Content Strategy Stories from the Frontline

Rachel Lovinger   March 23, 2010
Surviving SXSW — One foursquare badge at a time.

Here’s the news from the front lines at SXSW: Content is here to stay! Sure, there were people calling for content management systems to rest in peace, warning that social media can destroy your business model, and decrying the death of the New York Times. But, in fact, people are still enamored of digital content in all its forms. They’re talking about who’s making it, who owns it, who wants it, who has it and who doesn’t, how it gets made, where it is, and even how it can live on beyond its creators.

There were nearly 800 panels, lounges, book signings, parties and other events at SXSW interactive this year. Here are just a few of the highlights of my conference:

Understanding Content: The Stuff We Design For – Let’s start with a little shameless self-promotion. I had a great time giving this talk with Karen McGrane (@karenmcgrane) of Bond Art + Science. The slides are posted on Slideshare and you can listen to the audio of our talk on the event details page.

Are Content Farms Good or Evil? Yes. – The answer is not as simple as the title jokingly suggests. As a content strategist, it’s easy to get riled up about this topic, but step back from the hyperbole (sweatshops? sharecroppers? hardly) and the sad truth is that the main offense of content farms is probably going to be a new spike in mediocrity.

Offering Your Content in 100 Languages – June Cohen of TED Conferences, Leonard Chien of Global Voices Online, and Seth Bindernagel of Mozilla discussed how they work with devoted global communities to translate their projects into local languages.

Writing Web Content For A Living – With panelists like Erin Anderson of Brain Traffic and Ian Alexander of Eat Media (as well as Tiffani Jones of thingsthatarebrown and Dan Maccarone of Hard Candy Shell), it’s no wonder that this panel ended up being as much about content strategy as about web writing.

Future of Context: Getting the Bigger Picture Online – Some technical difficulties at breakfast prevented me from getting to this discussion until it was nearly over, but what I caught sounded like a lively and interesting discussion. Hopefully the audio recording will be online soon, and in the meantime the panelists have created a website (The Future of Context) to continue the discussion online.

If you didn’t make it to the conference (or even if you did and couldn’t make it to all the panels you wanted to see), many audio recordings of the talks are already on the site, and many more will be added soon. (Go to the A-Z list of panels, and check the details page to see if your chosen talks have been posted yet.) And if you still can’t get enough, you can always go back and re-read our pre-SXSW Q&A series.

Did you attend SXSW 2010? What were your favorite panels and why? Let us know by leaving a comment.

SXSW 2010 Q&A: Henry Copeland

Matt Geraghty   March 11, 2010

The Breakdown: With SXSW Interactive just days away we were lucky enough to have a last minute chat with Henry Copeland (@HC). Copeland runs social media advertising pioneer which launched in 2002 and represents over 1500 blogs.  We asked Henry to give a brief overview of his SXSW panel Media Armageddon: What Happens When The New York Times Dies.

S/G: Tell us about what people might be able to expect from your panel “Media Armageddon: What Happens When The New York Times Dies.”

Henry: We’ll have a healthy, maybe even raucous, debate about what New York and the country might look like without the Times. The panelists come from every corner of the boxing ring — Greg Beato (Reason Magazine) sees the market (aka the Internet) filling the holes and then some. Amy Langfield (NewYorkology LLC), coming at this as a blogger/tweeter in NYC (@newyorkology) and former journalist, has first hand tales of bloggers’ frequent inability to confirm facts and nail down rumors. Markos Moulitsas (DailyKos) runs America’s biggest liberal blog and can speak to both the positives and negatives of the Time’s role in the national political news ecosystem. And David Carr (NYTimes), a veteran journalist and media columnist, can talk about what happens to New York’s civic space if there’s a collapse of the big tent pole it all lives under.

S/G: If you are predicting the demise of The New York Times, where does that leave other major national newspapers ?

Henry: I should be clear that The New York Times is a straw man in this argument. We’re not going to debate the economics of newspapers or publishing the Times — we’ll just skip that debate entirely and go straight to “what happens if they’re gone.”

S/G: Does the recent announcement from The New York Times that they will have a new pay-for-content model in 2011 give you any confidence in the paper’s longevity?

Henry: Again, the specifics of the economics of The New York Times aren’t what we’re focusing on per se. But since you asked, I do think that the pay-wall won’t work. First, readers can get most news from many sources, and they’re going to gravitate to the easiest to access and cheapest sources. You saw what happened to Newsday when they put up a paywall. They got just three dozen subscribers over three months.

Finally, most importantly, the articles that are most crucial and unique in the Times, at least from a national perspective, won’t be either cost-effective or influential if hidden behind the paywall.

The Times’ articles about Afghanistan or Pakistan or Liberia are vital both in terms of national security and US readers’ ability to be intelligent world citizens. These articles are increasingly unique to the Times — too few newspapers are investing in them. But these articles are doubly cursed: they’re expensive to produce and they’re unlikely to attract a large paying audience.

S/G: With the ever increasing glut of news content available online how will people in the years ahead be able to find quality journalism?

