Thursday, April 26, 2007

My New Media Entrepreneurship class

So I'm in a class charged with launching a Web site in 7 weeks, serving the Stanford community. Most of our proposals were versions of Web sites that could host a central multimedia story, surrounded by an excellent calendar for this very decentralized campus (including where to graze for free food at conferences, seminars, and other academic sessions), blogs, and a portal into local student films that don't get wide venues, an overlooked but very contemporary niche.

The class took an odd twist, though. In our second meeting, the journalism grad students started calling instead for a marketing site for the journalism program that would ensure them a job. Not just any job, but a call from the Washington Post, wishing to hire them all. The concept of serving an audience went out the window.

I can see that an excellent site really serving readers could turn editors' heads. But a site with no readers filled with new media gadgetry? You lost me there.

The class seems to have stalled out. Or maybe this is just the way you work through entrepreneurship. I will say that students seem constrained. Our class blog is much less active than in winter quarter, and in my own work pod, kids are scratching their heads. In this group, the idea surfaced to narrow the audience to just grad students, since they feel more distant and disconnected from the campus, even though their population is fully half the student body (6,000 undergrads, 6,0000 grads,more or less)

We are reading "The Long Tail" (and serving just the grad students strikes me as following the long tail theory -- go for a smaller niche, forget about being all things to all audiences; pick an audience and s-a-t-i-s-f-y them as deeply as you can. Our other text is Guy Kawasaki (think Silicon Valley major success, venture capitalist etc etc)--his book is "The Art of the Start."

Now here was an odd harmonic convergence between entrepreneurship and good old-fashioned long-form storytelling:

I am sure many saw Gene Weingarten's "Pearls Before Breakfast" long form feature with video added? Did I say this story is l-o-n-g, and rich in philosophical and literary threads. It tells of Gene Weingarten's plot to post a truly world-class violinist, Josh Bell, in a D.C. transit station busking during rush hour. Would he stop crowds, or would people rush by without even noticing him?

Some in the class commented that no one would read anything that long; some said they surprised themselves by being drawn all the way through.

Now leap forward (or back to) entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki. The story caught him so much that it made his personal blog, How to Change the World, including an invite to readers to vote on whether they thought commuters noticed or didn't. Kawasaki got almost 1,000 people to vote (93 percent said no one would stop....)

He also quipped that he had happy visions of Steve Jobs selling iPods in South Dakota .

But then he got serious, and said this:
"The lessons that I gleaned from this story are:

Don’t let the absence of trappings and popularity make you believe something is bad.

Don’t let the presence of trappings and popularity make you believe something is good.

Don’t pass by life much less let life pass you by.
He never mentioned the length of Weingarten's piece. That's the power of story.