Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for the ‘advertising’ Category

Idea – Small Business everyday – not just once a year on Saturday

Posted by shannonclark on November 19, 2012

This Saturday is the return of the American Express sponsored alternative to Black Friday, Small Business Saturday which is indeed a great event where American Express is using their marketing clout to promote shopping at local, small businesses. if you are an American Express cardholder you definitely should register before Nov 24th via the above link and qualify to get $25 credit if you spend more than $25 (on a single transaction) at a registered small business – either per the website above or a Square merchant.

No complaints about that emphasis from me but it did spark an idea and a question.

Why restrict this movement to one Saturday a year? Why not create a way to promote shopping from innovative businesses every day? 

Clearly there are a lot of complicated reasons to focus on a single day – for one it is a great way for American Express to leverage marketing dollars to make a single push and to emphasize the value of accepting American Express to small business merchants (i.e. since it costs more for the merchants anything like this day that adds value to that transaction via stretching marketing dollars is a win for small businesses) but I think there is a lot of great opportunities for networks of smart businesses to work together to create value for all participating merchants.

First however a few definitions and restrictions I would put on any such project were I to pursue it.

  1. The value for consumers in shopping at a small, local business should be the service they get and what they can get there that can’t easily be found elsewhere. In many cases this means businesses that offer unique items, often locally made and/or that support and service older items no longer available elsewhere. Used bookstores versus an only new bookstore for example.
  2. If I were running things I would emphasize the value of curation and editing over comprehensiveness. Small businesses win against the Amazon.coms and Walmarts not by competing on price or selection but by offering better service – which includes editing what is available to only sell great products. This in turn also allows for value to buyers even if the absolute price of a given good is the same (or even higher) than that good might be at a big box store or massive online site. Busy shoppers value service – and help in identifying the great versus the not-so-great is, for many, worth spending slightly more (avoiding the costs and time of returning items or replacing things that wear out quickly)
  3. Small businesses don’t necessarily mean tiny one-woman shops. Relative to the $100B+ massive big box chains like Walmart nearly every other retailer is “small” – small in this context primarily means in ethos and focus – though I think I would start with businesses primarily in the <$100M/year range (mostly in the <$10M range with many in the <$1M). These could be mid-sized businesses like San Francisco’s Rickshaw Bagworks or even smaller businesses like my wife’s design business.
  4. Here in SF we have an example of the type of thing I’m thinking about – SF Made is a network of 100’s of local to San Francisco makers – companies that aren’t just based in SF but in most cases manufacture what they sell here in San Francisco. SF Made is close to what I’m envisioning though I think it should be a national movement not just a local citywide one.

I don’t mind in thinking about this idea if it excludes many types of small businesses. The idea isn’t to promote shopping locally or at small businesses just because they are small or local – ignoring whether they offer great products at fair prices – rather the idea is to find a network of likeminded, related businesses that through pooling together can better market and promote the unique products and service they offer. Any such organization has to be about the value to buyers as much (perhaps even more so) than it is about the value to the local businesses. If it is this could be a highly sustainable movement – if the value isn’t there however or if it is too skewed towards one party over the other then this isn’t a sustainable, long term movement.

Groupon’s approach isn’t, I think, the right on – it emphasizes price over quality and service. What I’m thinking about would be a service that is not open to any business to join – but which rather is possibly a co-op where very business has to be approved in some manner (perhaps not by each other – this should be open even to “rivals” as long as they all meet the core criteria and philosophy). Once a member and once pooling marketing and promotional budgets the idea would be that this organization could do things that no single small business could reasonable take on – sustained online marketing campaigns, long running offline advertising and promotional campaigns etc. Possibly this organization would also serve as a negotiator on behalf of these smaller businesses for a wide variety of products and services (health insurance for example but also negotiating with payment processing firms like Square, American Express etc.

Posted in advertising, customer service, Entrepreneurship | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Am I an Interactive Strategic Planner?

Posted by shannonclark on January 18, 2010

For the past few years I have been looking for a title to describe what I do as a consultant, I’ve tried the term business designer, which fits but isn’t a term in common usage.  This weekend while I was showing a friend some of my favorite food and retail businesses in San Francisco we also got to talking about my current business ideas and career options.

After hearing more about what I like to do for clients – ideation, brainstorming, connecting companies with the right mix of partners, finding innovative uses of technology, organizing offline events etc – he suggested that I look for roles either full-time or as a consultant as an Interactive Strategic Planner.

Which is great advice for me – but unexpected.

I don’t think of myself as a marketer, yet multiple times in the past few weeks people have suggested to me that really I am, that what I think of as “just” business strategic consulting is, most of the time, very much marketing related as well. Sure I also can dive deeply into technology but increasingly what I’m most passionate about and most involved in is less about writing lines of code and more about exploring creative business models and partnerships, about how to best use a range of technologies (some in-house most not) to achieve real business results.

Even more what I’m most passionate about is not that there is a single, best way to use technology (or a best technology) but rather matching up a company or organization’s resources and goals with a range of available technologies and social tools. I’m also most passionate about combining media – about helping craft a coherent message that crosses many medias and which reinforces and builds the brand. Building that brand not just by one ad or even one campaign but a consistent and ongoing pattern of usage – from the tools & services chosen to activities across many media and platforms.

In the past few years I have mostly worked with small, very scrappy, early stage startups. But we have pulled off some great things – events which drew 100’s of people and dozens of sponsors.

So am I an Interactive Strategic Planner?


and if you want to hire me drop me a line. I know 100’s of technology firms and media opportunities which would help your company today.

Posted in advertising, digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, internet, personal, working | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What is a business designer or how to work with Shannon

Posted by shannonclark on May 22, 2009

Of late I have started to describe myself as a business designer in response to the usual question of “What do you do?”

But what do I mean by the term?

A Business Designer, as I intend the term, is someone who uses the techniques of design firms, such as IDEO, to design new businesses – whether entire new startups or within the context of an existing, larger business.

I have been highly active online since 1991 and working on the web since the mid-90’s so a great deal of my work does involve the application of technology, especially web technology, to business problems. However my process starts before deciding what the solutions will be, it starts with the discussions about the specifics of the business, the resources available, and objectives.

Only then do we address the specific solutions required, in many cases applying technology both purchased, open source and customized to the business objectives.

So what is my process?

Earlier this week I attended the SanFran Music Tech Summit and over the course of the fantastic conference I had many long conversations with entrepreneurs and business people who were attending the conference. In these short conversations and discussions I practiced a shortened version of my business process.

  1. Hear how the current business, or the business idea, is described today.
  2. Explore what is behind the business, what technology if any current exists, what are the current clients, what is the current business process.
  3. Get a quick sense of the business objectives of the team at present – new customers, investment, partners etc.
  4. Brainstorm. In this process I leverage the diversity of industries and companies I follow closely, seeking examples often from unrelated industries which can help us decide on direction and business models for the business.
  5. Make concrete suggestions of next steps for the business from simple text copy changes to complex shifts in business model.

That is the shortened process, at times taking only a few minutes, other times taking an entire lunch.

What I follow

At the moment I pay very close attention to a number of industries and technologies, these include:

  • The music industry, especially the emergance of the online, digital music industry.
  • “New Media” from the business models of old media applied to the new digital world to the emergance of new businesses and media leaders
  • Web 2.0. I define Web 2.0 as the shift to a data centric view of web applications. Practically this means more open web sites, api driven services, dynamic flows of information, and in many cases user generated content
  • Mobile applications. In particular I have been an early adopter of smartphones, currently heavily focused on the iPhone.
  • Gaming. Though I am not an active game player, I have a longstanding and deep interest in games and gaming. I’m very interested in the application of gaming elements to serious purposes.
  • Social Networks. I started Meshforu, a conference on the study of Networks in 2004 and have been an early adopter of online social networks. I also follow closely the academic study of Social Network Analysis as well as related fields of Network Science.
  • Advertising. I believe that advertising, across all forms, is in a major transition. In particular I am a passionate proponent of Brands and believe that brands need to adapt to the new, digital landscape
  • Internet Radio. While I follow the whole music industry closely, many of my current ventures relate to the new forms of Internet Radio.
  • Community. Most successful businesses are driven by a community both online and offline. I’m an advisor to a number of startups focused very much on the support of specific communities enabled by the new digital media world. In many cases these cross over many types of media including online websites.
  • The Food Industry. My father is a leading food technologist who has designed new products and business processes for most of the major food companies around the globe. I am a passionate foodie and follow emerging trends in the food industry, including restaurants very closely.
  • Social Entrepreneurship. I run a small non-profit, MeshForum and am passionate about new models of business which include a strong social mission and purpose.

There are many other industries and specific technologies which I also pay attention to on a regular basis, I have worked for some of the largest banks in the world. I’ve also designed and build AI driven automated data applications and other complex pieces of enterprise software. But at present the above list of industries are the ones I follow most closely and where, primarily, I seek clients.

How I work

My preference is to work with clients over an extended period, typically via a monthly retainer with at least a three month minimum. In three months any business whether large or small can see specific results from the engagement. A retainer, instead of the more common hourly or day rate, allows for the wide range of ways I work for and with each client.

For most clients I will meet with the client, often onsite for a series of meetings and observations each month. I am often a part of internal discussions and meetings with partners and external vendors.

I am based in San Francisco but will work with clients anywhere in the world, combining in person meetings with extensive online collaboration.

Every engagement is different but a few specifics you can expect from working with me.

  • New Ideas – a primary part of my job is offering a new, interdisciplinary perspective on the challenges of your business. A key part of this is carefully suggesting specific, implementable new ideas and approaches.
  • Simplification – much of my practice is around paring ideas and processes back to identify what is most key and value creating. Many startups, as well as large companies, build technologies and processes which are overly complex. By focusing on simplification we end up with greater value.
  • Clear processes and designs – After we have focused and defined clearly the specific business objectives, my role shifts to achieving those objectives. There my job is to define and often help manage the business processes, including working with development teams, to build and design the related parts.

I have over a decade of experience as an Open Space Facilitator and use that as part of my consulting. The result of a facilitated open space event is usually clearer understanding of both the business opportunities and the resources available to address them, as well as focused groups of employees (and often external partners including customers) to address each business need.

If you are interested in working with me, email me at shannon AT or call me at 1.800.454.4929.

Posted in advertising, digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet, meshforum, meshwalk, mobile, music, personal, web2.0, working | 1 Comment »

tbnl Magazine – call for submissions, subscribers & advertisers

Posted by shannonclark on January 14, 2009

Over the weekend I posted about the magazine – to be named later – I’m thinking about starting. Now having gathered feedback from many folks – in response to my blog post, to email exchanges, and personal conversations I’m ready to announce the next steps and to issue a call for submissions, and  pledges to subscribe or advertise. 

First a simple announcement – until someone suggests a better name (and pending various trademark & domain searches) my working name for the magazine is, in fact: tbnl Magazine. And yes, that stands for “to be named later” and yes, my intention is to refer to it in the lowercase form at least for now.

I wrote a lot about my impetus behind starting tbnl in my first post, having now talked with many people here is a quick summary of the types of works I’m looking for, as well as my intentions around the scale of the magazine (at least initially).

Size: My target, primarily due to practical matters of the technology of magazine printing (multiples of 16 pages offer advantages as most magazine printing presses print 16 pages at a time) is for an 80 page magazine + cover, on a relatively heavy, recycled paper stock (ideally with green inks etc) probably with full color inside and out. The physical size will be close to 8 1/2″ x 11″ (slightly smaller when printed on demand), saddle stitched (i.e. staples not perfect binding). Inside I plan on running advertising (more on that below) with a target of 12-16 pages worth of ads (some will be partial page ala New Yorker small format ads) and will keep the housekeeping pages (table of contents, colophon, staff, writers & artists bios) to a minimum. That leaves around 60 pages for content each issue. The design I’m leaning towards will take inspiration from The New Yorker and the redesigned Atlantic Monthly with somewhat more images (and likely heavier paper) than The New Yorker and probably somewhat (but not by much) less overt design than the new Atlantic Monthly.  Very roughly this means around 35,000-40,000 words per issue (depending on ratio of images to text, final font & font size decisions and other factors). 

In turn this means that published pieces will likely range between 1000 to 5000 words, probably a bit longer for the one or two fiction pieces in each issue (at least one of which will likely be a ‘genre” piece – probably Science Fiction or Fantasy but I’m open to great mysteries or even romance if done very well, probably still less than 10,000 words however). 

In researching current rates in the market, it appears (not entirely surprisingly) that rates for most markets are quite, quite low. Lower than I expected. For fiction it appears that higher than $0.05/word is considered quite “high paying” with $0.07 being considered a premium rate. Non-fiction rates are harder to view publicly but I know many writers in various genres so I will be checking with them to determine what would be good and more than fair rates.

My intention is to be a “high” paying market, I want to get the best possible work from the best writers I can find. While I don’t expect what we pay will (at least for the first few years) be high enough to be lifechanging or a significent income, I do want it to be more than just the cost of a nice dinner out somewhere. 


Initally they will be EMAIL ONLY.  

For the first issue(s) I will start with an OPEN submissions policy. However I reserve the right to publish works from people I as for pieces and we may close or somewhat restrict submissions in the future to manage the flow.  A few guidelines

  • Submissions MUST be original, complete, unpublished works. This means no previously published pieces (which includes blog/web published works). Complete means no parts of longer works (i.e. part of a novel for example). See “proposing a story” below for guidelines if you have a nonfiction story you want to propose writing vs. have in a completed form.
  • Submissions MUST be in a standard format. This means: in the email text (with clearly marked beginning and end), as a txt attachment, or as a well formated PDF attachment (well formatted means 12 point font, double spaced, with page #, title & author on every page). An estimated word count should be included, along with a SHORT author’s bio & website link(s)
  • Submissions of nonfiction should, if possible, also include related illustrations. Every story in tbnl will include at least one, in most cases more than one, related images. For nonfiction where possible these should be photographic (or relevant illustrations). For fiction these will be either carefully selected photographs or art. If you submit artwork you MUST have the rights to those works (or show that they are Public Domain works). Creative Commons licensed works which allow for COMMERCIAL USE will be considered. 
  • The payment for a work will in most cases be for the BUNDLED written work and related images. Thus if you do not own the images (i.e. you took your own photos) a split payment will be negotiated between the writer and the photographer or artist for that particular piece. 
  • tbnl will be buying “FIRST PUBLICATION” rights. This means that you are free to sell or publish the work in a collection after it has been published in tbnl. NOTE that issues of tbnl will remain in “print” via Print-on-demand for at least a year and likely longer. Also tbnl will have a “digital” edition for sale to ebook readers which also will remain in “print” for at least a year. tbnl will be purchasing these related digital rights (for first publication) and the right to keep the issue in “print” via Print-on-demand. The intention is to keep every issue in print for as long as possible – but also after some threshhold has been met to pay additional royalties to all contributors to an issue. The specifics of this are to be determined, if you are uncomfortable with this level of uncertainty, do not submit a work for publication in our first few issues. 
  • Deadlines for the first few issues will be announced, with a limited amount of grace period around each (but since submissions are initially “email only” the expectation is that deadlines should be met. Works submitted after the deadline for a given issue MAY be considered for future issues – but a note will be sent (likely autogenerated) noting the missed deadline. Requests to not consider the work will be honored.
  • tbnl will NOT accept simultanous submissions. This is to keep our process as simple as possible for the first few issues. In the future, especially for fiction submissions we likely will change this guideline. This means that if you are submitting a work to tbnl you do NOT currently have the same work being read at another publication.
  • tbnl encourages but does not require CC licenses for the works we publish. Done well we think that CC licenses make a lot of sense for most authors and allow for works to see wider distribution & creative reuse. 
  • The type of writing being submitted MUST be clearly defined. The best way to do this is to include a short (as in one paragraph) introduction to the work. Clearly noting if it is FICTION or NONFICTION. 
  • For a good example of the type of nonfiction tbnl is seeking see the book The New Kings of Nonfiction edited by Ira Glass. Also listen to the stories told on This American Life or on stage at shows like Fray or The Moth. This means a strong, personal voice and point of view, a wide range of topics, and strong writing which can incorporate some of the techniques of fiction writing. 
  • Authors who do not wish to be paid will have options to reallocate their pay. Some writers may not wish to be paid for work they submit. Options will be available to reallocate these payments – likely ranging from donations made in the name of the author to one of a select group of charities or to raising the rates for the other authors and artists in that particular issue. 

