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Minecraft offers a virtual way for Berkeley kids to be with their deported friend

To save their classmate who was deported to Mexico, the fourth-graders devised an epic plan.
That Rodrigo Guzman, 10, could no longer be with his friends and attend Jefferson Elementary seemed so obviously unfair to these students. So they started an online petition that got 2,788 signatures. They created a Facebook page and posted videos to YouTube.

They petitioned the Berkeley City Council and school district, which passed resolutions supporting their cause. They met with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) to ask whether she could intervene.

“We have to fight for Rodrigo’s rights because he is not able to do it himself!” Kyle Kuwahara said in a letter to President Obama. “Today I’m writing to you on Rosa Parks’ 100th birthday to do the right thing. To allow Rodrigo and his family to return to their home, school and friends in Berkeley.”

Even as the children’s “Bring Rodrigo Home” campaign built momentum, it became clear that things would not move fast. The immigration system is complicated, the students were told. There were too many agencies and politicians with rules that didn’t seem to share their urgency.

Worried that they’d lose touch with Rodrigo and that he’d lose hope, Kyle and his twin brother, Scott, turned to Minecraft, a video game where they’d forged their greatest bonds with each other.

With the ability to create virtual worlds in Minecraft, one of the unlikeliest video game hits in recent years, these students could create a haven for themselves and Rodrigo.

Read the rest of the story here.

Steve Jobs leaves a legacy of ‘delight’ in Silicon Valley

Ask Joshua Reeves about his online payroll service, and the last thing he’ll want to discuss are its features and algorithms and software code and all that other cold jargon that usually comes pouring out of the mouths of Silicon Valley engineers.

No, what Reeves really cares about is what he hopes you will feel when you use ZenPayroll Inc.:


“That’s the effect we’re trying to achieve,” said Reeves, whose company has applied to trademark “delightful payroll.” “We talk about how to create that ‘aha moment,’ that feeling the first time you use it where you just stop and say, ‘This is amazing. Why weren’t you here 10 years ago?'”

Yes, delight. A squishy, subjective, hard-to-pin-down term. So daringly unquantifiable, so proudly immeasurable. And now, suddenly, all the rage in data-driven Silicon Valley.

Like so many other things in Silicon Valley, the word is a legacy of Steve Jobs, the Apple Inc. co-founder who often spoke of wanting to “surprise and delight” people.

Read the rest of the story here.

News Ecosystem Demands Collaboration, Not Us vs. Them Mentality

One of the great tragedies that I see in the current debate about the future of journalism is the way the discussion continues to be framed around a series of binary choices. Newspapers or blogs. Print or online. Journalists or algorithms.

In each case, there seems to be a simple-minded belief that the future will inevitably be one or the other. I consider this tragic because the result is a lot of dead-end debates that devolve into spitball fights about whether one will replace the other. My belief is that the better conversation is about how these things should complement each other and extend and enrich our journalism. That is the great opportunity of this moment.

False Trade-Offs

I got to thinking about these false trade-offs last weekend when I saw the The New York Times headline: Study Measures the Chatter of the News Cycle. The piece, by reporter Steve Lohr, discusses a recent study released by Cornell researchers called Meme-tracking and the Dynamics of the News Cycle. The three researchers built an algorithm to track the way news moves across the web to better understand the dynamics of the evolving news cycle.

Now, I’m not qualified to assess the way they designed the algorithm. But what caught my attention was the decision to essentially place all sites into two categories: mainstream news or blogs. While the study has some interesting findings, this construction strikes me as perpetuating that binary choice. Us vs. Them. The Future vs. The Past. Choose A or B.

What I’ve been arguing through my Knight Foundation project, and others have also, is that news is now an ecosystem. And going forward, news organizations of all shapes and sizes, from the blogger at Starbucks on up to whatever remains of the major metro newsroom, need to focus on how they fit into the ecosystem. And more importantly, how and when they collaborate with the other parts. Continuing to make artificial distinctions short-circuits that thinking. It emphasizes divisions and competition, rather than collaboration.

