Monthly Archives: September 2014

Why internet trolling has seemingly escalated in recent months

trolls

Emmett Rensin, who by all appearances seems like a perfectly upstanding adult, makes a confession in Vox: He’s a former internet troll. Rensin, at the age of 14, fell into the ranks of trolls who would later become infamous for their transgressions — most notably weev, who spent a year in prison after exposing the email addresses of 100,000 iPad users.

Anyone who has tuned in to the news in recent months has witnessed an escalating rise in trollery, one that has driven innocent women into hiding, fearful for their lives. It reached an apogee, perhaps, when trolls threatened to release nude pics of actress Emma Watson. If how the media dealt with the rise of crack cocaine in the 80s and 90s is any indication, we’ll soon see headlines warning of a coming “troll epidemic” that will unweave the very fabric of society. Rensin, in his cogent essay, tries to unravel the psyche of your average internet troll, and in the process explain why trolling has reached such a crescendo this year:

For all of my desire to complicate the trolling narrative, to insist that at one time our motives were permissible if not strictly noble, to suggest that it was fun and harmless and surprisingly diverse, trolling as an impulse has always been largely the domain of white men — and especially of those acutely aware of a world where the theoretical foundation of their inherited power is crumbling. They — we — are all anxious. The difference is in how we cope. This fear does not deserve pity, nor does it take priority over the far deeper worries of the genuinely maligned, but there is something explicable in this alienation. It’s worth having a little bit of empathy if you want to understand where these people came from. Ten years ago, the worry was easily enough ignored: displaced into pranks and jokes and insistence on being above it all, somehow outside both systems, crumbling and ascendant. Trolling was escapism; a denial of one’s place as part of a threatening world by way of imagining a troll as its incidental trickster, here to expose all vanities in equal measure. Today’s so-called trolling is the opposite: it is an explicit part of these power dynamics; a reactionary force desperate to stop the world from changing in this way.

While I find his argument convincing, I think it excludes a prevailing reason for why trolling has escalated to the point where we’re seeing constant news headlines concerning the day-to-day discussion on 4chan: The media has taken an interest in it.

There’s a long-held axiom on the internet: “Don’t feed the trolls.” By definition, a troll engages in harmful acts in order to incite a reaction. He may or may not believe the rhetoric he’s spewing; his only goal is to cause others to lash out. The theory goes that if you simply ignore the troll, he will go away, but this strategy often fails because all it takes is one bystander to take the bait in order to justify the troll’s existence. And now with reporters combing through 4chan and magnifying every threat to the outside world, we’ve unleashed a massive feeding frenzy for the worst sociopaths on the internet.

It wasn’t always this way. I remember when trolls were mostly confined to message boards and Livejournal accounts. Back in the early 2000s I used to hang out on various science fiction forums, and from time to time we’d see massive flame wars break out that spanned dozens of thread pages. There was a time, during my sophomore year of college, when a troll, likely someone who attended my same university, found his way into my Livejournal and regularly attempted to incite me into battle over issues of gay rights (I often took the bait). But for those who didn’t hang out on message boards or blog comment sections (Read: Most Americans), the damage inflicted by these trolls was minimal.

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What changed? Well, I can’t point you to the first time a troll’s actions caused widespread media coverage, but the first time I recall it happening was in 2006, when a Livejournal user named Jason Fortuny uploaded a fake ad on Craiglist in which he pretended to be a female dominatrix soliciting male sexual partners. After hundreds of men wrote in, some of whom included photos of themselves and even dick pics, Fortuny then uploaded all the responses, full names and all, to Encyclopedia Dramatica. The internet fury that resulted ended up spilling over into the mainstream media, and Fortuny was eventually featured in a New York Times Magazine piece that was so uncritical that it bordered on hagiography (the article also heavily focuses on weev’s early antics).

But you didn’t really start seeing constant references to 4chan in the press until we witnessed the rise of Anonymous, specifically when the hacker collective organized an assault on the Church of Scientology, a war that culminated with the real-world protests at Scientology buildings all over the world. Recently, the New Yorker profiled Christopher Doyon, who before joining Anonymous was a homeless activist who had been arrested for selling acid at Grateful Dead concerts. After joining Anonymous in 2010, he engaged in ever-increasing self-aggrandizement, granting regular interviews to reporters, until he eventually was able to hold press conference that would result in journalists publishing his most outlandish claims, no matter how implausible.