tbnl is NOT a forum for “breaking news” or for time-sensative reviews. The print schedule for tbnl is still being determined, at least quarterly though the plan is to go to bi-monthly or monthly as soon as possible.  While we may publish some long form non-fiction which is not in a “personal” voice it will always be with the focus on writing which will be relevant and worth reading for many years so reviews of a new movie, restaurant, play, book, album or product will likely not make the cut. Nor will discussions of topics “in the news” (pending elections, business moves etc). 

tbnl is a forum for great, timeless stories. 


In no particular order the following are some (and by no means the only) topics we expect to publish in the first year of tbnl:

  • Serious food – especially looking at “Slow Food” and being a foodie/locavore
  • Hacking – in the original, positive sense of exploring the limits of technology and of creative ways to do things
  • Serious design – especially of the worldchanging variety 
  • Networks – I am the founder of MeshForum, a conference on the study of Networks so not surprisingly I expect to publish works exploring a range of network related topics in tbnl
  • Art – especially emerging art including digital art. Also ways to view and “read” art that illustrates the power of great art
  • Music – not reviews of new albums but rather stories of and about music – about a personal history around music, about the art of making music, about the history behind specific works. Especially of interest is writing that crosses musical boundries – I’m personally a fan of Opera as well as Mashups, Folk music as well as Electronica. 
  • Economics and “smart” business – timeless, great writing about Economics or business are rare and difficult to do, but tbnl will look for great, engaging stories
  • Games – again not reviews of particular games but stories about games, about the game industry, about game design or the mindset of game playing. Everything from computer games to chess to live action role playing games are welcome
  • Much, much more.

The primary focus of tbnl is timeless, great stories presented in a highly reader friendly form. “Great” is of course subject to debate but the goal will be to publish a magazine which you read cover to cover and which introduces every reader to a new perspective, to a way of engaging with topics they might not think are of interest. 

I am a geek – but a geek with a very eclectic and quite wide ranging set of interests tbnl will reflect this eclecticism. 


Pledges to subscribe are being sought now. Exact costs will depend on the number of issues we decide to publish in the first year and we are exploring a tiered model as well as a range of publishing options. tbnl Magazine is intended primarily as a labor of love, as such it hasn’t yet been decided if the underly organization will be non-profit or for-profit. In either case tbnl will be run as a business seeking to generate sufficient revenues to pay all parties and contributors and to put out the highest quality publication possible. 

Here are some, very rough, initial thoughts:

1st year (at least 4 issues) subscriptions: $50-75 (less for US subscribers, more for overseas). The planned print-on-demand rate will be between $15-20 + shipping per issue. The retail price, if copies of the initial print runs are sold at retail at all, is likely going to be $15 at least for the first few issues (will probably be lower when/if we move to a more frequent publishing schedule). 

1st year SUPPORTER subscriptions: $150, includes some range of bonus/special features to be determined. This level (or higher) will mostly be supporting the existence and formation of tbnl Magazine. The plan will be to have a range of ways of thanking supporters – this will likely include special events w/author readings, limited editions of art, bonus items and more. It will also include public (unless the supporter wishes to remain anonymous) thanks on the tbnl website.

1st year DIGITAL ONLY subscriptions: $30. Probably around half of the print subscription rate. Individual eBook copies of each issue will also probably be available, likely at around a rate of $10/issue (though exact pricing will be decided based on feedback, costs incurred via the ebook sales partners etc)

Print-on-Demand.  The plan is to make each issue of tbnl Magazine available on a print-on-demand basis. Most likely via MagCloud for a price of between $15-20 an issue. This is, however, limited to US orders only until MagCloud exits beta. As such, the plan is to have a small, limited edition print run for each issue for subscribers (including non-US subscribers) prior to the release via print-on-demand.


From the beginning tbnl Magazine will accept advertising. The initial design allocates around a total of 12-16 pages for advertising out of the expected 80 + cover pages. The full page cover inside & back will be highest priced ad pages. Interior ads will be accepted in full page, (half or 1/3 page – depending on if we settle on a two or three collumn layout), 1/4 or 1/8 page ads (think the ad formats found inside of The New Yorker for examples). 

All ads will be included in all editions of tbnl Magazine including digital editions. If we decide to make some or all of the content of tbnl Magazine available on our website this will include advertising from a given issue so advertisers are requested to include a target URL for those ads.

Like the other content of tbnl Magazine advertising in the magazine should be Timeless in nature. That is, it should remain relevant to readers for at least the next year and preferably the next two years from the date of publication. Thus advertising for brands and ongoing ventures is preferred to the promotion of specific events (i.e. a movie studio vs. a new movie, a publisher vs a specific book). 

The audience of tbnl Magazine is obviously still being determined, but the expectation is that it will be a diverse, highly literate, and deeply engaged audience. Likely small, but also influential and passionate.

Advertising Rates:

These are very much still being determined and to a degree will depend on the initial print runs. But here are some, very rough and subject to change, estimates. Discounts for prepayment and multiple issue committments will be made and agency fees may be extra. Discounts for some types of advertisers may also be made (non-profits, publishers, startups, galleries etc). These are also all based on expectations of relatively low print numbers (<10,000 per issue) when/if demand raises and/or retail distribution is determined these rates may go up. And remember that in addition to the subscriber only print run, the ads will run for 1-2 years (or longer) in the print-on-demand and ebook editions. 

  • Cover (inside, back and inside of back) – $5000/issue. This may be glossy, will definitely be color
  • Full Page – $3000/issue
  • 1/2 page (or one column if a three column layout) – $1500/issue
  • 1/4 page – $1000/issue
  • 1/8 page – $500/issue

As I noted – these are just initial, rough estimates. And they are negotiable. Priority will be given to advertisers who are willing to preebuy and to presupport for the full 1st year of issues (which ensures that those issues will be published).

Email me at shannon DOT clark AT gmail DOT com with submissions or advertising inquieries. Please include tbnl in your subject in all such emails!

Posted in advertising, Entrepreneurship, geeks, networks, personal, reading, San Francisco, tbnl | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

brainstorming about business opportunities

Posted by shannonclark on December 3, 2008


I am an entrepreneur. When I dream, I dream in business models (seriously, though not every night). That said, I need to find a way (or more likely many ways) to make money in the current economic environment. Projects or businesses which will prosper now and as the economy turns around will have many growth opportunities. Businesses which may have some “exit” in mind – though my dream exit is less an exit and more a route to enduring success and sustainable growth.

What do I mean by that?

I don’t particularly want to build something to sell it – even to sell it to the public (i.e. via an IPO). Rather in my ideal world I build something which can stay private, but can also grow into a large and comprehensive entity, with ongoing growth into new opportunities while building on a solid base. A business which would employ a lot of people, share great rewards with those people (as well as with partners and customers) and in turn have a large impact on the world.