Henry: Because of the high cost of production, quality journalism — which is to say multi-sourced, thoughtfully reported stories that take more than an hour to produce — are going to be scarcer and scarcer. So, in fact, its not going to be that hard to identify or locate — the good stuff is going to stick out like a sore thumb. But most readers don’t care and in terms of mindshare, the good stuff is going to get crowded out. Take a look at the little “top posts” box in the right column of the Huffington Post. Many folks think of HuffPo as a paragon of serious new media. On any given day, half HuffPo’s top stories are about semi-nude celebrities.

S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW 2010 ?

Henry: Wow, it’s a long list. I look forward to catching up with lots of old friends and also meeting new people I’ve become fans of on Twitter.

To keep everyone straight, I’ve actually built a map of all the people at SXSW I want to catch up with:

Explore the rest of the SXSW 2010 Q&A Series.

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by tantek
Badge – by adactio
4sq iPhone app – by dpstyles(tm) [dennis crowley]
Microphone – by hiddedevries
Nexus One – by pittaya

SXSW 2010 Q&A: Fred Benenson

Rachel Lovinger   March 8, 2010

The Breakdown: As we gear up for SXSW Interactive to officially get started at the end of the week, enjoy our interview with Fred Benenson (@Mecredis), who works for Kickstarter and teaches courses on copyright and cyberlaw at NYU/ITP. Fred is leading the panel Can You Copyright a Tweet? which will discuss the implications of intellectual property when it’s shared with the world in 140 character chunks.    

S/G: Why would people be concerned about whether they can copyright tweets?

Fred: The main reason is that there’s a bit of confusion over the issue in general. Tweets themselves, at 140 characters appear to be too short to copyright. This stems from the fact that authors can’t assert copyright over individual sentences or titles or even short phrases.

But that doesn’t mean the content someone generates on Twitter isn’t theirs to do what they want with. It just means that they probably can’t prevent someone from using a tweet of theirs in some other context. Twitter’s Terms of Use specifically states that you own your tweets, so they’re trying to be pretty clear and straightforward about it too. But I still think there’s some haziness over what happens when someone takes a tweet of yours and puts it on a coffee mug for sale in CafePress or wherever.

S/G: Which of your own tweets would you most want to copyright?

Fred: Anything anyone creates and fixes in a tangible medium that has marginal creativity is automatically subject to copyright protection. So this means that my tweet stream is already my copyright, and the question is really which of my tweets don’t I want to copyright. I actually don’t care at all. Twitter’s strength is its ability to spread a message quickly and if someone’s reusing my tweet here or there, I have absolutely no problem with that.

S/G: For years you worked at Creative Commons, and now you work at Kickstarter. Both are projects designed to support people who want to create and share things. What inspired you to get involved with each of these projects?

Fred: I’ve been involved in the free culture movement for almost 10 years at this point. We’re really interested in digital activism, technology advocacy, and privacy rights online. I was initially pulled into the copyfight when I got interested, in high school, in a trial involving a teenage hacker and the right to distribute source code that cracked DVD’s digital rights management software. In college I realized that the recording industry’s lawsuits against college students were essentially a political and generational issue: filesharing was not as cut and dry as they were making it, and for a lot of young people, sharing content online was a natural and inevitable cultural evolution.

So it seemed like the seeds of a real political movement that I could get involved in. At the same time, other students at Swarthmore College were getting involved in a very interesting and public lawsuit with a voting machine manufacturer over whether internal memos could be censored using copyright law. Copyright law seemed to be at the heart of a lot of interesting battles over the future of technology and I started reading Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture. By senior year of college, I had started Free Culture @ NYU, a student group that was part of an international movement to raise awareness about these issues. It’s still going strong, and there’s a whole new generation of student activists at the helm.

After college, Creative Commons just felt like a natural place for me to work. And it was a great couple of years of really getting established in the copyright reform scene. I started talking to Kickstarter about how some of their project creators were using CC and how I found that interesting (the free culture community has been interested in utilizing a business model for creators that doesn’t wholly depend on leveraging copyright). That lead to more conversations and it just seemed like a good step to make. And the last couple of months have been great at Kickstarter, and I can’t wait to see more free culture projects on the platform.

S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?

Fred: I love SXSW because it’s a great time to catch up with friends that I wouldn’t ordinarily see, and everyone seems to have tons of space in their schedule. I’m looking forward to catching a few panels here or there, but I think it’s mainly about reconnecting and meeting new people.

Explore the rest of the SXSW 2010 Q&A Series.

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by tantek
Badge – by adactio
4sq iPhone app – by dpstyles(tm) [dennis crowley]
Microphone – by hiddedevries
Nexus One – by pittaya

SXSW 2010 Q&A: Kate Miltner

Melissa Sepe   March 1, 2010

The Breakdown: Our next interview in the SXSW Q&A series is with Kate Miltner (@katemiltner), founder of New York Social Media Roundtable and social media strategist currently based in Los Angeles. She will be leading the panel From Trolls to Stars: The Commenter Ecosystem, which will explore the cultures and practices of commenters on forums, blogs, and online publications. Panelists will discuss a variety of issues including the ways in which commenters gain influence among their peers, the self-regulation of commenting populations, and the effects of Facebook Connect on commenter behavior.

