TimesPeople: The New York Times’ Response To The Social Era

Right after I finished reading the post “It’s Hard To Watch The Newsosaurs Turn A Blind Eye To Their Own Extinction” from Techcrunch, which lampoons many of print media’s slow response to the digital media revolution, I encountered one “Newsosaur” ,The New York Times, and their endeavor in adapting themselves to this new media world. The timing was just too good and the contrast just too big, I could resist blogging about it.

I remembered that not too long ago, when I was reading articles from The New York Times, it was always a pain for me to share its articles on Twitter, as the little share button at the end of each articles did not include a shortcut to Twitter. But today after I finished reading an article, I was surprised to see a little button below exclusively devoted to Twitter along side other Share and Email buttons. After I finished rejoicing about how the New York Times has finally moved to embrace Twitter, I was hit with an even bigger surprise: The New York Times has rolled out an online community for their readers: TimesPeople!

While people can join TimesPeople by logging in with their New York Times membership account, they can also use their Twitter account to register, and NYT will pull Twitter profile information and contacts to their TimesPeople account from the beginning. Score one for good interoperability! This got me right on board.

NYT defined TimesPeople here:

TimesPeople is a social network for Times readers. But it’s not a social network like Facebook or MySpace — you won’t have Times friends, and it won’t get you Times dates. Instead, you’ll assemble a network of Times readers. Then you’ll be able to share interesting things on NYTimes.com with others in the network. For example, when you recommend an article, comment on a blog post, or rate a movie or restaurant, these activities will become visible to other TimesPeople users in a special toolbar at the top of every NYTimes.com page. You’ll also have a personal page that keeps track of your TimesPeople activities and lets you browse your network of readers.

TimesPeople is a great way to discover things on NYTimes.com that you might not otherwise have found and to share your discoveries with other NYTimes.com readers.”

Looks like NYT is very clear about what they are doing with TimesPeople. It’s not another Facebook, it’s not another Myspace. It’s a community that is especially designed just for you to better find and share NYT’s content, and of course it supplies you with your pre-existing offline social networks which has been proven to be the panacea of engagement in online communities. While social media like Twitter are becoming more and more prominent news centers on the internet, traditional news sites cannot escape this trend, nor can they be ostriches putting their heads in the sand and pretending that nothing is happening. They might as well just face their problems and try to turn them to own advantage, like what The New York Times is doing now.


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The Third Place In Online Communities

As Oldenburg described in his book The Great, Good Place other than our home and work place, a “third place” where people can meet others and relax, for example the local coffee shop or local bookstore, is much needed and essential in human social relationships. There, people can escape from the many responsibilities of their daily lives and dive in to a casual environment to enjoy social ties with other people, and maybe even seize the chance to be a different person for a while. This literature, which was published ten years ago, has many implications for today’s computer-centric communities, as these online communities are indeed serving the need of a “third place” for people, and provide a public place for people to meet and interact.

Among all the online “third places” like forums or Wikipedia, I am most interested in the third place in social networks. At the center of popular social network sites like Facebook or Chinese social network Qzone are people’s personal profile pages, where people manage their contacts and post personal updates. They interact with their friends mostly through wall posting and messages; this personal profile page serves as the “home” function in these SNSs and people occasionally go to their friends’ “homes” to visit and say hi. Besides the profile page, there is also a Home page, which is constantly fed with news and updates from people’s friends, and it functions more like an information center.

The real third place for people on these SNSs to socialize and meet people outside of their current social circle actually lies elsewhere: they are the online game spaces and public pages created either by commercial groups or other institutions. After more and more people settle into their homes in these SNSs, these public third places that serve as the “cafes and bars” start to appear and take off. When people are gathering in poker rooms of Chinese SNS Q-zones’ online game space to play poker with each other, or when people are pouring their love or hate of a product onto a brand’s Facebook page, they interact with each other outside their “home” and outside their usual social circle. In these third places their social need for more casual ties with others is satisfied. People are also willing to pay these third places for the services they provide, for example, paying for virtual plant seeds in a Farmville game is essentially the same as paying for a bottle of beer to start a conversation in a bar, right? This might explain the rosy business prospects of virtual goods in the SNS world, because in these third places people are willing to pay for the social capital they gain. Building good third places on social networks for people to hang out and interact with each other is just as essential as building good third places in the real world to sustain people’s needs for a community.

Why Don’t American Teenagers Fancy Twitter?

I recently read an article on USA Today about a survey from Pew Internet & American Life Project that revealed that teens in the U.S. are not as interested in using Twitter as most people expected: only 8% of 800 American teens ages 12 to 17 who took the survey reported using Twitter, while social networks like Facebook have penetrated this demographic with a 73% high rate. These results seemed counterintuitive to me since common sense tells me that teens are usually the first adopters of new technology trends, especially in social media.