Why would I want to keep such a business private? Well first and foremost when I think of great companies only a handful of them are public – and if anything being public limits them in a wide range of ways. I think a very well run, private company, has much greater flexibility than a public company and can more often place long term bets (which admittedly is not always doable in the tech world – but then again my fantasy company though almost certainly driven in part by technology is not a pure tech company). Yes, being private means that as a company you have to be a bit more creative with how you reward your employees – and with how as the owners you diversify your own finances – and with how you obtain the resources to grow and build the future.

So unlike some of my peers here in the valley, my goal is not to build something to sell it, or to make a “quick hit” for myself (though certainly I wouldn’t complain about that) instead I want to build a business (or likely related businesses) which give me a base to explore lots of ideas and a platform from which to have a big and oversized impact on the world. Starting by the customers I serve, the business partners I help, the employees (and their families) I help support.

On a personal level money matters to me – but only up to a point – what matters more is the freedom and flexibility to have a big impact on the world. I want to travel a lot – not just to be elsewhere – but experience a lot. I want to spend a lot of time around the smartest and most impactful people in the world – from formal experiences and conferences – and less formally at lunches, dinners, salons, and meetings all over the world. At somepoint in my life I want to live in many different cities (including outside of the US) and even when I have (as I hope to sometime not all that far from now) a family I would hope to raise that family in multiple cities and countries – and to expose my future children to many cultures and ways of engaging with the world.

So with that as my goal(s) what opportunities should I be pursuing in 2009 (and the rest of 2008)?

In the past few weeks I’ve blogged about a number of business opportunities and ideas I have had: Radio Schedules 2.0, a new(ish) approach to local media, the future of media being curation, and what I would have submitted to the Knight Foundation

A common theme to many of my current ideas have been some degree of rethinking of media – both on and offline – as well as a newish approach to how commercial content plays a role in the media – more than it does currently online but in somewhat different ways than it does offline.

I am still also passionately interested in the core idea which led me to start Nearness Function over a year ago, ideas around how a new form of advertising network could function as a buffer and valueable partner for software and new media firms and a valued partner for advertisers and their agentcies and media buyers. At the core of my belief is that brands matter – more so now than perhaps ever – and that to build great brands requires sustained, ongoing investment and engagement – and that as attention shifts to the “web” (or more accurately to services and communities woven together largely over and via the web) brands will have to engage with audiences via these same services.

And unlike many in Silicon Valley I do not find this inherently a bad thing – if anything I think it is inherently a good thing – that great brands at all scales of brands serve a very valuable and useful purpose. A few months back I launched a new blog, which I need to update more regularly, Slow Brand to discuss my views on branding (and occasionally food) though I need to blog there on a more consistent basis to build up that blog and get my voice out more often.

My friend Tim Ferris (yes of the 4 hour workweek fame and who is launching a new TV show Trial by Fire this week on the History Channel) talks about Lifehacking and indeed to a degree I should implement many of his lessons and suggestions, but my goals are not entirely (or at least not solely) about myself – my body, my life experiences – but are also very much about what I can do for others, what I can build and help create.

As I think about what I want to do I find myself pulled in a number of not entirely complementary directions.

  1. I am a very value-adding consultant. My primary skill being to brainstorm with people, especially senior management/founders/investors asking tough questions and helping explore business models, potential partnerships, avenues forward and technical evaluations and decisions. I’ve been told by one VC friend that my 1 hour, emailed evaluation of a company they were looking at, entirely on the basis of public data about the firm, came to the same conclusions it had taken them over 1 month to reach. Now, there are challenges packing up and promoting my consulting and much of what I have done in the past has been on a fairly informal basis – I’d love to do much more of this type of advising/consulting, for a high but fair fee (mostly $ but in some cases perhaps also equity). I think I’d also be very valuable for an investor or M&A person in helping evaluate potential deals.
  2. I am a skilled facilitator. I’ve been doing “open space” events since the mid-90’s and have become skilled at the art of facilitating open space events and meetings, as well as the related skill of helping curate other forms of events. This is an art – done well my role almost disappears into the background – achieved by means of the invitations, the settings, the structures lightly imposed upon the event and the group, and gentle nudges and one-on-one conversations and slight changes to the schedule made on the fly. I enjoy such work – whether for a non-profit event or for for-profit businesses and I would like to do more. Especially events which might involve the MeshWalk format I’ve used many times quite successfully. I’ve organized dozens of evening events, helped with lots of weekend and multi-day conferences, and organized a couple three+ day conferences on my own. (The first of which was over 20+ years ago when I was in high school, a science fiction convention which still occurs to this day in no small part because we designed into it a great sustainable structure & financial model)
  3. I am a writer. In the past years I’ve written hundreds of blog posts and lengthy emails to mailing lists, not to mention over 7000 tweets. My non-fiction writing has blossomed in the past few years, occasionally even earning me if not direct income then some value in trade (conference passes and access for example). I have multiple non-fiction as well as fiction book ideas, just a few weeks ago in fact I started a new fiction book which is going well so far (though as I write this post it is still early, about 4000 words written but it is going quickly and I have much to write). I also have a major piece of non-fiction I want to write on Networked Economics a topic I have been thinking about since at least 2004 and which I started and ran multiple conferences in no small part to help myself learn.
  4. I enjoy connecting people and businesses and serving as a translator between industries. Yes, I am a geek, I wrote my first application when I was about 8, am the 3rd generation of my family to write software (my grandfather was one of the first employees of Rand Corporation and then later at Aerospace Corporation he oversaw the deployment of early IBM mainframes to detect nucluer explosions, my mother has been a programmer since the late-60’s and I would do her student’s flowcharting homework as a child). I’ve had a server on the Internet since about 1991, served as an editor of some IETF standards. In short I have deep and extensive “geek cred”. But I am also passionately interested in business and economics – in topics such as branding and business and process innovation which are non-technical. I find that I can offer a lot of value bridging between the possibilities of technology and the needs of business.
  5. I come up with business opportunities. However though I have, I think, had many great ideas I also need to work with others to implement my ideas. While I have many skills I do not have every skill needed to build a successful business (or at least have not had them all so far – still working on it). I have ideas about technology and design which are best implemented by others. While I can and have sold at a very high level, my sales process is too slow and sporadic for sustained growth – I need to work with others to keep myself closing (and/or to help close and implement deals). I will keep practicing the art of the close and of selling – it is a necessary part of being a successful business person, but I also know that my value is multidimensional and that in many ways I would make more money with the right partners than I could alone.

So those are where my thoughts are at the moment. I have many opportunities I’m working on and many ideas (probably too many ideas) but I am faced with the dilemna of evaluating which to pursue now and how to best go from my current state of not enough income to one of a surplus of resources – cash but also other resources such as great staff & partners.

I welcome suggestions and opportunities.

Posted in advertising, digital bedouin, economics, Entrepreneurship, personal, San Francisco, venture capital, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Please copy this new business idea (but give credit)

Posted by shannonclark on November 23, 2008

Open Office

Consider this post as cc-atribution licensed – feel free to exploit this idea commercially (heck that’s the point) but please do give me at least some credit if you do

A timely, new (if also old) business idea

I describe myself as a locavore – whereever possible I try to purchase the food I eat – whether in restaurants or that I cook at home – from local sources – ideally as close to the source of production as possible. I shop at the butcher’s shop down the street, the corner (and great) produce market, the local farmer’s markets and try as much as possible to avoid shopping at big box national chains and when I do I try to purchase mostly locally sourced, seasonal products as well as fair-trade and environmentally friendly products when I have to (i.e. toilet paper etc).

But being a locavore is not just about food – I also try to do most of my other shopping – whether clothes, books, or gifts for family and friends from local stores. I often buy used books as gifts – both because I often find highly personally relevant works that way – and because philosophically I like supporting good reuse. However I also recognize that this does not support the authors directly – so in the case of books by friends of mine (which is literally nearly 100+ books a year, not all of which I buy) I generally buy those new, usually from a local independant bookstore (or occasionally the first week they come out from a big chain store such as Borders to help out my friend’s first week sales numbers). 