Whether or not you find Anonymous’s actions to be noble, its rise in prominence has resulted in increased scrutiny of the internet message boards that breed and train our next generation of trolls. And with this attention, trolls have been able to launch attacks against ever bigger targets, thereby increasing the media frenzy. It reminds me of the rise of the Westboro Baptist Church. It used to be that the church’s members only held their protests at the funerals of gay people, and while this generated a certain amount of press attention and outrage from liberals, it wasn’t until Westboro began attending the funeral services of U.S. soldiers that the organization became a household name. The church, like today’s internet trolls, realized that the more widely respected the target, the more outrage induced by its protests. Why else would it announce that it would stage protests at the funerals of the children who died in Newtown? For an organization that fed on outrage, there couldn’t be a better target.

It would seem that the prescription for ending this current trolling epidemic, then, would be to call on the media to stop feeding the trolls. If we didn’t decide to cover and amplify every claim on 4chan that it was about to unleash a new trove of celebrity nude pics, then eventually these trolls will get bored and find something else with which to fill their time. But that’s the problem with trying to starve trolls of oxygen: your strategy is beholden to your weakest link. If 10 years ago we couldn’t convince a message board visited by only a few hundred people to refrain from taking a troll’s bait, how will we silence the thousands of reporters and millions of social media users who are only a hair trigger away from calling for mass outrage? The trolls, I’m afraid, are here to stay.

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Why do we insist that local journalism has to scale?

popville

Philadelphia Magazine profiled Jim Brady and his new local journalism startup that just launched. Brady is most well known for heading up TBD, a DC website that many hailed as one of the most ambitious experiments in local journalism. It hired a staff of digital natives and closely collaborated with already-established, independent bloggers in the DC metro area. But Allbritton Communications, the parent company of Politico that had backed TBD, pulled the plug only a few months in, long before it had any chance to prove its model. As former TBD staffer Steve Buttry told Philadelphia, “TBD didn’t fail. If they had executed the strategy and it didn’t work, that’s failing. It wasn’t given a chance to succeed.”

But in assessing Brady’s prospects, Philadelphia‘s Simon Van Zuylen-Wood joins the many who have adopted the unchallenged assumption that a local news outlet can only be considered successful if it “scales.” That is, it ignores the hundreds of examples of niche, local bloggers who have figured out ways to sustain themselves financially and instead focuses on only corporate or VC-backed entities that try to simply mimic large-scale institutions.

The closest the city got to having a broadly useful online-only news outlet was Axis Philly. And it failed badly. Created in 2012 with a $2.4 million grant from the William Penn Foundation, Axis was led by a CEO named Neil Budde, who earned $225K a year but by all accounts accomplished very little. (Jim Brady was offered the job but passed.) “Neil had a talent for spending, he really did,” says former Inquirer columnist and Metropolis editor Tom Ferrick, who ran Axis after Budde. “He went top-flight on almost everything. I literally had my jaw drop over different people saying, ‘We owe this person this amount of money.’” When I ask Ferrick what exactly his predecessor contributed, he replies, “No one quite figured that out.” “I accept some of that as fair criticism,” Budde told me, but added that he was led to believe Axis would receive more grant money.

The problem with many of these failed journalism startups is that they replicate the structures of legacy media outlets, and by doing so weigh themselves down with the exorbitant costs that legacy news orgs must endure. They rent out office space, employ full-time editorial and advertising staffers, and, because they’re owned by a corporate or venture capital backer, must generate enough revenue not only to fund the staff, but also bring in a healthy profit in order to justify the investment. AOL’s Patch was a noble venture, but couldn’t sustain the profit margins that are expected by AOL’s stockholders.

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Many of the local journalism success stories are often overlooked by reporters who love to declare local journalism a failure. They’re one or two man operations, often working out of their apartments and using a standard WordPress CMS and $8-a-month hosting. Want to profile a successful local journalism outlet? Then interview the blogger behind Prince of Petworth or check in with the husband-and-wife team who launched DC’s Homicide Watch. Or check out the thousands of city-based food blogs that have become powerful recommendation engines that drive real foot traffic to restaurants and food trucks. For most of these, you won’t find a multi-million dollar business with 10 percent profit margins, but you will get insight into local journalism’s future as a sustainable business. Think of them as the mom-and-pop stores that are rising up to challenge the corporate behemoths who until now have dominated the media landscape.