S/G: What is commenter culture, and how did you become interested in it?

Kate: Commenter culture is basically the life that springs up around a particular blog or content hub. I think a good analogy to use is blog/content platform as bar or coffee house. The bar has its own personality, which attracts a certain kind of customer— nerds, fashionistas, media types, old crotchety dudes, etc. Within the customer base, you have several groups:

  • The regulars, who often spend all day hanging out and talking to each other
  • The daily visitors, who don’t have time to hang out all day but still recognize/interact with the regulars and feel a sense of identification with the place
  • The random drive bys who come for a particular event or one-off occasion
  • The drunk jerks who show up just to make trouble (trolls)

There are definitely blogs that don’t have regulars, and there are content hubs whose commenters are almost totally comprised of trolls (4chan* comes to mind), but our panel is going to focus on the types of blogs that have fomented robust communities that almost have lives of their own.

As for me, I first became interested in the whole phenomenon back in 2005. I had started blogging, and became part of the New York new media blogger community that orbited around the Gawker Media blogs (Gawker in particular). I was an early Jezebel reader/commenter and now I’m a heavy Tumblr user, and all of those places have very involved, very active communities that not only exist online, but IRL (in real life). I’ve met some of my closest friends through the online-to-IRL transition, which is not an unusual phenomenon in that part of the online world.

*[Editor’s Note: May be NSFW]

S/G: What are the different levels in the social hierarchy of a commenting community?

Kate: To be honest, I’m not quite sure that there’s a specific hierarchy that applies to all commenter communities— it definitely differs from site to site. What I can say is that no matter what site you’re on, there definitely tends to be a pack of, for lack of a better term, Alpha Commenters. These are the people that the rest of the community treats as leaders. The panel will discuss why certain commenters rise above the rest— from my perspective, it’s because they’re funnier/wittier/more articulate than everyone else.

S/G: In what ways have you seen commenters affect the content of a blog or online publication?

Kate: Well, there are two main ways that I’ve observed– but that’s only from the outside. I’m really interested to hear from some of the editors on our panel—Dashiell Bennett, senior writer for Deadspin, Meg Frost, founder and editor of Cute Overload, Jessica Valenti, founder and editor of Feministing, and Anthony DeRosa, co-founder of Neighborhoodr—about how the commenters on their site shape (or fail to shape) editorial policy.

The first way is rather direct— when you have a commenter (usually an Alpha Commenter) become an editor. In that case, the roles are technically changed, but you have someone who deeply understands what commenters want actually curating and writing content, which is pretty cool.

The second is less direct, and it involves metrics. Pageviews, clicks, and comment counts are pretty decent indicators of how interesting a piece of content is (I mean that in terms of whether or not it attracts interest, not in a subjective sense). The Gawker Media blogs went whole hog with the metrics thing and started paying their writers based on pageviews a few years ago. A lot of people (including the commenters) complained that it changed the focus of the writing to be less sophisticated and more sensational/link-baitish so that pageviews (and paychecks) would go up. I don’t know what the editorial focus would have been had Nick Denton not implemented that program, but that whole network is posting record traffic, so take that for what you will.

An important thing to note is that comments and viewing behavior aren’t always correlated— meaning that what the comments say is not what’s reflected in the pageviews. Some of the highest pageview counts are on posts about people that commenters hate. Just check out any post on Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag on Perez Hilton— people are super vicious, but I bet you anything that the pageview counts are through the roof (they certainly know how to sell copies of Us Weekly, that’s for sure). Julia Allison is a similar figure— people excoriate her in the comments sections [of Gawker blogs], but the pageview counts on posts about her were highest at the peak of her unpopularity. Some of the most unpopular people on Tumblr have the highest follower counts (the practice is called “hate-following”) because people can’t look away.  As the old maxim goes, the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference.

S/G: What factors make for a successful self-policing community? When do self-policing communities fail?

Kate: I think the key factor when it comes to self-policing communities is how important the community is to its members collectively. That’s to say, when the majority of the people are really invested, they tend to quash trolling and other sorts of misbehavior without much need for a moderator. It’s sort of the “this is my house, and you can’t do that here” mentality. It’s important to note that when I say invested, I mean in the health of the community as a whole— not in a particular topic. Case in point: things got really out of control in the comments section on Engadget around the time of the iPad launch. People got really heated about the whole thing, and then trolls came in and fanned the flames to make it really nuts, so much so that Joshua Topolsky (the editor-in-chief) shut comments off completely for a few days until things cooled down. The other key factor is having the same accepted standards of behavior. Comments that are considered to be no big deal (or even hilariously awesome) on, say, Deadspin, could be looked at as flaming/trolling/bannable on a more conservative site.

S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?

Kate: Ooh, that’s a tough one. I have to say that one of the panels I’m most looking forward to is Doing it Wrong: Recently Possible Technology, which is going to be like an Iron Chef-esque faceoff of tech between Bre Pettis and Tal Chalzin. I’m also really interested in any panels dealing with the evolution of print media, and also anything related to mobile content, functionality, and the intersection of the two. I’m headed to media-nerd grad school in the fall and plan on focusing on mobile, so that stuff is really compelling to me.