While reading about the perception of Twitter by teens in the report, who described it as “lame” and “feeding the beast”, I think this phenomena of teens preferring social networks could be explained by the entry cost, exit cost and voice theory discussed in Professor William’s class last week. The theory states that the higher the entry cost and exit cost is to participate in a community, either online or offline, and the more a participant feels their voice is being heard, the stickier the community is.


For the Twittersphere itself as a community, the entry cost to this community is definitely very low, it only takes a simple registration process that has been simplified to just a user name, email address and password, especially compared to Facebook’s more established profiles that rely on your pre-existing real-life social network to join online. Once you join Twitter, because everybody’s tweets seem to flood at you with little organization, it is so hard to manage any real conversations. Your own voice may be difficult to hear by followers, even if you have hundred followers, they might each be following another hundred people. The exit cost for Twitter is also very low. Twitter is simply providing a venue for public speaking, and people do not leave much information like personal photos and conversations with friends like they would on social networks like Facebook. Twitter’s genes of low entry cost, difficulty in being heard, and low exit cost mean Twitter as a platform can not achieve the same penetration rate as social networks have among teenagers, who prefer tighter, more controlled communication. Twitter does not seem to be as sticky in people’s lives as social networks are, not just for teenagers’ group. It is undeniable Twitter has its own unique advantages; But without addressing these shortcomings, it is not impossible that one day Twitter may be replaced by other newcomers in the real time communication field like Google Buzz or its old foes like Facebook and other social network sites which continue to strengthen this “Twitter”-like function on their sites.

What Makes Ning Different From Facebook and Twitter

Today we will have Charles Porch from the rising social network platform Ning.com coming to our class to share with us his insights about the social media world and also about the unique aspects about Ning. I have heard of Ning and registered an account there couple of months ago. My recent exploration at Ning showed me how convenient and easy to build a social network site on it, and also these very interesting niche networks there that attract circles of people sharing the same interest and passion. To my surprise, it supports Chinese language, so I created a social network for my Chinese friends back home, and I also started another social network site on it called Happy Chinese New Year, for Chinese people living in L.A. to share their experience living oversea, and celebrate the Chinese New Year that is coming along next weekend.

While Ning exhibits its strong point by providing people a intimate social network experience, many people like me might also be curious what the difference between Ning and other popular social network platforms like Facebook and Myspace is. According to a recent interview of the Ning’s CEO Gina Bianchini from Tech Crunch, Gina does not view Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn as their competitors, instead, she thinks that these social network platforms have developed their own edges and are dominant in their own areas. Compared to the experience provided by Facebook and other social platforms, the features of Ning deliver a more in-depth and immersive experience with the brands and things centered in Ning’s networks; thus Ning can integrate the service of other social platforms like the Twitter as the distribution channels, and at the other end, Ning would be the destination of the interest and passion where people settle and engage with the each other in a deeper level.

Speaking With Online Community Managers

Last night, in our online communities Intro class, Karen and Clinton brought in four online community management whizes, and they gave us many great insights from their respective industries’ standpoint. I truly appreciated their advice, and here’s some of what they shared:

Heath Row, research manager at Google, who has had years of experience managing online communities and networks even before the rise of today’s popular social network sites, pointed out the importance of “thought leaders” in an online community and how to best utilize the community members in co-building valuable content for the community.

Micki Krimmel, founder of Neighborgoods.net, a very neat social network website that serves a simple and useful purpose of helping people share resource with their neighbors, mentioned a very good point that part of an online community manager’s responsibility is advocating for the community members’ interest to the company. Thus, the community manager needs to have some say within the company.

Alex Asselin, an APOC alumna and founder of several unique niche websites like echoparkonline , leimertparkbeat.com, and meamommy.com, defined the community manager’s role as the “human connection” for the people in these communities, and gave us a comprehensive list of the skill sets needed by a community manager.

Erika Shen, Lead producer for Disney Online, gave us many eye-popping scoops on managing social networks at Disney, but behind these surprising facts, she really taught us the important lesson of choosing different rules and styles for different communities according to the demographics of their respective target audience.

In the past couple of days I have also tried to start conversations with community managers in several online communities that I joined. Depending on the situation of each community, my outreach got different responses.

Totalbeauty.com: a very popular beauty product site, which thrives on user-generated product reviews; besides that, it also encourage its members to build a profile on the site and provides many useful beauty information blogs that users can add to their profile (works similar to an RSS feed). There is also a message board (sadly this feature is not emphasized on latest version of their homepage), and since I am a message board fanatic, I couldn’t resist jumping into it immediately. Even though the message board (forum) is fairly active, all the forum posts are up-to-date and most categories have about 100 to 2000 posts. I did not notice any obvious “community manager” role, and there was only a “website content editor” role in the website but I did not see its participation in the forum. I also did not find any message board rules at the top of the forum, nor any featured posts that got highlighted in the forum. The posts are all simply listed by the time order. There is a button under each post that lets you report the post as inappropriate, so I guess this serves as a moderator function. In this forum, basically members answer each other’s posts and take care of each other. (according to last night’s discussion, this organic maintenance is a good thing).

