June 17, 2013
Warning: liveblogging. Prone to error, inaccuracy and howling typos. Some of them will be mine, some of them auto-correct's. But don't say you weren't warned...
Libby Powell became a hack through entering a Guardian competition and writing an article about the overseas development work she was doing. She became a freelancer, but after a year began to feel like a bit of a fraud, writing about things she had no experience of. During a trip to Sierra Leone, she became aware of how much people's inability to tell the story of what they'd suffered was damaging to them. Everyone had phones, and was recording this stuff - but it wasn't getting published because it wasn't sexy enough for the mainstream media.
The media is powerful. You're telling people everything about people they've never met. Get it wrong, and you can do so much damage. People from the margins can improve quality and accountability more than those in the centre.
People kept telling her she was joining a sinking ship: journalism. She didn't feel that - to her it was a rising body, but one that was shedding some old skin. Media is still an elite, production of media is elite. 2/3s of the world's population is not yet online. As we switch to online, we shed those. That matters if you care about freedom, truth and exposure.
Rivers used to be the medium of communication and trade. Africa suffered because it lacked navigable rivers - and then road, and now connectivity. Those who are the last to connect, will be the last to tell their stories, or trade their goods. The most vulnerable are the ones least able to tell their stories.
Give people in the margins a digital voice
So, she formed radar. They'd use their currency as journalists to train the next generation to tell their own stories. They'd give people access to digital channels, via mobile to digital technology. They'd give people access to decision making, both editorial and political. Anyone who thinks that the whole world will be connected by 2020 is out of their mind. Social exclusion will control access to connectivity. Women will be prevented from accessing technology by social factors. People with disabilities are in the margins of society. So, they identify the people in the margins. They don't set up local offices, but find the people they trust - and approach them.
They started training using recycled NCTJ material. They started micro - with stories told by SMS. How can you teach people how to tell stories in 140 characters? It's easier to teach non-journalists that than people who have been trained to write lots of words. They teach the five "w"s. It centres people in a crisis. They are not technology-based, but human-based. They keep a human connection to people - and so they will never sclae to the Reuters level. They want to know the people they work with. The big platforms are getting so greedy for user content that they can't realisticly verify it anymore. Knowing the person make s ahuge difference to them.
She doesn't want this to be Doom Zone. Things are really ahrd for the reporters they work with. Some of that is unlearning steroetypes - you're not just interesting ebcause you've lost a limb. A disabled person doesn't have to report in disability all the time. It opens the floodgates once people understand that. They've had stories on Sollywood, Sierra Leone's emerging film industry.
They started on Tumblr, and used a SMS to Gmail tool to get it to work. But it's designed as a personal tool - so they ahd to work around the limitations. They run their digital hub from the UK. They don't write the stories - they amplify them. They tweet them, and send them to journalists. They get the repoerters interview slots. They do everything from their reporters they would do for themselves.
Tumblr is "great, love it". But they decided to invest in tech of their own - which was bold, because they weren't paying themselves yet. They built a microsite around the idea that mapping is really exciting right now. The maps show the stories as they come in, allowing people to explore the stories geographically. In August, they hope to have an "Explore" tab on their site. They can't talk much about it yet, but they're talking to gamers and thinking about how to sue multimedia to really engage with stories. Too often stories from the margins are treated as add-ons. They want to build one of the best storytelling platforms in the world to support this.
They want to move rights beyond the "right to be told" to the "right to tell". The idea of right to communicate is very stunted - we need to be very away of creating dialouge. They're doing Kenya, India and Siarra Leone - and new the UK. The majority of Bradford's population are middle-aged Muslim women, When do you see one of them as a reporter?
They've had coverage on the BBC and Al Jazeera. Their reporters "owned" Twitter during the Sierra Leone elections. Most of the groups they work with are off-grid and reply on SMS to communicate.
In Kenya, the women are almost invisble in the technology development and media. They targeted mothers and grandmothers, and mapped their work, reporting crimes and violence - but also "cool spots" where everything was OK. Stories are built SMS by SMS - often the base team text question back for more details.
In India, much of their work focuses on the untouchables. There have been seven acid attacks on girls in one district - and they triage by caste in the hospitals. One woman and her father wasn't allowed into the police station because of their caste. They're working with digital storytellers on ways of telling these stories more vividly. Stories need graphics and they need to move, if they're to move you...
Google and The Guardian invited them to an event - Big Tent Activate - and they brought some of their reporter with them - and evey one of them was rejected by the hotel security staff. But they got them in, and they got to pitch their stories to the Guardian.
