Tag Archives: Blog

RIF to RIF

Image of Steve Buttry from Twitter
Image of Steve Buttry

This blog, which started with the hope of outlining the concepts which would lead to a Rich Information Format to strengthen communities, has not been updated recently because of another RIF, all too common today, the Reduction in Force.

As painful as this RIF was, we had no choice due to the abrupt decline in advertising revenues in the last three quarters, with no upturn in sight. On the same day we announced the RIF, we announced the first large step in actually creating the organization to support C3 – separating content creation from product creation.

Product is Separated from Content

In this model, Lyle Muller, Editor of The Gazette newspaper, working with Dave Storey, Publisher, is responsible for creating and maintaining the physical product of the printed newspaper, The Gazette.

Steve Buttry, Information Content Conductor, is responsible for creating another C3 – Content Creation & Collaboration, a networked set of blogs and information organized around topics or micro-geographical areas.  We are trying to create a visual description of this activity, and our current attempt is below, although we already know that we don’t like the name “Superblog”:

Information Topic Area Ecosystem

Because these announcements were made on the same day, amidst the largest Reduction in Force in the company’s history, we confused some people and aggravated others.  While we were cheered on by some, we were jeered by others.

Steve and Lyle decided that we should Live Blog about these changes, taking questions from the community.  What an hour that was!  Lyle, Steve and I were in separate rooms, on separate floors, with no way to know who was taking which questions, in what order.  You can see for yourself whether we helped our hurt ourselves.

In the coming days, I will be describing the other critical elements of our reorganization, as we put into place the foundation for C3.

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Transparency and Engagement

An example of a social network diagram.
Image via Wikipedia

Starting the new year with new energy to make C3 happen.  Why C3?  While covered before, the essence is:

If each individual in the community has exactly the information they need, when and where they want it, and can develop stronger relationships with those in their defined communities, each of those communities will be stronger.

“Exactly” means relevance and context.  And, the particular community of interest to an individual, whether geographical, relationship or affinity, has to be expressed by the individual, not packaged by a committee.

So, when I saw Valeria Maltoni‘s recent post on Real Collaboration, I was struck by passages such as :

With collaboration we can make that change more expansive and at the same time better focused; more responsive and less cumbersome. Collaboration also leads to community. To build a community we need to be willing to educate and connect individuals, and have the desire to take action at the appropriate times. …

Can there be mass collaboration? Only when each individual self-interest is served through making that very same choice.

She reminded me of Roy Greenslade’s blog of last year, where he also call for a new mindset among journalists:

When we journalists talk about integration we generally mean, integrating print and online activities. But the true integration comes online itself. The integration between journalists and citizens. Of course, there should be no distinction between them. But journalists still wish to see themselves as a class apart.

We have to open ourselves up to a new thought process. There is no us and them. I had a sudden thought to end this posting with a Marxist-style call to arms: “Bloggers of the world unite”. But it is the lack of unity that makes blogging so vibrant, so critical and also so self-critical. And, of course, so revolutionary.

So, we need a new mindset, characterized by open, transparent, collaboration; a new organization, focused on creating information in the first instance with a set of social media tools; and engagement from those people involved, both within and without the media company.  As Seth Godin puts it:

It’s more important that you be passionate about what you do all day than it is to be passionate about the product that is being sold.

Give me someone with domain expertise and the passion to do great work any time. Belief in the mission matters (a lot!), but it doesn’t replace skill.

Best of both worlds: someone who has passion (and skill and insight) about their task and passion about the mission. The latter can never replace the former.

As Jay Rosen has noted, this has created a tremendous cultural turning point for professional journalists:

The professional news tribe is in the midst of a great survival drama. It has over the last few years begun to realize that it cannot live any more on the ground it settled so successfully as the industrial purveyors of one-to-many, consensus-is-ours news. The land that newsroom people have been living on—also called their business model—no long supports their best work. So they have come to a reluctant point of realization: that to continue on, to keep the professional press going, the news tribe will have to migrate across the digital divide and re-settle itself on terra nova, new ground. Or as we sometimes call it, a new platform.