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How a small change to BuzzFeed’s CMS vastly improved its mobile website

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If you’ve been publishing on the internet for long, you undoubtedly know what it’s like when you spend a significant amount of time formatting an article for the web, only to realize hours or even days later that the piece looks like shit on mobile. A photograph that you had right-aligned makes a paragraph unreadable. An image, rendered for the mobile screen, is tiny and indecipherable. The pagination is broken. Because we do most of our writing and publishing on a desktop/laptop, it doesn’t always occur to us to visit our own article on our mobile phone to ensure that it’s still readable. Realizing this, BuzzFeed’s vice president of growth and data Dao Nguyen made a subtle-yet-important change to the site’s CMS:

But writing a big list post is a lot of work, she said, and previewing it on a non-desktop platform was a task easily forgotten.

Now when BuzzFeed authors click the preview button in their CMS, they see what their posts will look like on mobile devices as well as on desktop computers when they preview them, Nguyen said. That’s a fix that’s important for the site’s readers’ experiences, because sometimes writers use “embeds and large graphics that don’t scale down to mobile-sized screens,” Chris Johanesen, BuzzFeed’s vice president of product, said on the same call.

 

Most publishers don’t realize how difficult it is to produce popular web videos

buzzfeed video

Even without any prior context as to the state of online video, the viewership stats for BuzzFeed Video are amazing. In an interview with BuzzFeed executive producer Andrew Gauthier, we’re treated to these numbers:

Unlike many text publishers that have pushed into video, BuzzFeed’s videos aren’t boom and bust. They regularly rack up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. For example, the last 10 videos BuzzFeed created have view counts between 221,000 and 1 million on BuzzFeed’s primary YouTube channel, BuzzFeedVideo.

I think the average consumer could reasonably assume that a website that already has millions of monthly visitors and millions of social media followers could start regularly producing web videos that rack up thousands of views. The reality is that success stories like BuzzFeed’s are far from the norm.

There’s been a trend in recent years of major news outlets, galvanized by the promise of higher CPM advertising rates, launching more robust video departments. How hard could it be to simply replicate the cable news talking heads model? Just put a few pundits and journalists in a room and have them analyze that day’s news. After wasting significant money and staff resources, many of these publishers have learned a difficult lesson: It’s harder than it looks. In fact, getting a significantly-sized audience to not only sit down and watch a video, but then go on to share it on social media, is a gargantuan task.

Don’t believe me? Look at the recent videos uploaded onto YouTube by the New York Times, arguably one of the largest and most well-funded news sites in the U.S. Of the 30 videos uploaded in the last five days, only one has more than 5,000 views. Most have fewer than 2,000. Or look at Post TV, the ambitious video project from the Washington Post. It launched in 2013 with the goal of producing several live shows that starred the newspaper’s most prominent pundits. It was met with dismal reviews, and by December of that same year the company announced that it was already rolling back its shows in favor of shorter videos. When you visit the Post TV website today you’ll mostly find a repository of short Reuters videos.

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And god forbid you decide to forgo YouTube and only use your custom-made video player. YouTube’s ecosystem is massive (it’s the second largest search engine after Google), and its video recommendation engine has enormous influence. Unless your video is absolutely groundbreaking, without YouTube’s help it’s likely to get fewer than 100 views.

So the fact that BuzzFeed is able to regularly produce videos that attract hundreds of thousands of viewers proves that it isn’t a one-hit, listicle-dependent wonder. It has succeeded among the wreckage of hundreds of abandoned video departments that were launched by overly-eager news organizations.

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News aggregation may be cheap, but the ads are even cheaper

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The media world was shocked the other day when The Atlantic announced it was going to roll the well-regarded spinoff publication The Wire back under the umbrella of the magazine. The Wire was, for the past year, a standalone general news aggregation site that pounced on trending news stories and viral videos. Why did a publication that showed such promise fail to exist on its own? Wire editor Dashiell Bennett explained the move to Justin Ellis:

Bennett said the logic of separating the two sites no longer makes sense. “We were just having trouble selling it as a news site,” he said. “The traffic was substantial, it just wasn’t at the scale of news sites that are much, much bigger.”

Pulling The Wire back into The Atlantic runs counter to Atlantic Media’s succession of spinoffs in recent years, which includes Quartz and CityLab(née Atlantic Cities). What makes those sites different than The Wire, Bennet said, is a tighter editorial focus that helps attract a distinct audience.

