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It's about the users, dummy!

Thursday, November 27, 2008 by Dave Winer.

Michael Fraase tries to explain what I've tried real hard to explain for the last N years (where N might be as many as 15 believe it or not) that news, like any other business, is about the users. Permalink to this paragraph

I do this with programmers, with about as little success as with people in the news industry. People who write software invariably think the users' job is to give them "feedback" which they are free to do with as they please. Of course they are free to ignore the users, but eventually that results in the users (er ahem, drum roll please) ignoring them. If you want to keep their interest, you need to be interested in them. Permalink to this paragraph

I once went to a lunch at the University of California School of Journalism, where I mouthed off on this subject, more or less, and was greeted with a stunning idea -- it was largely considered unethical for a reporter or editor to know which sections of the paper were most read by users of the paper. If the reporter knew, the story goes, he or she might be influenced by peoples' interests in deciding what to write about.  Permalink to this paragraph

To which I said (and say) loudly -- OY! Permalink to this paragraph

Or another way --> THERE'S THE BUG. Permalink to this paragraph

Fraase says I think like a programmer. I suppose. I didn't always. When I was younger I wasn't going to be a programmer. I became one out of necessity. I had ideas that expressed themselves in software, and I couldn't interest any "real" programmers in making the ideas real, so... Permalink to this paragraph

But all along I've been a glutton not just for feedback, but to know how the ideas I had would be used. I never create any software that I myself don't want or need, because I wouldn't know how to do it. My method of development depends on me being a user. So do I listen to the users? Yes. If I listen to myself, which I try to (it's harder than it might appear at first). Permalink to this paragraph

Listening is hard. But all people who create products for users must listen if they want to do well at making products. That includes doctors, bus drivers, mailmen, entrepreneurs, programmers, and yes, reporters and editors too. Because if you don't listen you might miss a corner-turn and end up going off a cliff, just like the news industry is doing. They see the cliff, they know they're headed for it, but they don't ask how to turn the car. They don't really want to know. I think sometimes what they want is to be missed when they lie dead in a crumpled car at the bottom of the cliff. But we don't want that to happen. Not because we love them, but because life without them is pretty hard to imagine. They should turn the corner, no matter how painful it is. But in order to do it, they're going to have to look out the front window and the mirrors and listen to the person in the passenger seat. Permalink to this paragraph

That's why it's not enough for the NY Times to have a Public Editor, they have to have the Public itself on the op-ed page. That should start on Monday. There's no reason to wait for that. The Times should have more branded blogs, given to people whose opinions they value. Want a list of 5000 such people? Make a list of the people the Times has quoted in the last year. I bet it's more like 50,000. At this point, the Times is still reputable enough and alive enough that they would want to be under the Times umbrella. Immediately you have a reason to survive for between 5000 or 50,000 people. Permalink to this paragraph

We can save one newspaper that way. One newspaper is infinitely better than zero. We can probably save a few magazines too. The key thing is to incentivize people to make them survive. Open the doors as wide as you can imagine, and let the world flood in. It should have happened slowly and carefully over a decade, I told you so back then but you didn't listen. Now you have to achieve what would have been accomplished in that period in the space of a few months. It isn't going to be easy or anything like pain free. But it can work. I'm sure of it. Permalink to this paragraph

Seth Godin: "The only reason to answer the phone when a customer calls is to make the customer happy." Permalink to this paragraph


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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 53, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.

One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.

"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.

"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.

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