07 | Groundwork | The Web as a Medium: Four Observations

December 26th, 2011 by bruno boutot

Note: The five posts entitled “Groundwork” were originally written in 2009. See here.

The relationship of the customer to the business will likely be redefined, not by social media but by a broader set of tools and new contexts for relationship. Jon Lebkowsky Thinking about the future of online marketing

Take a truck made of 10 tons of metal and plastic. Make it plunge into the sea from the end of a pier. It will sink. Launch it in the air from the top of a cliff. It will crash. That doesn’t mean that you can’t make 10 tons of metal and plastic ride the waves or fly through the air. It just means that we build our vehicles according to the characteristics of each medium. When we stop trying to drive our trucks into the ocean, we can observe the Web as a different medium.

Four observations on the Web as a communication medium:

  • Proximity
  • Origin
  • Equality
  • Memory

I call them “observations” because that’s what they are: points that appear again and again with the same effects everywhere. One way of reading McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” is to take into account all the perceptions implied by the medium and around it.  These observations are perceptions implied by the medium. Perception is reality: everything happens as-if. The observations are listed in no particular order: they all exist at the same time. The consequences of each one are explored in detail in later posts. I’ll just begin by defining briefly what each word means in this context. So here they are: three of them define a physical property of communication in this medium; the fourth one took me more time to grasp.

  • Proximity: For a user of  the Web, every page is a click away.
  • Origin: On the Web, communication starts from the user.
  • Equality: On the Web, the user has exactly the same means of communication as the media.
  • Memory: On the Web, we have as much memory space as we want.

None of the traditional media has any memory of what consumers do with it. Suddenly we can remember all our content, all the content of our users, all the content of our advertisers and all interactions.

On the Web, every content from the media and from the users can be recorded. There is a lot to say about memory. I will add more later. For now, we only need to note that memory is a new fundamental factor in the relationship between media and users.

Proximity changes the nature of the exchanges: What happens when you are very close vs very far away.

Origin changes the dynamic of the exchanges: What happens when the media doesn’t move and the user does.

Equality changes the balance of the exchanges: What happens when every exchange is one to one.

Memory changes the nature of the medium, the space where the exchanges takes place, the space available to the media, the context in which all media and all users exist.

The four observations in just four lines:
Proximity: For a user, everything is a second away
Origin: Communication starts from the user
Any user is equal to whatever is on the screen.
We have it, we are in it.

06 | I Leap, and You Can Jump too

October 30th, 2011 by bruno boutot

For the few next weeks, I am taking a break from trying to launch a local Web news media created according to the observations that are the topic of this work.

I was asked so many times, “Is there a media that already does this?”, that I first wanted to launch a proof of concept. But I have not managed to convince a publisher. Yet.

When I stopped publishing here more than a year ago, I had several chapters that I believed were ready. But advance readers told me that my descriptions were complicated and not clear enough. This stalled me because so many authors have also observed these structures. I could see them everywhere on the Web. The last remaining step is to launch a news media built along these observations.

I am a journalist. I had to find ways to show publishers how these observations stand out in all kinds of businesses on the Web and can be used for news media. I thank the people who have had the patience to listen to this story. And I thank my readers for their precious feedback.

I also thank all the media, advertising, and marketing executives whom I have tried to convince to initiate real projects based on these observations. Each conversation has helped me further refine my understanding of the realities of the media industry.

If anything, I think I wanted too much to fit these observations with existing businesses in media and marketing.

The great leap I recently made was to respect the validity of these observations and not try to adapt them anymore.

I wrote some of these unpublished chapters in 2009. They are in my past: they form the foundations of this work. So I am publishing them as reference under the title “Groundwork”.  I am just adding a quote and a photo to these posts. This blog is a draft after all and I’ll rewrite them when the time comes.

Meanwhile, you can jump directly to [link to come shortly], which summarizes the state of my understanding of opportunities for news media on the Web. In the following posts, I will develop my pitch for a news media business based on this model.

Some things haven’t changed, though: these observations are just that, observations. They stand on their own merits, not mine.

So if they are still obscured by my shortcomings, I apologize and I need your help to clear them out.

Thank you.

