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The U.S. newspaper industry was already facing numerous challenges before the economy took a nosedive, but the latest data from the Newspaper Association of America shows that the current economic climate has only exacerbated the already dire state of the American newspaper industry. Specifically, total newspaper advertising revenue fell 16.6% in 2008. Classifieds advertising, which is under a lot of pressure from online ventures like Craigslist, fell almost 30%, and real est
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ate classifieds fell 38%.
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Thanks to the U.S. housing boom, real estate classifieds had been one of the most stable sources of advertising income for newspapers, with growth rates up to 30% in 2006. But now, even recruitment advertising, another income source newspapers used to be able to count on, fell a full 42% in 2008 (and more than 50% in the last quarter of 2008), as overall recruitment fell to record lows thanks to the state of the economy, and as both recruiters and job seekers moved online to advertise and search for jobs.

Indeed, the state of the newspaper industry has become so dire that U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin introduced a bill on Tuesday that would grant non-profit status (and the tax breaks that come with it) to ailing newspapers to give them a chance to restructure their business.


Image credit: Trulia blog

Shutting Down the Presses

In the last couple of weeks, a growing number of newspapers have moved their businesses completely online. Just last week, the Seattle P-I announced that it was going to become an online-only publication with a reduced staff (and the latest data shows that the traffic on the site has actually gone down since then).

Laying Off Journalists

The New York Times, after already selling its venerable headquarters in a lease-back deal earlier this month, now plans to cut 100 of its 1332 newsroom jobs, and the company just announced that it also plans to cut salaries by 5%. The Houston Chronicle just laid off 12% of its staff - and the list of papers that have ceased publication on the Newspaper Death Watch blog continues to grow.

The Breaking Point: Are We There Yet?

One thing is clear: a lot of newspaper are about to hit their breaking point. While there was already a trend towards online publications, the current economic climate is only accelerating this process. Gimmicky experiments like a custom newspaper that readers can print at home will do little to reverse this trend. Indeed, while some forms of printed newspapers (think free, fully advertising-financed newspapers distributed at train stations in Europe, for example) will most likely continue to be around for a while, the future of the industry is clearly online.

CC-licensed image used courtesy of Flickr user purdman1.
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38
People have been whispering about a new web application in development called Hunch. Today, Flickr co-founder and Hunch head honcho Caterina Fake divulged some more details about the new project on her blog.

The new project aims to become a site that can help anyone make a decision about anything. The way it will do this is through the application of decision trees that are created by contributing users. Using
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ki/Decision_tree">decision trees in expert systems is nothing new, but applying that idea to a crowdsourcing model might possibly be a stroke of genius. Think Aardvark meets Wikipedia and you start to get the idea.
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Hunch is still in closed beta, but is accepting requests for invites. We're thinking you will want to sign up, though, after you hear what Caterina says about it:


Look. Decision-making is difficult, and decisions have to be made constantly. What should I be for Halloween? Do I need a Porsche? Does my hipster facial hair make me look stupid? Is Phoenix a good place to retire? Whom should I vote for? What toe ring should I buy?

It's dark and lonely work. Coin-flipping, I Ching consultation, closing your eyes and jumping, postponing the inevitable, Rock-Paper-Scissors, and asking your sister are all time-honored means of coming to a decision -- and yet we think there's room for one more: Hunch.


She adds that a lot of content in Hunch is going to be generated by its user base. Do you know the right questions to ask to help someone pick out the right pair of shoes for hiking, or what cell phone to buy? With Hunch, you will be able to get in on the ground floor and know that your contributions will help many people get the right answer to their question.



While we know very little about the inner workings of Hunch, it apparently combines decision trees with a fair amount of end user personalization in the form of questions it asks people visiting the site. These questions allow Hunch to form affinities with other users who ask similar questions. On the back end, contributors will be able to create topic areas (called Super Questions) and add questions and results underneath those topics. How much control you will have or how the interface looks for this we aren't sure yet.