So what does my personal shopping preferences have to do with my business idea?

I moved to San Francisco only a few years ago, in that time I have spent a lot of time and wore out a few pairs of shoes, walking the streets of San Francisco learning the neighborhoods, finding shops and areas of interest. However I find that there is no good source for me to refer to, especially as we enter into the holiday shopping season, to know what stores are selling what, sales or special offers they are making, and especially about newer shops which might be offering just the right thing I want to buy.

I’ve looked at many of the various free publications here in SF (SF Weekly, The Bay Guardian) as well as a few of the monthly magazines – and while they offer a limited amount of coverage of the local scene (and even more limited amounts of local ads) none of them do a very good job – and the extremely local options (my neighborhood Noe Valley has a very small local newspaper) while interesting are quite limited in their coverage and fairly low quality.

Sites such as Yelp offer some coverage – though I do not like Yelp in the least – I find it next to useless – the food coverage is horrible and the shopping coverage to random and fundementally people have way too different a range of perspectives as to what is a “good value” to cite just one example or of what tastes good – I’m biased but I think I am a far more discriminating restaruant critic than the vast majority of the reviewers on Yelp.

My idea is a high quality, probably seasonal, web AND print publication (or publications)

The publication would be relatively high quality in the print edition – though it would start with the digital edition and extend rapidly to a print edition (once ad commitments were high enough to pay the cost of printing probably in color and a distribution/subscription plan was set). 

In terms of format the coverage of stores (which would be a major focus of the publication) would be highly visual – lots of photos to illustrate every article – at a minimum of the storefront, of the owner and/or staff, of a few representative products. The articles would ideally be part of a piece covering a broad theme – either a collection of related types of businesses and/or a given neighborhood of the city. 

Publishing an article would be seperate and NOT related to that business running an advertisement in the publication. But in the course of talking with each business ads would be pitched – the articles would run online, would include a link to the store’s website (if it has one) but would be writen to be relatively timeless – i.e. wouldn’t be focused on current sales (or perhaps only a current show in the case of a gallery). If a store pays for an ad – that ad would be a platform for them to maintain up-to-date information about offers (discounts for readers, current specials, new shows, upcoming events). The ad text would be clearly identified as being an ad. 

Pricing would be flexible – this is a bit of an experiement – my rough thinking is that broadly speaking pricing would be tiered – with one level for businesses under some arbitrary size (or in certain categories) and a tiering up level up – the result in part being that national chains would be charged almost certainly a higher rate than most local businesses – though a local business selling very high end products (and thus if their volume is also high having a fairly high revenue base) would also be charged at the higher rates. Ideally the rates would be for the whole season – so for a few months at a minimum. 

I don’t know the right rates – but my gut says something <$200 or so for a small business (<$250k/yr gross revenues) and going up from there to a few $K for a business such as Macy’s.

Technically each advertiser would be given a way to update their ad text – which would appear online around the article covering their store/business as well as in relevant sections (so in the larger article covering their neighborhood or business type). Before the print edition(s) each advertiser would submit the content they want to have – small businesses would likely have TEXT only advertisements and those paying a slightly higher rate would have small sized graphic ads (i.e. 1/4 page or likely smaller) with the largest companies who pay the higher rates being offered either a set of small graphic ads or a full page ad. The premium placements (back cover, front pages, middle pages) would go to the highest rates though likely at least one or two of those pages would be reserved for a collection of small, text ads from smaller local buisnesses. 

So this is a very commercial idea – it is not about long form investigative reporting, nor is it about highly political ranting (as is so much of the free weekly press). But neither is it only focused on businesses of a given type – i.e. not just “green” businesses or in the other extreme not just high fashion/design businesses. 

Executing on this idea would take a lot of people – and a lot of work – and the result would need to be carefully edited and produced to avoid (in the physical print form) being unwieldy – my instinct is to print many different editions – perhaps as frequently as once a week – with each one focusing on different neighborhoods and different themes – i.e. perhaps local butchers and bakers in the week before Thanksgving but also cover three distinct neighborhoods of the city – so both theme and geography – with the final result being nearly complete coverage of the city in some fixed period of time (perhaps the whole year or perhaps on a rotating basis over 3-4 months).

Each print edition might include a few long form articles – but initially I think it should not – the focus shoudl be on some visual (as well as textual) coverage of lots of businesses and lots of themes. As an article is written and edited the whole piece would be published online – probably with an editorial standard of a minimum number of photos (2-4 at least I think), an accurate address (or addresses), hours of operation, website link.

Of course technically much of this data could be marked up as one or more microformats – but that’s not the point here – the point is to build up a rich set of interesting content – content that gives you a solid sense of what the buisness is about (via visuals and writing with a human voice) combined with relevant – if also commercial – messages (i.e. ads from the business or related businesses – always clearly marked). 

The idea here is also to be a curator of the city (or more accurately to enable multiple people to curate different aspects of the city) so not every business will be covered – only the ones that a given curator thinks are notable – are worthy of being writen up and discussed. 

So that is my idea in the broad outlines – yes, it is in many ways very traditional – it builds on past ideas (Yellow Pages, those free publications you find in most cities in your hotel rooms) but I think there are a few twists here as well – lots more visual content (enabled in part by digital cameras) and an experimentation in the form of advertising content – i.e. to have ads which are updated by the businesses automatically for the duration of their contract (technically this could be via a custom RSS feed from a feed under the business’s control – with some HTML/URL filtering/preprocessing) Heck, the ads could technically be updated via Twitter!

In thinking about the businesss requirements of this idea I think it could be bootstrapped by a small core cadre of passionate people – it would require a few sales people and a lot of writers – initially everyone would be working essentially on commission/spec – but eventually a rate per business would be set, as well as rates for the curators who would choose which businesses meet the criteria and editors who would ensure that all copy is of a high quality (gramatically, factually accurate, all photos licensed accurately etc). 

The reason to combine a print publication and the web are many – for one the print publication would then, in part, be distributed at the many local stores featured in the publicaiton (probably sold there not given away for free – placing a small price on it gives a revenue incentive to the stores – probably the face value would be set at say $3.00 or so – and the stores would keep it all for the say 20 copies they get for free – if they want more they pay for them at some preset rate)

Anyway lots of details to work out – but if you are interested in exploring this idea here in San Francisco leave a comment or contact me directly. If you want to explore this idea in your own city – as I said at the beginning consider this cc-atribution – please go and try this – build up a great buisness and make lots of money – just also please give me some small bit of credit.

Posted in advertising, Entrepreneurship, internet, reading, reviews, San Francisco | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Reinventing Newspapers – ideas for Knight Foundation News Challenge

Posted by shannonclark on October 30, 2008

UPDATE – I did not end up submitting this but am interested in pursuing these ideas further with anyone who is interested, leave a comment or contact me directly

I grew up reading multiple newspapers nearly every day of my life. In our home in Oak Park, IL the two papers we subscribed to were the local Chicago Tribune and the national Wall Street Journal. Even as a young child I would read both papers, scanning some sections, reading nearly every article of others and following certain favorite collumns. In particular I loved the irreverence of the center collumn of the Wall Street Journal front page (which is a feature they did away with, to the paper’s detriment I think, many years ago). I also read the opinion pages of the journal avidly – if rarely with much agreement. 

In our household however old papers piled up, my dad would generally read the papers first (though when he wasn’t home – i.e. away on a business trip my mom would usually get to the paper first) but neither paper left the house to be recycled until both my parents (and often my sister and I) had had a chance to at least skim every section. 

When i left home for college and then was living on my own in Chicago (and then a few years ago here in San Francisco) I have occasionally subscribed to a newspaper, but at the moment i do not. Just a few months ago I did have a subscription to the Wall Street Journal but I was finding myself with weeks of papers piled up and little if any interest in reading them. The news, even the business news, I usually had already seen online hours or sometimes days before and the opinion sections (which has grown to be three pages if you don’t count the rest of the paper which is increasingly highly partisan as well) while longer seem of a lowered quality and of less impact – more partisan, less thoughtful. 