Photo: US NAVY – USS Ronald Reagan Sailors wash flight deck – All Rights Reserved

05 | Introduction to the Welcome Model

March 8th, 2010 by bruno boutot

The Web is a little like water: in the same way that you have to be in the water to learn to swim, everything on the Web has to be experienced to be understood.

So I can’t stress enough that I have been able to observe and describe the Welcome Model because I have first personally experienced the consequences of being welcomed, especially by the two persons I am introducing here.

I had been observing the Web since the early 90s and, as a business journalist covering media and marketing, I was mainly interested in mass media. Around the year 2000, I realized that I should have a better look at the whole variety of native lifeforms that were blooming on the Web. I felt like a gardener who can’t see anything growing in his patch of dirt, turns around and is surprised to find in the nearby wilderness an abundance of new fruits and vegetables. One of the first marvels of the Web is that anybody doing anything on it was only an email away. So I wrote emails asking questions about business models.

After a few back and forth exchanges, Avi Muchnick told me that I had better experience his website from the inside and asked me to register. He was creating at the time Worth1000.com, a website hosting daily contests of image manipulation. I didn’t know anything about “photoshopping” as we said at the time, but Avi told me to poke around. I had the privilege, at the advanced age of 53, of becoming a newbie.


I began to participate in comments and forums. I made all the the basic mistakes, I was bullied, I bullied back and was almost banned by an upset admin. But I survived. I learned. I was fascinated. As soon as I realized how this “community” machine worked, I knew that I had reached the promised land: I had been an editor in chief of magazines, and I saw that “mods” and “admins”, the people operating communities, were the editors in chief of this world. That’s why I called my blog modadmin, for the editors in chief of Web media.

Avi Muchnick – photo by Joi Ito

I became a juror (Worth1000 jurors had then editing powers), and once again I made all the basic mistakes, like editing an ongoing thread and being accused by angry members to try to change the past. This was an exhilarating time: the site was running and changing all the time. There were new contests in photography, text, illustration, animation. Admins were as much creative in governance solutions as members were with their artworks. We were all trying new things, exchanging, experimenting. It was as thrilling as what I had experienced when launching magazines or a daily newspaper, only faster, more intense – and with less pay :-). Avi was 23 years old, studying law, making a living designing web sites, marrying, having a kid, while spending nights coding the site with Israel Derdik. Nowadays, they are developing Aviary.




I was an old hand stumbling on every molehill while surrounded by whiz kids, talented artists, young geniuses having other jobs but all knowledgeable about programming. I still didn’t know anything about manipulating images nor about coding but Avi and the admins welcomed me in their midst. I will eternally be grateful for their warm welcome: they left me wander among them with access to every possible button governing the system. Avi gave me the keys of the house. And the whole time, I was taking notes and developing the observations that became ComCom and media machina.

Professionally, those years at Worth1000 gave me the confidence to tell to media people that it is not that difficult to interact directly with registered members; there is a logic to it, steps to implement, guidelines to write, tools to install, but community building works. More importantly, I was at Worth1000 in daily contact with real people: I saw tempers flare, emotions rise and ebb, dramas, hilarity, recklessness, compassion, fun and hate, laugh and tears. I was touched by individuals and I was touching them. This is also an important professional lesson for media people: Web communities are not mass media, they are places where only real people can interact, one by one.


While I was in contact through Worth1000 with people all over the world, back in Montreal I was not very successful when trying to convince my colleagues in media and marketing that we should build communities for their users and consumers. I had no more luck with local programmers until I met with Sylvain Carle, now CTO of Praized Media and needium. As A Frog in the Valley, he had been one of the first bloggers and he became the first person in my own city who knew at once how media and communities could come together.

Sylvain Carle – photo by Simon Law

Sylvain is a coding genius and the social hub of every kind of geek camp or conference about programming, about the Web, about identity, about social media, about local marketing, about open everything and mobile anything. We spent long hours pushing the ComCom observations first into a business model and then into an architecture for prospective clients. I’ll tell later in these pages how it went and why it went that way.



At the same time Sylvain introduced me to the Web community of Montreal, where I was mainly known as a magazine guy. He led me to the Yulblog and Yulbiz events, made me a blogger of the first Webcom conference and an admin of the Webcamp events ever since. He also helped me play with Drupal and WordPress, insisted that I try facebook and he even registered my first account on Twitter. We live in incredible times and I am incredibly lucky to have met such a great and generous friend.