The paper, co-authored by Jure Leskovec, Lars Backstron and Jon Kleinberg, does make a nod to this notion when they write:

“For example, one could imagine the news cycle as a kind of species interaction within an ecosystem…”

Yes, one could indeed imagine such a thing. But the false construction of the study (mainstream media or blogs) essentially ignores it.

There are any number of holes that could be punched in the study. And Scott Rosenberg does a nice job of mapping out many of those red flags here.

Blurring of the Lines

But on a fundamental level, it’s still the “blogs or mainstream news” construction that bothers me. Most problematic, of course is simply tackling the problem of which site goes in which bucket. The lines were never really all that clear to begin with. But they’re become increasingly blurred in an era where newspapers such as the New York Times and Los Angeles Times run enormous blogging networks.

In this fast-changing era, identity and labels are hard to sort out. Just to use myself as one example, I’ve been a professional journalist for 17 years now. Currently, I write a column twice each week for the San Jose Mercury News. But beyond that, I’ve been blogging about my family here for three years; blogging about my Knight research here; blogging at Idea Lab for two years; and, oh yes, blogging for my employer here. On any given week, I produce more words for blogs than the newspaper. So what am I?

Answer: It doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that I’m constantly trying to see how all those different pieces fit together and complement each other. I see blogs not as competition, but vital parts that help expand the conversation around news and information. I worry less about who is winning the battle of breaking news first, whether it’s mainstream sources, blogs, or Twitter.

Seeing these other pieces as competition leads down the poisonous road where people complain about bloggers stealing content. Or, it takes you down the equally poisonous path where people argue that blogs (or now Twitter) have rendered the mainstream newsroom obsolete.

I don’t want to choose option A or B. I want “All of the Above.” That is the mindset we must choose to fully realize the enormous potential of this digital era of journalism.

What Are The New Obligations Of Readers?

A few weeks ago, I was reading an interesting story about the state of the Columbia Journalism School that appeared on the New York Magazine website. In short, the story tried to examine concerns about how well Columbia was making the transition to the digital journalism era.

After reading the story, I dutifully tweeted a link to it to those following me through my Next Newsroom account:

Columbia J-School struggles to adapt to the digital age: “F— new media,” says one prof.

A short time later, I received this reply from ajsundby:

@nextnewsroom That @nymag post has many reporting holes in it. If you bothered to look at the comments, you’d know that. You’ve had a week.

That phrase gnawed at me for quite awhile: “bothered to look at the comments.” I believe that at the time I tweeted the link, there were several dozen comments. When I checked today, it was up to 71.

But am I really obliged to read the comments? Says who?

Of course not. The story was long enough on its own. And I didn’t feel compelled to wade through the ensuing conversation.

But clearly a conversation had emerged around it, challenging some of the facts and assumptions. And in that case, if I didn’t read the comments, did I in fact actually read the story? Is the “story” now the original article plus the comments? And if I didn’t consume the whole enchilada, should I refrain from recommending it, tweeting it, posting it on Facebook?

No Hard and Fast Rules

I don’t think there can be any hard and fast rules on this. But since commenting on articles continues to cause such heated discussions, I have a few thoughts on this from the perspective of a reader.

First, I just don’t want the pressure of feeling like I’m required to read all the comments. It’s just not realistic. I don’t have the time, except in the rare cases when I’m feeling particularly passionate about a topic and I want to really dive in.

Second, I recognize that comments are important. But if you really want to overcome my reluctance to engage, then consider this yet another in a long line of pleas to improve commenting systems. Ideally, reporters or someone at the news organization would identify the best comments and highlight them by incorporating them into updates to the original article.

In the case of the New York Magazine article, at some point someone added an editor’s note acknowledging some of the feedback in the comments. (Though I wouldn’t have seen the note if I hadn’t gone back to re-read the story to write this post.)

I’m sympathetic that this might not always be possible given time and resources. So, third, embrace a commenting system that allows readers to help rate and boost the best, most insightful dialogue. The folks at have a pretty good system. Not perfect, but helpful when there are hundreds of comments on a story. I can click on the “recommended” tab and get the ones that garnered the most votes.

You might do all this. And I still might ignore the comments. And when I do, I’m going to try not to feel guilty.

