right About The Social Media Revolution The People Or The Revolutionaries » Publishing 2[socialmedia] Adweek Magazine In Print – Advertising News – Advertising Information Blogs Linking to this StoryGamma Normids :: Blog [x]

  21. mötesplats än en traditionell nyhetssida så väckte det många röster i den amerikanska bloggosfären. Kanske är det för tidigt, kanske förstår inte den breda massan vad de skall ha funktionerna till, skriver Deep Jive Interest. Skott Karp funderar i liknande banor. Kanske är det ett bra och tillförlitligt innehåll som är det viktigaste. Viktiga tankar — allt mår bra av att ifrågasättas. Samtidigt tror jag att socialiserandet av en sajt tillför en ny dimension. Det gäller att ge folk

  22. reason I created MP3Caravan.com is because I saw some value in a reasonably well versed music consumer like myself acting as a filter to help other people find worthwhile music. So much content, so little time. An then there is the free stuff. As Scott Karp alludes, there is no evidence that there is mass demand for people to create their own content. I bet if you added up all the people who regularly create unpaid content on the Web, it would amount to about 1 percent of the total web audience. Now, that

  23. I vote for the people, but the revolutionaries have more computing guns.

  24. [...] Karp at Publishing 2.0 says the paper should get kudos for trying. And Read/Write Web has a poll based on the title of my post. Technorati Tags: [...]

  25. [...] want is to get high quality information from a reliable source?”–Scott Karp, Publishing 2.0, commenting on the wisdom of crowds # posted by Susan : 9:12 AM postCount(‘7252066135296969506′); | [...]

  26. What do dumb “users” know? : ) You point out yet again why I hate the word “social” in the context of “media.” Words that mean everything mean nothing. But, as you note, what is there to dislike about some new features that allow you to do things like add comments to stories and read profiles of the other people who make comments. Best thing USA Today can do for all this is to make it so mainstream that it’s no longer “news” when someone adds such features to a website.

  27. Great question, as usual Scott. In talking with Shel Israel a few weeks back about my own expectations for the transformation of the enterprise by my generation’s rise in the ranks, he reminded me that those who are a part of a generation often overestimate their impact over the short term and underestimate it in the long term – I think this holds true here as well.

    Joe is right of course too, we do have more computing guns, but if the language we use as our ‘bullets’ falls on deaf or uninterested ears, we might as well just be tilting at another windmill – this is why I have personally embraced the informal learning that happens when people get together face to face in our meetings, unconferences and world cafe’s. We can make it personally relevant and help people understand the all important contexts in which these tools and the conversational architecture creates real value for them.

  28. Rex, amen, amen.

  29. After a few days have passed I’m thinking: the vast majority of people are passive, and just want to experience media, not participate in it. There’s a smaller minority that want to comment (and that’s it), and an even smaller subset that wants to actively participate in the creation of the content. I can’t take a guess at what the percentages are. But another way of thinking about this is: How many music lovers are moved to learn how to play an instrument, and how fewer join a band?

  30. I think you and I share a perspective on this one, Scott. Buy my weren’t the blogerati quick to jump on this and declare victory! http://gregverdino.typepad.com/greg_verdinos_blog/2007/03/readers_seem_to.html

  31. [...] to embrace Web 2.0 features wholeheartedly. Is the world ready for a USA Today Social Network? As Scott Karp reports, the first reviews from readers have been negative. Very negative. But I wonder. The first [...]

  32. As Webomatica stated, small percentages of consumers actively interact with content – in any realm. The percentage is on the rise but still small and still the people that are the most passionate about a given subject. Which is why I don’t think USA Today has much of a shot – their content is so wide, so shallow, and so objective. Communities form around content that is narrow, deep, and subjective. Communities just don’t form because you add a few features.

  33. As Don Dodge pointed out in his blog, a lot of the negative feedback is targeted not at the addition of “social” features, but at the dramatically different layout/UI. (I scanned the comments and can definitely confirm this). Many people had a problem with reading the new layout and finding their news, not whether or not they could comment or see what stories are most popular or whatever.

    But of course most bloggers immedietely conflate all the negative feedback with the “social” features and completely ignore whether or not layout and UI design have anything to do with it.

    I don’t necessarily agree that there is this schism with regards to social media between those in the know and the “mainstream”. I think USA today went too far with layout – not necessarily with features.

    Is it possible that USA Today could have incorporated many of the new “social” features while changing the layout less? I think probably – but I don’t know for sure.

  34. [...] my perspective, Scott Karp asks the most interesting question though, which is “Who is right about the Social Media Revolution – The People or The Revolutionaries?“  There are three very important things to consider in all of [...]

  35. I don’t think the USAT debacle is a verdict on social media. Rather it reflects a lack of understanding of its user base and utter disregard for user testing 101. The changes were overwhelming and most users seem to be commenting on the layout rather than the social features.
    I am a big fan of social media but I don’t see any wisdom in killing the features that users obviously liked. The key lesson here is that if publishers want to test their user base’s response to social media features, they should roll out the new features – few at a time to monitor the response.
    As mentioned in the post, value of the offering should be communicated clearly to the users, rather than getting hung up on what it’s called, “social” or otherwise.

  36. [...] Who’s Right About The Social Media Revolution — The People Or The Revolutionaries? » Publishing… “Bottom line is that whether you think USA Today went too far or not far enough, the reality is that the only way for them to find out was to try. So kudos to them for trying and, hopefully, learning.” (tags: internet newspapers newspapersites socialmedia journalism news gannett usatoday redesign) [...]

  37. [...] Reading: Scott Karp, Paris Lemon, Mathew Ingram, Charlene Li’s Blog, [...]

  38. It seems to me that in a meeting at USAToday’s offices, someone told them that making the site look and feel better was somewhat mutually exclusive from offering social features, so they chose “social and really ugly” over “not social but more visually appealing”.

    As a designer and someone who visits many news sites each day (New York Magazine, NY Times, Newsvine, Daylife, etc.) I can honestly say this is the most appalling visual redesign I’ve seen in awhile. There are huge gaps of whitespace randomly strewn through the interface, major news article headlines are in the smallest font possible, images are not integrated thoughtfully within each article’s masthead box, they do not explain what the random small colored blocks mean throughout the interface, the bottom half of each page looks like someone just gave up and never designed it, etc., etc.

    So are “the people” right or the bloggers on TechMeme? Notice that everyone who is praising the social features on this site is praising *the technology* first and not even mentioning the shotty, haphazard user experience, but isn’t that what Web 2.0 is all about? Fawning over Ajax technical implementations and programming libraries before noting that nothing is actually *designed*? Seems like all the technical or social media prowess on the planet can’t buy you happy users, and USAToday is learning that firsthand.

  39. [...] Update 4: Who’s Right About The Social Media Revolution — The People Or The Revolutionaries? Scott Karp adds his comments to the USA Today “social media” redesign and draws attention to the divide between the tech commentators and the readers. The good news, as he sees it, is that USA Today is trying it. Read the comments, too. [...]

  40. I’d agree with Joe, but most people don’t know how to shoot.

  41. [...] Publishing 2.0: Who’s Right About The Social Media Revolution — The People Or The Revolutionarie… Scott Karp: “Could it be that it’s really the social media revolutionaries who ‘don’t get it’ when they assume that what the people want is to rise up against the media autocracy and take control, when in fact what most people want is to get high qual (tags: newspapers publishing usatoday design online journalism) [...]

  42. [...] Who’s Right About the Social Media Revolution? (Publishing 2.0) [...]

  43. [...] better off spending your time on other areas that your readers or users care about … and not betting the farm on something that they [...]

  44. [...] USA Today while its readers were in an uproar. His blog post posed the perfect question: Who’s Right About the Social Media Revolution: The People or the Revolutionaries? Well, you can’t have a revolution without the [...]

  45. [...] Scott Karp asked the right question: “Could it be that it’s really the social media revolutionaries who “don’t get [...]

  46. [...] Publishing 2.0: Who’s Right About The Social Media Revolution — The People Or The Revolutionarie… “Could it be that it’s really the social media revolutionaries who ‘don’t get it’ when they assume that what the people want is to rise up against the media autocracy and take control, when in fact what most people want is to get high quality informat (tags: usa_today deltagande_kultur innovation webbutveckling community publishing20 scott_karp web20) [...]

  47. Will Social Networks and Vertical Search combine to challenge Google?

    Publishers and advertising agencies have a very difficult challenge ahead as traditional “horizontal” media like newspapers, TV channels and magazines see their traditional demographics and advertising revenue streams fragmented by the increasing preference of consumers for online access and the huge presence of Google eroding their audiences and potential future revenues.

