Website traffic + ad-driven business models = why prefer Facebook over RSS feeds?

Curious thing happened to me this afternoon.

Yesterday, I’d done another Internet Monitor Dashboard – this time located at the following redirect: chester.wiki/pride.  It attempted to pull together, from a position of relative ignorance on my part, some thoughts, contrasts and conflicting attitudes on the subject of LGBT Pride events, in particular in my city of residence, Chester – but also pulling back from the day itself (last Saturday) and taking a broader and historical point of view.  I’m aware of its limitations, but felt it useful to attempt to try out the tech and show how it could be used, even if less effectively than it should have been.*

In a parallel way, I did a far better job on poverty and hunger, which I know a lot more about as I’m involved in helping to operate a local foodbank’s website.  I was thus able to produce the following site: chester.wiki/poverty.  Mind you, I was also able to find a lot more RSS feeds relating to the subject, which suit the Dashboard widgets currently available.  Chester Pride’s website itself, for example, was not equipped with such feeds as far as I could see.

Which brings me to the subject of such feeds.  One RSS I was waiting on to function was the Chester Chronicle feed at its Chester Pride dedicated section.  The feed as I inputted it then looked like this:

http://www.chesterchronicle.co.uk/all-about/chester-pride?service=rss

The Chester Chronicle is actually pretty damn constructive about RSS.  It has a link at the bottom of the homepage which goes to an explanation of how to extract a feed from any of its sections.

Chester Chronicle RSS-feed page

It’s taken from the Birmingham Post, mind – bit of editing needed there, I think! – but when, for example, I go to the Guardian newspaper, I am unable to find corresponding feeds to their respective content (which doesn’t, of course, mean they don’t exist – it just means I’m not up to the job).

As you can see from a closer look at the explanations, however, I’d actually missed out one forward slash in the feed.  This might explain why it didn’t seem to work.  It doesn’t explain why at least two items from today (though not the weekend reports) have appeared in the feed.  Have the dear Chester Chronicle backroom people been adapting their feeds so something appears on one I wrongly constructed?

🙂

If so, we must doff our caps to what would appear to be a hyperlocal and local journalism-friendly approach to the distribution of news.  They might, of course, make it even more friendly by putting an RSS button on their section pages, to avoid incompetents like myself missing out important characters.  (I could do the same myself, actually; after writing this post, I realise I must!)

Which now brings me to the final issue to hand: as I reported previously, it would seem our local council and my local parish council have locked down their websites (either on purpose or by not thinking things through) as far as RSS is concerned, by a) not activating or b) removing what’s generally a basic facility on most content-management systems.  This means journalists and interested citizens have to manually return to the physical website to see if the pages have been updated or not.  RSS, meanwhile, works like a Facebook notification (and no one is ever against those, now are they?!): it tells you automatically when anything gets posted.  It’s really damn useful, and helps spread any organisation’s messages at zero cost, and to a whole world of content-hungry people and media groups to boot.

I wonder if in the case of traditional newspapers which refuse to make RSS easily visible and available to the public whether this isn’t because their ad-driven business model requires page impressions and plenty of web traffic.  The fears being generated are understandable enough, in this sense; what isn’t so clear, however, is why some organisations – the aforementioned Guardian is one – are embracing so wholeheartedly the full impression of entire articles on Facebook, in preference to an RSS which would allow their content to be distributed automagically via the growing sector of alternative local and hyperlocal organisations.

Why do we think the future lies in a smothering Facebook (my opinion – hey-ho, we’re still allowed to have them, right?) and not in an RSS environment we’d have far more control over?  Facebook effectively (OK, only figuratively) burns your printing-press, and replaces it with a list of suddenly borrowed customer-information – ie your customers – in virtual spaces of their making.  Right now, they give you plenty of dosh and exposure, but when your website traffic is close to non-existent, what as a content writer, developer and publisher will be your bargaining chip then?