While the platform may be new, and the changes significant for traditional media companies, we are talking about enduring human relationships, the fundamentals of which do not change, as noted by Sue Murphy:

My point is – social networks have existed as far back as we can imagine. Today, we are fortunate to have this new, amazing layer of technology to help us scale it from our tiny communities to the entire world. This global scale means that we hold a great deal potential in our hands. We now have the power to do great things not only for the success of our communities, but ultimately for the success of humankind.

Having this amount power a the click of a mouse is huge. But, it doesn’t mean we have to act any differently or be anything else other than what we already are as human beings. Success in a small town not dependent on the latest tools, tricks, or techy toys, and success in social media is not any different. Like in small towns, it’s only really dependent on two things – strong leadership and a thriving network.

As 2008 comes to a close, and so many of us are eagerly anticipating all the amazing possibilities that the new year will bring, considering how we are operating in our social networks and where all this social media stuff is headed is vitally important to our progress.

All of this has major implications on how we create the “elegant organization” called for by Jeff Jarvis to create the information in the first instance with mulitple authors, commentators and platforms in mind, and how we present that information in context.  More on that later.

What do you think?

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Just Do It!

My social Network on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter...
Image by luc legay via Flickr

If it had not happened to me recently, I might not believe it.  Despite David Cohn’s exhortations earlier this year, experienced, smart journalists, all atwitter, saying they could never Tweet or blog.  Experienced journalists interviewing me on my blog, without reading the blog.  Executives acting condescendingly toward social media.  We can’t create the Complete Community Connection if we don’t have direct experience.  By trying to “possess” the stories of our communities, we might lose them.

Virginia Heffernan provides insight in today’s New York Times Magazine that the world of content has changed fundamentally.  Much more “with and by” than “for and to” audiences:

People who work in traditional media and entertainment ought either to concentrate on the antiquarian quality of their work, cultivating the exclusive audience of TV viewers or magazine readers that might pay for craftsmanship. Or they should imagine that they are 19 again: spending a day on Twitter or following a recipe from a Mark Bittman video played on a refrigerator that automatically senses what ingredients are missing and texts an order to the grocery store (it will soon exist!). Then they should think about what content suits these new modes of distribution and could evolve in tandem with them. For old-media types, mental flexibility could be the No. 1 happiness secret we have been missing.

Several people have made this point, but John Bell made it well, and recently:

You cannot be great with social media through simple observation. Applying it to your life and committing the time to actually “do” it will help your business. It will help you understand first-hand and give you ideas. It will suck up time. But two things happen: it doesn’t suck up as much as you fear and you end up with greater rewards than you imagined.

So, how to start?  First of all, join Twitter.  Follow Steve Buttry, Amy Gahran, John McGlothlen, and Steve Outing to start, along with anyone else you know on Twitter.  A great introduction to Twitter is provided by TwiTip, including some informative Twitters to follow.  If you really want to explore Twitter, Guy Kawasaki has some detailed ideas.  Once you are up and running, try Twhirl to start, and once on your feet, perhaps Tweetdeck to sort things out.

Then, sign up for Facebook,  have your Twitter feeds automatically update your Facebook account, and search Facebook for local friends, or long lost high school classmates.  Be amazed at what you can discover.

For a more professional view, start with LinkedIn.  You should find many people from your company already there.

If you would like more motivation, check out Xark and Twitter:

Journalists are in the communications business. Shouldn’t they at least have a professional interest in the evolving state of modern communications technology? Shouldn’t journalists at least be curious about the way other people communicate?

Only they aren’t curious: They’re hostile.

I said this back in September, and it’s as true now as it was then: Newspaper companies (and many of their employees) hate modern journalism. They resent change they don’t control. They’re angry that “the people formerly known as the audience” have developed alternatives to their mass-media monopolies.

So, let’s just do it, and see what we learn!

Are you willing?

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Information in the First Instance

Jesse Hall and the Francis Quad on the Univers...
Image via Wikipedia

Being with Bill Densmore and the group he assembled at Missouri this week was a refreshing introduction to new people and ideas.  We were gathered to create the “blueprint” for the Information Valet Project, which we tentatively described as:

A permission-based ecosystem assuring privacy that allows you, in a trustworthy way, to share personal information so that content providers and partners can create a structure to provide you with content, applications and incentives tailored to you and your needs.