O’Brien: Bartz unveils new &*%! strategy for Yahoo

Our columnist imagines how everyone’s favorite potty-mouth CEO, Yahoo’s Carol Bartz, might take her habit of dropping the f-word in public to the next level: by making it the centerpiece of her turnaround strategy for Yahoo. Let’s listen in on what the staff meeting might sound like when she announces this bold new strategy…

Bartz: I’d like to take a moment and thank you for dragging your (expletive) down here for this meeting. Please take your seats and shut the (expletive) up. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover today.

(Bartz is pacing animatedly in front of employees.) No doubt many of you followed the big announcements from Microsoft and Google last week. Did anyone here even have a (expletive) clue that Bing or Google Wave was in the works? Holy (expletive)!

Just when we’re finally getting our (expletive) together, our two biggest competitors go and change everything on us. Ballmer’s such a (expletive). What (expletive) even came up with the name Bing? Congratulations on coming up with the worst name for a search engine ever. C’mon. And the press? They see one demo and they’re slobbering all over it. Please.

And then Google Wave?!? I mean, I just about (expletive) in my pants. First of all, what the hell is it? These guys throw up a (expletive) YouTube video about some product that may come out someday, and once again, reporters and bloggers (expletive) all over themselves writing about how (expletive) amazing this thing is.

Meanwhile, we announce some great new products and what kind of coverage do we get? Zip.

We’re not going to take this (expletive) any more.

Starting today, we fight back. We’re going to announce a major new marketing campaign that won’t let anyone ignore Yahoo any more.

For those of you who don’t have your heads up your (expletive), you may have noticed that I’ve personally been beta testing this thing. First with those analysts, and then with that (expletive) Wall Street Journal reporter Kara Swisher I dropped the f-bomb.

The results were clear. Those (expletives) in the press won’t write about all the great (expletives) we’re doing at Yahoo, but one foul-mouthed remark from me, and we’re back in the headlines.

So we’re re-branding the company around excessive use of profanity. Our new marketing slogan will be, “Yahoo, (expletive) yeah!”

I expect every single Yahoo employee to maximize their use of profanity, both in the workplace and in external meetings with customers and partners.

As part of this campaign, we’ve registered (expletive) and (expletive) Users will be invited to submit their favorite reasons those two companies suck. We’ll unveil a suite of Web 2.0 tools to invite the community to help us discover innovative uses of profanity.

As part of our efforts to roll this out across the company, your managers will be distributing a lexicon of dirty words that we expect every employee to read and utilize. We’ll be offering bonuses for most creative use of profanity. And each Friday, we’ll award the Purple and Gold Bar of Soap to the most foul-mouthed Yahoo out there.

I hope you’re as excited as I am about this new program. And if you’re not, well, go (expletive) yourself.

Contact Chris O’Brien at 415-298-0207 or

Help for news organizations that collaborate with communities

Publish2 asks: How can newsrooms do a better job collaborating with their communities to produce higher quality journalism and conversations?

Here’s a new post from regular guest Chris O’Brien, who interviewed Publish2’s Scott Karp about the start-ups new “Digital Sunlight” tools for journalists

By Chris O’Brien

Since launching last year, news start-up Publish2 has been trying to be a catalyst for getting more journalists to embrace the practice of linking to other peoples’ content. That’s a big enough challenge, especially since, as we’ve seen recently, “aggregator” remains a dirty word in some corners of the newsroom.

But even as Publish2 has been making progress in selling the value of link journalism,  co-founder Scott Karp said the company is about to tackle another fundamental problem: How can newsrooms do a better job collaborating with their communities to produce higher quality journalism and conversations?

In February, Publish2 announced that it’s trying to solve this puzzle by developing a new set of tools called “Digital Sunlight.”

“We’re taking Publish2 beyond links, and into what we call ‘collaborative journalism,’” Karp said. “We wanted to continue to expand our usefulness to journalists in the editorial realm to do things that help produce more reporting.”