If you think that the linked images above are ads, you are wrong: ads are anonymous and have barely any content. These links lead you to two real people who have welcomed me, with whom I have created memories, and the stories I have just told about them convey trust.

And trust is the supreme currency on the Internet.

This is how “welcoming” sums up the real difference between traditional media and communities on the Web, between mass communication and personal relationships.

04 | It All Started With The ComCom Principle

February 10th, 2010 by bruno boutot

The Internet allowed a new flow of communication springing from the consumer toward the media.
It was a key turning point in the media-consumer relationship: with the personal computer and the Internet, suddenly we are all connected.

And each of our users (readers, viewers, consumers) is connected to our media, to our ad, to our company, to us.

We don’t send our content in the world at large anymore.

We are sending it to people who are connected to us.

Ever since the beginning of the Web, each time we are sending content, people can send us something back.

And since they are our clients (consumers, readers, viewers), we have to provide them with a mean to talk back to us.

I played with the idea of calling this simple observation “Ping Pong” (“Every Ping should be ready for a Pong”), but for clarity and mnemonic purposes, I called this new phenomena and its consequences “ComCom”.

The ComCom Principle:

  • From now on, every communication has to take into account its feedback.
  • For every communication output (« Com »)
    there is a communication feedback (« Com »).
  • Meaning: Every time we publish any ad, news, or content in any media we must provide, at the same time, the means for our readers-consumers to reply.
  • Moreover, if we want to thrive in this new context, we have to seize every opportunity to provoke this feedback.

In hindsight, it looks today as if ComCom contains hidden in its folds most ideas anyone needs to use the Web at its best for fun or for profit. But it took some twists and turns to go from there to a business model.

But at the time, the biggest influence of ComCom was to validate for me this line of inquiry: after a few months of observation, I had been able to describe a characteristic of the Web that could be useful to any kind of media. Once again, McLuhan was right: this is a machine that can be observed and described. Everything else could eventually be observed and described.

Note: I have registered “Com Com” as a trademark in Canada in 1999 and have used it ever since for business and conferences.

In presentations at the time, I had the audacity of predicting that “In 5 years, 50% of the content of any media on the Web will be made by readers”.

Hahaha! That was in 1999 and I couldn’t have been more wrong. Eleven years later readers are still an afterthought in most news media.

On the other hand, with millions of blogs, communities, forums and social networks like facebook, flickr, Twitter and so many others, I guess that the overall content created by “readers” overwhelms easily the content of all mass media combined. It’s just that it’s happening outside of traditional media instead of within them as I thought at the time.

I know now that Com Com is vastly more widespread than the relationships between media and readers on the Web: it has probably always existed in any context of any relationship. What has changed, as McLuhan pointed out, is the speed of communication, and the speed of the feedback: the speed of electricity.

He even predicted that the acceleration of change won’t stop until every human being is linked to the others at this very speed. (We are not done yet).

In 1999, the domain name com.com was already taken, but I found a way to use it in this domain name: boutotcom.com.

03 | Business Models Are The Easy Part

November 13th, 2009 by bruno boutot

I am media centric and user driven.

Media centric?  By now, we have all observed, learned or at least heard that the Internet is user centric: we have user-centric identity, user-centric design, user-centric media, user-centric Web architecture and user-centric databases management. And of course, when we’ll come to hosting communities, we’ll look closely at what “user centric” implies for architecture and content.

But let’s be media centric for a while. The notion of “user centric” might be dizzying, so let’s go back to the media as the center of our world. Nothing wrong with it: that’s where we are. The users are out there, somewhere.

Besides, I still believe that traditional medias can thrive on the Web. They just don’t have much time to make the right moves.

We have just seen when observing figure 9 in Ecosystem that to fight erosion, a media on the Web can strengthen its exchanges with its sources, its advertisers and its users. Among those, our two sources of revenue are the advertisers and the users. And obviously advertisers buy ad space only because of the users. So our first priority is to strengthen our exchanges with our users, right?