Explore the rest of the SXSW 2010 Q&A Series.

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by tantek
Badge – by adactio
4sq iPhone app – by dpstyles(tm) [dennis crowley]
Microphone – by hiddedevries
Nexus One – by pittaya

SXSW 2010 Q&A: Kevin Smokler

Matt Geraghty   February 26, 2010

The Breakdown: Our next interview in the SXSW Q&A series is with Kevin Smokler, CEO of who will be leading the panel ‘A Brave New Future for Book Publishing.’ This discussion will cover the state of the publishing industry and how the movement towards embracing digital is playing out among authors, publishers and readers while reshaping the landscape altogether.

S/G: Can you tell us what people can expect from your SXSW panel ‘A Brave New Future for Book Publishing’?

Kevin: A candid look at how the existing  model of book publishing is not well and getting sicker, but more importantly is ripe for a kind of passionate reinvention. Then a brisk run-through of the amazing ideas we hear everyday as publishing professionals  from our colleagues, from authors and plain old literary enthusiasts about to how we can make every aspect of our business easier, more accessible and with greater cultural relevance. Then straight to Q & A because I’m positive our audience will have more.

If I may say, It’s a wondrous time to be in books, like living in the Bronx in the late 1970s when Kool Herc started throwing street parties.

S/G: Has the book publishing industry as a whole been slow to embrace unique digital business models?

Kevin: I would say so but not because book publishing is filled with grumpy fuddy-duddies. There may be a few but a) I haven’t met them and b) the slowness you’re asking about is so deeply wired in publishing’s DNA that it will take a long time to re-engineer. Think of how long it takes an author to write a book, how long it takes a publisher to bring it to market. How long does it take us to read a book v. listen to an album or watch a movie? Careful, incremental cultural production has been the way of things for so long in publishing that it takes re-conceiving then reorganizing whole sectors of the industry to simply bring it into our rapidly changing present.

Now of course change should happen and it should happen faster. But no one should be surprised that it has been slow in getting here.

S/G: How does the iPad play into the new landscape for book publishers and readers?

I think my fellow panelist Pablo Defendini (web producer for, the science fiction publisher) said it best: “the iPad is the first step in replacing the mass market paperback in a casual reader’s hand—the true replacement to the supermarket/drug store/airport mass market rack.” Meaning that the iPad simply isn’t another device you must spend several hundred dollars on so you can read books in digital form. Rather, it is both an eReader and a lightweight replacement for a laptop in one swift stroke. Michael Sippey of Six Apart went a step further and called the iPad “the new family computer” meaning its size, weight and UI lend itself to being used as the ipod or television remote control, a digital picture frame and a casual games console, a multitude of replacements for existing devices and peripherals.

All of which to me says that this is going to provide a ton of functionality for a rather modest $500. And if that’s true AND is has decent eReader functionality and eBook shopping, then why bother spending at least half that on a dedicated eReader? The iPad is likely to be the second leap forward after the Kindle towards eBooks becoming a mainstream format.

S/G: Are there particular publishing models that you think stand out like Scribd, Book Oven, and Stanza that might point to where the business is headed in the future?

Kevin: I love that all three of the companies you named either democratize the writing and publishing process and add a kind of ubiquity to where books can be read. But what has not yet been done, and is vitally necessary, is technology to sample books at a manageable mp3-like size. I’m thinking 500 words. The sad truth is that the more easily available the more different kinds of books are available, the quicker the reader will feel overwhelmed and do what is only human: retreat to the comfortable and known. And that actually works to the disadvantage of the unknown author, the small press, the dissatisfied reader–the supposed beneficiaries of these new publishing models.

Therefore I would challenge all the smart folks at these companies (and those who I plan on meeting at SXSW) to design some sort of literary pez dispenser and find the correct platform (iPhone, desktop, iPad, the ether) for it.

S/G: What are you looking forward to at SXSW 2010?

Kevin: It will be my tenth year. Good friends, great ideas, old friends.

Explore the rest of the SXSW 2010 Q&A Series.

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by tantek
Badge – by adactio
4sq iPhone app – by dpstyles(tm) [dennis crowley]
Microphone – by hiddedevries
Nexus One – by pittaya

SXSW 2010 Q&A: Robert Strent

Matt Geraghty   February 22, 2010

The Breakdown: Our next interview in the SXSW Q&A series is with Robert Strent of Grubman, Indursky & Shire, PC who will be leading a panel entitled ‘Don’t Get Sued! A Guide For Content Creators.’  This panel will showcase practical every day issues and advice around content ownership, licensing, rights/clearances and employment relationships.  Get a glimpse of the highlights below.

S/G: What can people expect to hear from your panel ‘Don’t Get Sued!  A Guide For Content Creators‘?

Robert: The panel will highlight what content creators need to do in order to make sure they own, control or otherwise have the right to use and exploit their content in the manner they intend. The idea for the panel came to me while I was working on a deal that involved taking content a client had created for exploitation on the web and re-purposing it for inclusion in a TV program. As the client went back and reviewed the status of the rights it owned or controlled with respect to this content (something all television networks would require in this situation), it turned out the client didn’t always have the proper music clearances, appearances releases, location releases, etc. As a result, some of the content could not be re-purposed. It occurred to me that as the lines between so-called new media and traditional media continue to blur, these types of issues will continue to present themselves.

