Friday, December 11, 2009

Video: My New Job as Master of the Borg

I always found one of the hardest kinds of interviews was of someone on the eve of starting a new job. Mostly they don't know anything, and what they do know they don't want to say before they get to spend time with their new coworkers.

Peter Kafka of AllThingsD's MediaMemo did his best to get me to say something interesting in a video chat at a coffee house in Chelsea Market Thursday. He mainly wanted to talk about "robot editors," which is how some have interpreted what Tim Armstrong, AOL's CEO, described in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal.

AOL may have an army of robot editors ready to unleash on the world, but no one mentioned it to me when I was interviewing for my new job. (I don't start work until Tuesday.) We did talk about using data from AOL's search service and its other windows on the pulse of the Internet to find out what people are curious about.

Some people worry that this might lead to what Gawker artfully termed "slapdash, disposable content churned out en masse." I'm not worried. One thing that all journalists hope to do is tell people what they want to know. Most of us also want to tell people things they didn't know they wanted to know but nonetheless find interesting. AOL, including Seed, will do lots of both.

The thing that most excites me about AOL is that it isn't devoted to one method of producing content. It has full-time journalists, wire service and syndicated content, bloggers, freelancers, input from the entire Web community, and all kinds of automated ways to find interesting stuff. Our challenge is to create right blend of information from all these sources for each page that will be the most interesting, accurate and engaging for readers and to do it at a cost that can be sustained by the revenue available to Internet media.

How do we do that? I don't know, and if I did I couldn't say. I do know that Seed is an important component because it can bring human intelligence into the mix at vast scale.

Here is the six minute video of my chat with Peter in which I try to vamp around my ignorance.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Official Announcement: I'm going to AOL

I'll have more to say on this soon. Check back here. In the mean time, I'll let the official announcement give the who-what-where.


AOL has hired another prominent journalist to join AOL's full time editorial staff.

Saul Hansell, formerly of The New York Times, will be join us as Programming Director of AOL's, AOL's first employee for the recently announced content management platform, expected to launch this month. Saul will be reporting to Mike Rich, senior vice president of AOL entertainment, and will be responsible for leveraging Seed across all of AOL's platforms.

Saul joined The New York Times in 1992 and most recently was covering the telecommunications beat, including wired and wireless communication of voice, data and video, including companies involved in telephone, Internet backbone, cable TV, Internet video, cellphone handsets, and other devices connected to networks, as well as communications policy and privacy. Launched in 2007, he was the founding editor of Bits, a blog on covering a wide range of technology topics with particular interest in Internet media, digital marketing, consumer electronics and the evolving business models for music and video.

Bits was named best blog among larger publications in the 2007 Best in Business awards by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. His September 1989 story on computerized trading, ``The Wild, Wired World of Electronic Exchanges,’‘ won the Overseas Press Club's Morton Frank award for best magazine business reporting from abroad. He has also received awards from the Deadline Club of New York and the American Society of Business Press Editors. Saul received his Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies/Economics from Columbia College in 1984.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bigger Than Bits

As some readers of the Times may have noticed, I’ve got a new role. I’m now covering telecommunications, both for the Bits blog and for what we refer to as “the paper,” which really means longer articles both in print and online.

The immediate reason behind the switch was simple and common enough: The Times needed a body, and I was there. Matt Richtel, who has been covering telecom (with Jenna Worthham who continues to do so), is now working on some special projects. So someone needed to write about telephone, cable and related companies.

When Damon Darlin, the technology editor, asked if I was interested in filling in for Matt, I leaped at the chance. That was a change for me. A few years ago, I had turned down an offer of the telecom beat. I thought that the companies were too big and slow. I had already spend enough of my life covering banks.

But over the past two years editing Bits, I have come to become very interested in so many issues related to communications networks and the devices that connect to them.  Apple’s iPhone and everything spawned has been the single most frequent topic on Bits.  I also wrote about last year’s auction of the radio spectrum now abandoned by analog television, giving me an introduction to covering the Federal Communications Commission. And earlier this year, I got fed up with people hearing about how broadband was faster and cheaper in other countries, and I wrote a series of posts explaining what is and isn’t different about the United States.

I’m defining the telecommunications beat as business that moves information from here to there, whether by wires or radio waves. That includes cable and satellite TV companies, many of which increasingly resemble phone companies.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

All Saul, All the Time

Like lots of people, I express myself in lots of places online--Twitter, this blog, and the various formats on To make give my loyal fans (both of you), a way to keep up with my every peep, I've created the All Saul Feed. You can see my tweets, posts and contributions to the Bits "What We're Reading" feature, on this page. You can subscribe to the All Saul Feed with an RSS reader here. You can ignore my various rants everywhere else.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Widgets at the Times

Times Widgets is a new feature that lets several feeds from Times content be displayed. It looks much like the Most E-mailed list we have on the site. Here is a widget I made of our tech coverage.