This isn’t really new, nor is it special to the Web. In 1984, more than 25 years ago, I was exploring ways of launching a weekly newspaper in Montreal. I went to see Jean Paré, then publisher and editor-in-chief of L’actualité, Canada news magazine in French, to ask for his advice. He listened patiently to my story; then he asked me: “What do you need first to launch a weekly newspaper?” That was an easy one and I answered right away: “Money”.

“No”, he said, “The first thing you need is readers. If you have readers, you’ll find all the money you want.”

This is certainly one of the most important lessons I have ever learned about media and the publishing business.

So we may be media centric if we like but what do we find at the core of any media? Readers, viewers, listeners: users. On the Web, there is a grand unification of users: we all have to read, if only to choose a video or a song, so all users are readers. Readers are at the core of any Web media.

That seems simple and clear to the point of looking banal: yes, of course, our readers are important. Of course they are our best asset. Of course we take care of them. On the Web?

If this is so obvious, please get in the shoes of a real reader for a while and ask yourself why this kind of thing happens so often when readers want to participate in a traditional-media website:

  • You are warned about everything you can’t do, topics you can’t touch, words you can’t use. Upon arrival, you are treated as a potential danger.
  • You have to agree that everything you write, every photo or video you post on the site will become forever the property of the media and you abandon any claim to it. Upon arrival, you are told that everything you contribute will be stolen.
  • You have to give a name, any name, but the media doesn’t give you a personal page with your identity and the memory of your contributions. You can comment one or 100 times, you can write important information or rubbish, you can help drive a conversation, but nobody will remember it, nobody will be able to find it again. You have no real identity, you can’t build a reputation. Nobody cares about who you are or what you can bring to the media.
  • You have a name and you may have a personal page with the memory of your contributions but you have no place to open a conversation, to contribute information, to propose a topic, to ask a question. The only thing you can do is to comment at the end of the golden words of real journalists. You can vent in your comments but you are not part of us and please keep your distance.
  • You are warned that there are moderators around and they will check your comments and maybe delete them but you are not told who these moderators are, you can’t talk to them: they don’t participate, they don’t comment, they just exercise their power. You are asked to contribute in a media where the police is anonymous and where moderators are not members of the community.
  • You are allowed to contribute in some places but not at others. Your input is accepted only when and where the “people who know” agree that you are allowed to leave something.  Otherwise, whether you have an important question to ask or a key information to add, you are obviously not qualified to add it in some place, as if you were unclean or totally uninteresting.
  • The rules of contribution are the same everywhere in the media because the owners don’t even know that topics and areas can be more interesting, more lively and become a more important part of the media when they have specific rules. So you have to suffer inane conversations because authors are not creating a tone and, worse, they don’t know that they could.
  • Journalists think that “Community” is the place where readers are corralled.

I don’t especially want to name names, take your pick, but you can pass through that filter the otherwise great nytimes.com or guardian.co.uk .

I know that most people who are reading media machina are waiting for me to answer the question: where is the business model?

Business models are the easy part.

Getting that readers are real people and not cattle is the tough part.

I believe that’s part of what Jay Rosen means when he says in Rebooting The News System In The Age Of Social Media: “You gotta grok it before you can rock it”.

I learned to grok it like everybody else: on the Web and in communities, mainly Worth1000 and MetaFilter but also slashdot, Something Awful and dozens of others. All these communities have grown organically around their founder. All these founders are passionate from the start about their members. Founders, admins and mods are not above the community, they are the best part of it. You don’t “manage” a community. You serve it. Yes, it’s messy: there are laughs and tears and yawns and tantrums and trolling and spamming and yes, banning.

That’s life. Readers are real people.

Readers are life. They are even the only lifeline that news media have.

Readers are the business model.

See notes.

02 | Analysis Of The Context Changes: Ecosystem

November 5th, 2009 by bruno boutot

Now we are trying to visualize two factors of the Web that change the traditional-media environment: the speed of two-way communications, and the integration into one ecosystem of all the exchanges that are part of making a mass media.


figure 5: Acceleration of all communications

Observations on figure 5

Once again: this is not intended to reflect reality, just a figurative way to grasp the changes of context. To visualize the effects of the new speed of communication brought by the Web, we tweak our triangle in figure 3 into circles representing continuous exchanges :

  • Black arrow, down: media to users (the usual content provided by the media).
  • Blue arrows, up: users to media (readers mail, comments).
  • Blue arrows, left and right: exchanges between users within the media (forums, comments).
  • Green arrows: exchanges between our users outside of the media (flickr, facebook, Twitter: the whole Web).

The Web runs at the speed of electricity. This is very fast: if we want to grasp what’s going on (and where we are headed to), we have to project these exchanges as a continuum, a constant flux.
These curves will be used in the next diagrams in  the same way: to represent very fast communications within relationships.


figure 6: Content exchanges with speed

Observations on figure 6

We are talking as media people and we continue to look at the situation from a media-centric point of view (for now).

  • In figure 4, we have placed the media at the middle of two opposites triangles: the top one showing the sources (basically the whole world) concentrating into the media, the bottom one from the media to the public (blue line).
  • Now we are combining the triangles of figure 3 with the circles of figure 5, showing a series of flowing exchanges:
  • Top black circle: exchanges of the editorial department with online sources: content that we get, content that we give (a part of which Jeff Jarvis named “The link economy”).
  • Lower black circle: exchanges with readers; content that we send to them and content that they send to us.
  • Blue ellipse: content that readers exchange between themselves within our media.
  • Green ellipse: content that our readers exchange outside of the media.
  • Green arrows: here we introduce a new phenomenon brought by the Web ecosystem: content that our readers exchange directly with our sources (news agencies, weather, sports franchises, news search, etc.).


figure 7: All exchanges with speed

Observations on figure 7

To complete the picture, we just add, in red, the flows of money:

  • Top red circle: exchanges between the media and its advertisers.
  • Lower red circles: exchanges between the media and its readers.
  • Lower red ellipse: business between our users outside of the media.
  • Red arrows: direct business between our users and our advertisers who have e-commerce sites.

I love drawings: it makes everything very visible and transparent. Look at the bottom red ellipse showing our readers “doing business between themselves outside of the media”: here are the platforms like craigslist, eBay, Etsy.

We could also add more details in each of the 9 flows of exchanges, but for now let’s keep this “simple”.


figure 8: The dangers: the media is bypassed and marginalized

Observations on figure 8

Here we see the dangers that threaten the traditional relationship between mass media and their users: all these new forces present in the ecosystem begin to take the users away from the media.

  • Green vertical (dotted) ellipse: our users establish direct and growing exchanges with content sources.
  • Red vertical (dotted) ellipse: our users establish direct and growing business exchanges with advertisers and merchants.
  • Green and red horizontal ellipses at the bottom: our users expand their exchanges among themselves outside of the media, for content (green) as well as for business (red).

What we see is a worst-case scenario if the media doesn’t do anything:

  • the content of the media is marginalized because the users have growing exchanges with the content sources and between themselves (green ellipses).
  • the attention business that the media did with its users and its advertisers is bypassed by the direct exchanges between advertisers and users (red dotted ellipse).
  • the business that the media did with users within the media (classifieds) is bypassed by users doing business directly between themselves outside of the media (red horizontal ellipse).

As we have already observed, the Web allows very fast and continuous communications. So the bypassing and the marginalization of the media are already proceeding faster and faster.


figure 9: The solutions: the media has to strengthen all its exchanges

Observations on figure 9

This simple graph shows that the only way for the media to survive this hemorrhage is to strengthen all exchanges opposing the forces shown in figure 8:

  • Top black circle: content exchanges with sources.
  • Lower black circle: content exchanges with users.
  • Top red circles: business exchanges with advertisers.
  • Lower red circle: business exchanges with readers.
  • Blue ellipse: content exchanges between users within the media.

This is not a road map: it’s an analysis of the situation. It shows that whatever we explore, whatever we implement for adapting our media to the Web, anything that does not contribute to strengthen our exchanges with our sources, our readers and our advertisers is probably useless.

This can also be used as a template against which we can measure all our business model experiments: our survival as media depends on finding ways to stabilize relationships using two-way communications in an ever-accelerating environment.



photography: Speeding Light on flickr by Alan Jaras 2009
used with permission of the artist

01 | Analysis Of The Context Changes: Transition

October 28th, 2009 by bruno boutot

So, let’s lay the groundwork as fast as possible with the help of a few diagrams to build a common visual vocabulary from concepts we are all familiar with.