This is a rarely-reported fact about aggregated news: While it may produce enormous waves of traffic, it’s difficult to sell high CPM advertising against it.

Why? Think about it from an advertiser’s point of view. For an advertiser, it’s a buyer’s market. The internet has obliterated the high barriers to entry for new publishers, and because of that there’s no longer a scarcity of news. There are more websites with more traffic than there are ads to sell against that traffic. So an advertiser isn’t just looking to advertise on a website that has loads of traffic; it wants to reach a targeted, core readership that returns over and over again. It also wants to associate its company with the brand of a hip news organization, one that has a hardcore fanbase.

And here’s the secret with news aggregators: For the most part, they don’t have core readerships. They’re playing a simple numbers game; if they jump on enough trending news stories at a high enough rate, a certain percentage of those posts will take off on social media or, more likely, Google.

I experienced this first hand. There were a number of times, while working in the newsroom, that I appealed to an editor to focus his resources on original reporting, rather than being three hours late to every news story. And every single time that editor would point to our traffic stats as evidence that the aggregation strategy was working. Every third or fourth story we’d publish would indeed, for reasons unknown, find itself sitting at the top of Google News (My theory: Because we were so late to the story, Google would wrongly assume that we had more up-to-date information than previous news reports). And because we were putting ever more resources into aggregation, we were seeing an upward trend in traffic.

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But if you took the time to speak to the business side of the equation, you’d quickly learn that most of the display advertising on all those pages consisted of what are called “remainder ads.” These are ads that weren’t sold by the company’s advertising staff, but were rather placed there by bottom-of-the-barrel ad networks with CPMs barely reaching $2. So as we began churning out cheaper content at an ever increasing rate, we were simply driving down our advertising rates, making any revenue growth pretty much negligible.

And that’s likely the problem The Wire faced. It may have been slightly more hip than your average news aggregator, but it didn’t have a widely-recognized brand, and so advertisers probably weren’t seeking it out. By rolling the operation back into The Atlantic, the company gets to benefit from the traffic but can associate it with a staid institution (The Atlantic) and the longform, deeper content that readers truly value. So while some are taking a pessimistic view about what The Wire’s failure means for the state of the news industry, I think it’s a good thing. It shows that quality content is truly more valuable than cheap aggregation. Now companies just need to figure out how to maximize the revenue potential for this quality content even more.

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Why telecom and cable companies outmaneuver tech companies in Washington

Ben Smith reports on Silicon Valley tech companies ‘attempts to gain a foothold in Washington, DC. He notes that despite tech companies’ rabid fan bases and ability to throw down cash, they’re still being outmaneuvered by old-school telecom and cable companies:

Tech has been, from the puzzled perspective of Washington’s political class, always arriving, never quite there. Its sheer wealth, enormous economic vitality, and immense cultural force should have brought massive clout. But tech companies instead have a reputation for throwing the most lavish parties at political conventions — and then getting smoked in the back room by old-line cable and telecoms companies. The energy behind a real populist uprising, “Stop SOPA,” never quite forms into a permanent interest. The industry’s highest policy priorities — hiring more foreign engineers, for instance — don’t make it into law.

And then later:

“They’re still punching below their weight,” reflected a top former Obama aide who now consults tech companies. “I mean — who’s got cultural capital in next 50 years? Comcast? Or Google, Facebook, Twitter? Really, it’s bananas that Comcast still gets away with what it gets away with.”

Smith fails to point out in the piece that much of cable and telecom clout is derived from a geographic advantage. Comcast may be hated by customers, but it employs thousands of workers, and not only that, these are local workers. Workers who lay down and maintain the cable lines. Workers who visit and install your cable. These employees are incredibly influential at the Senate and House levels, where cable companies can accuse Congressmen of not supporting local jobs. This packs much more influence than a few high-paid lobbyist and some campaign donations.

Tech companies will start winning these battles once they can mobilize their users at the local level. A good example of this is Uber. Every time local Taxi companies have tried to step in and regulate the company out of existence, it has appealed to that city’s most fervent Uber fans to sign petitions and call their local city council members. And, as Smith’s article notes, Uber has begun winning battles all across the U.S.

Tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google are already utilizing geographic data for their targeted ads. They’re sitting on a wealth of information that can convert their most passionate users into brunt force cannon fodder against local politicians.

Should for-profit news orgs convert to nonprofit status?

There have been countless examples in recent years of nonprofit news organizations launching, from ProPublica to the Texas Tribune. But there are few examples of struggling news outlets converting to nonprofit status or being purchased by nonprofits. Mother Jones publisher Steve Katz explores why this strategy may work for a chain of local papers in California:

Managing local papers for short-term profit is the end of local newspapers. Managing local newspapers for the long run, based on deeper engagement with the local community, is the future of local journalism.

Like Mother Jones, CIR is a nonprofit organization, but with a sharp eye for the need to build out a dynamic business model. With increasingly diverse revenue streams, CIR is looking more and more like the kind of organization that MoJo’s been for a while — a hybrid, with a mix of earned (circulation, ads, syndication, consulting, events, etc.) revenue and philanthropic revenue.

This kind of economic model allows you to manage for the long run, to build an institution and a community of interest among people who care about the work — that’s why they’d give dollars to it. When this happens, a journalism outfit can begin to attract advertisers who want to get their stuff in front of a motivated audience who trust the journalism brand. No, it’s not easy. Yes, it can work.

 

Why business professionals are flocking to LinkedIn’s new publishing platform

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For the longest time, Tiffany Jana never considered LinkedIn as a platform that had any significant impact on her business. She used it, sure, just as she was active on other networks like Twitter, but mainly as a casual user rather than treating it as an ancillary part of her business. “It started as a childish competition between me and a colleague who owns a small business,” she told me in a phone interview. “And he was on this rampage of trying to friend everyone under the sun. Every time he did a speaking event, it was like friend all the people! And he got over 500 connections, and I was like I’m going to see what’s the point of doing this, so I started to friend all the people at every speaking event. I added the LinkedIn button to all my stuff, and I amassed an audience very quickly.”

But what to do with that audience? Jana eventually discovered LinkedIn Groups and began to join in on discussions within her field. But even as she spent an increasing about of time on the platform, she didn’t consider LinkedIn to be a tool that contributed to her bottom line. She’s the owner of a consulting company that works with organizations looking to increase the diversity of their workforce or adapt their HR policies to be more inclusive, and most of her business has been completely organic (through word of mouth and referrals) rather than derived from an organized marketing campaign.

But then Jana hired a branding company to work under a retainer to work for her business, and one of its tasks was to conduct a web analytics audit for her website and social media properties. “It was at that point I discovered LinkedIn was my most engaged platform,” she said. “Liking, commenting, interaction, everything. There was more traffic being driven to my website from LinkedIn. There were more people commenting to my blog from LinkedIn. The interaction that was happening on my [social media] posts, it was happening far more on LinkedIn than anywhere else. That was the big moment where I realized, oh, I should probably pay a bit more attention to this.”

And then earlier this year Jana received an email from LinkedIn informing her she was part of a selected group of users who were invited to use its blogging tool. It was a spinoff of a platform launched in 2012 called LinkedIn Influencers. A small group of 150 major policy and company leaders — Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Richard Branson — had been invited to write blog posts for LinkedIn, which were then promoted via the company’s highly trafficked LinkedIn Today news feed. Each post garnered an average of 20,000 views, with some reaching up to the hundreds of thousands. In February, LinkedIn announced that it was allowing access to this blogging platform for all users, starting with an initial 25,000 active users and branching out from there. Once you opted in to the program, you could start penning longform blog posts with headlines, hyperlinks, and photos. New blog posts would appear on your profile page and you could discover your connections’ blog posts by visiting your LinkedIn home page. LinkedIn also made a significant change to its ecosystem by allowing users to “follow” other users without requiring them to follow back, a feature that was popularized by Twitter and has been rolled out by other major social networks.

While the tech press covered the announcement, few reporters latched on to the significance of this move within the world of major social networks. A benefit from the rise of social platforms like Facebook and Twitter is that it converted millions of casual web users into publishers, vastly expanding the blogosphere. But even though social networks offered a steady readership and easy use, they also, as I’ve argued previously, taken away control of how our content is presented. Facebook status updates don’t have headlines. You can’t use hyperlinks. You have no control over how your images are presented within that content. Because of this, anything over a few hundred characters isn’t ideal for the platform. Twitter, with its 140 character limit, is even more restrictive.

