Jacqui Banaszynski reports from ONA 2009

An oasis of optimism in a drought-stricken landscape

By Jacqueline Banaszynski on October 6, 2009 0 Comments Ideas

The web-hip folks of the Online News Association were an oasis of optimism last weekend in the drought-stricken landscape of newspaper journalism. ONA members, who celebrated their 10th anniversary at a sold-out conference in San Francisco, don’t seem to fear the future, as so many traditional journalists have come to do.

Not that the future is clear, even for the ONA crowd. Before we even grasp Web 2.0, it’s being eclipsed by dreams of Web 3.0. Social media is a “beast still to be understood,” says Facebook designer Lee Byron. And Twitter has yet to make a profit.

“Trying to pick winners in the next five to 10 years of the media landscape is hard,” says Om Malik, founder of GigaOM Networks. “We don’t know what’s going to stick.”

With those caveats, below are a few forecasts gleaned from ONA, credited to those who made them. They don’t represent the totality of intelligence at ONA – just the workshops I attended. Please add your own below. And this important consumer message: These are not rated or handicapped. Anything I once had was invested in newspapers and real estate, so you’re best off making your own bets.

  1. GoogleWave could be the next, well, Google. Barbara Iverson, a professor at Chicago’s Columbia College and publisher of ChicagoTalks.org says Google’s soon-to-be-released real-time sharing tool is the latest blockbuster in the communications journey that has taken us from phone to Napster to Facebook to Twitter. It will apparently make the hiccup of time spent waiting on Twitter or IMs seem limiting.     
  2. Facebook Connect got multiple bangs. (FYI, “bang” is Yahoo-speak for what the rest of us call an exclamation point.) Salon editor Joan Walsh and social media consultant J.D. Lasica both predict it will be a powerful tool to build online communities around your product or message.  Their reasoning: It will lower hurdles to registration by letting people log in to your site directly through their Facebook accounts.  Those users will have real identities, boosting transparency, accountability and civility (and, I expect, making advertisers giddy). And it will boost chances for viral distribution.       
  3. Twitter, already the stud of the online world, is taking steroids. Co-founder Evan Williams mentioned three specifics: Twitter lists to let you more easily aggregate and organize the Twitterverse, and send group messages; location information embedded into every tweet; and an as-yet-to-be-defined “reputation system” designed to make tweets more transparent and verifiable. (I trust I don’t have to embed a link to Twitter.)       
  4. The New York Times is also pumping up its open source software, and inviting readers into the gym. A document reader already lets readers access original source materials linked to a story. What’s best, says information architect Elliott Malkin of NYTimes.com is that those documents are wrapped in “a journalistic layer,” such as a reporter’s explanation or editor’s synthesis. Future versions will make it easier to sort and read both source documents and the journalistic annotations, Malkin says. But get this wiki-esque twist: readers will be able to add their own observations and questions directly into the document stream. Those comments will be moderated by the Times, but once approved, will no longer be segregated into a comments box.     
  5. Podcasting is all but dead. “It’s too hard to use, and growth has stopped,” says guru podcaster-turned-Tech TV guyLeo Laporte.      
  6. This from Lasica, without elaboration: By 2012, 95 percent of content on the Internet will be video.       
  7. Finally, women rock – and rule. “Women are ahead of the general population in (Internet) use patterns,” says Lisa Stone, co-founder of BlogHer. Barely 10 years ago, Stone couldn’t square her single-working-mom life with the widespread sentiment that women would never be a force on the Web. Now BlogHer – a company run by “three chicks with credit cards” – ranks No. 7 in overall use numbers among all blogs, Stone says. (It trumps Gawker.). BlogHer publishes 2,500 bloggers (and pays them a bit to boot) and reaches 15 million women a month. Stone cited these stats from a 2009 survey the company commissioned: Of 109 women in the U.S., 79 million are online. More than half of those use social media at least once a week. And 85 percent of them have bought something based on the recommendation of a trusted blogger. They continue to embrace “soft” lifestyle topics (BlogHer started with a handful of parenting blogs), but have what Stone calls an “unbelievable appetite … for hard news.” Stone credits her traditional newspaper and CNN principles as core to the site’s success: Bloggers have to sign strict editorial guidelines. Paid editors police the posts for everything from plagiarism to hate speech, and violators are booted. BlogHer declines disguised marketing, or pay-for-post blogs. As Stone puts it: “You have to separate chocolate and peanut butter, church and state."
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