Note: for the sake of speed, I am recycling diagrams from different presentations. Apologies for the inconsistencies. I’ll replace them later with cleaner ones.

Graphical conventions:
In black, top of the triangle: the media
In blue, base of the triangle: the public
(consumers, readers, viewers, users)
Arrow: direction of communication


figure 1: Traditional mass media

Observations on figure 1

  • This is the traditional model, proven and universal: a media (single point of origin) is sent to many people.
  • Buzz words: ex cathedra, unidirectional, one to many, business to consumer (b2c).
  • The main response expected from the public is binary, and can be measured easily: yes/no, I buy/I don’t buy.


figure 2: From the public to the media

Observations on figure 2

  • No surprise here: the Web provides faster means of feedback than previous tools as mail, fax or voice mail.
  • The Web also puts media power in the hands of the users: on the Web, each user can send text, images, sound, or video.
  • The big change is that media have to find ways not only to deal with this new influx of messages from readers but to use it to their advantage.
  • Buzzwords: bidirectional, many to one, consumer to business (c2b), participation.


figure 3: Users between themselves

Observations on figure 3

  • This is new: the Web now allows members of the public to communicate between themselves in two distinct spaces:
    • either within the media (blue) or
    • outside of the media (green).
  • At the same time, the Web offers to the media an opportunity and a competition: the media can now host exchanges between their readers but it also offers to readers countless other places where they can have these exchanges. The Web is thus creating a huge pressure for the media to host their readers’ exchanges: if the media don’t do it, readers will exchange somewhere else.
  • Buzzwords: omnidirectional, one to one, consumer to consumer (c2c).


a                                                             b

figure 4 a and b: Hyperlinks take our readers away from the media

Observations on figures 4 a and 4 b

  • Something historical happened when the media landed on the Web: clicking on an ad (red arrow) irrevocably broke the confine of the media and brought the user elsewhere.
  • The content followed suite: by clicking on any link (black arrow), the user is brought somewhere else toward a source of content or additional content.


c                                                           d

figure 4 c and d: Hyperlinks make our readers and us part of the whole Web

Observations on figures 4 c and 4 d

  • End of an era: the cozy relationship field made of media + user (our triangle) doesn’t exist anymore on the Web.
  • Each time a media allows a hyperlink to be posted on its web pages, whether it’s an ad or a content destination, it runs the risk to lose the reader: maybe they won’t come back.
  • But it works both ways: each time any outside site gives a hyperlink toward a media, the media has a chance to keep a new reader: maybe they won’t leave.
  • Media and users are now part of a huge interlinked universe where everything is one click away.
  • On the Web, we can’t think of a media as an isolated product anymore: it’s now a hyperlinked product.
  • A media is now in a constant flux of losing and gaining readers from a vast surrounding ecosystem.

See notes.

Why I Am Not Worried About Journalism

October 7th, 2009 by bruno boutot

I am not worried about journalism.

If this simple statement hadn’t been met recently with so many questions from friends and colleagues, I wouldn’t have felt the necessity to explain it here.

So why am I not worried about journalism?

First, because I am a huge news consumer. The consumer of news in me lives nowadays in paradise: I have never had access before to so many sources, from so many points of view,  so quickly and through so many media. And this wonderful cornucopia is expanding every day.

Some people even complain that we have too much information! That makes me laugh. I am an editor and that’s what we have always done: editing. When our ancestors like Ardi came out of the forest and into the savanna, I guess they were thinking “More food!” rather than “Too much information”. If  journalism is about gathering, editing and distributing news, we are witnessing a spectacular blooming of journalism.

But, people tell me, journalism is going through a crisis that is threatening its very existence.

No, it isn’t. News organizations are going through a revenue crisis. The news business is shaken to its core, but journalism isn’t. We have never had so many competent journalists. We never have had so many media. We have never had so many tools for gathering sources and content. We have never had so many tools to search, compare and validate so many kinds of data. We have never had access to so many people who are themselves more literate than ever and who have access to a growing number of media and people.

Even more, never before have we had so many brilliant people who not only care about the future of journalism but who are connected in real time and who openly share every day the advancement of their knowledge. If you are really worried about journalism, you should immediately follow these people on Twitter, read their blogs and their books: the future of journalism has never been in better hands. (See below).