S/G: What content legal considerations are most often ignored today?

Robert: I don’t think I can point to any particular legal considerations that are ignored more than others. When it comes to something like user generated content, music is obviously a big ticket item, and the unauthorized use of music has certainly gotten a lot of press over the past few years. When it comes to “professionally” created content, it’s really just a matter of whether the creators are paying attention to all the different elements for which rights need to be obtained (or “cleared”). Of course, there are plenty of situations where the content creators know exactly what they have and don’t have in the way of clearances, and they choose to put the content out there without full clearance. This might be because they feel confident about having an alternative basis for using uncleared content (such as the “fair use” doctrine under copyright law) or they think they are flying so far under the radar that the owner of the uncleared rights will never come after them (or decide it’s not worth going after them).

S/G: What do people need to keep in mind when it comes to licensing third party material for inclusion in content they are creating?

Robert: I’d say there are 2 main points to keep in mind: First, the license needs to authorize the content creator to exploit the licensed material in all the formats and media where (and for so long as) the content creator intends to exploit his/her content (e.g., on the web, on tv, in films, in print, etc.). The cleared media and the length of the license affect the cost (if any) of the license. Content creators should carefully consider all the ways in which they might be using their content in connection with the negotiation of their licenses. Second, the content creator needs to be sure they are obtaining rights with respect to all aspects of the content being licensed. For example, a license to use a photograph of an individual generally requires permission from the copyright owner (usually the photographer) and the subject of the photograph.

S/G: When is content owned by an employee vs. the employer?

Robert: The simple answer is the employer owns content created by the employee as a “work made for hire” under copyright law. However, there are certainly shades of grey because it’s not always clear whether an employee’s creation is within the scope of his employment. Factors to be considered in determining whether an employee’s creation are owned by the employer include when it’s created (during or after the work day), where it’s created (on or off the employer’s premises) and the materials used in connection with the creation (e.g., equipment owned by the employer). Employers and employees can choose to address these issues in an employment agreement to create clear boundaries.

S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW 2010?

Robert: I really enjoy the energy of the event and seeing what’s new and hearing what people are talking about. As an entertainment and media lawyer I do a lot of film work, so I’m also looking forward to seeing a few films. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be around for the music part of the festival like I was last year, so that’s a bummer.

Explore the rest of the SXSW 2010 Q&A Series.

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by tantek
Badge – by adactio
4sq iPhone app – by dpstyles(tm) [dennis crowley]
Microphone – by hiddedevries
Nexus One – by pittaya

SXSW 2010 Q&A: Annie Lin

Matt Geraghty   February 15, 2010

The Breakdown: Our next interview in the SXSW Q&A series is with Annie Lin, Director of Licensing for The Rights Workshop, a music supervision and clearance company. Annie tells us about her panel ‘Music Licensing for Emerging Media: Apps, Widgets, Viral Videos‘ shedding light on the challenges and opportunities that are facing content creators and those companies that want to license content. Read on for insight into how it’s all playing out in the rapidly changing music business.

S/G: Can you tell us about your SXSW panel entitled “Music Licensing for Emerging Media: Apps, Widgets, Viral Videos” and what you’ll be discussing?

Annie: The panel focuses on some of the really new and innovative ways music is being used in emerging technologies — from iPhone games to viral videos. I will be discussing the challenges faced by content creators who wish to license music for use in new media – particularly commercial music controlled by major labels and publishers.

S/G: What does someone who wants to integrate music into their web or interactive media project need to keep in mind?

Annie: It is important to consider the cost of licensing music in advance of cutting the music to the project, as well as the amount of time that the licensing process can take. When you are using major label and publisher-controlled copyrights in an interactive media project, you are asking for usage rights that, depending on the use, may or may not be familiar to the copyright holders.

Under U.S. copyright law, there are no statutory music rates for most types of interactive licensing, which means that the fee is a matter of negotiation. One of the major negotiating points is the nature of the use, and in determining this, a copyright holder might ask questions like where is the music file hosted; how much of the song are you using; how many people can or will be likely to hear the music; is it streaming or downloadable; and so forth.

Some uses are straightforward, like Internet streaming in a video tethered to a single site. But when the project is more complex — for example, if it has a viral component or if it’s a mobile app that also talks to a widget on the web — then you need to have some conversations with the copyright holders to ensure that they understand the use and that the price doesn’t go through the roof merely because you are doing something new. These conversations take time, and in a best case scenario, you will have factored this into the product development schedule for your project.

S/G: In this rapidly changing music industry, how can content creators ensure that their work is not only protected but that it is positioned for licensing opportunities?

Annie: People complain that the Internet has created too much noise and interference and that it difficult to be heard in an environment where everyone, from the mediocre to the talented, has a voice. But I do strongly believe that talent has a way of finding its audience and that the most successful artists will use the Internet to bypass gatekeepers and create opportunities for themselves.

