Does Medium Matter?

When publishing platform Medium burst onto the internet a while back, it seemed like fresh life had been breathed into a stale medium (no pun intended). The integrated comments, sharing and community building capabilities were a fantastic way to turn the one-way, author-to-reader format on its head. And the limited release, invitation only availability drove demand for access superbly.

Medium also arrived at a time when LinkedIn’s publishing platform was growing in popularity. As a centre of gravity for business conversations and thought leadership, LinkedIn’s clunky Pulse technology could rely on its integrated access to YOUR business networks and news feeds, and seemed to grow on a daily basis. Using the same “influencer-led” strategy to launch, LinkedIn initially restricted access to the publishing platform, creating a clear distinction between those who had access and those who did not, but this was gradually relaxed, and the publishing platform began to open to others.

Yet as the “thought leadership” grew, so too did the clutter. LinkedIn attempted to categorise content to create a feed of relevancy as did Medium. It reminded me a little of the proliferation of blogs a few years back – resulting in an explosion of content and comment. But there is a clear difference. All this content are building OTHER PEOPLE’S networks. And those networks are picking winners – based on a few random elements (also known as algorithms).

In this experiment on Medium, Henry Wismayer, shows not only the new challenge of surfacing “new” voices on these new platforms, he also suggests that there has to be a deeper alignment. That the algorithm is not value free, but self-referential and self-reinforcing. You are either part of the game or you are well out of it:

The ease with which Triumvirate articles — even depressingly hollow ones — accrue views and Recommends provides an irresistible incentive for other people to follow the formula. As a result, Medium risks becoming a click-bait factory, a lame production line pumping out articles around the same limited themes.

And the point is that this is all a game. And can be gamed.

The core factor here is trust. Who do we trust and why?

In a time poor world, we increasingly rely on technology to filter the signal from the noise. But increasingly, there is a blandness to the experience of the “world wide web”. It’s no longer worldly nor wide.

And this is where the true opportunity lies. Medium has become, for me at least, a vast, shallow sea of thinly veiled opinion masquerading as insight. It’s not offering the richness it promised in the early days. In many ways, it’s the distinction that Alana Fisher calls out between subject matter expertise and thought leadership.

And the same is true for LinkedIn. Will either of these platforms matter in 2017? Perhaps they are simply on the path to inevitable disruption. Perhaps it’s not that Medium doesn’t matter, but that media itself is under threat. Now, that’s an interesting thought.

We Are Smarter Than TV

Back in 2007, Drew McLellan and I embarked on a journey of crowdsourcing discovery. Inspired by the We Are Smarter Than Me collaborative writing project, we wanted to see whether the collective intelligence of marketers across the globe could make sense of the emerging social media landscape. Three months later, the first edition of The Age of Conversation was published. It brought together over 100 writers from 22 countries and captured the mood of the time.

Three editions and six years later, working on these collaborative publishing projects has made me a firm believer in the power and insight that comes from focused communities. In fact, working on the latest edition – Age of Conversation 4 – is again reminding me of the breadth and depth of insight that comes from a diverse – yet focused – group of professionals.

The one consistent theme through all of the four editions, however, is the role of inclusiveness. From a brand perspective, we tend to think of this as a “loss of control”, but through the lens of the consumer, it’s a different story. Rather than seeing this transformation in terms of a shift of power, we should view it as a fundamental mark of mutual respect. And rather than thinking about limitation and even copyright, we should think of generosity and awareness. Effectively this shift means a transformation of what we consider the “marketing funnel” with “conversion” being less about sales and more about shifting our customer relationships away from transactions and closer to longer term engagement. This in turn requires an understanding of customer lifetime value.

The publishing industry has faced this transformation for decades and continues to struggle. The music industry is now making a much better fist of the challenge, but TV seems resolutely trapped in the quagmire of industrialised thinking. This makes the entire industry ripe for disruption. And platforms like Netflix and Hulu are well placed to deliver this kind of broad disruption. And as Oscar winner and artistic director of the Old Vic theatre in London recently said, it’s time for TV to learn from other industries. It’s time for them to learn from the crowd. After all, we are smarter than TV.