Like other users, my initial self-introduction posts did not get any response from any community manager-like role, if there even is one. I tried to post certain topic in the wrong thread to see if anyone came to solve the issue, but so far two days have passed and nothing has happened yet. I also entered a post asking for rules of the community, intending to call attention from the community manager, but so far, no response either. I will update my experience at this site later. So far it looks like it is a very organic, self-governed site, and usually if people post a specific question about products, there are other members jumping out to answer it. But I was wondering, without specified rules or even an accessible community manager role, how was this organic structure formed at the very beginning.

Consumer Made Dell-Hate Site: ihatedell.net. Since participating in a consumer community research project at Annenberg since last fall, I have taken a special interest in consumer-made “hate” sites, and many times I have been amazed by how strong a bond cane be formed when consumers share the same object of hate; and compared with positive brand sites, these negative hate sites usually engage users on a much deeper level by stimulating more storytelling, action-advocating, and member supporting. On this very active Dell complaint site, there are 35,277 registered members, including unsatisfied Dell users and employees. The forums feature several community moderators, as well as FAQs and community rules. The hierarchy of the community is clearly defined in the FAQs, and the powers of administrators and moderators are clarified.

I tried to initiate interaction with community managers with a standard self-introduction post. In the post, I put out a challenging but sincere question: what is the purpose of this community’s existence for people like me, a former Dell user who was hugely frustrated by the Dell experience, but have moved on to another computer brand, have tried to forget about Dell, and do not feel the urge to vent my anger. I posted in the relevant thread and also sent a direct message to one of the moderators of that thread. Within 12 hours, I received answers to my question, both from the moderator I DM-ed, and from another moderator replying to my post. I really liked the message sent by the moderator through DM. The reply from the other moderator was a more emotional version of it, but the basic meaning was the same. The reply from “rustyboots” through DM:

“To be honest I would say the best reason to stay here and review all these complaints and problems others have is to HELP your friends and family when they decide to buy a new computer. You will have access to the most recent problems; i.e., system problems, support problems and financial problems people encounter with Dell. You will have evidence to counter whatever Dell BS they have read or heard. That alone is worth the effort to stay here and stay up to date with Dell and its many problems and actions.

rustyboots

This reply sounded very sincere, reasonable and patient to me. It really made me want to stay and participate in this community.

That said, I think I have grasped what a good community manager means, and I want to close this post with the four principles for community managers written by social media expert Jeremiah Owyang: be a community advocate, be a brand evangelist, demonstrate good communication skills, and be able to collect input from real-time focus groups in the community for the company’s future usage.




Three Very Distinctive Communities

In the past two days, three very distinctive communities came into my view:
Amish Community
The first one is the Amish community in the U.S, introduced by Professor Dmitri Williams in the Thursday night’s class. We watched part of a documentary movie, ” Devil’s Playground”, which depicted this community’s lifestyle and beliefs. It was the first time I had heard of this group, and I was very amazed by their existence in modern society, by how they have excluded themselves from modern technology and have tried to fulfill all their social needs from their tight-knit communities and religion.
Chinese American Community
The second one is the Chinese American community in L.A.. Since I got to L.A.last fall, I have spent much time (in a lot of Chinese restaurants) in the San Gabriel area, an area which is packed with many Asian ethnic groups, and Chinese Americans make up a big group here. Even after five months, I still cannot get over the shock and big “WOW” that pops into my mind every time I enter a Chinese restaurant in the area. Every restaurant is full of Chinese people, from first-generation immigrants (or FOBs, as my friends have nicknamed them, for “fresh off the boat”) to local Chinese Americans who were born here, they talk in all kinds of Chinese dialects and enjoy a diversity of Chinese cuisine, with more choices than I ever saw in a typical Chinese restaurant in China. When I dine in these restaurants, I always have a moment of doubt of whether I am back in China.
Also, tonight, on my way back from a Chinese restaurant in the Alhambra area, I heard an interesting complaint from a Chinese American friend who grew up in the area. He told me how all the previously existing American supermarkets in the area had been replaced, one by one, by Chinese supermarkets over nearly ten years. These Chinese supermarkets offer you every local authentic Chinese seasoning and everything you need to make you feel life is the same as when you were in China. But as a kid growing up in America, he felt upset that he could no longer find a store nearby to get his favorite American snacks like string cheese and macaroni. As the car passed by a Chinese supermarket, he pointed it out and exclaimed that it was once a Vons supermarket, and the sad part was: when it still existed, it did make an effort in opening an aisle dedicated to Chinese seasonings and foods to cater to the local Chinese customers. But this effort did not save it from being swamped by the Chinese supermarket wave that flooded this area. At that moment, I was very amused by his sad yet funny tone, and I was also really intrigued by how the Chinese community’s power in transforming pre-existing areas to adapt to their own culture. I am sure future generations will feel more and more absorbed and assimilated to the main stream American culture, but I am pretty interested in how a culture can preserve itself in a new environment.
China’s Wealthiest Village: Huaxi Village