The music business has always been a business of relationships and connections. Traditionally, it was necessary to wait for someone to open the door for you because there was no other way to get into the door. But with social networking tools like Twitter and LinkedIn, and the abundance of business information online, it is possible for someone savvy and motivated to become a player — and for bands to get their music in front of the right people. Why wait for a record deal to get your music in front of an ad agency or a production company? Why wait for an agency to deem you worthy? If you do the research, end up in the right person’s inbox and craft the right pitch, you will be exactly where you want to be.

The Internet has made it possible for other earnest content creators to also follow this route, and that means that the space can be crowded. But I do think that politeness, persistence and business-savvy pay off. We’ve really come a long way from the era of demo tapes and CDs hand-mailed to P.O. boxes, of “don’t call us, we’ll call you”, and of mythical suits that work in the far-off distant “industry”.

As for protection of work, I don’t think it’s as much of a concern when it comes to music licensing and clearance. Realistically, the companies that really have a budget to license music will secure permission to use the music because they don’t want to be liable for copyright infringement. Occasionally, you do hear about things like the recent White Stripes/Superbowl controversy, which may or may not have been a mere oversight. However, for the most part, companies do make a good faith effort to license the music used in their projects.

S/G: In this age where record companies are shrinking, music stores are becoming extinct and we see a shift towards the independent musician, how does this play out within music licensing business?

Annie: I think that these trends may ultimately lower the cost of licensing music. As a rule, it costs more to license music from major publishers and labels because they control the copyrights to “name” content, and have traditionally had a monopoly on mass marketing and promotion channels. However, the Internet has made it possible for unsigned independent musicians and musicians on a smaller label to promote themselves creatively and make a name for themselves. These artists are generally been happy to undercut the price of major label content if it means that they can get their song into a TV show or advertisement or film. At some point in the future, this may mean that the majors will need to find a way to compete by their lowering prices as well. Perhaps then the cycle will repeat itself. I think that the end result will be that the cost of music goes down.

S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?

Annie: Aside from great films, amazing bands and old friends, I’m looking forward to seeing what’s groundbreaking and next at SXSW Interactive — the next Twitter, the next Foursquare, the next Tapulous, the next Shazam. And a few years later, when the app is firmly entrenched on everyone’s mobile phone or iPad, I’ll get to look back and say I remember when that was just a product demo at SXSW.

Explore the rest of the SXSW 2010 Q&A Series

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by tantek
Badge – by adactio
4sq iPhone app – by dpstyles(tm) [dennis crowley]
Microphone – by hiddedevries
Nexus One – by pittaya

SXSW 2010 Q&A: Helen Klein Ross

Melissa Sepe   February 10, 2010

The Breakdown: In anticipation of the upcoming SXSW Interactive conference, our next interview in the SXSW Q&A series is with Helen Klein Ross (@adbroad), founder of Brand Fiction Factory, which aims to help companies use narrative to strengthen their brands in the digital space. She will be giving a talk called 10 Rules of Brand Fiction from Mad Men’s @BettyDraper.  Helen began exploring the concept of brand fiction in 2008 while tweeting as Betty Draper of AMC’s Mad Men (@BettyDraper). After presenting about her Mad Men Twitter experiences at SXSW 2009, Helen is back to share her wisdom about this unique approach to branded content.

S/G: What’s the story (no pun intended) behind Brand Fiction Factory?

Helen: There are plenty of smart digital strategists out there helping brands chart a course in Wide World of Webs. But what story should a brand be telling out there? How to make sure it’s a story that’s not only engaging but true to the brand’s DNA? How to build a mythology that extends current marketing efforts? How, in other words, to do the creative?

I’m launching Brand Fiction Factory in the company of a few other Mad Men on Twitter conspirators to transform traditional, one-way advertising communication into entertainment that elicits real-time conversation essential to building brand share today. It’s a content provider for ad agencies, entertainment companies and others seeking to engage consumers in the digital space.

S/G: How will this year’s talk build on or diverge from your 2009 SXSW panel “Behind the Scenes with Mad Men on Twitter”?

Helen: Last year’s panel shared the drama of how characters from a cult TV show became a phenomenon in an unlikely media universe, when Twitter had a fraction of the users it has today and was used mainly for information exchange.

This year, the session will be more of a tutorial in which we’ll share learnings we’ve acquired over the past couple of years.

S/G: What differentiates brand fiction from other types of fan-produced narrative content?

Helen: Good question. Most fan fiction is brand fiction, but brand fiction itself encompasses a much broader universe. Brand fiction is branded or unbranded entertainment in the service of a brand. It’s participatory entertainment that validates consumers and gives them new incentive to connect with a brand, allowing for a deeper relationship with it. Brand fiction can be created by the brand, or merely condoned by it, by virtue of a brand allowing it to continue. Some brands are reluctant to do this, afraid of ceding control of their brand message. But this is to ignore the far greater loss of ceding claim in a new frontier to competitors. One of the things I’m going to speak about at SXSW with Michael Bissell (@Roger_Sterling on Twitter) is how brand fiction, fan-created or brand-created, can play a key role in a marketing campaign.

