Dept. Homeland Software

Yesterday I speculated that local news was the best content market (include niche or affinity groups as well) and suggested that localized news could be the bread and butter of citizen journalism. I ended on this note — we need to invent a way to make local sites pay at least a partial income. Here are some thoughts as to how.

For arguments’ sake, let’s imagine that the citizen journalism site of the not-too-distant future is anchored around a column, or blog. It would presumably be the audience magnet. Around this blog would be arranged other feeds and inputs — a cartoon, photo or artwork for a quick laugh; the lead paragraph from other blogs on the same theme with links to more; news feeds, culled from mainstream media and delivered via RSS or through an affiliation with Topix ; useful links to info resources relevant to the site’s theme (Peoria-at-a-Glance, or Guide-to-Food-Preservation).

Think of this as a personal portal, a lens on the world that the “editor” shares with others. In recent blogs I noted how Dave Winer’s OPML would enable web publishers to grab other pages and, assuming templates or other software modules appear out of thin air, pour parts of that content into one of these imaginary personal portals. The end result could be an interesting destination. It could even draw enough traffic to create a supplementary income for the portal editor.

At least that’s my hope and expectation. But if the agglomeration of content helps to draw an audience, shouldn’t front page revenues be shared with the various contributors?

I say yes, and offer this simple starting point as a framework for computing the shares — for each input record the area of the screen set over to it; record the time of each unique front-page visit and any click-thru activity that occurs while each constituent element is in place; divide total revenues or page-views achieved during each publishing period (which would change any time a constituent element changes); divide any revenues received during that publishing period by the area devoted to each element; apportion the pro rata share to an account for each contributor; tabulate these shares by week or month, and issue payments upon certain thresholds.

In short, let’s make a business out of sharing content instead of assuming that we are all tenured academics who post stuff for the greater good and our personal glory (think about it: Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web and its predecessor, the NSFNet, were both academic constructs supported by academic money and labor; Web 2.0 has no such sugar daddy.)

But where do I put this request? I can’t even paste a traffic counter into my Blogger profile (officially, my traffic is zero, which means not even I read my blog!). Perhaps some person with technological smarts (who is also not reading this) can point me to where such an accounting software already exists. Or if it is a novel request, then put the idea where it is likely to get constructive feedback or a prototype effort that could be tweaked and improved. It’s way past time to put the new publishing modes on a path toward economic sustainability.

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media