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Virtually Within “Column Inches” of the Social Network

This morning, I was discussing the company Doppelganger with Simon Bradstock, VP of Corporate Products at Dow Jones. The main point of conversation was how far extending the social networking paradigm is extending and now we are witnessing the merging of social networking with virtual reality. Wow!, an $11M third round funding for a company “offers programmed virtual worlds for the teen demographic.” The virtual world and social networking space is white hot right now.

The conversation led Simon to inquire, “How many column inches have been dedicated to Second Life?” I am almost embarrassed to say that my response was “What’s a column inch?” In fact, upon hearing the term, I immediately thought about architecture or World War I military tactics. It certainly did not trigger a written publication. According to Wikipedia, a column inch is:

“A column inch is a measurement of the amount of content in published works that use multiple columns per page. A column inch is a unit of space one column wide by one inch high.”

So, this led us to question as to whether “column inch” has now become a quaint term such as “horsepower”. I work for Dow Jones and I did not know the term. Does it actually show how much we’ve become a digital culture and have moved so far from traditional media. Is it one of those small signs that lead some credence the all the questioning as to the future of the newspaper such as Henry Blodget‘s recent post, Running the Numbers: Why Newspapers Are Screwed. (I happen to not agree with the completely bleak outlook; I do agree that newspapers will have to emerge with new models to survive in the digital age.)

Additional coverage of Doppelganger:

  • http://therehearsalstudio.blogspot.com/ Stephen Smoliar

    I have to pick a linguistic nit here. “Horsepower” is far from a “quaint term.” Rather, it became a STANDARD OF MEASUREMENT (just like “foot”); and it is still a rather popular standard for consumers purchasing engines (for cars, lawn mowers, boats, etc.). If it has lost any of that popularity, it is through an increased attention to fuel efficiency in place of power.

    Nevertheless, having acquired most of my writing chops through print journalism, I was as surprised as you were embarrassed over your unfamiliarity with the concept of the column inch. In fairness, though, this has never been a standard, since there has never been a standard column width. (I think it is still the case that THE WALL STREET JOURNAL uses different column widths for different content.)

    Before I forget, on the subject of print-based metrics, do you know the term “above the fold?”

    Simon’s REAL question, however, was: How much attention is the JOURNAL paying to Second Life? This is not the question of how many stories (news and features) have been written but of how much of all that text actually made it to the printed page. Now that the printed page no longer constrains what appears on a newspaper’s Web site, the column inch is a far more obsolete metric than horsepower. The problem is that we do not yet have an alternative metric, which would involve not only which Web pages get “hit” but also how much they are “read” once they have been hit. There are a variety of ways to collect this kind of behavioral data, but I am not sure that INTERPRETING the data has progressed beyond groping hypotheses. It is definitely an area that deserves research; but I have my doubts that the “new” Dow Jones will be particularly interested in that kind of research!

  • http://therehearsalstudio.blogspot.com/ Stephen Smoliar

    I have to pick a linguistic nit here. “Horsepower” is far from a “quaint term.” Rather, it became a STANDARD OF MEASUREMENT (just like “foot”); and it is still a rather popular standard for consumers purchasing engines (for cars, lawn mowers, boats, etc.). If it has lost any of that popularity, it is through an increased attention to fuel efficiency in place of power.

    Nevertheless, having acquired most of my writing chops through print journalism, I was as surprised as you were embarrassed over your unfamiliarity with the concept of the column inch. In fairness, though, this has never been a standard, since there has never been a standard column width. (I think it is still the case that THE WALL STREET JOURNAL uses different column widths for different content.)

    Before I forget, on the subject of print-based metrics, do you know the term “above the fold?”

    Simon’s REAL question, however, was: How much attention is the JOURNAL paying to Second Life? This is not the question of how many stories (news and features) have been written but of how much of all that text actually made it to the printed page. Now that the printed page no longer constrains what appears on a newspaper’s Web site, the column inch is a far more obsolete metric than horsepower. The problem is that we do not yet have an alternative metric, which would involve not only which Web pages get “hit” but also how much they are “read” once they have been hit. There are a variety of ways to collect this kind of behavioral data, but I am not sure that INTERPRETING the data has progressed beyond groping hypotheses. It is definitely an area that deserves research; but I have my doubts that the “new” Dow Jones will be particularly interested in that kind of research!

  • http://www.loupaglia.com/correlate Lou Paglia

    Steve, welcome to the new correlate, it seemed that I may have lost you in the transition to its new home.

    As far as “horsepower”, I cannot disagree with you. But that is the way with spur-of-the-moment comparisons of word usage. I think horsepower is used a lot more than ‘column-inch’ but it was a high level point we were trying to make. (We did actually negate the parallel because of the automotive industry use of ‘horsepower’). In any case, I do not want to speak for Simon but my sense is we were discussing journalism in its entirety, not the journal’s coverage.

    I’m not surprised that I personally did not know the term, I am a digital guy, not a writer (as anyone who reads this blog knows! :) And because of that, I DO in fact, know what above the fold means….it means the visible area of the screen that you want your content so the user sees it before they scroll. :)

  • http://www.loupaglia.com/correlate Lou Paglia

    Steve, welcome to the new correlate, it seemed that I may have lost you in the transition to its new home.

    As far as “horsepower”, I cannot disagree with you. But that is the way with spur-of-the-moment comparisons of word usage. I think horsepower is used a lot more than ‘column-inch’ but it was a high level point we were trying to make. (We did actually negate the parallel because of the automotive industry use of ‘horsepower’). In any case, I do not want to speak for Simon but my sense is we were discussing journalism in its entirety, not the journal’s coverage.

    I’m not surprised that I personally did not know the term, I am a digital guy, not a writer (as anyone who reads this blog knows! :) And because of that, I DO in fact, know what above the fold means….it means the visible area of the screen that you want your content so the user sees it before they scroll. :)

  • http://therehearsalstudio.blogspot.com/ Stephen Smoliar

    Lou, having established contact, let’s put the terminology aside. Your encounter with Simon raised two fundamental questions that we remain ill-equipped to answer:

    1. For all the techniques we have for gathering data about “eyes on the Internet” (to invoke the language of the Online Publishers’ Association), can we gather data about where those eyes are directing their attention; and, if so, how?

    2. Assuming we can gather the data, how to we interpret it?

    I assume you remember the Davenport-Beck ATTENTION ECONOMY book. You may even remember that it was physically designed to tweak the usual habits of an “attentive reader.” Unfortunately, while it certainly made for an interesting reading experience, I have not found it the best source for “lessons learned.” Also, it has that subtitle: UNDERSTANDING THE NEW CURRENCY OF BUSINESS. This implies that attention is some sort of medium of exchange, following in the footsteps of Herb Simon’s adage that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention,” meaning that it all comes down to the exchange of a scarce resource. This makes attention too much like an artifact; and I think we are better off thinking of it as a process (but probably not what Csikszentmihalyi calls a “flow experience”). This means that both gathering and interpreting data have to do with dynamic, rather than static, properties (just as human life and behavior are all about dynamic properties). This is particularly difficult to grok for business school graduates trained in counting beans (I really do not know your educational background, honest!); and my own humble opinion is that those educated in both history and literature have better understanding of such dynamics than those with more technical specializations.

    What does this mean for the future of reporting the news? Well, according to Neustadt and May, two first-rate historians who have studied presidential decision-making in times of crisis, there are two are key questions you ask about the dynamic properties surrounding any situation (particularly a bad one):

    1. How did we get into this mess?

    2. If we respond by taking action A, what will the consequences be?

    There is a lot of good journalistic talent out there for dealing with the first question (for reasons I shall not detail here). However, the second question belongs on the turf of the policy makers. Still, if you want public support for a policy, informing the public of how the context of the present emerged from events of the past increases public awareness of both the need for action and the paths to consequences. This is the sort of “public trust” that newspapers once held; and perhaps that trust can be recovered as more and more journalistic activity takes place in the digital domain.