But newspapers are closing and people are worried about investigative journalism, which is very expensive to do. They are right to be, but the key word in this sentence is not “journalism”, it is “expensive”. We don’t have a journalism crisis: we have a crisis of revenues in news organizations employing journalists, which is completely different.

The news business has been disrupted by the Web. This is why it is a priority to work on business models for news on the Web; if we can contribute to solve the “revenue” problem, we contribute to solve the journalism problem.

I am passionate about journalism: it is my job because it is my passion. So, I am very curious about all the developments and transformations of journalism made possible by the Web; this wonderfully rich and exciting medium. But this is not my priority in media machina. Of course you can’t talk about the news business without talking about journalism and I will. But the fundamental question I am tackling here is about the business models for news on the Web. Marketing. Sales. Money.

And I am not worried at all about journalism.

If you want to be inspired and energized about the future of journalism, you can begin by following a few people. It’s not yet possible to make “groups” within Twitter, but I do it through Seesmic. I have no more than 17 people in a group (this is the size of my Seesmic window, not a feature). Constraints are interesting:  it makes for an incomplete list (I am following many more) and the names in it change from time to time. But here are 17 people who make me very optimistic about the future of journalism and the news business (in alphabetical order of their first name):

Bruce Sterling, Chris Anderson, Clay Shirky, Cory Doctorow, Dave Winer, David Weinberger, Fred Wilson, Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis, John Battelle, Mathew Ingram, Paul Bradshaw, Scott Rosenberg, Steve Buttry, Steve Yelvington, Tim O’Reilly, Warren Ellis.

I should add a few organizations like the Nieman Lab, but if I have to chose, I’ll take people first. You’ll have to work a little to find their blogs, books or photos. I am in awe of being connected to each of them. I feel incredibly privileged to live today and to be able to follow the writings of these people, their photos on flickr and their conferences on video in quasi-realtime. I’ll be happy to explain why anyone is on this list and I will publish more lists later.

See notes.

00 | The Quest for a Business Model on the Web

October 6th, 2009 by bruno boutot

“Why don’t mass media make any money on the Web?”

The time was 1998 and this question was hanging in my mind with the answer seemingly just out of reach.


I had been looking at the Internet since the early 90s. I was at the time editor-in-chief of a business magazine about mass media, advertising and marketing (in French, in Montreal). Understanding how commercial communication works was my daily job. I was routinely interviewing top people in my market and beyond, from every type of mass media and every flavor of marketing. This was the time of a splendid, blooming ecosystem, with very successful entrepreneurs in dailies, magazines, radio, television, posters, ad agencies, creative advertising, PR agencies, direct marketing agencies, research firms, etc. I had been covering this industry – and this community – since 1987, and previously I had been a tv critic for a daily and a media reporter for a news magazine.

This was my garden. I knew how everything grew in it and if I didn’t, I knew whom to ask. I was an insiders’ insider. Through clients, advertisers and other media, we were in contact with people and events in the United Sates and Europe. We thought we were on top of the communications world and that nothing could stop the rise of media and marketing.

During the late 80s I had been in the front row when the big cable companies invested millions of dollars in installing two-way “interactive television” in experimental areas, like Time Cable in the United States and Videotron in Quebec. Nothing much came out of it but the logic of connectivity made clear that the future laid in this direction. I still remember when I had my first look at a BBS on my Mac at work. I wasn’t a programmer but with the help of our home geek, Claude Précourt, I delved into groups and lists with fascination: it was slow, it went through the phone line with beeping squeaks but it was the emergent Internet, another route on the McLuhan map. And very quickly most mass media around us, including our magazine, began investing in this new El Dorado.

But by 1998 I had become frustrated with the whole territory of media on the Web. Something didn’t add up. Here you had all these brilliant people in very successful media throwing millions of dollars at the Internet … and nothing worked. We were at last in the promised land of interactivity, the next step in media development, and everybody was just throwing money into the pit – no revenues in sight. I was in the middle of the whole media and marketing machine and none of its cogs seemed to gain traction in the new mechanism.