1963 ... television eyeglassesCreative Commons License James Vaughan via Compfight

What’s New with News Limited in Australia? Digital Subscriptions. That’s What

An interesting cast of folks assembled at News Limited's Sydney office to be briefed on the upcoming digital subscription offer being rolled out for The Australian. Those present included Katie Chatfield, Tim Burrowes, Tiphereth Gloria, Craig Wilson, Karalee Evans, Bronwen Clune, Laurel Papworth, Gary Hayes, Ross Dawson, Melanie James and a few folks I didn't have the chance to meet. Here's a selection of the main points tweeted at the briefing.

Looking Across a New Media Universe

We have been talking – and writing – for years about the shifts that are happening in our marketplaces. We tend to focus on the industries that are most obviously connected – energy, technology, media and finance. But the real shift, in my opinion, is more to do with the underlying shifts in consumer behaviour. Take a look, for example, at this infographic from NielsenWire.


The Nielsen US Fact Sheet for January 2011 indicates some of these shifts:

  • That we are moving away from broadcast TV to more interactive channels (with high adoption of satellite and cable)
  • That mobile devices – especially smart phones are a powerful and important channel (there are more mobile web users (83.2 million) than VCR owners (70.6 million)

But if we look beyond the facts and figures and think about the impact that this is having on our lifestyles then it raises some interesting challenges. How are we preparing for these shifts and changes in behaviour? How are we structuring our businesses to support and engage people?

Just think – every one of these smart phones is a media creation device. With the press of a few buttons, consumers can:

  • Rate and review our products while they are in the store
  • Gather competitive intelligence on our offerings
  • Seek discounts and competitive quotes
  • Capture and share their customer experiences as it happens

Perhaps the real question we need to ask is what are we investing in for our own future participation in this new media universe.

My Media Diet – 2010

Around this time of year we all get a little reflective. I think back on what has worked and what has not – I look for what resonates for me and builds into a trend. I think about the lessons I have learned and then consider what could have been better. What I am looking for is the anatomy of the perfect day.


And one of the most interesting exercises is to look at my own personal media consumption. I don’t necessarily look at ALL the things that I have read, listened to or watched – but rather what seems to be trending. What is building from an idea into a behaviour or a habit.

Increasingly – in 2010 – it’s more about what consumes ME.

What I mean by this is that my consumption is becoming far less passive. I need and expect media with a purpose. I am less patient and more exacting. And I am far more reliant on my personal networks than ever before.

So what – in particular – has changed? To begin with – let me just say that everything has changed. 2010 seems to have been the year when my digital dalliances became full-blown behaviours. I believe this has been driven by two key shifts:

  1. Improved ISP broadband speeds (I increased both my connection speed and the download limit this year)
  2. Ease of consumption – a new router, an iPad and an iPhone now mean I can more easily and readily consume content. After all, ease of use drives consumption.

But in terms of the media itself …



  • 2008: A couple of movies borrowed from local video store; and shows from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
  • 2009: A couple of movies downloaded from the web; and shows mostly from Australian Broadcasting Corporation (eg Gruen Transfer, The Bill, Bed of Roses).
  • 2010: Catching up on older, quality series (especially since The Bill has ended!) via online download or sometimes iTunes. I am particularly interested in strong narrative arcs – Six Feet Under, True Blood, Supernatural (hmm, I can see a theme here); and when it comes to TV, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Q&A program is must-see viewing.



  • 2008: Newspapers delivered to my door on weekend. No magazines. A handful of feeds and a lot of blogs
  • 2009: Newspapers delivered to my door on weekend. during week after scanning Twitter for latest news, Facebook status/feeds,WotNews, SocialMedian alerts. And around 200 daily feeds
  • 2010: No more newspapers delivered to my door. News scanning via Twitter, confirmations via The Guardian and other digital editions. I have been largely ignoring the local online instances of the mainstream press, relying instead on sites like I extensively use Feedly to corral several hundred RSS feeds into a manageable form and I simply love the personal curation available through

Digital advertising

I have never been a big fan of online display advertising. I think I have clicked on half a dozen banner ads in the last 10 years. I am more interested in particular eDM communications and offers  to which I have subscribed. Winners here include Torpedo7, City Software, Saba and Sportscraft. I continue to avoid most branded fan pages on Facebook but will generally follow branded Twitter accounts.

But what about you? What makes your perfect day?