Caterina also says that there is room for the site to make money, by including Super Question areas that are affiliated with commercial products or services, but that part is not being rushed as they want to get the core functionality working just right.

We think the potential for the idea behind Hunch is huge. If you look at another very famous crowdsourced project, Wikipedia, and combine that with the sheer utility of the application Aardvark (which lets you pose questions to an extensive network Aardvark-managed instant messaging contacts, our review here), the sky really is the limit for how much this tool can grow in usefulness and popularity.

Self-titled photo courtesy of Caterina Fake on Flickr.
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39
AOL, one of the largest national internet service providers and a global web services company, announced today that market research firm Forrester has rated it highest in "overall customer experience" in an independent study. Forrester conducted interviews with almost 4,600 people nationwide and found that AOL rated very high if not highest in categories such as usefulness and ease-of-use. When
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all the categories are combined, AOL was at the top with a 71% approval rating.
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For those of us who have moved on to using internet service providers (ISPs) that provide little more than basic internet access, AOL may conjure memories of free installer CDs in the mail and dialing in over a telephone line. Although AOL still offers dial-up accounts, they have been diligently growing their web destination offerings, including a full portal and news page, free email and two free instant messaging utilites, AIM and ICQ. Even with all these offerings they have succeeded in the tough job of making it simple for everyone who uses their service, either online or through their ISP, to have a great experience.

We will admit to clinging tenaciously to our free AIM account that we have had for many years. Even though we may access AIM through such various third-party interfaces as Gmail and Meebo (and even have a hard time thinking of those applications as third-party) we have long since stopped worrying about the service as anything but always there and available, like the air we breathe. However, somebody runs those servers with close to 100% uptime, and its worthwhile to reflect a moment and realize that AOL has made a commitment for the simple reason of maintaining their online reputation at a very high level.

Sure, we have all heard stories about AOL ISP customer service, and of course seen pictures of AOL CD art, but the numbers tell a different story - that AOL is committed to making sure people who choose them are pleased and have the best possible experience online.

Photo CD Reflections courtesy of Artnow314 on Flickr.
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33
In yesterday's post about my recent trip to Mozilla HQ, we looked at where Mozilla's Chief Innovation Officer, Chris Beard, thinks Firefox is heading. Mozilla's vision for Firefox is for the browser to help users navigate and manage an increasingly complex world - something akin to the concept of intelligent agents. Part of this vision is to enable users to easily and effectively browse the web on their mobile devices.
This is where
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e/FennecVision">Fennec, Mozilla's new mobile browser, comes in. In this post we look at Fennec's progress (it recently delivered its first beta) and Chris Beard gives us his thoughts on Fennec's strategy.

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From Prototype to Beta
We've been tracking the progress of Fennec since its first prototype in April 2008, to the launch of the pre-alpha version in February this year, and the recent launch of the first beta in mid-March. The first extension for Fennec also arrived on the scene in November 2008 - URL Fixer, an add-on that corrects typos in the address bar. The development of Fennec hasn't been without its problems - we reported on some glaring bugs soon after the pre-alpha launch. However the release of the beta this month shows that solid progress is being made.
How Fennec Aims to Get Users
Fennec aims to bring the Firefox browsing experience to the mobile phone, including the ecosystem of add-ons that are probably the biggest reason for using Firefox on the PC. However one immediate problem that Fennec is going to face is actually getting on mobile devices in the first place. For example Apple's Safari browser is the default browser on the iPhone and most users of the iPhone are more than happy with the default. So is Mozilla actively working to make Fennec a default browser on other devices? Beard said that, yes, Mozilla is looking for OEM deals with the likes of Nokia, Windows Mobile and Symbian. As of now, Fennec is only available on the Nokia N810.
However, even without those deals, Beard said that one big advantage of Fennec is that it's easy to install. He said that Fennec aims to bring the "the full Web" experience to the mobile platform, including Firefox's famed add-on platform. So Fennec isn't supposed to be a mini or micro version of the Web for mobile. Beard said that Mozilla is anticipating the increase in power of mobile devices, so they think the full web experience is within reach on mobile. For example, he mentioned getting the "Awesome bar" into mobile (the feature where you start to type in URLs in the browser bar and Firefox auto-completes them).
The User Experience
Although Fennec aims to duplicate much of Firefox's functionality, it has to do some things differently. For example instead of using your mouse to navigate, in Fennec you can have touchscreen interaction - or cursor keys for non-touchscreen handsets. For more on the UI, check out Fennec in action in this screencast by Madhava Enros, the lead user interface designer for Fennec:








Fennec is still in beta and only available on Nokia N810 right now, but there are other developments happening in Mozilla which lead us to believe that Fennec is being positioned as a key complement to Firefox. For example Mozilla's sync app Weave, which we will discuss more of in the next post in this series, now has an extension for Fennec that allows you to sync data from your desktop to Fennec. This ability to sync data between devices could ultimately prove to be a killer feature for Fennec.
The Competition
But despite its sync and add-ons, Fennec faces some stiff competition in the mobile web browser market. Other than Safari on the market-leading (for mobile web in the US at least) iPhone, Opera has consistently been an innovator on mobile phones and it was one of our top 10 Mobile Web products of 2008. Opera's mobile browser is already being shipped on millions of handsets from major mobile manufacturers including HTC, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, T-Mobile, and more. Opera is also available for different types of mobile operating systems like Symbian, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, and Linux, making it the alternative browser of choice for many handset owners.
We also rather like Skyfire, a relatively new entrant to the mobile browser market which has already gained many fans. Let's not forget too that Google's Chrome will come to mobile - we reported last September that a mobile version of Chrome for Android was on the books even at that early stage.
So it's going to be very tough for Fennec, even with the reputation and functionality of Firefox behind it, to make headway in this competitive market. Now let us know in the comments which mobile browser you currently use - and why.

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23
Public collaboration, network effects, crowdsourcing - call it what you will, the read/write web is based largely on projects where the value of the whole is greater than the sum of countless parts. Those parts are contributed by individual people all over the world, often for free. It's world-changing stuff, but can businesses make effective use of this paradigm?

Anjali Ramachandran, a strategist at London based digital agency Many by Many, has compiled a very useful list of
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sourcingexamples.pbwiki.com/">135 real-world examples of businesses leveraging crowd contributions online. From small projects like the collaborative advertising creation project FatMuffin to big company efforts like SAP's Ecosystem, this list is great for inspiration and context.

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The web is proving to be quite disruptive of all kinds of old approaches to doing business, but there's still a shortage of case studies when it comes to new paradigms like crowdsourcing. Ramachandran's list doesn't include any evaluation of the various programs' effectiveness yet, but it's a great place to start. The big list is separated into four parts and each is sortable by project, sector and country of origin. If you'd like to search inside the project and company websites for all 135 examples, we've pulled those links into this custom search engine.

The Crowdsourcing List is itself a crowdsourced effort. It's a wiki, so other people can sign up to contribute more examples, it's been spread around Twitter through retweets and hit the most popular page of social bookmarking site Delicious without having had any media or blog coverage yet as far as we can see.

Lists like this are a great way to add value to conversations on the web and they help technology changes feel all the more tangible. It brings to mind the new Creative Commons database of case studies. Crowdsourcing in particular is something that we've written about extensively here on ReadWriteWeb.

Thanks, Anjali, for putting together this list!



Photo above CC from Flickr user Chris Hambly.
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17
TextFlow, the visually stunning collaborative document editor we reviewed last November, just announced a major update today: online editing and back-end file storage offerings to augment its unique and easy to use Adobe AIR application. Prior to this announcement, TextFlow was limited to only being able to work with local files.
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.org/ck.php?n=14363&cb=14363' target='_blank'>

There are several key differences that TextFlow has from its primary competitors such as EtherPad and Google Docs:


TextFlow is still an AIR application. If you were a TextFlow user before, nothing critical has changed in this regard. Most of TextFlow's competitors are online-only.