LinkedIn’s blogging tool offers features that you’ll be able to find on any WordPress blog. Posts contain headlines, have no character limits, allow hyperlinks, and let users position images any way they want within the content. Other than perhaps Tumblr, none of the other major social networking companies offer a publishing platform this robust. Though LinkedIn didn’t respond to my request for comment, Ryan Roslansky, Head of Content Products at LinkedIn, gave some indication in February as to why the company made this move. “We do this because we want LinkedIn to be the place where members can become productive, successful professionals – not just when you’re trying to find a job, or search for another person.” Journalists and analysts have long recognized that LinkedIn users, while numerous, typically don’t engage with the site except when they’re looking for a job; the blogging tool is a way of luring more of them into becoming regular visitors.

It had just this sort of effect on Tiffany Jana. When she first got the invite to begin blogging she initially ignored it. But then she noticed that more and more people that she admired — professionals who usually contributed blog posts to outlets like Fast Company and Inc — had published content that was showing up in her feed. “I was like, ‘Is this that same thing they invited me to do?’ And I went back and looked through my email, and there it was. So I tested it out the first time. My father later sent me a screenshot of his phone; I was right there next to Richard Branson, and that was the first recommendation on his Pulse.” From there forward, Jana was hooked.

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Karim Abouelnaga

This lightbulb effect, where business professionals went from casual users of LinkedIn to regular publishers seemingly overnight, was a common refrain among the people I interviewed. It happened to Karim Abouelnaga, who runs a startup that offers summer school programs in inner city neighborhoods. Last month he was struck with an idea after he read an article that Wall Street firms were boosting take-home pay in order to halt its best employees from decamping to Silicon Valley. “I realized that wasn’t the reason people were leaving and I had all these different ideas for why they were,” he told me. “I jotted my ideas on a bus ride one day and then literally Sunday morning sat down and wrote the post. It maybe took me an hour.”

Though he already wrote regularly for Entrepreneur, Abouelnaga had been meaning to try out LinkedIn’s blog platform and decided to publish his piece there. “It pretty much went viral,” he recalled. “I posted it on my Facebook and maybe picked up like 10 likes, meaning the average person on my newsfeed didn’t care to read it. And then I saw that it had about 2,000 views on LinkedIn, and then it got reposted on a channel.” LinkedIn channels are broad-based topics areas that users can subscribe to, and having your post published to a channel can expose it to a much larger audience. “Then people started commenting, tweeting, sharing. I think I got over 1,300 or 1,400 profile views.” The post itself has close to 46,000 views to date.

Brynne Tillman, who runs a business that consults with professionals and companies on their LinkedIn strategies, explained to me the game-changing dynamics of LinkedIn’s publishing tools. “I’d go in and teach an entire class, and none of them had the ability to blog on their company website, and it was very tedious to set up a WordPress or a Blogger site.” Tillman was one of the early beta testers of LinkedIn’s blog software, and right away she grasped its significance. “It was an answer to my prayers. This leveled the playing field for everyone. Now anyone can be a thought leader. You don’t have to be at the mercy of your company’s website.”

Scrolling through Tillman’s LinkedIn blog, it became immediately obvious how such a tool could allow one to straddle the line between helpful thought leadership and client acquisition. Many of her posts give advice on optimizing your LinkedIn account, a direct tie-in to her consulting business, and at the end of each post she makes a hard sell for both her services and a book she self-published. Many of her posts are enormously successful (all viewership stats are publicly viewable), rivaling the pageviews that you’ll find on your average Forbes contributor blog post. I asked Tillman why her posts did so well and, without missing a beat or pausing to check any notes, she rattled off a “seven-step process” she follows with every post. The advice ranged from “write a catchy title that tells your reader what you’re going to get” to ensuring that the post has implementable takeaways. “If someone reads your blog and takes down notes, it’s a success,” she said.

Of course, publishing your post to a network that has millions of users certainly helps in generating views for your posts. One feature that I noticed while perusing blogs was that LinkedIn employs the use of a scrolling design — basically, when you reach the end of the blog post you can continue scrolling and read another one without having to click over to a new page. These recommended posts seem to shift back and forth between LinkedIn Influencer pieces and those from everyday users. As for how those everyday users can get their posts into LinkedIn’s powerful recommendation engine, it seems to be based on some internal criteria that’s opaque to anyone not working for LinkedIn.