To understand how that might work, let’s first look at what Publish2 does today. I first met Karp about a year ago and have chatted with him several times since as the Publish2 platform has developed. And I’ve been using it for several months to power a “Recommended” section at The Next Newsroom Project site.

The first thing to note is that Publish2 is designed specifically to serve journalists, one of several things that sets it apart from Yahoo’s social bookmarking service. That will obviously be expanding, to include non-newsroom contributors when Digital Sunlight rolls out.

Today, a journalist signs up for a free account. When they’re reading a story on the Web that they want to share, they can paste the link into their Publish2 account and add as much or as little information as they want. I’ve added a Publish2 button to my Firefox Browser which makes this process even faster. It also gives you the options of sending the link out via Twitter.

As you build lists of links, you have several options as to how to use them. You can embed a Publish2 widget on your Web site or blog. Or you can select a few links and export them as a blog post. This is where I have come to really appreciate Publish2, because it offers me more control over creating the headline for the link-post, where Delicious just creates a generic header that says “Links” and the date, something not very SEO friendly.

The other main feature Publish2 offers is the ability to follow other journalists in the Publish2 network, and create groups around various topics or publications, and invite other journalists to contribute. So journalists help other journalists build lists of links.

Here’s what I like about Publish2, and aggregation in general.

Even with all the search and social tools for finding news and information, the Web still presents a fundamental challenge to consumers that hasn’t been completely solved: How do I find the best stuff? Aggregating and curating links is an opportunity for newsrooms to help their community solve that problem and serve them in a different way.

Next, local news organizations should be trying to become the main source of news and information online about their communities. So pulling together all the best links about your area can only help build that reputation as the go-to place for local information.

Here’s the other important piece. The Publish2 model recognizes that most journalists are already operating at full capacity. The last thing most people in a newsroom want to hear is that there’s some other new thing for them to work into their daily routines. But journalists are reading stuff all day online, so with basically one click they can share the best stuff and create new value without a lot of extra heavy lifting.

For one example of this in action, check out the Chicago Tribune’s Col. Tribune Recommends box on the right of their breaking news blog.

The Digital Sunlight tools will build on this collaborative linking model.

Karp said the idea grew out of an e-mail exchange he had with Howard Weaver, who is an advisor to Publish2. They were discussing how the stimulus bill would be one of the largest “follow the money” stories for investigative journalists. But was there some way to turn this into a widespread collaborative journalism projects? The money will be flowing into thousands of communities, far too many for just newsrooms to track.

The general lament is that newsrooms are shrinking and there will be less journalism. But there’s still a feeling that we want to do it all ourselves. Those things are going to going to collide here,” Karp said.

At the same time, newsrooms have struggled to really develop models that have produced meaningful contributions from communities on a regular basis. Digital Sunlight will be designed to allow newsrooms to create a structured way to work with members of the community to gather news and information that would be then be open and shared.

“There’s a really small number of people who are motivated to do the work outside the newsroom,” Karp said. “But what a larger number of people may be able to do is contribute information. Think of it as a tip line. What if we could get information flowing in that the newsrooms wanted to report on, in a highly structured way?”

Publish2 is currently building a Web form that newsrooms can customize to fit different topics. The form would be attached to various stories or topic pages in the same way comments and forums are now. The form would lay out different questions or categories of information that newsroom is seeking. Those forms would then feed into a database journalists could then access, verify information, and build it into stories.

The database wouldn’t be published, but rather it would become a set of information and leads for people in the newsroom to verify, or to guide their reporting. Ideally, that database will also be shared across newsrooms. Karp acknowledges that this will be a “radical idea.”

Karp hopes that this will improve reporting, but also the conversations happening on news sites. “There’s the endless debate about the value of comments on the story,” Karp said. “The problem is whether you ask the wrong questions. Rather than asking people to just sound off, let’s try asking, ‘What do you know?’”

As for timing, the Publish2 team is still developing the tools. Karp’s blog post announcing the project said, “…we are baking as fast as we can and will have an update shortly.”

Another work in progress is Publish2’s business model. The company raised $2.75 million in venture capital in March 2008. And Karp said they still have plenty of “runway” with that money.