And in place of the once a day random but usually well written collumn the WSJ now has a weekend section and an occasional magazine which do cover cultural issues (and the weekend edition is actually pretty well written) but in isolation they seem less interesting – and fewer stories are just well written stories about a curiousity, instead they cover the same set of movies, shows etc as so many others cover. (the great wine collumn being perhaps a rare exception)

In Chicago as well I for years had a weekly habit (which my now ex-girlfriend occasionally accused me of taking a bit too seriously) of reading the Chicago Reader every single week. Mostly for the long form, often investigative articles which made up the front page main story. I also read it for the other, shorter stories in most issues, the great weekly collumnists, and the actually useful classifieds, movie listings (this was pre-iPhone) and occasionally the other sections. Most weeks I would also read the New City Journal which was Chicago’s other free weekly, a bit of a smaller paper but one which also ran great and serious journalism, though was a bit smaller and had much less useful classifieds. 

On moving to the Bay Area I tried to find a local equivelent for the Chicago Reader but have been immensely disappointed with the many local free weekly papers – all of which seem to have horrible writing, terrible reviewers, have insane and highly partisan politics (indeed I find myself looking at the Gaurdian’s endorsements and usually voting against them). Online or offline they local papers are pretty awful (and the San Francisco Chronicle in terms of the “serious” papers – or the SF Examiner are also both pretty bad). 

So why all of this background?

I am thinking about local news and hybrid models a great deal at the moment and have, I think, come up with a business model and approach which I think could address many of the issues facing local newspapers (both dailies and weeklies), be scaleable – so could be started small and grow, and could work for the microlocal and then relatively large geogrphic region (perhaps even on a national or international level but that would require some modifications). Importantly my ideas are based on some major changes from “how things are done” online and offline today.

I am posting here to solicit feedback – first from a group of people who have been invited to comment – and then shortly (and when this post is made public) from anyone. I may end up working on this idea somewhere myself – but I am also looking to share these ideas widely and I hope inspire many people to adopt these ideas, modify them a bit, and launch many great sites and papers. 

  1. Pay writers professional rates – but also demand serious work. I’m looking for exact figures but for the majority of writers for this project I plan on paying them at a rate a writer’s union would deem professional. But also asking that they incorporate multiple mediums into their work – original photographs often, audio recordings of interviews, video of events or interviews when possible, and scans or copies of sources they refer to in the course of an article. The articles themselves will be serious writing – whether opinion pieces such as reviews or long form investigative journalism and see below, will include working with editors. 
  2. Post edited copy only – which means nothing is posted as an article that has not been reviewed. We may have a side collection of blogs for posts about inprogress work and likely will have some comments from readers (or perhaps more likely an active set of letters to the editors). And feedback well could come in via many means – including video and audio comments. But the emphasis here is quality over quanity or speed
  3. As a general rule nothing which would be available via a wire service will be posted on the site. That is, nothing which is a rewriting of a press release or a rehash of a wire story. The one possible exception might be a story which the site writes and then syndicates out to the wire services. 
  4. Though the project will start from the web and will be highly webbased, there will be a print component as well. Depending on the community served this may be a monthly, glossy publication (think Monocle magazine but focused tightly on a given geopgraphic area), a weekly magazine (with some color) or a weekly or even more frequent newsprint edition – probably of a quality that could handle some color at least on some pages. Initially however this print component may only be available via subscription, expanding slowly to local businessses and newstands. 
  5. Topics will be chosen in large part by the passion of writers and the emphsis will be in quality storytelling and documentation over dry, non-partisan reporting. Though initially this may be a bit chaotic my expectation that the passions of the writers and the readers will converge with regular contributers covering a wide range of local issues and local topics, ideally from a variety of perspectives and points of view. The projects I would hope to be personally involved in would accept contributions from across a wide range of political opinions and I would seek to encourage a diversity of views.
  6. Advertising and commercial content would be a 1st level type of content – always fully and clearly disclosed, likely also clearly of a different type, but distributed in much the same manner as any other content. Online this means that ads (more on what these would look like below) would show up as objects in RSS feeds right after and between other articles. Offline this means that some pages or some parts of many pages (depending on the type of print) would include what are clearly commercial content. A likely majority of the advertising would be locally based and focused but national ads would also be accepted. Political ads or messages might not be accepted and ads with an adult target would be up to the publishers and their local community’s interests (here in San Francisco for example ads from a local business such as Good vibrations would probably not be particularly scandlous). The advertisers would NOT have a choice about whether or not an ad runs online or in the print editions – if they buy one, they buy the other and the ads would run in both and would be a part of the permanent record of that edition (which should make the online ads a very good value – though perhaps the links of the ads themselves would only persist for a limited duration the copy itself would be part of the archive). The logistics of this would be addressed with an eye to keeping in good standing with the online community and businesses such as Google – and the paid ads would have to me highly vetted – as would the destination of where they link to for the duration of there being an active link. Ideally where the ad links to would also be archived and part of the records of the publication. 
  7. Curration and editing is the primary focus, based on starting from working with great writers but building on them and enforcing a ethos of it is better to make fewer but higher quality recommendations over many but lower quality. So while the emphasis may be mostly on articles, to the degree that the publication also has event listings or reviews whether of local businesses, artists, or items of national interest such as books or movies the focus would be on being selective (and yes opinionated) instead of being comprehensive.

This last point emphasizing currating over being comprehensive is one key area where my vision is highly different from many other approaches I see online. Instead of focusing on the infinite space of the web, on the ability to have something for everyone (but all to often not attracting anyone) my vision is to be opinionated, to be focused, and to have a point of view (or points of view). Combined with a high degree of basic quality of writing (grammar, structure and form etc) as well as a good design and look and feel my thinking is that being focused ADDS value today. As a reader I have many sources online for looking up everything – all the movies ever made, all the music, all the books, but opinions I can test and grow to trust are rare and valuable. And in turn that value is translated into attention and also value to the sponsors that bring to me as a reader the content I value.

A bit more about the types of ads I would see running. In many local weeklies (and daily newspapers as well) a large and useful category of ads are ads from local venues promoting upcoming events and shows. Some of these are purchased by individual venues, others by local promoters, others by national promoters, and still others by national brands (i.e. a beer company presents the following shows…). This type of content rich commercial message is exactly the type of content I think would make a lot of sense for this type of project – on the web and off the web. 

And there are many other types of local advertisers whose content would resonate with a locally focused set of content – and my goal would be to focus highly on a local base of advertisers supplemented by the occasional national brand or advertiser (movies or books for example, national car brands etc). The focus, however, would NOT be on hypertargeting – the messages would not vary from reader to reader – instead they would be deeply integrated into the flow and design of the site itself – as content not as something isolated (and thus blocked) – but also always clearly disclosed (likely visually colored differently online). Probably pricing would be set initially at local free weekly rates and might approach local daily paper rates as distribution and reach grows.

That is the idea in a nutshell – lots of details to be worked out – from the technical to the rate settings but the above are the highlights. 

In terms of technology much of what i envision could be done via wordpress (or perhapd though I’m less of a fan via Drupal) with careful use of tags, categories, multiple authors, multimedia posts and a very clean design set of choices. A given batch of posts and content would then be collected and formatted for the print edition (perhaps rendered also as a PDF file for the archives as well). 

From a business standpoint the content producers (writers who might also create photos or video or photographers and/or videographers) would initially mostly likely be freelancers but paid at a fair and professional rate. A limited amount of expenses would also be covered (limited in part due to the geogrpahic focus – one reason this model might not work as well on a national or international scale) and ideally most writers would be covered by some group benefits and given press creditials (in both cases probably after meeting some writer’s union type set of requirements in those areas with writer’s unions). The editor(s) would probably be saleried and full time and would work with a range of writers – initially there might only be one editor – but as the range of topics and volume of content expands there would rapidly need to be multiple editors. A separate set of editors and salespeople would handle the commercial content and sales relationshiops. And likely there would be a small set of technical staff (some of whom might be on a contact basis to start) to handle the initial and ongoing web configuration as well as the preprint production work. 