Here’s my suggestion then, for the future we’re discussing: follow the Chester Chronicle model by making RSS easier – not more difficult – to access.  You can still keep your website traffic with RSS because (at least as far as I know) the embedded link info of an RSS feed elsewhere can be the full text, intro text or simply just the story headline.  It’s under your control.  If your headlines are competent, people will still click through.  Facebook’s alternatives may offer short-term growth – but mark my words, it’ll be cancerous long-term for the publishers who too readily give up their formerly jealously guarded distribution environments: ie their websites.

In a hyperlocal ecosystem where volunteer organisations learn synergy with more mainstream paid approaches, RSS could become the alternative to Facebook’s unseemly takeover of everything online.  Do you really want to form part of a walled garden belonging to the behemoth, where the stats and tech are not under your direct control?

Reach out, then, I suggest, to initiatives like the Internet Monitor Dashboard and other approaches I am personally not aware of: you might find there are alternatives which could benefit us all.

And if I am wrong … well … it wouldn’t be the first time.  I’m no longer deluded enough to think I can change an industry.  Such foolishness lies firmly in the past.  I’m now, quite simply, a very simple proofreader.

____________________

* In my defence, when I finally tweeted the Pride Dashboard link this evening, I did suggest that Chester Pride, the fabulous organisers of the weekend’s event, cloned the Dashboard, made it their own, and built upon it/radically changed it if necessary, with the corresponding knowledge and empathy they would bring to such analysis:

After all, what the Internet Monitor Dashboard, and wider project, brings to web traffic analysis is the ability to develop and build on content from the points of view of those most affected by issues.  Truth comes from such closeness to experience and knowledge, and I think that is where we should be aiming.

____________________

Update to this post, 06/10/2015: I’ve just received this excellent overview and explanation by Damian Radcliffe – another welcome one in a recent series of other welcome articles – on the subject of hyperlocal publishing.  Today’s report grapples with motivations, self-defined labels and a number of other fascinatingly documented issues – the keyword being documented, backed up as the observations are with carefully collected statistics.  You can read more here.  I suggest you do.

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Website traffic + ad-driven business models = why prefer Facebook over RSS feeds?

What we need ain’t just OPEN data but also ACCESSIBLE data

For those of you who know this subject, you’ll know already where I’m going.

For example, on my local council’s website, we have this introduction to the subject of “open data”:

Open data is about increased transparency and about sharing the information we hold with the wider community, to allow them to use the information as they see fit. To achieve this aim, the data must be in open, machine readable formats that can be easily reused.

We’ve created an Open Data section to help:

  • Make data we hold available online (unless private or sensitive).
  • Encourage residents, businesses and other interested parties to interrogate the data and develop applications, hacks and widgets.
  • Increase transparency and accountability.

This is really good, and much appreciated – probably legislated somewhere too; but let’s really not be churlish.

The site links to an explanation of the term “open” when used in this context, which is useful and constructive.  Wikipedia says similar things:

Open data is the idea that some data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.[1] The goals of the open data movement are similar to those of other “Open” movements such as open source, open hardware, open content, and open access. The philosophy behind open data has been long established (for example in the Mertonian tradition of science), but the term “open data” itself is recent, gaining popularity with the rise of the Internet and World Wide Web and, especially, with the launch of open-data government initiatives such as Data.gov and Data.gov.uk.

The “open” bit relates primarily to the licences, the conditions of use and reuse etc.  What I suspected, but also – I realise in hindsight – not exactly what I was looking for.

I’ve already discussed on these pages how the same council doesn’t have RSS feeds on any of its web pages – though they have said they would consider them if there was evidence of a desire amongst its users to have the facilities.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on adding such feeds, where they exist (local newspapers, blogs, etc do have them), in order that we may have a citizen-managed overview of what’s going on in the city of our residence.

I’ve even created, alongside the original chester.wiki, a more localised chester.wiki/upton (the village where I live).  The content is pretty much the same at the time of writing, as in order to create the new Dashboard (site) all I did was press a button and clone the old one.

So over the afternoon, on and off, I’ve been looking around for more localised information to include on the Upton version of the “news-wiki” idea I’m developing.