Although you can invite people to edit a document online, they basically get their own view of the document. Once they are finished editing, they would click share to push those changes back to the master document. In other words, this isn't live collaboration.

Collaborators that you send an email invite to will be able to work on a web-based version of TextFlow that just supports editing the current document.




Going back through the TextFlow blog, it appears that they have addressed our initial complaint of only being able to successfully edit limited document length files, as well as a number of Microsoft Word document compatibility fixes among other changes.

Overall, we think TextFlow is moving in the right direction, and sticking with a workflow idea that works really well with certain people's method of collaborating on documents. TextFlow comes in a business edition at $99 per user/year and a free personal edition.
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17
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is joining the advisory board of the research engine DeepDyve, a search engine designed to scour the "deep web." This "deep web" is an area of the internet that isn't currently indexed by modern-day search engines like Google and yet consists of an estimated 99.8% of the Internet. Any company that is able to successfully tap into this data will be the one to introduce the next breakthrough technology in search as we know it. Will that be DeepDyve?
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penx.org/ck.php?n=14350&cb=14350' target='_blank'>



Wozniak Joins DeepDyve

According to Wozniak, most of the information on the web is "collecting dust because nobody's come up with a way to mine the data in a way that's useful to researchers and consumers." He believes that DeepDyve has the potential to transform Deep Web search and says he's "excited to bring about that transformation."

Wozniak's role at DeepDyve isn't limiting in any way, but the company expects that his contributions will focus on the DeepDvye technology, especially as it relates to the user experience. As a member of the Advisory Board, he will also meet formally with the company twice per year.

DeepDyve is Not Google

DeepDyve is currently known for their KeyPhrase technology which lets you type in anything in their search box from a few words to entire paragraphs that you copy and paste.  The search engine's algorithm itself was developed by two scientists who worked on the Human Genome Project.  As with that project which required using pattern-matching techniques across large amounts of data, there's also a need for search engines that can analyze large amounts of data in the same way. That's precisely what DeepDyve does.

Typically, keyword search on other engines breaks down as queries grow in length - but not on DeepDyve. The more search terms you enter, the more relevant your results. The DeepDyve engine actually encourages longer search queries. This type of search technique certainly comes at a good time, as our query length is growing each year, with 8-plus keyword searches having increased 20% year-over-year as of February, 2009.

Progress and Problems

We looked at DeepDyve back in September when it was still behind a paywall, then reviewed it again in November when they introduced a free version. At the time, we noted that there were still some issues with any "deep web" search engine - most notably that a lot of the information which DeepDyve uncovers is still behind additional paywalls on subscription-based web sites. Today, that issue still remains.

However, the complaints of many of the commenters on the last post were not about the paywalls but about how the site forced you to register before you could do any searches. As one anonymous commenter noted, to paraphrase, "if you're going to launch a search engine, open it up so people can use it."

It seems DeepDyve took that advice. The search box on the homepage is immediately accessible and even the results pages have a more refined look today than they did only a few months prior.



These sorts of complaints highlight the problem with reviewing cutting edge technologies when they're still in such a raw format - people go there expecting Google, find what appears to be a boring research experiment and then become disillusioned. What they fail to see - what they cannot see, in fact - is that a cursory glance can't reveal the technology behind the site or service. The technology in DeepDyve, for instance, involves advanced algorithms that other engines don't even have yet. The usability issues will be addressed in time and the issues with access to content behind paywalls could always eventually be worked out through partnership deals. But that business side of the DeepDyve project isn't anywhere near as interesting as the potential of gaining access to 99.8% more of the Internet!
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13
In this latest installment in our series on recommendation engines, we look at ChoiceStream - a recommendations vendor which counts Overstock, Borders and AT&T among its high profile clients. ChoiceStream has recently turned its attention to using recommendations in online advertising, and in this post we look at how the company is doing this. The ChoiceStream advertising product aims to generate personalized banner ads for each consumer, using data on shopping and buying patterns
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that it collects from the advertiser's website. The company claims that this technology improves click-thru rates, conversion rates and average order size.