Her experiences as an aid worker and a journalist have horrified her, ebcasue of the ease in which she can come and go from these troubled parts of the world. Can she make herself a mule to bring people's voices in and out? They need other people who feel this. They need editors, listeners, hackers... If you have a couple of hours to give, then let her know.
The SMS Gateway
They're using standard SMS gateways, based on http. They're putting teh data into a graph database to track relationships inherent in the stories. Each bit of data goes in, and the relationships get modelled. Intially they produce flat form stories, but as they develop the website, they'll start to expose how the story came about and developed, from the point the first text came in.
The UK pilot will include multimedia attachments, as even the cheapest UK phone can take photos.
How do you give back to your reporters?
We let them know we got it. A Tweet of a submission is one credit, used in a blog post is two and external publication is five. Credits can be used for more training. If they ask for stories, they give them $10 - more than the average weekly wage. Texts are always local - and they're looking at a free system, but there is a value in the cost as an editorial check. 5 to 6% of the stories have been published - and they get all of that money. One person in Sierra Leone has earned £250 for his stories - and has bought a new laptop and training with some of it. It's hard to walk the line between news agancy and campaigning group. They're linking with change.org. They lobby via Twitter, by directing articles at people.
How are you funded? How are you going to stay funded?
Having worked in development, she realises that the tools they have developed are valuable. Most of the third sector are woring off-grid, and they're finding it hard to communicate, which means projects are fading. A visit every two years isn't going to get real answers, because people are afraid you'll take it away. So - they're planning on pimping their tools. The training is lucrative, but adding the hubs and technology makes it far more so. They're going to split radar into a charitable entity and a shark-like consultancy firm, that will bring in money to fund the groups who can't pay.
How much knowledge transfer is going on from those you've trained? Can you create native language reporter networks?
The first few countries they worked with were primarily English speaking - but in India they weren't - and many were deaf. So she was working both through a translator and a signer. Theire tool needs to be developed to work with non-Roman alphanumeric language systems.
How are you approaching getting editorial impact?
She loves that she was just linked with Wikileaks. Ideally they wouldn't have gatekeepers - but they've always been a collaborative news agency. The editing gives people confidence to submit. They went without a website for a while - why move something from a closed community - a slum - to another - their website - when they can partner with people with traffic? They "shamed" The Guardian and the BBC into taking their coverage. They use Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter because they have traffic. And sometimes their reports are the only ones that come out of a country that month.
Warning: liveblogging. Prone to error, inaccuracy and howling typos. Some of them will be mine, some of them auto-correct's. But don't say you weren't warned...
USvsth3m is an experiment funded by Trinity Mirror to see if they could reach new audiences. They were aware that there was a type of traffic that they just weren't getting - and they were locked into a certain way of producing content.
This is a product prototype, both in the product itself, but also in the way the team works. He hates the phrase "web native" - but that's what we're talking here. It was a very fast experiment. He was brought in for one day's consulting. From the "yes" to launch was 5 week! It's set up so that it's OK fail. If it didn't go well, they'd shut it down after two months. the launched on the first day the team were in the room together. There weren't weeks of trial runs - but there was some content in place when they launched.
The name is a bit of a gimmick - they're both producing original content and linking out to the funniest stuff elsewhere on the web. They're trying to break the silo mentality of many publishing - you can only do this sort of thing if you acknowledge that you're part of a wider web. Every day they send out a newsletter asking who did better - them, or the rest of the internet. The newsletter is a key part of it. Rob Mansfield who launched B3ta is involved and knew that newsletters are a great way of interacting with an audience. The 3 in the name is because one guy has the usvsthem Twitter account. He doesn't use it.
Tumbring into life
They launched on Tumblr. Why? Wrong question. Why aren't more people doing this? is the right question. It has a fully featured CMS, and a huge community already there. If you build your own - that's fine, but it's not a priority. They're prototyping the content right now. Prior to this, he set-up a site called "Is Twitter wrong?" which does social media verification. It became a big thing around Hurricane Sandy and he launched that on Tumblr and Twitter. Can you fact-check in close to real time? Close enough to get the correction to go as viral as the error?
- It's not SEO-based - it's social-based. Publishers know how to do SEO - but you're fighting for scraps at this point. This is about working out how to appeal directly to the audience - that's the knowledge that reaps long-term rewards. With SEO a single Google update can leave you dead in the water.
- It's visual - not articles. Articles are great but not the answer to everything.
- Every sentence should be a tweet. They haven't quite stuck to that, as it's too restrictive, but the principle remains.
- Kill the section. It's a stream, not broken down into sections. Fussy navigation doesn't work on phones and tablets.