My thinking also is that with the emphasis on telling great stories (non-fiction mostly though fiction stories would be a natural addition to this type of publication) some number of pieces written initially for this publication could have an additional life in other publications – via syndication or reprint/repurposing (This American Life for example). My initial thought would be that the writers would retain these rights (though the publication would have the right to keep the works online, probably freely available – though in some cases perhaps only for subscribers) and when the publication is the source of the additional sale (for example via syndication agreements) a portion of the syndication fees might flow back to the publication (though this would be based on the publication’s needs and the numbers involved – with the overall emphssis being on cultivating and supporting great writers and journalists. 

So what questions do I have / what I am seeking from readers who make it this far?

  1. What are professional rates for writers? (per article or per word, for reviews vs. for long form articles)
  2. What are fair rates for photography/video work? (note the goal here is not to use stock photography but to use photos which add to the story and are original to the author – see Monocle or FiveThirtyEight for two great examples)
  3. What would be likely sunk costs for such a venture (laptops, very very small office space, other fixed yearly costs)?
  4. What would be likely print costs per print run for each type of publication (Glossy color magazine, lower quality magazine sized publication, color newsprint publication) and at what printrun sizes do the per unit costs decrease? (i.e. what are the fixed and what are the variable and when do the lower considerably)
  5. What would be the likely distribution costs (mostly local mail, local non-mail distribution to individuals, mostly local distribution to businesses)
  6. Initially I’m thinking about this as a local (i.e. San Francisco/Bay Area venture) but am happy to see it in other cities and countries – what specific CA/Bay Area complications should I anticipate? (local Unions – though I want to be friendly to unions etc)
  7. What are some examples of magazines or newspapers which are adopting something akin to this already (especially in terms of good online integration of offline ads and an emphasis on long form, quality writing over quantity of writing via including pool/wire stories)

It should also be noted that what I am proposing is NOT a blog or indeed not very bloglike. Though it might use blog software as an underpinning, the idea here is to tell great stories – some of which may be very “small” others of which might be very pressing and important (investigative journalism) – but to do so with an emphasis on the quality of the writing vs the timeliness of posts.

Also and perhaps a more subtle point my thinking is that these publications would trade one tool of today’s journalists away (anonymous sources) in favor of only using deeply documented sources and providing those documents for public review and oversight. And yes, this means these publications might not be able to tell some stories initially (though via tools such as Freedom of Information Act requests and careful use of public spaces and rapid documentation this could be assuaged to a degree) I think the reliance on providing the sources directly would result in overall a very high quality of articles – and many attempts to say misquote someone would be addressed and resolved quickly.

I would also suggest that the publications be quick to address serious (or even relatively minor) complaints – such as about misquoting – and if articles are published online before they are published in a print edition (which would depend on the timing of the print edition – which would likely be weekly or monthly so articles likely would be published online first) major errors should be corrected before they are put in print. Using a wikilike publishing platform might make it very easy to show the history of any such changes (wikilike in that past editions would be viewable – but not wikilike in that people would not be able to edit posts)

So that is the idea – I welcome feedback and suggestions and I’m planning on pulling this into a formal proposal for the Knight Foundation by the Nov 1st deadline and perhaps also into a short business summary/pitch to select investors. I think some of these ideas could work for a new, greenfield publication OR could work for an existing publication looking to revamp.

Posted in advertising, digital bedouin, geeks, internet, networks, reading, reviews, San Francisco, web2.0 | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mixing online & offline advertising – seeking examples

Posted by shannonclark on October 27, 2008

I have been following the move online of offline publications for over a decade (I’ve been on the Internet since 1991, went to my first websites via Gopher search) but something I have been wondering about since the mid-90’s and still almost never see is why so many publications who have offline publications (magazines or newspapers of any frequency) do not include their print advertisers as 1st level content in their online presenses.

And, in many cases have entirely different advertisers online vs. offline with little overlap and very limited even acknowledgement in the online presense of the offline advertisers at all.

Now there are 1000’s of publications around the world and I only read a few of them offline or online, so perhaps there are some great examples I have missed – please leave comments w/links to examples, especially those that do it very well.

And sure, I know there are objections from some that “ads” are not content (I’d argue that they most certainly are content) or that people would just ignore them online (though I’d ask if they have ever really be tested). To address the content question – there are entire magazines offline which are almost entirely based around the “content” of ads (the many highly profitable Vogue magazines for example) and other magazines such as The New Yorker where the ads make up a key part of the look and feel of the magazine (especially the small format ads) but in both cases the offline advertisers seem to have no part at all of the online presense.

I have been thinking about this as I have been looking at magazine and newspaper websites in preparation for thinking about a submission to the Knight Foundation’s $5M News Challenge (deadline is Nov 1st). Now I am at a slight disadvantage as many of the judges are friends of mine (so will have to recuse themselves while evaluating me) but I hope that the idea I have, whether I implement it or not may inspire many people to copy it in the future (it is geographically specific so I’m happy to see many people copy it in cities around the world – and even in the same cities as I think there is plenty of room for many).

But one part of my idea (among many) is to build relationships that extend from the online world to the offline aspects of my idea (which is not only online – it includes a print publication – working out the exact details) and not just the articles, reviews, calendar listings etc but also the content from the advertisers.

So as part of my research I’m looking for counterexamples, publications which are doing a good job of including their financial supporters (sponsors as well as more traditional advertisers) into all aspects of the publication – online and offline.

Posted in advertising, economics, geeks, networks, web2.0 | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Announcing my new blog – Slow Brand

Posted by shannonclark on May 16, 2008

I have launched a new blog, Slow Brand, where I will be writing about Brands, Branding, and with some frequency food.

My goal is to post there about two times a week, some weeks more often, others less. Likely I’ll alternate between covering broad issues around Brands and branding today and posts specifically highlighting food Brands with a strong emphasis on local, serious food producers.

“Slow Brand” is an homage to the Slow Food movement. My view is that to build, sustain and enhance a great Brand takes a slow, deliberate, confident and consistent approach both online and offline. An approach that today is all too rare.

Full disclosure, my new company, Nearness Function is an ad network focused on Brand advertising. As such, I am most definitely biased in my views on Brands in todays landscape. We will be working with many brands and publishers both inside the browser and outside of it.

Posted in advertising, Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet, networks, web2.0 | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Shopping for a Car part one, personal notes

Posted by shannonclark on April 5, 2008

This is a personal note about thinking about buying a car. In the next post (which may be posted elsewhere and I’ll then post a link to it from here I’ll analyze the current state of car shopping online in the US, which I will argue is pretty dreadful)

The last time I bought a car was Dec 1999, before buying I did a fairly significant amount of research online, though in the end I didn’t quite do enough, the deal I ended up signing was not particularly great and four years later when my car loan was due in full I calculated the value of my car at that time, how much I was actually using it, and decided to sell it and pay off the loan instead of buying it outright and keeping it. Probably the right move as I had almost not used the car at all, but at times I wonder. Though I went for a few more years where I really didn’t need a car, now I suspect I do really need to own a car again, far too often the lack of having a car is impeding me from real business (and personal) life matters – and no, ZipCar or CityCarShare are not alternatives for me.

First why both ZipCar and CityCarShare are not good options for me.