The third example comes from a piece of news I saw showcasing a “model socialism commune” in China, Huaxi village, which claims to be the richest village in China, even richer than many large cities. Even though I grew up in a socialist country, during the years I was growing up, China was experiencing a huge wave of reform and opening. People are encouraged and allowed to have their own private property and to create wealth for themselves through hard work, so seeing this real “socialism community” at Huaxi village and how it worked out sounded like a very novel concept for me.
I found more about this village from this Guardian (UK) article, “In China’s richest village, peasants are all shareholders now – by order of the party“. Two excerpts from the article bellow will show the very surreal traits of this village:
“Located about 100 miles north of Shanghai in Jiangsu province, Huaxi has been described in the domestic media as both a “paradise” and a “dictatorship”. While its residents are nominally richer than any other community, they have less time and freedom to spend their money. Bars and restaurants close before 10pm so that workers do not oversleep. Holidays are scarce. And villagers get little cash from their paper assets. Eighty per cent of their annual bonus and 95% of their dividend must be reinvested in the commune. If they leave the village, this paper wealth disappears. “
“None went as far as Huaxi in combining the strict political control of the ruling Communist party with the get-rich-quick economics of the market – and the results are being hailed as a model for the nation to follow. To demonstrate how good that cocktail is supposed to make the locals feel, “Huaxi Road” is decorated with smiling pictures of every family in the village. Each household’s assets are listed in detail: size of the family, value of their property, average level of education, number of members of the Communist party, as well as how many cars, mobile phones, televisions, washing machines, computers, air-conditioning units, motorbikes, cameras, fridges and stereo systems they own. “
Just look at the picture below that shows how uniformly the community is built. Insane, right?
These community models out there seem so fascinating to me, and my head is full of questions about what is behind these different types of communities that make them all work for their local residents, even though they sometimes look so insane and novel to us outsiders?

When Films Go Social

When I refer to “films going social”, I do not mean films that audiences fervently support on social websites like rottentomatoes.com, nor do I mean film marketing teams promoting film trailers via Facebook. I also do not mean free, viral videos that a friend may send you. Instead I am referring to full-length feature films that normally might play at your local theater but soon, and soon they may be broadcast on the world’s largest video social site: youtube.com.

According to an article from New York Times , YouTube has finally announced its entry into the film rental business today, and will start partnering with five independent films from either last year or this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Rentals for these five films will begin this Friday for $3.99 each, and run until the end of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. These five movies will serve as the first step in a much larger plan, as more movies can be expected to arrive on the site in the future.

What does this mean for the film industry, and also, for film lovers?

First, as YouTube’s entertainment market manager Sara Pollack said in the New York Times article, “Only a tiny fraction of the films submitted at Sundance were able to find some form of commercial distribution, and that YouTube would provide a new outlet for independent filmmakers.”

I believe that Youtube as a popular platform can offer many independent movies, that otherwise might never find theatrical or home video distribution, a viable way to test themselves in the market or even break through and prove they do have marketable value. And when these independent filmmakers succeed on YouTube, they can then migrate to the big screens.

Second, the article predicts the rental business of YouTube will provide a new model to monetize the current amateur videos on Youtube, meaning a huge database of YouTube short clips may unleash massive revenue streams in the future. More and more amateur video makers may turn into independent film producers, and more democracy and leverage will be handed to netizen film makers.

Third, not only can films benefit, but maybe in the future copyrighted TV show will also come to YouTube to join the rental business. When that day comes, perhaps Hulu.com has already started charging for TV shows and films, as recent rumors have suggested. The competition YouTube has brought into the market can prevent Hulu from dominating and monopolizing.

Last but not least, for film watchers, we will all be able to share our thoughts about movies we watch in real time with so many others who are also watching, similar to how Facebook/CNN’s broadcast of President Obama’s inauguration last year allowed millions of people to watch and comment in real-time. Even though Hulu currently provides commenting functions, due to the limits of its social networking features and small user base, there has never been a comparable real-time commenting phenomenon, but that could be expected in Youtube’s future. And when people are watching videos, if they do not want to hear the whispering comments of others, there should also be a function to let people lower the “volume” of live comments so they can enjoy the movie by themselves in their own private setting.