- It's a minimum viable product. No staff to do stuff at weekends? Fine. No content at weekends.
They were aware of the BBC Radio One middle manager problem. A bunch of people in their 30s or 40s going "Hey, internet, we have cool stuff for you." So, they hire people a bit younger than you, and you don't pretend that you're talking the language of younger people. As you grow, you can hire people who do things more naturally.
There's a sliver of ice in their soul - it's not just silly stuff, there's some political material in there, too.
The skill sets of the teams are designed to overlap. Everyone can do words, Photoshop and a bit of coding. They're all part of the creative output of the site, and they're all contributing constantly. They can have an idea in the morning can ship it that afternoon. A bug can be corrected within 3 minutes. The whole site was built fast in Tumblr, through hacking around in the code.
The design is deliberately basic - but they're done five versions of it in three weeks. They measure every change, and aim to learn from it. Every action on the site records into their analytics.
Where do they get those wonderful toys?
Their toys - standalone Interactives - are designed to be shared, but also something a bit different from what other sites are doing. Their first was a parody of the New York Times' Snowfall. It was a big media in-joke to target their friends. The next was a Doctor Who plot generator to reach to a bigger, established fan base. They recycled the code from that to do a newspaper comments generator, or anti-gay marriage argument generator. But every time they added a bit more to the code.
Games of Thronesbook was their first Facebook app - designed to build on the Game of Thrones fanbase. However, their new console headline generator failed. So, they turned to Ed Balls. Twitter's appetite for Ed Balls-related content is insatiable. The game tested how fast you can you type Ed Balls.
Twitter gets them attention - but Facebook gets traffic. The most traffficed post was one about the 14 kind of people on Facebook you want to block - but kinda can't. Facebook still drives huge amounts of traffic - but you can't see the sharing. It happens between friends. It's harder to insert yourself into then Twitter, but drives people to visit. And so does Google+ - sorta.
They've built internal tools, including "stormy" - a brainstorming tool, which allows voting on the funniest ideas from brainstorming sessions from comedians. That code's being reused on the site, for a sick euphemism battle mode...
They pay attention to internet detail - everything has Easter eggs built in. There are references to in-jokes and memes - and stuff hidden in the source code. The home page is only 9% of traffic.
They have four potential commercial models, and display ads ain't one. The models? SEEKRIT. They're in audience acquisition right now - but this will come.
No regrets, yet. Almost certainly something is going to go wrong soon - but it hasn't happened yet. They'll be hiring staff soon, publishing earlier in the day and expanding to weekends.
Mobile traffic is the "agonising" 49%. Despite being mobile-first, that's not quite there in the traffic yet.
How much hacking was needed? They're not at the point of rewriting the platform. The platform is more fiddly from an editorial point of view than an design one. He suspects that when they hit the limits of Tumblr, they'll roll their own CMS. Tumblr has "mad traffic" - it's very unlikely they'll every bring it down. The interactive toys are not on Tumblr.
Is the responsive design from Tumblr, or something they did? It's less than it's responsive, it's that they designed the mobile site first, and then designed the desktop version to look just like it. The initial idea was that the desktop would be three column, and respond down to one column on mobile. In the end they abandoned that in favour of the single column.
The audience? They're young people in the 18 to late 20s age group, who are very mobile-centric and into viral content. Very Buzzfeedy. What's in it for Trinity Mirror? They knew this was an audience they weren't hitting. They want the institutional knowledge of understanding how to do this. Traffic has been good, but not comparable with most of the Trinity Mirror titles yet - but they are ahead of some of them.
Isn't there enough inanity on the web already? That's where the stuff with an edge to it comes in. Sometimes it can seem like your drowning in endless lists of 28 cats that look like Ryan Gosling - but Buzzfeed have been hiring proper journalists to do proper journalism for a couple of years. It's much easier to go from an internet culture to traditional journalism than the other away around. Get good at making stuff that's shared, and then get good at doing serious stuff.
Talking of the demise of Google Reader, a snapshot from Google's "Bring Your Parents to Work Day":
Unsurprisingly, someone asked Larry Page a question about Google Reader and got the scripted “too few users, only about a million” non-answer, to which Sergey Brin couldn’t help quip that a million is about the number of remote viewers of the Google I/O developer conference Page had just bragged about. Perhaps the decision to axe Reader wasn’t entirely unanimous.
Jean-Louis Gassée does a great job of putting Google's Reader-killing decision in context.