  • http://therehearsalstudio.blogspot.com/ Stephen Smoliar

    Lou, having established contact, let’s put the terminology aside. Your encounter with Simon raised two fundamental questions that we remain ill-equipped to answer:

    1. For all the techniques we have for gathering data about “eyes on the Internet” (to invoke the language of the Online Publishers’ Association), can we gather data about where those eyes are directing their attention; and, if so, how?

    2. Assuming we can gather the data, how to we interpret it?

    I assume you remember the Davenport-Beck ATTENTION ECONOMY book. You may even remember that it was physically designed to tweak the usual habits of an “attentive reader.” Unfortunately, while it certainly made for an interesting reading experience, I have not found it the best source for “lessons learned.” Also, it has that subtitle: UNDERSTANDING THE NEW CURRENCY OF BUSINESS. This implies that attention is some sort of medium of exchange, following in the footsteps of Herb Simon’s adage that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention,” meaning that it all comes down to the exchange of a scarce resource. This makes attention too much like an artifact; and I think we are better off thinking of it as a process (but probably not what Csikszentmihalyi calls a “flow experience”). This means that both gathering and interpreting data have to do with dynamic, rather than static, properties (just as human life and behavior are all about dynamic properties). This is particularly difficult to grok for business school graduates trained in counting beans (I really do not know your educational background, honest!); and my own humble opinion is that those educated in both history and literature have better understanding of such dynamics than those with more technical specializations.

    What does this mean for the future of reporting the news? Well, according to Neustadt and May, two first-rate historians who have studied presidential decision-making in times of crisis, there are two are key questions you ask about the dynamic properties surrounding any situation (particularly a bad one):

    1. How did we get into this mess?

    2. If we respond by taking action A, what will the consequences be?

    There is a lot of good journalistic talent out there for dealing with the first question (for reasons I shall not detail here). However, the second question belongs on the turf of the policy makers. Still, if you want public support for a policy, informing the public of how the context of the present emerged from events of the past increases public awareness of both the need for action and the paths to consequences. This is the sort of “public trust” that newspapers once held; and perhaps that trust can be recovered as more and more journalistic activity takes place in the digital domain.

  • http://www.loupaglia.com/correlate Lou Paglia

    Very well-thought points. I’ve never read Attention Economy but it does lead us towards a set of conversations currently taking place at the moment. First, the aspect of viewer-ship or “eyes on the internet” is clearly shifting towards eyeballs and page views towards other elements such as time-on-site and transactions. This is evidenced by the strategy shift just taken by Nielson. Secondly, the emergence of attention, APML, etc has been a growing point of discussion. I wrote a post on the topic in June.

    As for education, I’m not sure I would disagree with your point about literature and history backgrounds are more aligned with this sort of thinking, at least from my own experience. While I have an MBA, I do not consider myself a bean-counter and able to shift into this angle of qualitative thinking.

    And finally, I do think we have already seen the shift to a lot of journalistic coverage in the digital domain. The question remains how much of the journalistic coverage will be on the continued growth of the digital age and for that matter, will there be less of “real life” to cover as digitalization continues to take over (or perhaps my currently reading Snow Crash has me currently thinking along these angles).

  • http://www.loupaglia.com/correlate Lou Paglia

    Very well-thought points. I’ve never read Attention Economy but it does lead us towards a set of conversations currently taking place at the moment. First, the aspect of viewer-ship or “eyes on the internet” is clearly shifting towards eyeballs and page views towards other elements such as time-on-site and transactions. This is evidenced by the strategy shift just taken by Nielson. Secondly, the emergence of attention, APML, etc has been a growing point of discussion. I wrote a post on the topic in June.

    As for education, I’m not sure I would disagree with your point about literature and history backgrounds are more aligned with this sort of thinking, at least from my own experience. While I have an MBA, I do not consider myself a bean-counter and able to shift into this angle of qualitative thinking.

    And finally, I do think we have already seen the shift to a lot of journalistic coverage in the digital domain. The question remains how much of the journalistic coverage will be on the continued growth of the digital age and for that matter, will there be less of “real life” to cover as digitalization continues to take over (or perhaps my currently reading Snow Crash has me currently thinking along these angles).