S/G: How can brand fiction benefit companies outside of the entertainment sector?

Helen: The area of brand fiction remains largely untapped by marketers who aren’t yet taking advantage of this new way to tell a brand story, even though, of course we need a new way, because old ways alone aren’t cutting it anymore with consumers. Brands traditionally told their story via broadcast advertising, but now audiences aren’t willing to sit back and have the story pipelined to them; they want to be an active part of the narrative. Henry Jenkins has written eloquently on this shifting landscape and the rise of transmedia entertainment in his book “Convergence Culture.”

I think brand fiction will be an integral part of our marketing future. Every brand has a story to tell and whether or not consumers are willing to listen depends on how the story is delivered to them. Brand fiction means re-crafting the brand message to allow for audience interaction by delivering it in various forms created and produced for the environment(s) where the audience is most likely to receive it.

It may sound complicated, but really, it’s as simple as Santa. Santa’s a brand fictionalized for every platform. For two months a year, you can’t go out of your house without being immersed in the Santa brand story, whether you’re watching TV, cruising the web, making a call, passing a billboard, even riding an elevator. Santa’s the best example of brand fiction there is: make the brand story an immersive experience which affords massive opportunity for consumer engagement, even evangelism. That, Virginia, is the future of advertising.

S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?

Helen: I’m looking forward to F2F conversations with a lot of people who I usually get to see only as avatars. And to tons of learning from a great lineup of panels.  Also looking forward to a new event in the industry that’s launching at SXSW this year–The Hive Awards. For the first time coders, programmers, user experience designers and other “unsung heroes of the internet” are being honored at an awards show, organized by Alan Wolk. That should be fun. And since film and interactive conferences overlap, I hope to make time for a film or two. But, honestly, if this year is anything like last, I probably won’t be able to tear away from interactive. So many sessions, so little time.

Explore the rest of the SXSW 2010 Q&A Series

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by tantek
Badge – by adactio
4sq iPhone app – by dpstyles(tm) [dennis crowley]
Microphone – by hiddedevries
Nexus One – by pittaya

SXSW 2010 Q&A: Margot Bloomstein

Rachel Lovinger   January 25, 2010


The Breakdown: In anticipation of this year’s SXSW Interactive conference, our next interview in the SXSW Q&A series is with Margot Bloomstein (@mbloomstein), a brand and content strategy consultant who will be giving a talk called Content Strategy: what’s in it for you? One of the things we love about Margot is that she always comes up with the best metaphors for explaining content strategy concepts, as evidenced in her ALA article, The Case for Content Strategy – Motown Style. Margot always reminds us – in those rare moments when we forget – that we should be having fun with all this.

S/G: So, content strategy, what IS in it for me?

Margot: Fame, fortune, and everything that goes with it–what? No? Well, at least when you address content strategy, you can enjoy the peace of mind that goes with knowing you’re helping to facilitate communication.  It’s only slightly less fabulous than glam rock.  What else?  Whether you’re a designer, IA, or broader web strategist, when you evangelize content strategy, you’re helping to create a more cohesive experience for your end user.  More immediately, you’ll also strengthen your own deliverables and help your client appreciate a more holistic vision of the end product.  Ready to rock your work from a new angle?  Check out this workshop at SXSW.

S/G: What’s one of your favorite websites that demonstrates really excellent content strategy?

Margot: I’ve been spending a lot of time (and money, sigh) at lately.  I appreciate that their content strategy reflects a clear brand strategy: REI is a co-op “owned” by its members, dedicated to inspiring, educating, and outfitting for outdoor adventure and stewardship. Therefore, they complement “expert advice” with user reviews and go beyond just commerce to offer content about trips, local events, environmental cleanup, and more.  This plays out beyond the content types, too. Sentence case, careful punctuation, and detailed product descriptions combine to manifest a style and tone that are very democratic and accessible but experienced.

S/G: What’s the biggest myth about content strategy?

Margot: The biggest misconception is that content strategy’s just the latest fancy, expensive term for copywriting.  And if you take care of the copy, you can check off content strategy, too.

S/G: What’s the difference between content strategy and copywriting?

Margot: What’s the difference between a nutritious dietary plan and a bunch of carrots? Carrots are great–but they may not even be part of the bigger picture if, say, your family doesn’t like them or you need to figure out how to get more protein into your diet.  Content strategy and copywriting face a similar sort of carrot confusion. Content strategy addresses the what, why, by whom, at what frequency, how–all issues that may affect copywriting, but aren’t synonymous with it. Copywriting is just one aspect of the tactical execution of a content strategy.  And for most of us, carrots are just one small part of a healthy diet, into which we also bring recipes, other ingredients, and preferences.

S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?

Margot: I’m looking forward to seeing the lightbulb moments. The content strategy workshop track offers a great opportunity for people in other roles to learn more about the processes, deliverables, and conversations that comprise content strategy.  At the same time, we’ll arm content strategists with more ways to evangelize their work.  I’m excited to see the meeting of minds as folks in a variety of interactive roles learn how content strategy–and engagement with content strategists–can enrich their work and empower their clients.