  1. My usage needs are almost never fixed or known in the future. I never know when I would want to return from someplace when I want to drive, in fact all I usually know is that I don’t know how late I’ll be staying. Mostly I don’t need a car for shopping (I don’t shop all that much at all) rather I would need a car for business events outside of San Francisco, or inside of SF but not nearby (currently it takes me 30-60 mins by public transportation and/or walking to get to many events, time I don’t always have)
  2. While ZipCar’s day rental is indeed an option, it is also a really huge and very new to my budget financial hit. $60/day for car, gas and insurance is I’ll admit a decent deal, but it is pretty painful as compared to typically spending ~$60/month or less on my entire transportation budget. For the month, not for a single day. I buy a $45/mth muni pass and most months may take an occasional taxi or use the BART or CalTrain (at most spending say $100 in a month of a lot of taxis and trains). The very rare exception is taxis to the airport, but even if I owned a car I’d probably still use a taxi to avoid parking fees as my typical trip is usually a week+ in length.
  3. My other likely usage of a car is long trips – driving down to LA, driving up to Wine Country, to Portland, driving to Half Moon Bay, to Monterey, to Santa Barbara. If I owned a car I’d like do such drives on a more regular basis, many weekends most likely in fact (though certainly having a girlfriend or at worst friends to join me on such trips would make that even more likely). This too is not a particularly good option for ZipCar or CityCarShare. I could, I guess, rent cars on a more regular basis (I haven’t rented one yet in 2+ years in SF) or experiment with using ZipCar’s multiday rentals for a few days at a time before I buy a car, that’s an option indeed, though only for shortish trips.
  4. The closest cars for both ZipCar and CityCarShare are a 10 minute or so walk from my house (about 1/2 mile or longer w/hills) That means it is far from spur of the moment, I can’t just walk out of the door and pick up the car, instead I have to reserve the car online (or over the phone I think) and then go there, drive back home if I need to load up the car with items from my house (which very often would be one reason I might need a car). In contrast if I buy a car I’ll likely also negotiate with my landlord for a parking space in my building – which also removes the issues of finding a parking space or dealing with street cleaning on weeks when I’m traveling.

So though I may cancel my CityCarShare account (haven’t used them in 6+ months so it is wasted money) and I may sign up with ZipCar in part to use them as an extended test drive service for the next month or two, I have decided that I almost certainly need to buy a car.

But how to buy a car? Car buying is a pretty horrible and painful process, at least it has always been so for me in the past, rife with scams, pushy salesmen (“used car salesman” is an insult for a reason) and countless issues whether you are buying a new car or an older used car.

A few of the issues I’m considering:

  • Technology inside of cars is more impacted by Moore’s Law. For many decades most of the technology in cars changed slowly with gradual but relatively minor changes. However increasingly cars are deeply computerized and technological, I suspect but don’t know for sure (going to research this) this has some pretty serious impacts in considering a used car. From whether or not mechanics will be able to maintain a car over time to whether even on a not all that old used car I’ll be able to use many modern tools (play my iPod on the car radio, have accurate and updated navigational systems, have a secure car from a locking/alarm standpoint)
  • My tastes and the car industry are clearly diverging. I hate blind spots in cars I drive, yet many “modern” cars seem to me at least to be minimizing the rear window and creating ever larger and more annoying blindspots due to roof framing and window/rear end shapes. Also many cars intended for younger, urban drivers such as myself (Scion for example) have for some bizarre to my eye reasons moved dials etc to the center of the car vs from in front of the driver. Many cars (starting with “new Beetle” from the late-90’s also now have to my eye vast expanses of space in front of the driver yet inside the car (you can literally put a large pizza box on the front dash of a Beetle) which is not a design I like at all.
  • My not owning a car is a statement of my green & environmental bent, but generally I don’t like most of todays hybrids. I hate driving the Prius, I don’t like the look, the controls, the feel of the seats, the blindspots, or the overall feel of the car, I haven’t been comfortable when I’ve driven it in the past (via City Carshare). I’m not much more of a fan of the look of most other hybrids on the market, certain Lexus models being a possible exception, but they are larger, bulkier, far more costly and not all that frugal of cars in any case. Especially given the performance of European sold cars today, I find the majority of US cars depressingly bad and behind the times (why we don’t have current generation diesels for example is something I really don’t understand – in Europe there are many which get 40-50+ mpg, with great performance and very very low emissions.)

Features I want in any car I buy in the future:

  • Flexible and ample storage. Two of my past three cars have been a hatchback (and yes, I realize for some bizarre to my mind reason hatchbacks are not popular in the US). I loved the flexibility of having a car that could easily convert to hold a lot of stuff, I didn’t use it all that often but I did my share of moving for myself and friends, here in SF I could easily see using a car with ample storage to take advantage of Craigslist, to help friends move, to throw even better dinner parties, to take trips to Napa and come back with some cases of wine, to perhaps go golfing for the first time in many years.
  • Great city (and highway) gas mileage. 20 mpg is not great neither is 25 mpg, I’m looking more for 30+ mpg ideally closer to 40 than 30. And yes, I know this is here in the US getting into the realm of seemingly impossible to buy, but if you look at the cars for sale in Europe they manage it (for cars larger than Smart cars in fact)
  • Fantastic handling and power when I need it. I am not a crazy or fast driver. But every car I have owned has had sports handling and more than ample power so when I needed it I could always accelerate more. Cars that went to 60 in very fast times (sub 7 secs I think though I’ll see if I can look up the details). Cars that could cruise comfortably at 80-90 mph and were perfectly happy to go much, much faster (my last Honda was happy to go up to 150+ though the fastest I ever took it was about 100 mph).
  • Not a manual transmission. I do not know how to drive stick. Nor am I interested in the least in learning. I do not want to think about driving when I’m driving – I much prefer to think about the road around me, I don’t want to have to monitor my car, revs, current gear etc. I simply do not care. Doesn’t interest me in the least. I’m not a car person – I want to get into the car and drive, under whatever conditions.
  • Extremely reliable. Did I mention I’m not a car person. I do not want to get to know my mechanic on a first name basis, I’d much rather own a car that requires only a minimal amount of regular services – oil changes, tire rotations, checkups occasionally but does not require lots of repairs and tweaking to get good, reliable service. And when or if I do need service, I want to drive a car that can be serviced wherever I happen to be most of the time – i.e .not something so obscure as to only have a handful of mechanics capable of servicing it as needed.
  • Value for my money. For my use a car is an expense, not an investment. I am not going to buying a collectible car or doing so much service and improvements to the car to render it capable of even holding even with what I pay for it, I fully expect nearly any car I buy to lose value as I own it, but my preference would be for a car (like all of my past cars) which holds a good portion of that value even after many years and miles. My last two Acuras even after I used them heavily held their value solidly, as did my Honda. Cars which tend to have solid and relatively stable used values for many, many years would be my preference over cars (such as many American models) that tend to crater quickly and don’t hold a great deal of value when they are much older – due to reliability issues etc.

My guess is that I am not going to be buying a new car (unless I close some amazing sales in the next few months – which is in fact a real possibility) but neither do I want to buy a beater and extremely cheap car (see above, I don’t want to spend my time with a mechanic). Instead I will probably plan on shopping for a lightly used car – a dealer’s demo model, a short term lease return, likely something which is just a year or two old so fairly modern and not yet completely out of date, but possibly with relatively high mileage for that age (my first car I bought for a deep discount because the last owner had put ~40k miles on it in one year).

But at this point I don’t have much of a clue as to what cars I should even start looking at – which models I should try to test drive and then watch out for as used car sales. Nor have I settled on a budget which I’m comfortable spending or once I have settled on that, researched what my CA car insurance rates would add, what my other CA fees (smog, license plates, parking space if my landlord charges me etc) plus estimated the gas costs then I will try to decide if I’m better off just biting the bullet and spending a lot with some combo of zipcar and car rental companies perhaps with taxis to get to the cars I’m renting.

Or if there is some other option I should consider – perhaps a very cheap car + zipcar. i.e. a cheap car with low insurance costs but some reason to also believe low maintenance costs but which might not meet all of my needs (might be smaller for example) and then use Zipcar for certain other uses.

Anyway it will be complex next few months as I research this.

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