Support Independent Media in Australia – New Matilda

There are precious few independent voices in the Australian media landscape. There is Crikey, group blogs like Larvatus Prodeo and a handful of individual bloggers, but the nation’s dominant media players maintain a stranglehold on political and social debate. In the face of this domination, these alternative sites provide much needed space for debate and deeper conversation.

When New Matilda collapsed earlier this year, it shocked and saddened many people. Yet shifting people beyond that shock is difficult. Getting people to financially support the production of independent media is exceptionally hard.

So in an innovative move, New Matilda has turned to the crowd to source much needed support. Now, through Fundbreak, you too can make a contribution to independent media in Australia. Every dollar counts.

The Three Ages of Content Management Systems

I have been working with content management systems for longer than I care to admit. I have built my own, rudimentary systems using PHP and I have selected and implemented large scale systems that powered business and consumer sites. I have done evaluations on some of the largest (and most expensive) CMS vendors and also worked with open source CMS providers.

Over the years, I slowly shifted away from the proprietary packages and embraced the open source platforms. But it seems that we have really had three separate ages:

  • The Age of Waving
  • The Age of Shouting
  • The Age of Sharing

The Age of Waving

Way back in the mists of time, content management was a complicated, expensive business. It was the time of the dot com boom – and specialist content management platforms began to emerge. Overnight it seemed that companies like Interwoven and Vignette took centre stage – it was the age of waving and we were all vying for attention.

From a business point of view, we knew already that hand crafted websites would not scale. There were too many pages to manage, too many authors to deal with and it was too hard to search. We needed a better way. Websites were a measure of innovation – and in a time when many businesses struggled to provide their employees with an email address, the launch of a website seriously aligned your brand with “new thinking”. Of course, we still measured website traffic in “hits” so the thinking may have been new, but it wasn’t very deep.

Meanwhile, consumers were reading these sites like brochures. We were looking for information, doing our product research and searching for local stores. eCommerce was in its infancy and we were still not sure whether we could trust the internet with our valuable credit card numbers.

The Age of Waving was about saying – “here I am”. But the next level of development transformed not just the technology, but also our expectations.

The Age of Shouting

Once we realised the power of content management, everyone wanted a piece of the action. I remember developing complicated matrices that compared the feature sets of the main CMS vendors and cross matched it to open source variants. I published white papers in PDF and put them on the web. I felt like my own miniature Gartner-Group-of-One.

Meanwhile, the shift had begun within the business, with marketing taking control of the web as a “channel”. This often involved a bloody fight with the IT teams who had lovingly nurtured the site through its infancy. But it seemed like there was money to be made, messages to be pushed and advertising to be monetised, so a coup was arranged and the messaging volume was amped up. There was flash, music and even some rudimentary video. It all needed to be integrated and managed by the CMS. We also needed brand consistency, templates and contact forms. We needed workflow and approvals. We needed “legal to be involved”.

It was during this time that I had a kind of a love affair with the Scandinavian platform ezPublish – it was “social” before we even knew what “social networks” were – but was built with enterprise scale in mind. There were access control lists, user management functions, publishing functions and scheduling and a shopping/eCommerce system that could be turned on with the press of a button. At the same time, I also loved Lotus Quickplace – precisely because it was quick (and quite pretty), though not as powerful as ezPublish.

Consumers were now reading sites like newspapers. We were expecting content – and lots of it. We wanted research information and ease-of-use. We wanted searching capabilities and bookmarking. We wanted our own profiles on websites – we wanted personalisation. Or we thought we did.

I remember working with the Koz Community Publishing Platform, talking to publishers like the Trading Post and the Chicago Tribune. The ground was shifting but we didn’t know where it was going. It was all gut instinct. User generated content sounded like a good idea, but raised many problems (database scaling, traffic volumes, user management, ad serving, revenue splits etc). We didn’t yet have the business models in place to take advantage of the opportunities (and perhaps we still don’t).

We were measuring unique visitors and crying about the fact that it seemed so small compared with “hits”. Every vendor and his dog were now providing content management systems – and if you looked closely, you could see these strange beasts – blogging systems – starting to appear.