This “ecosystem” assumes that an individual, by giving secure personal information and desires for specific information, will be able to access that information in an elegant way.  As I participated in the discussions, I kept coming back to the need for a whole new structure to create the Complete Community Connection (C3). So, with a nod to Steve Outing, I am trying to be as transparent as I can be, both to our employees and the industry, about the issues in creating this new entity.

In looking for discussions on changing the way we create information in the first instance, I was struck by the conversation between Jeff Jarvis and Dave Winer on the Ecology of News.  They both break down news into the essential elements, and then discuss the best way to package and distribute those elements.  I would propose that the elements are Sources; Quotes; Factual Statements about people, places or events; Ideas; Data; and Opinions.
The Complete Community Connection would expand the current reliance on packaged stories in both directions – back toward the original elements, offering transparency, and forward toward a summary of local knowledge in a local wiki.

So, how do we do that?

We have to start with the creation of the “elements” in the first instance.  By starting with each source, quote, factual statement, picture, graphic, audio clip or video clip as an isolated element, or “tweet”, properly tagged with automatic tagging engines, those elements can be packaged or searched directly, allowing the most transparent view of local information.  Sometimes that could be done by reporting on scheduled events by live blogging, using Twitter tweets for participant comments, with the resulting “record” time stamped.  All audio and video clips could also be tagged to the time, place, event and people.  From those elements, packaged stories could be written, but any reader could go “through” the story to the original elements.

For investigative pieces, getting at those issues harder to pry out of the community, the reporter could still keep track of the elements in a similar system, but without the initial public input.

Patrick Thornton, with his BeatBlogging posts, is trying to highlight the best efforts to learn what can be done in this area.  I believe that the transformation necessary from “for and to” to “with and by” will not take place until we engage our communities in the first instance of information creation.

To take it another step, what if the community could suggest what needs to be investigated?  Leonard Witt arranged funding for a representative journalism project in Northfield, MN that Bonnie Obremski is carrying out at Locally Grown.  Listening to Bonnie describe what she has accomplished in her six months in Northfield makes me think that local community bloggers, both employees of media organizations and organizers of particular micro-communities, can be the key collecting forces of the elements of local information for C3.

Those community organizers, with their blogs, would be operating under Alfred Hermida’s Three Principles for social media:

  1. Be human: Mass media was based on the notion of reaching millions of people with one message. As a result, that message often came across in an impersonal, corporate voice. Social media provides an opportunity to be more personal, informal and conversational.
  2. Be honest: Be transparent and open about what you are doing. Social media is about genuine relationships and anyone trying to fake it is likely to be found out very quickly.
  3. Be involved: Journalists should not approach social media by thinking, “how can I use this for a story”. Social media should be part of your job, not an add-on or something to be used for a story and then abandoned.

What do you think?

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New Mindset for New Game Highlights New Tasks Performed in New Organization Which Develops New Shared Mindset

JO540 Multimedia Journalism Words

Image by stevegarfield via Flickr

It really felt like a turning point when I read that thoughtful industry veteran Buzz Wurzer’s first item on his 16 Point Checklist for Newspaper Publishers was:

I would fire myself as Publisher and rehire myself as CEO, Local (Your Market) Information Utility

It was nice to see this coming from a respected industry veteran, which shows that not only renegades are proposing fundamental change.  I would add one warning though.  If you haven’t completely changed your mindset, don’t rehire yourself!  When I started this blog, I used LIU, or Local Information Utility, because American Press Institute was using it, and the last thing we needed was another acronym.  However, after great feedback, I was persuaded that LIU was too constricting, with Utility conjuring up those entities that do things for you, or to you, and are not very responsive.  So, I switched to Complete Community Connection, and it has stuck with our team.

The fundamental nature of the change required, the different tasks to be performed, and the switch in “concept” was noted over 11 years ago by Bruno Giussani in a First Monday piece when he was the founding editor of Webdo:

We knew on the onset that an online information service would have to be based on a different concept than the traditional printed one, that simply repackaging editorial content would not do.

It was obvious to us also that in order to respond to this challenge, the only way would be to take full advantage of what characterizes this new medium – interactivity, hypertext, and multimedia capability. With this in mind as a starting point, everything was to be created. A logic of production, consumption, and commercialization. A language, a rhythm, a new kind of connection with our readership.

