Slate takes good look at Google Earth and what that global(!) community is up to. Which is a lot, such as tagging the Texas Schoolbook Depository building and its surroundings. Author Michael Agger suggests the strange feeling of travelling with “GE”:

When the program hops from, say, Moscow to Washington, D.C., it takes the same path as that of a ballistic missile.

Listen to London part XXXVI

Impatience with the web activities of public service broadcasters seems to be an international phenomenon, at least pan-Scandinavian: Triggered by another bold BBC statement, Erik Stattin produces a new entry in “the tiresome series “oh, how the BBC does a lot of interesting stuff but what does the SVT do?”. Faithful readers of Undercurrent will also be well accustomed to such postings.

To be fair, something seems to be happening at the NRK. They have understood podcasting, as the list of feeds shows. And the tutorial. Though improvement is still possible, for example making subscribing one-click friendly.

How to spend it

An overview of the finances of Norwegian media companies pieced together by Dagens Medier confirms the trend toward online media outperforming print: In the top 10 list of most profitable companies in 2005 online occupies the top 3 and the number six spot. VG, the largest news site, has a profit margin of 42 percent.

The rest of the list is made up by local newspapers, a printing plant, a radio and a provider of preproduced newspaper pages. The exciting part is how the nouveau riche are going to spend their money. Hopefully struggling print relatives (which most of the top moneymakers have) aren’t going to squeeze innovation by demanding their share of the revenues (to see all the numbers, you have to download the magazine – pdf, 1,6 MB). (no 2) and VG (no 3) are both owned by Schibsted, which is hailed as the shining exception is this week’s Economist cover story on the newspaper business. Among other initiatives, Schibsted early understood that classified ads would move online, and acted by creating, which has been a success all along (old news, but worth repeating).

According to the Economist piece, Schibsted’s secret of making money online is to channel users directly to the start page, not having them come in through the search engine door via Google & co:

Three-quarters of traffic to the websites for Schibsted’s VG and Aftonbladet comes through their own home-pages and only a quarter from other websites. “If visitors come from Google to stories deep in the paper and then leave,” explains Mr Munck, “Google gets the dollars and we get only cents, but if we can bring them in through the front page we can charge €19,000 [$25,000] for a 24-hour banner ad.”

Well, I would have liked to see how the direct to start page vs search engine/blogs/feed ratio has developed over the years. It’s a fair bet that the share of traffic directly into the “deep” is increasing. And that’s probably one reason why Schibsted suddenly started spending a lot of money on their own search engine.

A wealth of insight

Even with some months left of 2006, the Undercurrent book of the year award can already be announced: Yochai Benkler is the winner with his exceptionally insightful “The Wealth of Networks”. Benkler uses a coherent framework to analyze the developments that have occupied many of us in theory and practice the past few years: the rise of peer production – user-generated publishing – blogging – open source software. In brief, Benkler’s book is the most forceful and comprehensive analysis so far of the impact on society of these connected phenomena.

Unsurprisingly the book is published under a Creative Commons licence, which makes it possible to download for free in the pdf format.

More about the book will be forthcoming here, but as a start, here’s an important quote from the concluding chapter:

The basic material capital requirements of information production are now in the hands of a billion people around the globe who are connected to each other more or less seamlessly. These material conditions have given individuals a new practical freedom of action. If a person or group wishes to start an information-production project for any reason, that group or person need not raise significant funds to acquire the necessary capital. In the past, the necessity to obtain funds constrained information producers to find a market-based model to sustain the investment, or to obtain government funding. The funding requirements, in turn, subordinated the producers either to the demands of markets, in particular to mass-market appeal, or to the agendas of state bureaucracies. The networked information environment has permitted the emergence to much greater significance of the nonmarket sector, the nonprofit sector, and, most radically, of individuals.

Improving Wikipedia

Noted during research about Wikipedia: Googling of key concepts today such as democracy, liberalism, socialism, communism, China, India returns links to Wikipedia articles at or very near the top. The discovery isn’t new, but still a reminder of Wikipedia’s growing importance (thanks to Espen for the tip). Given this, is it conceivable that academics – say, a research community of architects or engineers – could pool their resources in a kind of communal effort to improve certain Wikipedia entries? They would of course have to acquire some knowledge about the Wikipedia community’s standards, but couldn’t that be a good investment in the culture commons? I sometimes wonder what professors in different fields think about Wikipedia – or indeed how many of them even know about it.

Wall to wall Wikipedia

Lots of buzz and new input on Wikipedia lately. Noted: