Introducing Publish2: Networked News

It’s time to pull the curtain up on our new venture, Publish2, Inc.

Publish2 is a social media company, on the eve of launching in Beta — the purpose of this announcement is to explain our vision, what we’re building, who’s involved, and why we think the time is SO ripe for Publish2 — but most of all, we want to know what YOU think. We’ve been drinking liberally from our own Kool-Aid, so we’re eager for some (frank) feedback. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from blogging at Publishing 2.0, it’s that every idea gets better in public (it can be a wild ride, but it’s ALWAYS worth it).

So, let me tell you about it…

Here’s the short version: Publish2 is a social network and 2.0 platform for journalists (and independent “news bloggers,” “citizen” journalists, student journalists, i.e. ALL journalists, BROADLY defined), which aims to put journalists at the center of news on the web by creating a journalist-powered news aggregator.

Now, here’s the long version…allow me to first set the stage:

The Rise of Aggregation

The explosion of high quality content on the Web has reached a tipping point — there’s too much good stuff in every conceivable category for anyone to keep up, for any original content brand to have it all, or for any single human editor to sort through all the options.

Search (e.g. Google) rules media on the Web because aggregation rules the Web — why sort through a thousand different sites when you can go to one that gives you the WHOLE Web? And the more high-quality content there is on a given topic, the more value there is to aggregation.

Search is the unrivaled master of evergreen reference information, but it has not yet mastered news — algorithms have proven highly effective in filtering the ever-expanding universe of content on the web, but, direct human intelligence still has better news judgment. That’s why Digg exploded onto the web scene — it represents the next generation of aggregation that we believe will become the intermediary for news on the web.

But Digg is not an innovation for the reason that everybody thinks… Digg is not really about democratizing news. Digg is, in fact, very hierarchical — the value of Digg as a news filter is driven by a very small percentage of its user base — and the overwhelming majority of Digg’s users are more passive, enjoying the fruits of the labor produced by the few.

No, the real innovation of Digg is that it took the power of networked human intelligence, which also drives Google’s PageRank innovation at its core, and applied it overtly to news.

Solving the WHO Problem

But Digg has one important weakness… the top Digg users, the human intelligence that creates the network effect, have narrow niche interests. For young, male, tech enthusiasts, Digg is a perfect news filter. For everyone else, it’s significantly less useful. Digg blazed the trail by successfully harnessing human intelligence in its niche… but that niche took over Digg’s open system, and limited its extensibility.

The self-organizing hierarchy of Digg’s top users demonstrates that there are people who are disproportionately more effective at filtering news on the web. Digg created an emergent system for identifying these people in the tech news space.

But how can the model be extended to every topic, every niche? How do you identify the right human intelligence to network, to create a truly extensible news aggregation platform? I’ve been referring to this as the WHO problem.

Standing on Digg’s shoulders, Publish2 solves the WHO problem by creating a platform for networking the one group of people who are disproportionately more likely to be effective news filters across every conceivable topic:

JOURNALISTS

What’s a Journalist?

We’re defining journalists not just as reporters and editors who work for mainstream news organizations, but also the universe of independent “news bloggers” who are expanding and evolving the practice of journalism (including those who may have disavowed the term “journalist”). So to be clear: we’re using the term “journalist” with an expansive, and inevitably disruptive definition — but with a clear delineation based on the PRACTICE of journalism.

I like the term “news blogger,” because it separates bloggers who are acting journalistically from bloggers who have casual, leisure intent. But I see little value in creating an “us vs. them” mentality — better (albeit more difficult) to evolve to the term “journalist” to encompass the evolution of journalism, wrestling along the way with all of the open questions about what is and is not journalism.

To clarify further: journalism is NOT anything and everything that anyone chooses to publish — it is a definable, value-creating PRACTICE. And journalists are ALL of its practitioners, whether they call themselves journalists, whether they acknowledge the larger group they are now a part of, whether they are “citizens” or “professionals” (a caste system that needs to be abolished), student journalists or 25-year veterans.

But Publish2 is not going to arbitrate who gets to be a journalist — we’re going to let the community decide, by seeding the system with mainstream journalists and independents, and letting them invite others into the system.

The bottom line is that journalists, broadly defined, are an excellent proxy for high-quality news judgment. Journalism extends to every conceivable topic and niche, making the model hugely extensible. Also, despite notable failings and well-deserved criticism, journalists are still trusted by most mainstream news consumers, and Publish2 aims to leverage that trust — and trust is another important reason why we are also including independent bloggers who have picked up the torch of trust for many people. And this is key, because when mainstream consumers seek news, even through new sources on the web, they still want news sources they can trust.

So, with all those caveats, let me spell it out:

Publish2 will create the ultimate consumer news service by networking journalists’ news intelligence.

I know that I can’t go any further without addressing the big question that has likely popped into your head… what’s in it for the journalists? Let me tackle that question by first explaining what’s in it for Journalism with a capital “J”.

Networking Journalism

What separates the digital news media from analogue news media (i.e. newspapers, magazines, television, radio) is that all media, all content is now connected on the web — the network IS the medium.

But the Web, above all, is about connecting people. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that PEOPLE — connected on the network — are the new medium.

The great irony, then, is that journalism (broadly defined) — the driving force behind news media — still operates in largely disconnected, fragmented silos:

Journalism has not yet embraced the network.

And that’s because the people who define the profession and the practice of journalism — the journalists — are not networked — they remain largely behind the walls of their news organizations. Yes, many journalists have recently sought out ways to connect on the Web via one-size-fits-all social networks like Facebook. And at the vanguard, journalists who blog and “news bloggers” have embraced the web and networked media.

But journalism as a whole is still deeply fragmented.

Publish2′s vision is to fix this and, for the first time, bring all of the world’s journalists onto one common platform.

Mark Glaser of MediaShift recently observed that “social media runs on ‘friend’ power” — so to put it another way, journalists as a group need to forge stronger social media “friendships.”

Journalism is far from perfect — it is, at its best, an ideal — one that needs to, and already is evolving. Publish2 aims to harness the ideal of journalism and help it evolve by networking journalists and the practice of journalism.

Which brings us to the value proposition for individual journalists.

Creating Value for Journalists

First, there is huge value for journalists in being part of the network — and not just the Publish2 network, but the Web’s network — ask any successful blogger about the power of the network effect on the web.

Publish2 aims to enhance individual journalists’ productivity by web-enabling and network-enhancing their EXISTING workflow, and by helping them to harness the network to advance their own professional careers.

To whit, Publish2 provides journalists with:

1. A targeted, community-defined social network

Like Facebook for students, Publish2 is about connecting a defined community, which is the essence of social networks. Our aim is to optimize Publish2 for journalists, as we believe the next wave of social networks will be optimized for the needs of specific communities, professions, and industries. But the key to that optimization is defining who becomes part of the network — and, as I already explained, we are going to let the community of journalists and independent news bloggers define the network.

2. A platform for building their their personal brands

In the age of Om Malik, Rafat Ali, Mike Arrington, Nick Denton, Arianna Huffington, Michelle Malkin, and Perez Hilton, journalists are seeing an imperative to develop their personal brands — even as they remain committed to their news organizations. Publish2 is a platform for journalists to showcase their professional expertise, their portfolio of original content (i.e. via links back to their news organizations or blogs), and their ability to filter the Web (i.e. as news bloggers already do through inline linking, link blogging, Del.icio,us links, etc.). As on Digg, journalists who submit a story to Publish2′s news aggregation platform will receive highly visible credit, with links to their profile.

Bottom line is that Publish2 enables journalists to take control of their identity — as journalists — on the web.

3. A suite of Web 2.0 productivity tools

The core journalist productivity tool within Publish2 is web-based bookmarking, which, sadly, is still far from mainstream, even among people who gather, filter, and process information for a living. With web-based bookmarking as the foundation, Publish2 will offer a whole suite of productivity tools and features designed to enhance the work of journalists. As a Web 2.0 platform, Publish2 will integrate with existing services like Del.icio.us, but we will also have our own versions of such social media productivity tools that were designed, packaged, simplified (less early-adopter geeky), and optimized specifically for journalist workflow.

Applying Social Media Design Lessons

In developing the core bookmarking, aggregation, and social networking features, we’ve looked to the success of existing systems like Del.icio.us, Digg, and Facebook for inspiration, while finding opportunities to optimize and improve. For instance, on Publish2, journalists can bookmark entirely in private for their own personal workflow, as you can on Del.icio.us, but unlike on Digg, journalists can opt out of associating their name with a bookmark in the public system. That said, and unlike Del.icio.us Popular, journalists’ private bookmarks will still count as a vote in Publish2′s news aggregation platform — we still want to capture the judgment that is focused on the value of content.

Journalists can also share bookmarks privately with colleagues (i.e. friends), including ad hoc working groups around specific projects or short-term news interests (a missing feature on Facebook that makes it suboptimal for business). These privately shared bookmarks will also count as votes on Publish2′s news aggregation platform.

We believe that applying these social design principles, based on lessons learned from the social application pioneers, will help Publish2 create different-in-kind value for its two core groups of users — journalists and mainstream news consumers.

Creating Value for Mainstream News Consumers

So to circle back to where I started — Publish2 aspires to be the ultimate consumer-facing news service. Whatever news you seek, in whatever category of interest, at whatever moment in time, Publish2 will point you to the best content from publishers around the world, as determined by the collective wisdom of the world’s journalists…as a BYPRODUCT of their own workflow and collaboration.

Publish2 is counterintuitive in many ways — it is a balance between the extremes of old media and new media, between monolithic editorial command and control (like a newspaper editor), and completely opened, unfettered networked platforms (like Digg). It is fundamentally Web 2.0 in that the value created is a byproduct of journalists using the system for their own needs — by capturing that, we believe we can create immense value for mainstream news consumers. But it also recognizes that completely open, unfettered systems don’t always produce optimal results, as evident in the instances of gaming and mob rule on Digg. So the more Publish2 enables, supports, and empowers the limited — but dynamically networked — community of journalists, the more value it will create for mainstream news consumers.

Which, of course, raises the question — what’s with all the elitism? Don’t mainstream consumers get to participate? (How dare you call yourself Web 2.0? Didn’t you study your catechism?)

Well, first of all, anyone (i.e. non-journalist) can create an account to comment on news stories (as on Digg) and to connect with journalists on the social network. But they won’t be able to influence Publish2′s news aggregation platform (other than by pointing out stories to journalist users).

So, yeah, there’s no Web 2.0 egalitarian free-for-all. Like any good capitalist democracy, there are no free lunches, BUT… if you’re willing to work hard, you can participate. Publish2 is not an open system, but it is porous. If a non-journalist user wants to submit and vote, then they can EARN their way into the system by starting a news blog (on a free blogging platform) and creating value as a journalist. That means we’re asking for a bit more than a fake email address and fake username (as many open systems allow) to create a core user account… but we think that will create a lot more value for everyone involved.

So, what about the media companies who employ (most of) these journalists…what’s in it for them? Admittedly, we are indeed walking a fine line between the interests of individual journalists, media companies, and
Publish2’s own news service ambition. That’s why we’re working with a number of forward-thinking media companies, not only to bring their top journalists onto Publish2, but also to create a model where everyone wins — and I’m bullish that we can make this work.

About Us

As I said in the beginning, Publish2 is the realization of everything I’ve written about on my Publishing 2.0 blog (some of you who are long-time readers of my blog might have recognized this), and the product of my many years of experience in media, working closely with some the most talented journalists (mostly recently at Atlantic Media). That is why I am the CEO of this new venture and so deeply committed to its vision.

But the Publish2 vision is the work of many minds, both formal and informal contributors — the latter of which we aim to expand with this announcement.

I co-founded Publish2 with my partner, Robert Young, who you probably know from his blogging at GigaOM — Robert is chairman of the company and now blogging with me at Publishing 2.0. Robert is a recognized social media expert and serial entrepreneur with a long track record of introducing disruptive innovations on the Internet. Robert and I were long-time fans of each other’s blogging before we became partners, which turned out to be a strong foundation for our collaboration on the development of the Publish2 vision.

Our team also includes two extraordinary advisors who really need no introduction: Jeff Jarvis, uber-blogger, networked journalism pioneer (see MacArthur Grant), ex-publishing executive and now a professor of journalism with an endless fountain of ideas; and Howard Weaver, the most senior news executive at McClatchy, one of the largest news organization in the country. Howard is a “journalist’s journalist” (who helped write and edit two Pulitzer-winning series) and blogger, whose advice and guidance have been critical in developing Publish2 FOR journalists.

On the technology side, we are extremely fortunate to have Jonathan Lambert as our CTO, along with a rockstar development team led by Aaron Stewart. These guys are recognized leaders and champions of the open-source platform Drupal, which community we intend to work closely with and fully support.

Timing

Publish2 will be open to journalists via an invite-only private Beta sometime soon after Labor Day next month. If you are a journalist (again, broadly defined), and would like to be part of the Beta, please fill out this form.

So why are we announcing Pubish2 now, just prior to opening the beta?

Many journalists are already searching for ways to network on the web, through Facebook and other one-size-fits-all social networks, but with unclear purpose. We anticipated this need, and we’re now hearing the calls for a vision loud and clear. We believe we have just such a vision — the more we have talked to journalists, news organization execs, and mainstream news consumers over the past months, the richer the concept has become. But it’s time to open up the conversation, to invite the larger community to help us shape the vision and platform, so that Publish2 can lifts all boats.

And, frankly, the online news space is REALLY heating up… so it’s time to get into the game.

So there you have it… as always, I welcome your feedback (good, bad, and ugly).

Scott Karp
CEO and Co-Founder
Publish2, Inc.

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