Archive for September, 2010

Is the Mormon Media Empire Curtailing Freedom of Speech?

September 17, 2010 3 comments

I’m a little surprised about’s move today to remove commenting…at least temporarily…from their website.

For those of you who have never ventured into the comments, it’s kind of like venturing into a storm drain or sewer.  You never know what you’re going to find.

The typical partisanship was divided over homosexuals, President Obama, illegal immigration and BYU football.  Anyone who has ever ventured in there will attest to this statement.

While profanity was censored, ill will, bigotry and hatred wasn’t. message boards were the Mormon version of 4chan.  The new Mormon media empire is trying to put a stop to it.  The harsh reality is they can’t.

I’m not sure which “side” the new policy was supposed to thwart.  Common news stories would go off topic really quickly into racism and xenophobia.  Forget about a topic that included guns or BYU football.

The value to wading into the cesspool would be comments by those close to the story who could add further insight.  This is especially true when early reports on a story provided few details.

Later today, it was revealed that while the Deseret News wasn’t ending comments, they were certainly changing the policy to make it more difficult to comment anonymously.

In my opinion, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Anonymous Internet writing creates a sense of freedom that doesn’t exist in reality if anyone could ever trace back what you wrote to a real human.  As a result, some people act sub-human.  While private businesses have every right to control their own property, what the new empire fails to realize is technology is their biggest enemy, not opinionated individuals.

Today, I received an opportunity to interview one of the Google engineers behind Google Instant.  One of the questions I thought about was failed ventures like Orkut and Sidewiki.  In reflection, Sidewiki offered so much promise, but seems to be a nothingburger today.  Under online censorship, Sidewiki is an expression tool nobody, but Google, can control.

Here is the lesson whether you’re KSL, the DesNews, a business or anyone else online…the conversation is going to happen.  It may happen on your site.  It may happen elsewhere.  Or it may happen on your site without your knowledge.  Under which circumstance do you think will be best for your organization?  It is foolishness, no matter your original intent, to think you can stop it.

Besides Sidewiki overlaying the original site, critics will naturally go to other sites to express their opinion.  The story on the Salt Lake Tribune has generated hundreds of comments and tens of thousands of third-party sites like mine will also express an opinion.

The conversation can’t be stifled.  It can be redirected, it can be overwritten, but it can’t be suppressed.  The Internet, and I include all forms of social media within this categorization, allows absolute freedom of speech.  If the Mullahs in Iran can’t succeed with censorship, neither can the Apostles in Utah.

So what’s the answer?  KSL claims they can’t cost effectively monitor their boards.  That’s probably true.  Personally, I love the Facebook authorized commenting.  Then when you say something offensive at least all your friends and family will know.

It’s a double-edged sword.  The more difficult it is to share is the less likely people are willing to.  Add a complicated registration process and a hard to read CAPTCHA and you’ll get few comments and look irrelevant.  Ease it up and you have chaos.  Facebook isn’t a perfect answer because it’s easy to create fake accounts.

What really needs to take place is a paradigm shift.  If it’s online, we can’t control it.  We can, however, take part in the discussion.  That’s the point.  Until Sidewiki, there was a chance we could move discussions we didn’t like.  We can’t anymore.

The lesson to and anyone else that attempts this policy, isn’t censorship, it’s discussion.  I found myself looking at comments and soon deciding I didn’t want to be there.  Don’t censor or delete, add to the discussion.  Thoughtful members of your audience will automatically self-filter.

Leave it in the hands of the audience and don’t try to remove the discussion.  It will happen no matter how hard you try to stop it.

Advertisements Disables Comments – Loses Editors

September 16, 2010 1 comment

foodpanty announced it was suspending comments from readers today. Perhaps that was a bad idea as commenters will often point out innocent and not so innocent copy errors like the one in this title.

Feedback is good, even if you disagree with what is said or the tone it is said in.

I’ll post a more comprehensive article about this topic in the future.

What Does Your Facebook Profile Picture Say About You?

September 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Nina started a Facebook page for her experiment, gathering over 3,500 members, who shared their reasons for choosing their profile pictures, including:

  • “My profile photo is meant to give the impression that i possess a higher degree of gravitas and sophistication than i actualy do.”
  • “I never show me on my profile, I don’t want to make is easy for me to be found, because of work.”
  • “Mine shows my desire to be Grace Jones.”
  • “This is a photo of my bike, Doris.”
  • “Used to have my wedding photo, but separated and now it’s one of me at the local getting sloshed…”
  • “I like ducks. I particularly liked this duck.”

But with the benefit of a few demographic questions, Nina and Dr Hogan began to see some interesting trends.

“The theory we’re working with is that people want to make their Facebook profile attractive to other people, but it turns out that they do that in very different ways,” Dr Hogan said.