    Perhaps they should remember the words of Sun Tsu, who once said: “When the enemy is too strong to attack directly, then attack something he holds dear. Know that in all things he cannot be superior. Somewhere there is a gap in the armour, a weakness that can be attacked instead.”

    Google’s major strength – the clean search box and the ease of use, commoditised ad revenues, perhaps masks its principal weakness. As media content and advertising revenues fragment to serve thousands and thousands of “vertical” online communities based on lifestyle or profession, Google may suddenly seem standardised, commoditised and lacking a sense of unique community. Is Google becoming Wal-Mart, while vertical communities may prefer Harrods?

    Whilst “horizontal” media companies are similar to supermarkets, specialist professional “vertical” publishers are very specific in serving niche communities with totally relevant content and requirements. However, the publisher’s principal operating difficulty in becoming adaptive to this asymmetric Web 2.0 opportunity is that most tend to run each of their print, exhibition and online titles/businesses as separate profit and loss items on their balance sheet. As a by-product the vast majority tend not to have a centralised IT infrastructure or the human IT skill sets to manage a large scale data centre or web spidering facility – the prerequisites needed to datamine and aggregate open source, user generated and blog content to create vertical slices of the Web that are relevant for their audiences. Publishers will also need to integrate this content into the online extensions of their print brands and thereby allowing advertisers the opportunity to target high value communities. In addition, the datamining, crawling and hosting to identify relevant open source content will also need to be a continual process due to the continual growth of user generated and open source content.

    Convera have two very large data centres, an extensive web spidering capability and a web index. Convera are now partnering with a significant number of specialist B2B publishers to create a range of vertical websites for specific professional communities. The first example of this is Searchmedica.com with UBM.

    In building the deep vertical search portals, the key is to reach into the specific professional community in a number of ways. First, you can combined the trade publisher’s knowledge and contacts in the profession with community appeals that engage the specific audience in a way that general search cannot, and also by taking special care to use the taxonomies common to the targeted profession in organizing search results so that the user feels more at home and among peers. Building a good vertical engine can be costly and time consuming, and getting a critical mass of users to de-Google their search habits into more specialized engines is potentially a tough sell. However, in tests with focus groups from different professional communities to test these vertical search properties against Google, the results are hugely encouraging.

    In building the beta test sites, the specialist publishers are providing Convera with “white lists” of data sources online and websites that would be most relevant to its readers so that the searches are restricted to reliable and trusted information. Publishers are also securing agreements with owners of key proprietary content not normally crawled by Google by leveraging some of its contacts and resources so that Convera can crawl and deliver some of their proprietary content.

    Another key consideration is getting the user community engaged in the process as co-developers. No matter how bad the results at Google or Yahoo may be for a given professional segment, the interface is familiar and the destination is always at hand. Getting users to think of a specialized brand as the go-to place for business information is the challenge.

    A number of publishers are actively assessing the potential of adding social networking to the mix in order to get professionals interacting with each other and adding weekly podcasts by industry experts on issues affecting the community – these additional services will create more community loyalty and also additional advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

    The publishers can also use their print titles to drive the audience to the new online areas and this will also assist the transition of their high value print ad revenues to online. Publishers also have exhibitions, seminars, events and email newsletters to assist this transition – and recent research suggests that professional communities will actively attend seminars and events to meet peers and other members
    of their community. The theory goes that once you get some professionals involved then the viral mechanism or behavioural “Hive Mind” also kicks in and professional workers start referring to the vertical portal as a community source. It is also allows advertisers and public relations organisations access to a clearly defined, affluent, influential and stable audience.

    Google does not allow you to have a beer with a potential business partner – it doesn’t have that sense of community. But Google is fighting back – the recent launch of Google Custom Search and acquisition of teenage social network sites indicates they are aware of their weakness – but specialist publishers see this as a Trojan Horse. Social networks for teenagers are highly transient and target a demographic that is volatile, unpredictable and has a low level of disposable income – whereas a social network alongside a vertical search service for 22,000 bio-chemists, 55,000 UK GP’s, 55,000 insurance risk assessors or 120,000 US psychiatrists is stable, affluent and attractive for advertisers.

  48. [...] Karp had this to say about the redesign: “What are we to conclude from stark contrast between the (sometimes [...]

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