Joomla and Drupal came along and shook the world again. These serious, enterprise grade content management systems came with all the bells and whistles, deep functionality and support from a great community of developers. There were plenty of plugins and extensions that could help you deliver the perfect web solution for your business or your customers. There were shops, templates, banner ad management, forums and all sorts of features. But it wasn’t a new beginning – it was the end of an era.

The Age of Sharing

Then, the web world became social.

The content management system has shifted from being a channel or vehicle for awareness and then broadcast, to being a platform for sharing and engagement. Where once the most important aspect of content management was on the “business” of managing content – it has now shifted to the business of managing conversations and conversation flows. Sure we want people to know about and find our content, and we want them to engage with it – but we also want them to share it, distribute it through their own personal publishing networks. We want them to recommend our products and services.  And we want them to engage with us beyond the web.

On the CMS front, vendors increasingly bolt-on new functionality. There are blogs and forums, there are plugins to manage users through Facebook Connect, and support for user generated content. Similarly, blogging platforms have continued to evolve, but being social at their heart, they have an intrinsic advantage. And now, with WordPress 3.0, it seems that the functionality, flexibility and scale offered by large scale CMS vendors is now available through this open source platform.

And interestingly, consumers are in charge. Even within the workplace. In many instances, we are seeing ourselves in more than one light – we’re no longer the 1990s worker, firewalled and locked-down. We’re empowered and demanding – wanting to push for results and ready to achieve them with enterprise, cloud or web based apps where ever they may be. Yes, this may be the IT groups greatest nightmare, but it indicates that “being social” no longer ends at the sliding glass doors of the workplace – and nor does it begin with the technology that we choose for our businesses. It’s all about attitude – and that is ageless.

Steve Jobs on the Future of …

In this video from the D8 conference, Steve Jobs talks about the iPad and encouraging publishers to push more aggressively on pricing models. Interestingly, he also starts to talk about the “post-PC” era and how devices such as the iPad will make us feel uncomfortable.

Right at the end of the clip, when asked whether he realistically thought that this sort of change was going to take longer than the next year, he paused, and then said “sure”. Though with over 2 million iPads sold in the first two months, I think Steve is not alone in seeing the iPad as not just a “game changer” but as marking the end of an era.

Re-intermediating the Media

189/365One of the things that most excited me about the World Wide Web was the way it crushed the distance between an idea and its reality.

The mere fact that I could, with a few spare hours and a scrapper’s knowledge of HTML, create a website – a “place” on the internet where nothing was before – seemed to me, a revelation.

Over the last 20 years we have seen a dramatic transformation in the media landscape. The promise of the early web has been delivered. Now, you or I can produce web pages and whole sites without the need of complex programming or large scale resources. We can produce “media” or what largely passes for media, using a $50 webcam, a microphone borrowed in the downtime between Singstar sessions, and a point of view all held together with a dash of passion.

The easy availability of technology and the digital publishing platforms sent waves of transformation through all forms of publishing – from books, magazines and newspapers to radio, TV and beyond. The full effect of this slow moving tsunami is yet to be seen or accounted for – but the lasting transformation is in the nature of power.

In the wake of these changes, the power that was once centralised in the hands of the publishers and broadcasters has been fragmented – tossed like so many pins into a new global haystack of content, opinion and conjecture. As Ben Shepherd points out, the winner here has been the search engines and content organisers like Google:

Google came in and created a tool that allowed internet users to find what they needed quickly and easily. It reinvented search and has allowed consumers to get anything they want, whenever they want, and for the price they want – generally for free.

But we are now experiencing another wave of transformation. Where the first wave shifted the base of power away from the broadcasters towards the content organisers, this next wave of disintermediation is moving information – and recommendation – away from the search engines. As a result we are seeing people powered networks (best characterised by sites like Twitter and Facebook) benefitting from this new shift in the locus of power. Tom Ewing describes it simply:

This shift is best interested, I think, in thinking about the difference between corporate brands and ‘personal brands’. The corporate brand entering social media is urged to give up control, to surrender some of its autonomy. But Twitter’s most popular users – its A-Listers, the celebrities – are using it to regain a level of control over their presentation and perception, through disintermediation.

This trend, while still small, will have Google worried, for while they seem to struggle with the human dimension of the social web, they certainly understand the power principles inherent in social network design and its resulting viral expansion loop. Interestingly, however, most social media participants, once they reach a certain scale, invest in the creation of what can best be termed “old-school media properties” – turning what little influence they do hold into a business modelled around advertising, sponsorship and editorial.