I am going to position myself here as a journalist and an editor. Because it’s my original profession. Because it’s also the profession I am trying to re-invent (or more accurately, to learn again from scratch) since I have been doing it online. And mostly, because I firmly believe that journalists have an essential role to play in tomorrow’s interactive society and that they are quite wrong in fearing to become obsolete with the advance of the new media.

I will tackle three concepts which I believe outline the contours of this new journalism: diversity, community, and movement.

As George Gilder wrote, by establishing the existence of a mass audience, therefore necessarily a homogeneous one, the media in fact negate the individuality of their readers, their generous diversity, the real scope of their interests and passions, their multiple lifestyles and ambitions. In a way, the papers we publish today are contradictory to human nature.

The second concept I would like to bring up is community. Though there is much said about interactivity it is my feeling that it’s not fully understood by the press and everyone in the publishing field yet. The concept of interactivity is not about the user clicking on an icon to unlatch a reaction from his computer: it is above all about connecting people.

With this in mind, facts and information can circulate without interference and without the journalist acting as a filter. He will have to give up part of the power he used to have – based on his competence as well as on his position. The role of the journalist is changing into a more central figure, a mediator. He directs traffic, explores, becomes a facilitator of discussions. His new power will depend on his ability to animate a group of people, to develop methods and means to enliven the community, to organize information-gathering and use with the participation of the members of the community.

A journalist with little online experience tends to think in terms of stories, news value, public service, and things that are good to read, points out Melinda McAdams in her excellent account of the making of the Washington Post online venture. But a person with a lot of online experience thinks more about connections, organization, movement within and among sets of information, and communication among different people.

By redefining the way we think and write, this new structure redefines all of our culture. I agree with New York sociologist Neil Postman that

New technologies alter the structure of our interests: the things we think about. They alter the character of our symbols: the things we think with. And they alter the nature of community: the arena in which thoughts develop.

They also alter our relationship to time. As an insider we know the newspaper as a succession of deadlines: lead time for articles, editing, printing, distribution. If one of these deadlines is not met, the paper will lose most of its value if not all of it. Consequently, information must fit into this schedule and it grows old with the paper it is printed on (today’s breaking news, tomorrow’s fish wrap).

Online content on the other hand is fluid, moving. It doesn’t know deadlines – actually, every moment is a potential deadline. There is no set chronological order, you can change original content, update it, correct it, complete it and re-use it, anytime. An article becomes a story in progress, enriched by other stories thanks to hypertext, and allowing for constant re-composition.

[some bold and italics added by Chuck Peters to highlight flow of concepts, others in original article]

Giussani’s First Monday article of 11 years ago is worth reading in its entirety, if for nothing else than to show that the game to be played has been defined for some time.  We need to get on with it.  As a matter of interest, Bruno has gone on to be the European Director of the Ted Conference and recently blogged about Charles Leadbeater‘s presentation at the Picnic 08 Conference on The Power of Mass Creativity:

the future is all gonna be about our activity to collaborate, to pull together the diversity of knowledge and insight that we need to make that possible”. What does that mean? “For most of my life, we have worked and being served by organizations that should do things for you but often actually do things to you. The logic of the Web is “with”, how to work with people, how to learn together. If you want a very simple way to think of the current shift, it’s that difference: from the world of “to” and “for” to the world of “with” and “by”.” “Is this just a passing moment, a fleeting fad? Or is it a possible permanent change in how we organize ourselves? And if it is, can we use that possibility or are we going to screw it up?” “Somebody recently asked to Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the Web: are we asking too much of the Internet, are we loading too much onto it, bearing the weight of this social transformation? Tim answered: the danger is that we will ask too little from it, that we will reduce it to just another tool”.

[bold and italics in original article]

Note the “to and for” becoming “with and by”, another confirmation of the difficulties of using the name Local Information Utility to describe the new enterprise!  Names are important.  A Publisher publishes a product, which is why the first item Wurzer suggest is firing the “Publisher”.  An Editor is product focused.  A Community Manager, or Facilitator or Mediator suggests the more appropriate roles.

As we define new tasks for the new game, or “business model“,  a few concepts are always at the forefront:

1.  We need to focus on the network of information, and bring elegant organization to it.  We cannot depend on the nauseating cacophony of tweets, blogs, comments and articles to organize themselves.  They must be moderated and organized.  That organization must in large part be automatic, through tags and links.