Dwindling public companies means big changes in the valley

Tucked into the annual Mercury News data-palooza known as the Silicon Valley 150, there’s one nugget of information that I think tells us more than all the other lists and numbers about the profound changes in store for this region:

The number of public companies in Silicon Valley fell for the eighth consecutive year in 2008, to 261. Forget the inflated dot-com peak of 417 in 2000. It’s also below the 315 the valley had in 1994, when the Mercury News started keeping track.

This is no longer a simple correction following a period of excess. This is now an unmistakable trend that represents the end of an era defined by a grand partnership between Silicon Valley and Wall Street. That alliance fueled a model for funding innovation that became the envy of the world. And now we have to come up with a new one.

“This is not just a change in the weather,” said Tim Walker, an editor at Hoover’s, an Austin-based business research firm that’s been tracking this trend, “this is a change in the landscape.”

The impact of this evolution will be felt by those who work in the tech sector. This means big consolidation in the number of venture capital firms followed by changes in how entrepreneurs raise money, how they get rewarded for innovation.

But it will also ripple out to those of us who don’t work in tech but have felt in recent years the impact of higher costs of living and housing prices driven by the IPO and stock-option riches that are unevenly distributed by the innovation economy.

Why is this happening? There are several factors at work. The technology industry is maturing, much as Oracle CEO Larry Ellison foresaw several years ago, and that means slower growth rates. To find new sources of revenue, Oracle and many others have gone on acquisition binges, taking numerous public companies off the market. (Remember Siebel? BEA?)

Other companies that never should have gone public in the first place have simply vanished into bankruptcy, buyouts or been bumped off public stock markets. To a degree, this weeding out process is normal, it’s just happening at a greater pace than in previous eras.

Even more important, though, is that the initial public offering never really staged a comeback, which means that not enough companies were going public to offset the demise of others.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Taking a company public should be the exception, not the rule. Of course, there are plenty of folks in the valley complaining that government regulations, particularly the Sarbanes-Oxley law on corporate governance reforms enacted after the Enron debacle, have killed the IPO. I disagree, but that’s another column.

The economy is likely to keep a lid on IPOs across the country for at least a couple of years. But based on what we saw the last eight years, even when the economy recovers there won’t be a rush to Wall Street by startup valley companies.

From 2001 to 2008, there have been 90 IPOs in the valley, an average of 11 annually and the last one was more than a year ago. Compare that with 331 IPOs in the years from 1990 to 1998, an average of 41 annually. The two years in between were so insane producing 163 IPOs that it’s no use considering them for sake of comparisons.

Lots of folks had hoped the Google IPO in 2004 would open the floodgates. It didn’t. Now there is hope a Facebook IPO will do the same. It won’t. I think Facebook will one day have a spectacular offering, but its runaway success makes it exceptional. Investors are unlikely to demand IPOs of Facebook’s Web 2.0 brethren, which for the most part have proved to be business duds.

The impact of this new dynamic will ripple across the valley’s innovation ecosystem, although it will hit different industries in a variety of ways.

Sectors that need a lot of capital like biotechnology and green technology may have a better shot at squeaking into the public markets, but failing to get the money they need will force them to hope for acquisitions by deep-pocketed suitors.

Then there’s the venture capital industry. The proliferation of VC firms over the past decade simply won’t be sustainable. The dearth of IPOs, coupled with a slumping mergers and acquisitions market, means they won’t be making the returns they used to. Expect a shakeout.

That creates a kind of double whammy for entrepreneurs. Not only will there be less equity from venture funds. But fewer IPOs also means fewer IPO riches, a cycle that has been turning entrepreneurs into angel investors who support startups. Fewer newly minted angels and less VC money. That’s quite a pinch.

Employees at big and small companies will have to reassess their risk-reward balance. Will it be harder to jump from that big company, with cushy benefits and a gym, to a smaller company that may have little chance of going public? And will those at small firms eye bigger outfits for security once their hopes for stock-option riches are dashed?

It may be tempting for those of us on the outside to shrug at this dilemma. Certainly there could be a silver lining if fewer IPO millionaires helps the cost of living around here moderate a bit. But ultimately, the health of this region depends on a vital innovation economy.