If you’re in the New York Area, come meet Margot at the Content Strategy NYC meetup on Thursday, February 11th. Also, check out the other posts in our SXSW 2010 Q&A series.

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by tantek
Badge – by adactio
4sq iPhone app  – by dpstyles(tm) [dennis crowley]
Microphone – by hiddedevries
Nexus One – by pittaya

SXSW 2010 Q&A: Rich Ziade, Arc90

Rachel Lovinger   January 20, 2010


The Breakdown: We’re very excited about SXSW Interactive this year. There’s an amazing lineup of content-related panels that we can’t wait to see. So we’re kicking off a series of short interviews with some of the speakers we’re most looking forward to seeing and hearing. This first one is with Rich Ziade (@richziade), Partner & Lead Strategist at Arc90, who will be giving a talk called The Revenge of the Editorials with his colleague Tim Meaney (@timothymeaney).

S/G: What inspired your talk, The Revenge of Editorials?

Rich: In short, this: Google Reader (1000+).

I use Google Reader pretty regularly and to constantly be told “hey Rich, guess what? There are over 1,000 entries that you haven’t read yet! In fact, it’s so much more than a thousand, we stopped counting!”

I love the Web and I love how dramatically it’s lowered the barrier to publish (even the word “publish” feels outdated). Everybody can talk into the channel today. It’s an awesome democratizer. At the same time, it’s getting increasingly difficult to really find things that I value. There have been attempts to crack this puzzle – Digg, Delicious, certain social sharing mechanisms – but in the end of the day, I’m behind and I feel like I’m always behind.

At the same time, I feel like the attempts to manage the firehose is just more of the same thing: technology being used to solve a mess that technology got us in in the first place. As a result, the real appeal of content and the human elements of creating, composing and lovingly arranging content are going out the window.

I need to be able to lean on people I trust and respect to better present information for me. I don’t want a “stream” or a “river” of anything. I want to stop drowning and I want quality to win over quantity.

S/G: What’s the antidote for Demand Media?

Rich:  I don’t think Demand Media and its ilk even need an antidote. I think Demand is inevitably on a path to face a backlash, if it hasn’t started already. What’s happened with the Web is similar to what happened in the wake of the industrial revolution: massive efficiencies in production and distribution. The result? Everyone in America could eat the exact same shrink-wrapped Twinkie for $.25. After WWII, this world of automation and mass distribution was hailed as utopian. Fast forward to today, and you’re left with a palatable backlash against mass-produced anything and an embracing of all things that show some semblance of craftsmanship and artisanal care. We are in the age of commoditized junk food content. The backlash and flight towards quality is inevitable.

S/G: What is the Cult of Innovation?

Rich: The Cult of Innovation is just a place for Arc90 to share the things that surprise and inspire us. In this interview, I’ve been lambasting the “Junkyard Web” but in the midst of all that stuff flying our way, there’s always something inspiring waiting to be found. We just wanted a place to share these bits that we come across. Innovation is a big part of the DNA of Arc90. We like to think of ourselves as a forward-looking shop that constantly gives the status quo dirty looks. Kindling, our idea management product, also shares in that spirit.

S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?

Rich: We’re looking forward to just being there! We’re SXSW virgins at Arc90 and we’re excited to hopefully meet in person all the great people we’ve connected with through the usual Web channels. Oh…and the film festival. I’m a sucker for a good film.

Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by tantek
Badge – by adactio
4sq iPhone app  – by dpstyles(tm) [dennis crowley]
Microphone – by hiddedevries
Nexus One – by pittaya

Razorfish Blogs


  • SXSW Interactive

    March 7 – 11, Austin, TX
    Several of our contributors will be speaking this year. If you’re going, say hi to Rachel, Robert, & Hawk.

  • Confab Minneapolis

    May 7-9, Minneapolis, MN
    The original Confab Event. Rachel will be there doing her Content Modelling workshop with Cleve Gibbon. Get details and we’ll see you there!

  • Intelligent Content Conference Life Sciences & Healthcare

    May 8-9, San Francisco, CA
    Call for Presenters, now open:

  • Confab for Nonprofits

    Jun 16, Chicago, IL
    Another new Confab Event! Early Bird pricing until March 7:

  • Content Strategy Forum

    July 1-3, Frankfurt, Germany
    International Content Strategy workshops & conference: Call for speakers now open!

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What is this site, exactly?

Scatter/Gather is a blog about the intersection of content strategy, pop culture and human behavior. Contributors are all practicing Content Strategists at the offices of Razorfish, an international digital design agency.

This blog reflects the views of the individual contributors and not necessarily the views of Razorfish.

What is content strategy?

Oooh, the elevator pitch. Here we go: There is content on the web. You love it. Or you do not love it. Either way, it is out there, and it is growing. Content strategy encompasses the discovery, ideation, implementation and maintenance of all types of digital content—links, tags, metadata, video, whatever. Ultimately, we work closely with information architects and creative types to craft delicious, usable web experiences for our clients.

Why "scatter/gather"?

It’s an iterative data clustering operation that’s designed to enable rich browsing capabilities. “Data clustering” seems rather awesome and relevant to our quest, plus we thought the phrase just sounded really cool.

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