2.  Given our past history, and the lessons learned, we need to separate the creation of news/information networks from advertising networks, yet be able to link them, and let users know which is which.

3.  Product creation is separate from content creation, whether news/information content or advertising content.

4.  The goal is to have the products complement the network and each other, not add to the cacophony.  Time is limited.  If people want a particular piece of information they should be able to get it, where they are, on whatever device.  If they want to explore a topic, they should be able to do so within an elegant organization, perhaps introduced to them by the print product, not the mind numbing search through Google lists and tagged articles.

5. Everyone will be learning a new task,  and operating within a new organization, so patience is a virtue.

So, what are the key tasks for someone trying to create a Complete Community Connection?  I am assuming that printing and distribution functions are outsourced, so imaging, print and online ad layout, printing, inserting and physical distribution are performed cost effectively in centralized locations.  That leaves:

1.  Community Liaison – The focal point (CEO) for the local C3 organization, out in the community, attending Service Clubs, Chamber meetings, speaking to groups.  Gathers the overall sense of the defined geographical community, and has the final decision on whether the network of information is serving the community, with the right mix of products and services.  Responsible for the financial health and development of the local C3 organization, which should be creating a strengthened geographical community, consisting of mulitple communities of interest and affinity, resulting from the benefits of group collaboration in the manner noted by Bruno Giusanni covering a presentation by Charles Leadbeater :

What prompts collaborative creativity?

  1. Diversity.
  2. New and easy ways to allow people to contribute.
  3. Ways to connect people together and to build on one-another.
  4. A shared sense of purpose and some individual sense of payoff, that they’re getting something in return as they’re contributing to something larger.
  5. Usually there is a core or kernel that’s put there to begin with (the initial Linux software for ex)
  6. Structure: these communities won’t work unless they can make decisions, so they need to have some elements of structure (think Wikipedia)

2.  Information Content Creator (Moderator) – Responsible for using best practices to develop an organization of  employees (for large, sustained, efforts) and trusted sources which create tagged text snippets, photos, audio and video relating to issues or events; live blog from events to develop the richest perspective from the community on the particular event; create summarizing, contextual narratives,  with appropriate links; and contribute to the local wiki, much like the CIA’s Intellipedia.  The “soup to nuts” news service described by Steve Outing.

3.  Advertising Content Creator – Creates ecosystem of print and online ads, with text ads, SMS ads, photos, audio, video appropriately tagged and linked so that an advertiser’s message is appropriately placed, contextually relevant and properly timed.

4.  Digital Asset Manager – Manages an organization to lead numerous outside vendors, partners and collaborators to develop an ecosystem of technology that offers current best practices for the elegant organization of local information for use by content creators and product creators.

5.  Product Planning and Development –  Manages the system and organization of developing products complementary to the network, reaching audiences that do not significantly overlap, which can act as promotional flags for the network, and support the network financially.  The product managers must have access to all content, and be able to package it as they see fit to reach their audiences.

6. Audience Measurement and Marketing –  The organization that independently determines if the multiple audiences in a community are being reached, and needs served, by the portfolio of products and services.  Allows product managers to have an effective and efficient mechanism for understanding and reaching their audiences.

7.  Sales –  Selling audiences to advertisers, consultatively.  Not responsible for products, or any content creation. Can act like the local advertising agency, and sell solutions to advertisers outside of those offered by C3.

8.  Shared Services – Such as human resources, information technology, facilities, accounting.  Their primary change is recognizing and supporting the fundmentally altered business model and structure.

As we get on with this, and make the changes necessary, each participant has to answer three questions:

1.  Do I understand that I am a participant in an organization trying to create tools to be used “with and by” the communities we serve, to allow the individuals in those communities to know what they want to know so that they can have the power to do what they want to do?

2.  Do I acknowledge that I will get to participate in the creative evolution of my job, key tasks, reporting relationships and organizational mindset as we evolve into a new C3 organization?

3.  Do I want to?

Because you “gotta wanna” in order for this to happen.

What do you think?

Note on December 1 – Mark Potts and Steve Outing were also talking about key tasks yesterday.



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Learnings from API Summit

Lake of Davos

Image via Wikipedia

Many have asked about the significance of last week’s API Summit.  As a participant, I was greatly informed by sitting in the room, and seeing what messages API was trying to send to the industry, after years of their Newspaper Next work.   In addition, I was overwhelmed by the response to my first attempt at live blogging, using the just introduced tool of adding Twitter feeds to CoverItLive, which worked very well.