Still haven't settled on an RSS reader to replace #googlereader - Netvibes doesn't seem to cope with so many feeds...-- Paul Bradshaw (@paulbradshaw) June 14, 2013
@paulbradshaw I've settled on Feedly for reading generally - the fly in the ointment is the lack of search.-- Adam Tinworth (@adders) June 14, 2013
I've never really gone into the reasons why, and with the Google Reader shutdown now less than two weeks away, it seems like I should...
There's no doubt that it has taken me a while to get used to Feedly. I'm used to the river of headlines style of Google Reader and the many app that I used it through. As you can see from the picture above, I generally have Feedly set to a more magazine-style appearance. After about a month of using it that way, I can't imagine going back to the old approach.
The art of flicking...
It's fundementally more efficient for flicking through feeds - and I subscribe to a lot of them - than the other approach. The combination of extracting the photo and a chunk of text makes it easier for me to make rapid decisions about what's worth clicking through to, or not. I'm wasting less time starting to reading arcticle that I'm not actually that interested in, and that's valuable, given how time-limited I am at the moment.
It also means that my RSS reading has moved almost entirely to my iPad. I once in a while flick through some feeds on my phone, but I pretty much never open Feedly in the browser on my laptop. The magazine-style design of Feedly and Flipboard has cottoned onto something quite profound. Magzine design evolved the way it did because it's very effective at presenting content to you in an enjoyably browsable format. People sit down and flick through magazines - they rarely sit and read them comprehensively like they do a book, say. Taking design cues from magazines without slavishly following them makes perfect sense, and works really well.
My feed browsing has become a genuinely "lean back" task, and would be laregly performed in my favourite tub chair, if my wife hadn't nicked it for nursing Hazel...
Maybe Google did us a favour
In fact, Feedly is just one of a range of services developing and innovating around RSS for the first time in probably half a decade. Feedly suits me just fine, but I assume that there are plenty of other people out there who'd prefer something more akin to the old style. My old favourite Mr Reader is in the process of updating to support alternatives, and is the well-regarded Reeder - which will be supporting Feedly.
RSS is always going to be a power-user feature, bar some canny developer coming up with a user-experience on top of it that's so simple and compelling that explaining what the service is and why you should care becomes trivial - which it's not right now. That's OK, though. The development we're seeing is of serious and dedicated tools for hard-core consumers of web information. That's exactly what we need.
Without intending to do it, Google ended up shackling the development of RSS readers. I'm looking forward to a world without those shackles.
June 11, 2013
Disarming honesty - and useful experience - from Andrew Betts at FT Labs:
About 10 days ago, the hacker or hackers calling themselves the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) carried out a very targeted cyberattack against the FT. We're not the first to be targeted and in fact as I write this we're not even the most recent. But the experience taught me an important lesson. Targeted attacks against a single large corporation are not like the random, almost embarrassingly fake emails you get telling you to reset your PayPal account. They're painfully, soberingly realistic. Those that were sent to the FT compromised scores of our corporate Google accounts. And one of those was mine.
The 26-year-old Mills, a once promising young writer in BuzzFeed's Animals division best known for authoring the popular posts "First-World Bear Problems" and "Seal And Owl Are BFFs," admitted this week that he copied captions from other reporters' slideshows without proper attribution and lifted various images of grinning llamas and wig-wearing alpacas directly from competing websites.
The fracas has left veterans of the social web feeling both vindicated and a little bemused. On the one hand, social media has become so central to a newsroom's mission that dedicated functionaries may be obsolete. On the other, doesn't every outlet need a boy or girl wonder to lend a human touch to the Twitter handle? Whether it's a day of reckoning or a sign of maturity for the social media editor, the role has never before been more embattled.
As one senior editor at a leading news outlet told me, "I both agree that the social media editor is dead and I just hired a social media editor."
There was an awful lot of noise and very little signal around this discussion. The end state is pretty obvious:
- Social media skills will be integral to all journalists' work
- The specialised social media editor will disappear
- The need for dedicated community-centric editors will remain, but their role will be larger than just social media
You can define "success" without it being tied to quarterly shareholder reports or even income. It can be tied to the amount of days you can afford not to work. Or by how much you can donate to your favourite animal charity that rescues llamas. Or by how often you can work from the road.
I need to keep revisiting this. I slip back too easily into corporate thinking and that stops me enjoying my new life as much as I could.
June 8, 2013
I seem to have spent much of the last three years on the verge of migrating this blog off Movable Type to another blog platform. Just as I'm about to do it, the new, Japanese incarnation of Six Apart pulls something out of the hat to make the gain of moving less than the pain of the process.