Meanwhile I had become a media consultant and while I worked at first for clients in the magazine industry, I took it as a personal goal to explore the Web and to find answers. Since Web operations of all types of media were bleeding money, it had to be a medium problem. In fact, the question I asked myself was not “How to generate revenue on the Web?” but “What is so different about the Web from all other media that makes every recipe ineffective?” The general overview provided by McLuhan about the effect of electricity on the media environment was mostly clear but at the same time there was something different in the very nature of the Web that was confounding everybody.

There was no reason why it couldn’t be observed, though.

At the end of 1998 I had gained a first glimpse, a first shred of evidence of the new environment: the simple fact of being all connected opens a new opportunity for media and marketing. I called this opportunity “ComCom”, as I will explain shortly in a following post. And now here we are, 10 years in this quest and I have mainly 4 observations to add to ComCom. All this time I have not applied the wise rule of open source programmers: “Release early, release often”. I have presented my findings to clients and colleagues and in conferences, but I have never been a great blogger and I was always taken by the chase: how does it work?

So, better late than never, I am starting to release everything I have. I proceed with a short story of my work as of August 2009, keeping only the most relevant presentations, graphs, and projects. I am trying to write as briefly as possible without sacrificing clarity or logic. If anything is unclear, please ask, we’ll go through it step by step.


painting Diane Obomsawin 2004, acrylic on canvas, 2′ x 9′
used with permission of the artist

McLuhan And The Machine

October 6th, 2009 by bruno boutot

For the past 30 years I have lived and worked inside the machines generally called mass media. I am a business journalist and editor-in-chief turned Web media and communities consultant. I am a passionate consumer, observer and practitioner of anything media. Since the mid-90s the Web has been a source of wonder and marvels, personally and professionally. Still is.

And all this time I have been working under the inspiring and protective shadow of a giant, Marshall McLuhan. I have never really studied McLuhan. I read about him first through magazines, then I had great conversations about his work with Georges Khal, cofounder of Mainmise magazine, when I had the privilege to assist him in making Le Répertoire québécois des outils planétaires, inspired by Stewart Brand‘s Whole Earth Catalog. I read McLuhan’s books in French and later in English.

Then the man who helped me reach another level of journalism, Jean Paré, editor-in-chief and publisher of Canada news magazine L’actualité, happened to be the original French translator of Understanding Media and The Gutenberg Galaxy. A few years afterward, I had the privilege to have Florian Sauvageau as columnist in my magazine and McLuhan was part of our long discussions. Florian is Professor, Department of Information and Communication at Université Laval and also the author of the preface of Pour comprendre les médias. I mean, all this time I was making media as journalist, editor-in-chief and associate publisher. McLuhan is not for me an outside topic, he is part of the fabric of what I know and how I think about media.

When all is said and done, I guess that just two points are enough to sum up the huge influence Marshall McLuhan and Understanding Media have in media machina:

  • The first point is that media can be understood.
  • The other one is that when analyzing any media, we have to pay attention to the relationships this media has with all our senses and all our fields and grids of perception, in the physical, animal and cultural realms.

That’s about it.

The rest is, well, literature.

I won’t enter the debates about what Marshall McLuhan meant by this or that. I don’t care, and probably he didn’t either. There are a lot of us in the “fans of McLuhan” corner, but he also has had his share of detractors, especially in academic circles. I have no problem with that. I have always worked as a media craftsman and I am only interested in what’s useful. What strikes me the most when reading McLuhan is the raw physicality of his perceptions and descriptions of media, not their theoretical relevance.

A way to put it simply, I see Marshall McLuhan as an English scholar and genius who stumbled on a machine and described it in his language and with his tools, those of a professor of English literature and literary critic*. When we stop looking at the diverse interpretations of McLuhan writings, when we stop being transfixed by the glittering of his brilliant formulas, when we stop thinking about him at all and just look at what he is talking about, then we can see the machine appearing in the middle of the proverbial living room, in the middle of his work.

Thanks to McLuhan, I think that all mass media and all branches of marketing are interlocking mechanisms that can be observed, understood, taken down to measurable parts and reassembled in multiple ways. Some will work, some won’t. Because they are machines and they follow logical rules of natural phenomena.

And I have never doubted that I would observe a few of these mechanisms because Marshall McLuhan was always there, saying, ‘there is a machine here.

See notes.


image: involute gears (net) on flickr by Dave Bollinger 2009
used with permission of the artist