Friday, December 17, 2010

Could OneTrueFan help news sites - and some R&D thoughts

Earlier this year, I did an extensive post on how Amy Webb was peering into the future of technology and how it might affect people's online interactions and journalism.

One of her trends was that aspects of gaming were being incorporated into more sites as a form of social media - think of Foursquare and its ability for users to collect location badges and become "mayor" of a location.

But how to do that on a news site? One answer might be OneTrueFan. Here is Tech Crunch's description:

OneTrueFan is a service for web publishers that allows visitors to earn badges for interacting and sharing content on the site. The startup revolves around a game-format for visitors that allows you to see who is reading content in the site, compete for the most engagement and encourages you to share content within the service and on social networks.
But - and here we go again - why haven't publishers gotten together and created something similar, especially something that can be customized locally? For years, publications have been running "Best of" lists and contests (nominate your favorite dry cleaner, restaurant, pet grooming service, etc.) - often with competing lists among publications in a market.

But isn't this really the foundation of social media in a crude, print-oriented way? In other words, the idea was there, but as we've too often seen, the digital execution eluded media managers.

Yes,  OneTrueFan is more about the entire Web, and I'm then projecting the idea onto the local market, ala Foursquare (or maybe OneTrueFan is projecting the Foursquare idea onto the entire Web - whatever). But that's actually my point - the underlying idea is the same, and media companies had the concept within reach and little to nothing to develop it.

We can all trot out the usual reasons - intransigence, lack of vision, print-centricity. And they all play a part. But I also think the fragmentation of publishing plays a role. It makes sustained innovation difficult. I still cling to the idea (however misguided) that publishing still needs a central, industry-funded R&D center, or at least a clearinghouse, that can develop white-label apps that would be easy to adapt, from the largest operation to the smallest.

Ideally, this center, or perhaps a more formalized but decentralized association of research centers, would also solicit ideas and challenges from inside publishing companies (how often have we heard the complaint that good ideas died inside recalcitrant newsrooms) and somehow publicize them to other developers. The ideal would be to avoid the potential stifling of innovation that can come from centralization, but yet:
  • Give publishers (and, again, I use the term broadly, from the biggest media company to the smallest hyper-locala site) access to the best of emerging technology.
  • Provide a sort of "Good Housekeeping" seal of approval that might overcome some of the skittishness I still find among many journalists and media managers about freeware, shareware, and shared services which is where much of the innovation is occuring.
  • Keep it simple so that even the most time- and resource-pressed operation can reasonably hope to adopt useful innovations.
  • Provide some focus, if nothing else, to enable decision-makers to have a more centralized and analytical place to understand what is happening specifically in the technology and how it may affect their operations. (Not discounting the efforts already  by Nieman's Media Lab, Media ShiftKnight Digital Media Center and Media Info Center, among many others)
It would be refreshing to see one of the existing journalism organizations step up and take on this role in a way that embraces inclusion and openness.

Yes, I am being idealistic here. I could spend another 500 words just highlighting all the downsides and operational challenges (not the least of which is the industry's long line of failed cooperative ventures and almost pathological aversion to working together). But for now I just want to throw out the idea.

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