The latest version of Movable Type has done it again, adding a new, usable version of the interface for smartphones and tablets, and a second responsive design theme. The first I'm using right now to quickly post from my phone. The other I'll implement sometime over the summer.
How long will this keep me happy?
June 6, 2013
A panel discussion moderated by Martin Bryant, Managing Editor, The Next Web
- Anthony Gallippi, Co-Founder & CEO, BitPay
- Shakil Khan, Head of Special Projects, Spotify
- Roger Ver, Founder & CEO, MemoryDealers.com
Shakil: Investor in Bitpay, and just over two months ago there was a huge wave of interest in Bicoin. He realised that there was an information gap - so they launched Coindesk.com. People come for price, research and press releases. LArge scale finance houses are starting to take is seriously as an asset clews.
Roger: It's the most important invention in the world. You business should be using it. It will change the planet. BItcoin is the first time anyone on the pant can exchange currency with anyone else in the world. It's impossible for anyone else to interfere or freeze you account. This has never existed before.
Tony: Bitcoin works with public/private cryptography. If you lose that key, you lose your money. If someone steals it, they can spend your Bitcoins. The security is about understanding how encryption works. It's a bit more difficult - that's why businesses are adopting first. It's like living in glass houses - you have to put some clothes on to maintain privacy. if you expose your Bitcoin address, anyone can find out your currency flows.
Shakil: I mentioned that I'm a huge believer in digital currency, and Bitcoin is the biggest? Is this going to be different from Amazon's equivalent? Or the app store ecosystem? You're starting to see early adopters - EFF, Automattic, Reddit - using it. It's a long journey ahead. It's a bit like the internet in '65 or '96. That's similar to where we are in the Bitcoin space.
Roger: The supply of Bitcoin is limited by the laws of mathematics. The price of Bitcoin will have to increase to meet demand. If you buy Bitcoins today, if you hold them for a year, almost certainly they'll be worth more in a year.
Shakil: Will it replace cash? Probably not. Each event that takes place, though, tells the masses that the old system has flaws
Roger: it's possible governments will try to shut it down - but the only way of doing it is to shut down the internet worldwide. i don't think that's possible at this point.
Tony: People will start using it without realise it - it'll become a backend mechanism for money transfer that switches to other currencies either end of the transition. Who created it? It doesn't really matter. We're working with the product. We have no idea who the person who created actually is.
Shakil: We get e-mails all the time saying they have information about this, but it's not really relevant.
Roger: It's open source. Anyone can read the code and see how it's going to perform. That's far more transparent than the banks.
A panel discussion nominally about money in the sharing economy, but actually more about peer-to-peer lending.
Chaired by Nina Dos Santos, News Anchor & Correspondent, CNN World Business Today
- Samir Desai, Co-Founder & CEO, Funding Circle
- Raffael Johnen, Co-Founder & CEO, Auxmoney.com
- Renaud Laplanche, CEO, Lending Club
Raffael Johnen: We facilitate lending between individuals. We bring borrowers and investors together for loans €1000 to €20,000. Borrowers can put things like their car up as collateral.
Renaud Laplanche: We have also trebled our lending. We expect to get to $2bn in lending.
How can you guarantee that your platform will guarantee that people will get their money back?
Samir: We lend to established businesses, which have been trading for two years. We have rigours testing procedures, and underwriters. Because business lending is political, we've started seeing the UK government lending money through Funding Circle. This could end up as 20% of the market. 70% of customers would come to us in preference to a bank. This sort of product better meets the needs of businesses - half of applications are made outside working hours.
Raffael: Asking for regulation of our industry might be a good thing - it gives us a stamp of approval. We'd like government support In Germany as weil, to help support new businesses.
Samir: We've been lobbying for regulation. We have succeeded, and will be regulated from next year. It gives credibility and lets people see its a serious thing.
Samir: We're in a generational shift in financial serves. Before 2007/8 nobody had really come in and disrupted banks. Now, there are low levels of trust in banks, and the internet is really coming to financial services for the first time.
Do investors know which companies they invest it, and can they help them succeed?
Samir: Yes. You can go in and look at the companies, and pick and choose, if you want. A lot of lenders like to lend in their local areas. I don't think it's about anonymity, it's about transparency.
Renaud: Our transparency is in stark contrast to the financial instruments that caused the 2008 crash. All our companies have perfect asset:liability matching at 1:1 - there's no leveraging.
Raffael: We are built on technology from the group up. Banks come from a different base. It's difficult for them to get away from branches.
Bitcoin: are people trading in virtual currencies because they've lost faith in others?
Renauld: It needs more stability to really grow. You can't have a currency with 20 to 30% volatility.