But does this means we’re, well, doomed? Not necessarily.

As Walker noted, the valley found ways to fund innovation before the IPO era. Hewlett and Packard started a company in a garage with a few hundred dollars during the Great Depression. It may be that this region returns to that kind of bootstrapping model.

It may also be the region depends on big companies like Cisco Systems and Intel and Oracle and HP to essentially fund startups as sort of research and development arms, buying the best ones. To a degree, that’s how the biotech model works.

But there is also a risk that this will inhibit the startup culture. If that happens, then Silicon Valley could become a place increasingly dominated by just a handful of giants. In that scenario, the tech industry begins to look and act too much like the auto industry, defending turf rather than innovating.

So reinventing the innovation funding model is absolutely vital to the health of the valley’s economy (and, I would argue, the welfare of its residents). If we can solve that, Silicon Valley will still be Silicon Valley.

If not, then we become the next Detroit.

Contact Chris O’Brien at 415-298-0207 or

From blog to print

Chris O’Brien: While mass newspapers struggle, entrepreneurs are developing new forms for print news print news

Discussion of the future of print news focuses on the difficulties that established print news organizations are experiencing. But an either-or framing—print is dead or print will live—often misses small experiments with print media that are worth noting. So I asked Chris O’Brien, business columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, for an update working efforts to find a place for print in a digital world.

By Chris O’Brien

For all the talk about whether newspapers should kill the print edition, there are plenty of entrepreneurs headed in the opposite direction. They come from digital backgrounds, but believe as passionately in the future of print as the most ink-stained wretch running a newsroom these days.

Count Josh Karp in this counter intuitive crowd.

“Our thing is the printed word,” Karp said. “There is tremendous power in the printed word. I’m a big believer in the physical commodity.”

The Chicago-based entrepreneur has catapulted from obscurity to buzz worthy shortly after word leaked earlier this year of his plans to launch The Printed Blog. As the name implies, Karp says the company will pull together content from various blogs and Web sites and publish it onto good old-fashioned dead tree products. At first blush, the effort seems to mirror a number of other Web-to-print models (some of which are listed below).

But Karp’s plan is different, complex, and ambitious. He’s attempting not only to reinvent the workflow of a traditional newspaper, but also the manufacturing and distribution components.

I’d been eager to meet Karp, because I count myself among those who believe that print has its place in the future newsroom. Print needs to be reinvented. And it should take its place as just one of many equals in a multi-platform newsroom. But calls for killing the print version are misguided. It’s bad for business, and it’s bad for the thousands of people in each community who still prefer to get their news and information in print.

That said, I think printed news is ripe for innovation. And Karp thinks so, too.

I met Karp and his team on a sunny morning at the famed Buck’s Diner in Woodside, a legendary spot where entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in Silicon Valley have been coming to strike deals for decades. Karp had flown in for a week from Chicago to meet with a series of angel investors and venture capitalists. Karp says he’s got some tentative agreements, but won’t say with who or how much until any deal is signed.

Karp is here with two members of his team: Jenn Beese, the social media manager, and Michelle Doellman, assistant publisher. They’re part of a dozen or so folks currently working on the project, which has been self-funded to this point by Karp. For the most part, all these folks are donating their time, and Karp is hoping that any initial funding will allow him to start paying some salaries.

One of my first surprises came when Karp eagerly handed me some copies of The Printed Blog. These are not slapped-together print-outs from someone’s home printer. They were printed on high-quality, glossy, magazine style paper. It looks and feels slick and professional, thanks to the work of some design interns.

For now, these prototypes are being printed once a week, mostly for demonstration purposes, and being distributed in just a handful of cities. The team keeps a Google Reader full of blogs submitted by writers how have agreed to have their content re-printed. An editorial team reads them and selects the best, solicits photos, lays out the pages, publishes it, and then hands it out in various locations

His goal is print 2,000 versions of The Printed Blog. Every day.

How is he going to achieve that scale?

“It’s about creating a platform for a new, newspaper production,” Karp said.