I stumbled across a WordPress.org-based site which is run by my local parish council.  It’s a beautifully presented site – clearly some thought has gone into its making and content development.  However, at least today, there is one thing that was missing from a standard WordPress.org installation: RSS feeds.  What’s more, the whole site, even the bits of it relating to regularly updated items, appears to have used the “pages” format of WordPress.org instead of the far more functional blogging engine.  We have, essentially, a static website using a blogging platform, with regularly updated pages that don’t use blogging technology!

I don’t know if the RSS has been left off by accident, if I’m simply unable to find it or if the site is in a kind of lockdown mode for some reason or other, but it’s a pretty sad state of affairs any way you look at it that both the main council website as well as what I assume is this official parish council site should choose to make it necessary for citizens and journalists to physically return to its pages every day to check if there have been any updates, instead of taking the cheaper, terribly simple alternative of using automatically notifying RSS feeds.

What’s more, the advantage of RSS feeds from a marketing point of view is that anyone can embed the content, so freely spreading the message of the originator.  Surely this is something that any public body must embrace.

Which brings me to what I realise I’m actually looking for in order that very local news-wikis may get off the ground: not just open data, where the licences offer reusability, remixing and transformation in exchange for proper attribution etc, but also accessible data.  Make it as easy as possible for an ordinary citizen to reuse, remix and transform your information.  Don’t demand that your website or Twitter feed or Facebook page be the only ways the citizens you serve can engage, get closer and – why not? – examine you!

What we need ain’t just OPEN data but also ACCESSIBLE data

Using CHESTER.WIKI

chesterwiki-header-v1A short list of useful things you can do with thenetmonitor.org’s Dashboard tool, on which chester.wiki is currently running:

  • read the content, as any user on the web
  • clone (ie copy) the whole layout and content to your own Dashboard, and begin to edit, change and remake your very own content from the widget structure provided – no need to know any kind of coding at all: just select your widget, drag & drop and resize & complete to your liking
  • make your own Dashboard editable by just yourself or anybody – it will always, of course, be possible for someone to clone what you have done, whether you allow editing of the original or not

In order to do all of the above, you’ll need to create an account.  However, if you just want to try it out anonymously, that’s also possible.  Check out the instructions here, by clicking on the green “Get Started” button.

Using CHESTER.WIKI

What happens when a disruptive journalism is – itself – running the risk of being disrupted?

I ask this question as I wonder if it’ll be possible for us to properly understand even the near-future’s pace of change – before it knocks us for a massive six.

I’ve already discussed elsewhere Uber’s probable long-term goal of wanting to be first in, on the process they could be aiming to kickstart of privatising city governance.

Jonathan suggests that ideas like chester.wiki is now moving towards might lead to the ultimate elimination of county councillors, as citizens click and tap their way directly to the information and decisions which once were mediated:

Meanwhile, I struggle (as I know nothing about the subject of data journalism – but it shouldn’t be all that difficult, surely …) to even find the open data my own local council, Cheshire West & Chester, should want to be providing:

I’ll give them a couple of days, though – sadly – I’m not holding my breath …

The problem, I suppose, for councillors who are aware of the dangers for local party control and vested interests of all kinds (which they may or may not see themselves forming a part of), is that they might conclude opening up their data to projects like chester.wiki as potentially undermining – one day, a long way down the line – their power of patronage: unaware as they are that if it’s not done – managed! – sooner or later at local level, organisations like Uber will sweep in via national and transnational smart-city projects, and simply eliminate local governance as we have know it.  In much the same way as they have been doing to traditional taxi services for a number of years now.

Want a clearer idea of how disruptive disruptive can get if you ignore it?  Look at this checklist of services you can now get in an Uber kind of way … and then do your very best to try and think more innovatively:

https://www.justpark.com/creative/sharing-economy-index/

And of course, to finish, back to the question I pose in today’s title: for it may not just be the councils.

It occurs to me that the nascent, possibly fragile, certainly still undefined hyperlocal communities out there could also begin to form part of a series of vested interests.

The question I’d ask would, as a result, be as follows: how quickly can such interests grow up – even around a “business model” (ie what we generally call and understand to be hyperlocal journalism) which is currently looking to pick up the spilt milk from the local and regional mainstream newspaper industry?

How innovative and truly “sharing” will it remain; alternatively, how “businesslike” (read private bureaucracy and control, perhaps?) might it eventually become?

It’d certainly be an irony if people in hyperlocal were affected, suddenly, almost immediately, by a sharing economy they had simply chosen to forget about.  It’d be a tad sad too: a lot of time, effort, thought and intelligence is going into the making of new business models at the moment.  But on the other hand, once upon a time, a lot of time, effort and intelligence went into the making of mainstream journalism – and look where that has ended up getting it?

____________________

Update to this post: I got a rapid response from Cheshire West & Chester this very same morning, for which I am very grateful.  They did actually provide me with a lovely stats & data page, whose implications and application I’m clearly going to need a course to get my head round (not their fault), but in relation to RSS feeds etc (surely fairly simple tech to implement), the dialogue wasn’t so positive:

So as you can see, if there was an interest in providing the services they might consider it.  Problem is how exactly they’d measure it.  I’d be interested, myself, in wondering how an “RSS consultation” might go down with the general public – probably nowhere, right?

Oh for a Leeds City Data Mill approach … so how about it, Cheshire West & Chester?  How about we anticipate needs and be more open than we need to?

🙂

What happens when a disruptive journalism is – itself – running the risk of being disrupted?

https://dashboard.thenetmonitor.org (or the easiest wiki on the planet?!)

Via @dangillmor’s tweet this afternoon, I’ve just turned a lovely corner into Harvard cyber-technology: essentially, a monitor of Internet health which – almost by the by, I think (or maybe not …) has a shareable, editable, clonable and re-editable user-interface called the Dashboard.

I’d describe it, essentially, as a multi-edited wiki-style platform which uses digitally undividing widgets instead of gently challenging markdown.  If that doesn’t mean much, let’s see if we can explain it step by step.

What’s thenetmonitor.org and what is its Dashboard?  There is a fairly institutional About page at the site here, which is fair enough as far as it goes.  But it’s the Dashboard which really has me fascinated.  The blogpost introducing the latter can be found here –  definitely worth a read in full, along with the accompanying video.

What can we do with the Dashboard, then?  This is the intention, what we’re supposed to do with it – the original goal, if you like:

Cambridge, MA—The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University is pleased to announce the launch of the Internet Monitor dashboard, a freely accessible tool that aims to improve information for policymakers, researchers, advocates, and user communities working to shape the future of the Internet by helping them understand trends in Internet health and activity through data analysis and visualization.

It allows the following:

The dashboard lets users customize a collection of data visualization widgets—some offering real-time data—about Internet access and infrastructure, online content controls, and digital activity. Users can create multiple collections that enable easy comparisons across countries and data sources, and are quick to configure, edit, and share. In addition to creating their own collections, visitors to the dashboard will be able to view a selection of featured collections based on topics such as online media and network traffic around the world.

How does that translate into the real world?  Well, I’ve been wondering this evening how we could fiddle around with its virtues and apply them to very local communities of news provision: what we’ve been tending to describe as hyperlocal journalism.

You can find the first couple of hours of experimenting here.  I’ve redirected the domain chester.wiki to it for the moment, for easier accessing.

What’s really revolutionary, however, is that anyone, anywhere, can “clone” at any time anyone’s Dashboard at will, as they remake/rework it for a wider/different community’s needs.  This is fascinating, and if it took off for the purposes I am proposing (though barely understanding) tonight, might prove as challenging to the nascent hyperlocal business model as the past decade or two has already been for mainstream journalism and its industry.

Just imagine.  Schools, colleges, businesses, shops … institutions and individuals both, able – at the click of the easiest of buttons – to clone, re-engineer and relearn how to be fascinated once more by the devolved and developing opportunities to communicate.

It’s a thought, eh?  Goodness me … what other weird and wonderful inventions are – even now – out there, waiting to be suddenly sprung on us?

And how might they affect all of our presumptions, held thus far so securely?

https://dashboard.thenetmonitor.org (or the easiest wiki on the planet?!)