This seems to be a zero sum game to me – properties built on new foundations seem to sit uncomfortably within business models that they themselves, helped discredit. But what has been missing is a way to re-intermediate the new media – bridging the gap between business, brands, advertising, media buying and planning, and these long tail publishers. In the last few weeks two new players have stepped into this space. MediaScope, the brainchild of Denise Shrivell is “an online directory connecting advertisers, marketers and small business to 'alternative' media opportunities in niche, below the line, emerging and independant platforms.” It is due to launch in the coming days.

Media Cafe is also staking a claim in this space – but bringing perhaps a fuller community based publishing model to market. Currently in pre-release mode, Media Cafe is also open for the population of data ahead of a launch. Interestingly, Media Cafe appears to be putting new social properties on the same footing as traditional media properties. This aspect alone is likely to raise eyebrows, but will it unleash a new wave of innovation and transformation. No doubt both MediaScope and Media Cafe are banking on it.

Paid or Earned Media – Making Gravity is Hard Work

Whether you are walking down the street, watching the TV, surfing the net or even driving a car, you are the subject of some form of advertising. From the branded cap on the boy walking down the street to the billboard behind him – marketing is hard at work trying to capture your attention. Constance Hill and Bruce Henry suggest that we see around 3000 marketing messages each day. But no matter whether we see 100 or 10,000 messages – clearly we are exposed to a significant number. But how many do you recall? How many seep into your unconscious, adding a negative or positive neuron to your thoughts around these brands?

Now, add into this mix the dozens or even hundreds of blogs that you read and the tweets that you view on Twitter each day. Combine this with podcasts, music streams via, videos on YouTube and email – and suddenly you have an abundant media stream that can appear overwhelming. As Sean Howard says, “In today's world everyone is a publisher, everyone has some level of influence, and everyone has a network of influence that is difficult to define let alone measure”. It makes the life of the media consumer rather complex.

As a marketer, however, you do have a specific objective. What you are aiming for is MAKING GRAVITY. With paid media you are using your marketing budget to have your content inserted into spaces that your audience inhabit. It is an expense which you measure in terms of how many people you have reached with your communication.

Earned media (or what Craig Wilson calls engagement marketing), on the other hand, is both different in nature and in measurement. Rather than being an expense, it is an investment. Its effectiveness is directly related to what you DO rather than what you SAY, and the value that is exchanged is not currency, but trust. As I have explained previously – it is about changing behaviours:

Every time we forward on a link, retweet a message read on Twitter or any other type of social network interaction, we are CHOOSING to act. We are not just using our network of connections to FILTER the noise, we are using it to SHAPE our experience. It is a choice. And understanding this distinction places us in a context where STORYTELLING emerges as vitally important?

Paid media has been an effective marketing approach for hundreds of years (if not longer). But it thrived in a time where attention was abundant and our media consumption choices were limited to a set number of channels. These days, media is abundant but our attention (and maybe more importantly, our respect) is scarce. Graham Brown has an excellent five minute piece on the challenges presented by these changes.

But the fundamental difference with paid vs earned media is the refocusing of effort. No longer do you spend your creative energies (and budgets) on producing executions that gain attention – you spend it on building trust and creating Auchterlonie Effects (stories that can be easily shared). Indeed, in the best traditions of storytelling, earned media propagates itself – becoming promiscuous in the process.

The reason that promiscuous ideas are important to your brand is that you WANT them to be shared. In social media, every shared idea, link or concept creates an exchange of value within a PERSONAL network – so the act of sharing is a recommendation of sorts. Over time the person who “adds value” to their network builds an abundant store of social capital. It is like branding – we can’t necessarily point to a PARTICULAR item – but to the recurring and ongoing sense of positive exchange relating to that person.

When YOUR brand story or content is the subject of that exchange, you are effectively providing a reason for connection between people in a network. And as these connections grow, as they are passed from person to person, you are creating points of gravity around your brand ecosystem. Your challenge then is to work with a continuous digital strategy to “share the message” but “own the destination”. The thing is, gravity can only be earned. And while you can employ paid media to complement your earned media – you need to make sure you have a compelling story to tell and to share.