Even those who have been blessed by traffic sent via LinkedIn are under no illusion as to whether their success was based on merit alone. “If you don’t get reposted on one of those channels, the content falls on deaf ears,” said Abouelnaga. “There are people who post lots of posts that only get a few hundred views, and it’s because they’re not posting content that’s getting picked up by any of the particular channels. And so if it doesn’t get picked up, it doesn’t go to a wider audience, and if it doesn’t go to a wider audience, the purpose of the post itself is not as meaningful.” But still, even if your content doesn’t receive thousands of readers by way of LinkedIn Pulse, it’s not difficult to grasp why being able to place that content directly in front of your professional contact list is valuable. With job recruiters increasingly using LinkedIn for headhunting, even the smallest efforts on the platform can make a world of difference.

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How Forbes stumbled triumphantly into digital success

Among legacy news publications, Forbes can be counted as among the few that launched a “digital first” all-in strategy back when the rest of the industry was still trying to convince itself that this whole internet thing was a fad (The Atlantic was another early risk taker). It seems evident that this aggressive strategy paid off, as Forbes is deriving more revenue from its digital operations than the print magazine. In an article I hope to publish next week, I’ll explore the inner workings of its contributor network — its army of thousands of bloggers that are producing content on its site. But for now, check out Michael Wolff’s feature that explains the internal politics and family dynamics that allowed the company to make such an aggressive move while the rest of the industry was still trying to maintain a moat around itself.

The family found itself poised between protecting its legacy and protecting the wealth that it had come to assume was its due. It seemed clearer to some, notably Tim, and less clear to others, particularly Steve, that protecting the legacy was a losing battle.

And then, in 2007, the financial world collapsed, devastating many industries, perhaps none more than print publishing. The ever-downward glide of Forbes Media became a tailspin, and by 2009 the company was failing to make payments on its ­$90million credit line, and there was an exit of top managers, including Berrien, Spanfeller, Kneale, and the respected international head, Robert Crozier. A restructuring completed in 2010 mandated the ouster of Steve Forbes as CEO and his replacement with longtime magazine manager turned technology investor Mike Perlis, the first non-Forbes to run the company since it was founded, in 1917. Steve was allowed to go on holding the titles of chairman and editor in chief.

But perhaps even more profoundly, there was a radical restructuring of the editorial side, reportedly instigated by Tim. Lewis Dvorkin was an editor at the magazine who, with an investment from Forbes Media, had gone off to start a company called True/Slant, a user-created content concept (i.e., anybody could write and nobody got paid—at least, no more than a token dribble). When Forbes Media absorbed True/Slant, in 2010, Dvorkin was given primary editorial responsibility at the company, charged with creating a low-cost, high-traffic model. It was a kind of prewar/postwar contrast, one world giving way to the other, the necessary invention of a new society.

The self-inflated egos of techno libertarians

It’s a common refrain that’s become pervasive within Silicon Valley circles: The government has failed us, and the only way for society to move forward is for the coders who inhabit the Bay Area to liberate us via mobile apps. Such is the attitude of King Techno Libertarian Peter Thiel, who laments a world that has no robot maids or cures for cancer:

Thiel’s thesis: if change is going to happen on medical research, on climate change, or on getting a man to Mars, it will come from outside of large institutions.

Such world views ignore the enormous body of evidence that many of mankind’s largest innovations have come at the behest of large institutions. Look at the technologies made possible through NASA research or how DARPA enabled the creation of the internet. Thiel complains about the lack of cancer cures, but we’ve made vast strides just in the last few decades in prolonging the lives of cancer patients, and much of that success can be laid at the feet of the NIH, which contributes $60 billion in research funding a year. Thiel doesn’t explain how venture capitalism will amass and distribute this level of funding when there’s little short-term profit potential.

Thiel also doesn’t acknowledge how the need for bureaucracy grows as your deal with larger and larger populations made up of individuals who pursue their personal short-term goals often at the expense of the betterment of everyone. It’s not clear that a piece of technology can supplant the need for restaurant health inspections, nor can it single-handedly disincentivize companies from wantonly spewing carbon into the atmosphere.

To believe that we can solve the world’s problems by dispelling government is to rely on anecdotal evidence while enclosing yourself in a bubble of delusional self-importance. We will not cure cancer by simply handing over the reigns to people who build photo sharing apps.