However, the transcript of the live blog, which is linked in full to the right at this site, covers seven hours.  As Amy Gahran noted, I am trying to distill that, as the whole transcript is more volume and clutter than most want to spend time on gleaning the essence of the conversation.  So, I have edited the transcript, and offer that edit for download below, with the following learnings referenced to the time stamped conversation from which I gathered that particular perspective:
1.    Our fellow employees have ideas to pursue alternative strategies – 8:40 on
2.    Our co-workers in media are frustrated as they try to act – 9:39-9:49
3.    Live blogging and using Twitter gives tremendous access to ideas – 9:50
4.    We need to stand traditional news gathering on its head, and engage the community from the very beginning, capture each essence, (whether text, video or audio) and link back to the essence as we package the story – 9:51-10:06
5.    Even without the packaging into print, broadcast or online stories, the essences could be gathered with semantic technology to provide more efficient answers or commercial messages to user generated information requests, or flows of content around concepts – 10:06-10:20
6.    It is not about change, or turnaround, it is about starting with a blank slate – 10:24-10:32
7.    We need to start NOW – 10:33-10:42
8.    Jeff Jarvis provides Davos perspective: we are not approaching the opportunities we have in front of us to start over – 11:04-11:11
9.    Mark Potts begins conversation about why API participants aren’t linked into online conversation – 11:25
10.    Michele McClellan notes that the power of the network is unseen until you start using the network through blogging and Twitter – 11:26
11.    Twitter identities – 12:02-12:03
12.    Top questions for API participants – 12:07-12:14
13.    What we would do if we owned media – 12:14-12:52
14.    Comments on social media tools – 12:58-1:02
15.    Focus on revenue – 1:02-1:21
16.    Video discussion – 1:21-1:37
17.    Why don’t we act, NOW? – 1:48-2:09
api-summit-liveblog-summary1

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Newspapers Backwards

Foundations of Old MediaImage by Flickmor via Flickr

I have had this thought, for the last several years, that our current method of creating newspapers is backwards. We, for example, try to cover a two county area primarily, another six counties to a lesser extent, and another eight counties to some extent. We do so in a way that is somewhat interesting to most people in the form of stories. Then we chop it up and put it online.

But, that is not how people live. I live in a rural neighborhood with a one mile circumference, am part of school, church and business communities, and several communities of interest. County lines don’t matter to those communities. I would like to know items of significance to those specific communities, developed by people who care about the communities, to be available to me in meaningful context wherever I am. That is why I am trying to explore the organization and operating systems for a local information utility (LIU) as advocated by API. Mark Briggs, in his recent blog on the future of local media being explored at latimes.com, still did not explore the fundamental shift needed to create the LIU.

In order to start, we need to eliminate our dependence on the packaged story. Our content needs to start with meaningful text snippets, tagged in many relevant aspects, and linked to tagged photos, video and audio. From that “atomized” content, we can created the packaged products, either print or digitally distributed.

If we can make the LIU happen, then the newspaper on paper, covering all of those counties could be organized to give me a broad overview of state, national and international events, not in detail, but so that I know they happened and can get more detail if I desire through the numerous news outlets that have made those stories commodities. The newspaper would have a local daily section, probably at a city level, that gave context and insight to major issues facing that larger community, with an emphasis on government, social service and community service issues, spiced with the best of the hyper-local and community of interest happenings. A weekly section could focus on the neighborhood. And, if I was interested in any of those stories, I could get deep and rich detail, prepared by those who cared deeply about those specific communities. But, I would not have to wade through stories to get at that detail. I would be referred to a “local wiki”, where the context snippets are put into context, or I could search directly for those items of content I was targeting.

Brittanica, no stranger to disruptive change, has a forum this month, mostly on the struggles of the newspaper industry, and some hope for future states. Blogs alone won’t give us the information to create, sustain and enjoy meaningful, high performance communities. The local content needs to be structured in a meaningful context, and who better to do it than the local media company, turned upside down and backwards?

A good description of why we need to do so was provided by Wediabuzz, noting the difference between journalists and bloggers at Web 2.0.

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