To understand how Karp hopes to get there, let’s break it down into three pieces:

1. Content: Anyone can submit content from a Web site or blog. The editorial team will give way to an online system to allow a community to vote or rank the content. The top-ranked content will be pulled into an automated layout and production system.

2. Advertising: Local businesses and services will be able to buy ads that will be paired with related content by content and location and the printed versions aimed at their communities. Karp says he has fewer qualms about pairing a printed ad to a story based on content than a traditional newspaper might. Creators of content will get a percentage of the revenue generated by any ads that run on the same page as their work.

3. Production and Distribution: Karp’s plan is to create a chain of Printed Blog production franchises. In this case, the franchise owner would be both the new printing press and the new newspaper delivery boy. A Printed Blog franchisee could be just someone working out of their home, or in an office. They would be provided with the printer and paper. Karp is convinced that he can get both at reasonable prices in bulk over the long-term to make the plan cost effective. The franchisee would get to keep some percentage of the revenue generated by ads that run in their edition.

Once in place, a franchisee would be responsible each day for printing the content that is promoted by the community. The franchisee would then distribute it by taking it to various public places around town.

This franchise part seems to be the trickiest, and the key to making this work. The more franchisees sign up, the more targeted the content can be and the more likely bloggers might see some money.

Pulling all of this off will be the biggest professional challenge yet for Karp.

Over the years, Karp has held various programming and consulting jobs. More recently, he started his own company, Free Rain Systems, which built software to help companies manage their logistics. About two years ago, he sold it for a modest sum. The experience left him wanting more, and he began kicking around various ideas.

He thought about The Printed Blog a year ago, but friends gave it a thumbs down. By November, though, he couldn’t get it out of his head. So he committed some of his own money, and began fleshing out the concept and technology. Just a few weeks later, word of the project hit the Web, and Karp found himself being interviewed by such outfits as the New York Times, though he had no product to show yet.

So what exactly did Karp see as the opportunity?

“I’d thought a lot about business models,” Karp said. “Were there principals I could take from the online world and bring them to the newspaper world?”

In this case, he wondered if print could be produced real-time, and be made into a rich, interactive experience.

Who knows whether this will work? But I do like the underlying philosophy of providing some choice to the community. Digital technologies are just beginning to deliver on the promise of mass customization. You can see glimpses of it in start-ups like The Printed Blog.

As for the newspaper industry, it’s way past time to deliver what print readers have been saying they have wanted for years. They want choice in how they receive the newspaper. They want customization, even personalization. Right now, most papers are still stuck delivering one product, at one time, in one form. That product doesn’t fit into the lives of most people anymore.

Whether The Printed Blog proves to be the right model for solving this, time will tell. But hopefully it will begin to open up the possibilities and change the tone of discussion around print from “kill” to “rethink.”

Here are a few of other in intriguing Web-to-print efforts that will be worth following over the next few months:

DailyMe: This Hollywood, Fl.-based start-up aggregates content from across the Web based on your interests and can be set to automatically print your personalized news choices to your printer any time of day.

Printcasting: This is the “people-powered magazines” initiative at the Bakersfield Californian that was funded by a News Challenge Grant from the Knight Foundation. The team just recently launched Printcasting this month.

Time Magazine: According to a recent AP story: “Time Inc. is experimenting with a customized magazine that combines reader-selected sections from eight publications as it tries to mimic in printed form the personalized news feeds that have become popular on the Internet.

I-News: Under development by MediaNews (disclosure: I work as a columnist at the San Jose Mercury News, whose parent company is MediaNews), the company is about to trial the Individuated Newspaper. According to

“The “I-News” project will be a targeted and customized online newspaper that allows the reader to select the types of news they want delivered…I-News will be delivered to subscribers via their computers, cell phones, or a special stand-alone printer plugged into a phone line. The printing manufacturer and the publisher participating in the (MediaNews) experiment may subsidize ink and paper prices to offset users’ costs.”

Offbeat Guides: This San Francisco-based start-up allows you to create personalized travel guides. Go through the site to select the place and time you’ll be visiting, and it will create a customized, bound travel guide that contains the general information about a destination but also specific information about things happenings on the days and times you’re visiting.