Â Â “To peel back newspapers to their essential coreÂ , , , creating marketplaces”
Bob CauthornÂ is a guy with a history in newspapering, opinionatedÂ and abrasive (here’sÂ a taste)Â — and I say this having worked with Bob and indeed having sparred with Bob, only toÂ come away impressed by his passion, intelligence and committment toÂ whatÂ wasÂ onceÂ called interactiveÂ journalism but is now social mediaÂ or citizenÂ journalism depending onÂ the context.
Online Journalism Review recentyÂ interviewed Cauthorn about hisÂ newly launched Â CityTools, which OJR editor Robert NilesÂ described as “a social media framework for publishing news articles, lists and classified advertisements,” adding thatÂ “Cauthorn demo’dÂ . . .Â a platform that serves both newspapers as well as independent and individual publishers.”
I smiled as I heard Bob’s voice behind words like these:
“After I left The [San Francisco] Chronicle, I went backpacking along the Pacific Crest Trail and did a lot of thinking about the state of journalism and online newspapers . . .Â I decided, on a very cold night in the Sierras, to peel back newspapers to their essential core. You know? And part of that essential core has been creating marketplaces.”
Exactly how? Well, it takesÂ OJR’s Niles more than three paragraphs to distill the site’sÂ promised activities, including simultaneous support for multiple languages. “Speak English, Spanish… and Swedish?,” Niles writes, “CityTools will let you read, create, order and distribute content in all three, at once.”
I visited the CityTools site to get a sense of how it presented and, sadly, I came awayÂ confused. I am not sure who is supposed to do what. From a long menu on the left I clicked on the entry for how-toÂ and landed onÂ another page with far too many choices starting with,Â “The detailed 15-minute HowTo.”
I’m sorry, but inÂ our Attention EconomyÂ time is in short supply. New habits andÂ even new tools must beÂ intuitive and viral. We have to know what it’s going to do for us beforeÂ we pick it up.Â ThatÂ puts a premium onÂ simplicty andÂ punishes complexity.Â CityTools, which isÂ awfullyÂ powerful but powerfullyÂ intimidating, is on the wrong side of that trend.
And despite Bob’s professed and no doubt sincereÂ desire to create a marketplace of ideas, I am fascinated that neither heÂ nor Niles used the words “money” or “cash” or “revenues” in their discussion.Â What kind of market can exist without them?
I say thisÂ as a sympathetic, if critical observer, because I sense an incredible power in CityTools. I registered with the system and was impressed by the smoothness of the process. I feltÂ like I’d put my hand on a purring race car. Trouble is,Â now I don’t know how to drive it.
So let me pose a few suggestions orÂ questions that might be helpful in focusing the sales message for what I sense could be an important tool â€“ a breakthrough tool perhaps. Here goes:
Â — Less vision and more substance about who should buyÂ CityTools and get what payback how soon.
–Â Are there case studies of the tool in use?
–Â Is this a system that can be adopted by the freelancer orÂ a startup or is this a big-outfit system?Â And if both, how does an organization deal with those vastly different customer needs?
–Â Is this a proprietary or open source toolkit? I am guessing proprietary. If so that is a strike againstÂ CityTools. Open systems can innovate and improve faster and at less cost; open systems can proliferateÂ faster by givingÂ buyers options;Â even if the core toolkit must be held close,Â thereÂ should be some open source element to encourage experimentation and adoption;Â
— Finally, why wouldÂ the news consumer adopt this?Â What is the viral uptake method to show the next person why they should use this, and to train them or to hold their hand as they acquire whatever skill or habit is necessary to realize the benefit?
Questions, questions, questions, but I hope taken in the spirit asked — fascination and interest, and a belief that Bob may have come up with a powerful something here . . .Â if heÂ takes another deep breath and explains how this will help media producers make money, get famous or attain power, which are the prime motivations for doing anything in media.