Some interesting thoughts here, but I’m not sure how scientific it really is. I change my photo around fairly frequently, but tend to use photos that have me in them. I did post a shark during “Shark Week” and have participated in a few Internet memes.

I suppose my photo depends on my mood, but will admit to posting things that accentuate the positive.

Google Instant Makes SEO Irrelevant?

September 8, 2010 2 comments

Here’s what this means: no two people will see the same web. Once a single search would do the trick – and everyone saw the same results. That’s what made search engine optimization work. Now, with this, everyone is going to start tweaking their searches in real-time. The reason this is a game changer is feedback. When you get feedback, you change your behaviors. 

Think about it. When you push a door and it doesn’t open quickly, you push harder. When you try to drive a car up a hill and it doesn’t go as fast as you would like, you step on the gas. Feedback changes your behavior. 

Google Instant means no one will see the same web anymore, making optimizing it virtually impossible. Real-time feedback will change and personalize people’s search behaviors.

I’m going to have to disagree with the author on this one. We don’t all see the same search results right now! I’ve discussed this before, but Google results fluctuate on where you’re located, if you personalize your browsing experience and even if you’re logged into Gmail.

I played around with Google Instant a bit earlier today. In my estimation all it does is show results as you type out each letter. It’s much like “search suggest” except you can see the search results instantly. It’s slick and catchy, but certainly no game changer and it won’t affect SEO. There are already too many other factors that affect SEO for this to be the final nail in the coffin.

What Does the Deseret News and BYU Football Have to do With an Empire?

September 1, 2010 6 comments

Within a twelve-hour period, the shape of the Latter Day Saints media operations has been turned on its side.  While some see the downsizing of the Deseret News to be a sign of financial weakness, I see that move and the independence of church owned Brigham Young University football to be the foundation of a Mormon media empire.

Let’s go back a few steps though and let me explain why I’ve come to this conclusion.

I’m a college football fan.  It is my favorite spectator sport.  Off season usually has a merry-go-round of coaching changes.  This off-season the merry-go-round included conference realignment.  First it was the possibility of the Big 12 dissolving and then a PAC-10 superconference.  What wound up happening was a complete realignment in the West…namely the Mountain West Conference and the Western Athletic Conference. 

Soon after Utah accepted a move to the PAC 10, we were made aware of BYU’s desire to go independent in football and move its other sports to a new conference.  Plans to move back to the WAC dissolved when the MWC invited Nevada and Fresno St. to join and they accepted.  Many people thought BYU would stay in the Mountain West.  I didn’t.  Neither did Kurt Kragthorpe.

Around the same time, I was reading about the Deseret News planning to shift its operations.  It looked to many to be a cost cutting move, but it’s not.  It’s a complete realignment of the religion’s media empire.  They’re not downsizing, they’re consolidating.

Two trends kept coming out during the discussion of both the football conference and the newspaper.  First, both divisions were relying on the attention of the built-in religious audience.  For football, the school estimated viewership of 60 million world-wide.

Part of BYU’s unhappiness with the MWC stems from the fact that it receives only about $1.5 million in television revenue from the league. It believes it can get more by negotiating its own TV deals, or by televising games on its own network, BYU TV.

For the newspaper, numbers show 60% of its audience is out-of-state viewing online. 

…the church connection provides an unusual opportunity to build beyond the typical local audience. Gilbert, who describes himself as “a devout Mormon,” said there has been “a world-wide diaspora (of the faith) and that gives us a chance for a world-wide audience — 60 percent of the traffic is not Utah-based.”
That prompts content that “is more thoughtful, more global” than just local breaking news. “We don’t want to be normal,” he continued, citing, as an example, coverage of church relief projects “improving people’s lives” after the Haiti earthquake.
The second trend was tailoring content to the audience.  BYU knows the value its football program offers to the school, students and the faithful.  The same applies to the newspaper which is now combining with the church’s other media properties like KSL TV and radio.

Both moves are particularly bold for a religion that is known to be conservative and thought to be behind the times.  If successful, it could prove to be a model other businesses emulate in the future.  By tailoring content to groups of similarly minded people, traditional media organizations may find a way to become relevant in the new, digital world.

On the other hand, failure wouldn’t be too damaging.  The cost cutting efforts at the Deseret News should offset any losses there.  Plus, that’s something newspapers need to do in this day and age.  The football program can always rejoin a league if independence proves too daunting. 

I also find it no coincidence both plans were announced on the same day.  August 31, 2010 marks the birth of a media empire.

Considering all the options out there, I think these two bold moves by the LDS church will indeed prove beneficial and probably a model to study and adopt in the future.  Only time will tell of course, but I’m real interested to see how this all plays out.
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