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In a briefing, the company showed us how its recommendations are influencing ads on AT&T's website, based on what an individual user browses at Overstock.

There would obviously be an affinity with Overstock already for the user, if they had visited Overstock (or similar sites also using ChoiceStream's platform) before and then saw an ad for Overstock on AT&T. Nevertheless, despite this bias it makes sense that conversions would increase if the Overstock ad that a user sees on AT&T's website is personalized based on that user's past shopping or browsing behavior. The company claimed that for this particular campaign, user click-thru rates doubled, conversion "about doubled" and Overstock orders increased by an average of 20-30%. If accurate, then those are compelling figures for Overstock.
It remains to be seen whether this technology can be used generally. Right now it appears to have a relatively limited niche in the retail market and its success is very dependent on users having visited and used participating sites (such as Overstock) before.

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40
Mike Rohde was named the official "sketchnoter" of the South by Southwest Interactive conference this month in Austin and his sketches are the only form of note taking we've ever wanted to spend time going through after an event. Panel discussions at conferences are notoriously disappointing, but Rohde has done the dirty work and made it easy and fun for all of us to learn the lessons that speakers like Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, web standards guru Jeffr
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ey Zeldman and many other speakers came to Austin to share.
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We love this way of learning from sessions we didn't attend and can imagine any conference having people offer visually grounded summaries of talks. Who wants to read through pages and pages of plain text notes? Check out the highlights of SXSW, according to Mike Rohde's pen.



It's really hard to create content while at a conference. Doing it in real time, artistically, is very impressive.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

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36
When Gmail failed a few months ago, I tried using Google to find out what was going on. When that did not get me an answer, I tried Twitter and did find some answers. That alerted me to the power of real-time search in one specific usage case. It was a relatively minor problem for me. But what if I ran customer service for a SaaS firm that just had a major outage? How would I find and monitor the conversations going on out there? That is what today's announcement by Salesforce.com about Twitter
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integration is all about.
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What Is It?

Salesforce.com has just announced this extension to its Service Cloud, a tool it released back in January. Service Cloud is built on Salesforce.com's Force platform and allows customer service people to monitor and manage conversations that are happening about their company on social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

When Gmail failed, the idea of calling Google's customer service never occurred to me. That is increasingly normal. We turn to online services because calling customer support call centers is too frustrating.

Salesforce.com announced that you can now search, monitor, and join conversations specifically on Twitter:


Search: find mentions on Twitter.
Monitor: track subsequent mentions and replies.
Join: become an active participant in the conversation.


These are all things you can already do on Twitter and countless Twitter-specific apps. Salesforce.com, though, thinks that you want to be able to do this from within your customer service system, and that Twitter is only one of many places where these conversations are happening.

What Does It Look Like?

The screenshot below shows the Service Cloud with the capability of tracking conversations across multiple social media venues:



Why Is This Important?

There are two ways to look at this:


Salesforce.com is recognizing that a lot of important conversations are happening on Twitter, and it needs to provide this information to its users.

The media is hopelessly infatuated with Twitter, and Salesforce.com saw this as a good way to get some attention.


If the latter is true, then one point to Salesforce from this journalist! Our take, though, is that it's a bit of both. Salesforce.com presents this as a tool for customer service, but it is equally applicable to sales. Before contacting someone on an important call, a quick check on what is being said about them, about you or your firm, and/or about the subject of your call is simply good preparation.

Today's announcement is important because Twitter is where those conversations are most easily available, for two reasons:


Twitter is up to the minute (unlike Google). This matters in customer service. You cannot say, "Sorry, Google's crawler hasn't yet found this," when speaking to an irate customer.

Twitter's real-time information is more visible and accessible (compared to Facebook and LinkedIn). This is a testament to Twitter's openness. Facebook's March 5th redesign seems motivated, at least in part, by the need to make the real-time news feed more visible.

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