One Man and His Blog: September 2011 Archives

September 2011 Archives

September 30, 2011

Will the Kindle Fire up tablet competition? Yes.

Kindle Family
So, yesterday James Tye, CEO of Dennis in the UK had a question for me:

And the answer is "no". 

I remember the incident very clearly, because I remember picking my words very carefully indeed. And this is what I said, as best I recall it:

The Kindle? At that price point, in that form factor? It's stuffed. (pause for laughter) Amazon needs to become a platform, selling ebooks on all devices.

Media Week reported what I said, but directly quoted only one word. I bet you can guess which one. :) So, James, the reason I don't regret saying that the Kindle would be dead in a year is because, well, I never predicted that. I just pointed out that the Kindle, as it existed then, was unsustainable. 

Here's why I gave that answer: back then, the Kindle was expensive. It was half the price of the iPad, for a tiny fraction of the features. It was uncompetitive. And sure enough, a month after that conference, the price came down, and has been on a steady downwards trend ever since.

In the light of iPad, Amazon had three options:

  1. Make the Kindle a lot cheaper
  2. Make the Kindle a lot better
  3. Become a device-agnostic platform
At the time of the conference, Amazon was clearly following the third path, which is why I highlighted it. That said, I did think it was possible that Amazon wasn't really interested in the hardware business long term, and would slowly wind down their own Kindles as the software spread. Then the price came down, and it became clear that Amazon was pushing towards option 1, too.

What the announcements earlier in the week make amply clear is that actually, Amazon was taking all three options. I didn't expect that. I'm not sure anyone did.

Amazon is clearly protecting its own future as more and more media shifts to digital not just by becoming a digital storefront, but by pushing as hard as it can to make cheap, accessible content consumption devices and get them into the hands of the general public, tying them into Amazon's ecosystem. And that's what differentiates both Amazon and Apple from other players in the tablet field: they both have content ecosystems to support their devices. The key difference, for those who care, is that Apple uses content sales to encourage hardware sales. Amazon uses hardware sales to encourage content sales. 

In the last few months, I've been an enthusiastic Kindle user. I went on holiday to Florida over the New Year period, and went sans the normal huge pile of paperbacks, carrying all but one book with me on my iPad. That pushed me over into full-on ebook enthusiasm, but also made it clear to me that a cheaper, eInk device had a place in my life. I wouldn't take my iPad down to the pool or onto the beach, but I would a much, much cheaper Kindle. Within a few months, I was a happy Kindle owner

On a personal level, I'm delighted by the new Kindles. The one I'm lusting after is actually the Kindle Touch. The physical buttons of the Kindle I have are just terrible. Awful. The sooner I have a simple, touch-screen eInk device in my hands, the happier I'll be. The second it becomes available for pre-order in the UK, I'll be there. I'm a lot less interested in the Kindle Fire, because I have an iPad, and am perfectly happy with it. There isn't space for a content consumption only device between my iPhone and Kindle and my iPad right now. I am not the target customer for it. Also, I have one very significant caveat about the Fire, while I'll discuss in another post. 

On a professional level, I'm possibly even more delighted. For the first time, Apple has a real, viable competitor in the tablet space. It's not a direct competition, because the Kindle Fire fits quite neatly between two Apple products: the iPad and the iPod touch. I'm sure it will nibble away sales from both devices in the coming years. And that's a good thing. Because competition drives innovation. The waves of Android tablets that came before the Kindle Fire weren't (and aren't) strong competition. They're pricey knock-offs of the iPad. Amazon has done something different. And something cheaper. And that's much more interesting. 

But, still on a professional level, it's also challenging. It throws another form factor and platform to figure into our publishing plans. And it's almost certainly speeded up the shift to digital content. It's gonna be a wild ride...
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September 29, 2011

Google+ Circle counts arrive in search results

Wow. If we had any doubt that Google+ was going to become a significant part of what Google does, I think we can abandon it now. Checking recent referrals to this blog, I stumbled across this search result:

Circle counts
I've talked about authorship markup before, but now they've added circle counts. That's interesting.

Authorship is a way of socialising search results - it gives the author of any particular page a high level of emphasis. I've seen a small, but noticeable, uptick in search click-throughts since I started using it. That's to be expected - people respond to images of people. 

However the circle count gives some indication of authority - how followed this person is, how worth listening to they are. Looks like Google+ is going to end up as an integral part of Google search...


Saying goodbye to LewishamIt has been a week of changes, which is one of the reasons for my silence on the blog. The big change came on Monday, when we finally completed the sale of the flat I've lived in for the last decade and a half. For a short while, I am no longer a property owner. Instead, I'm a happily renting with my wife in a town on the south coast, and positively relishing not having a home in London for the first time since, as far as I can recall, 1990. After two decades I am officially no longer a Londoner. And yet, I'm not tired of life. ;-)

And that means some changes for this blog. During 2004 and 2005, this blog was often focused on Lewisham and its surrounds. That phase has long passed, and apart from some recent quick flings with my past, it's not coming back. This blog is now firmly around the intersection of journalism, social media and technology, and I have other places for other subjects. Most particularly:

And there's assorted other stuff, too, but those are the blogs that have inherited what were once parts of this blog's remit. So feed free to dump this feed if you don't care about journalism/social media/technology and pick up one of the others instead...

And, as the week was already one of adapting to change, I made the decision to change the software running this blog. The last time I mentioned this, I was choosing between Movable Type 5, Melody and WordPress. I dismissed WordPress first. Although I create the majority of new blogs I set up on the platform, the effort of migrating the 3000+ entries on this blog, plus all the assets, and then getting the URLs all lined up just didn't seem worth the benefits I'd get. Melody fell next - I like and respect what the team behind it are doing, but they haven't yet persuaded me that they're in it for the long-haul. Perhaps if version 1.1 was out by now, I might have chosen differently. But it isn't, and I didn't. 

One Man & His Blog on Movable Type 5
And so, this blog continues its eight year history on Movable Type, finally hitting version 5 with this software upgrade. (5.12 for the pedants). 

A new start this week, on lots of levels. And lots of stuff to talk about. Onwards, to the future... ;-)
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September 22, 2011

Facebook's Timeline: Cool or Creepy?

OK, I really can't decide if Facebook's new Timeline approach to profiles is cool or creepy:

On the one hand, it's a cool visualisation of who you are. On the other, it really feels like your life laid bare. I wonder how granular the privacy controls will be over the different sections of the Timeline? And do I really want a single company knowing this much about my life?

And, although this may seem morbid, I wonder if they've thought through how to deal with the inevitable end of the timeline: death?

Giving OM&HB a little CloudFlare

Image representing CloudFlare as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

A brief diversion into administrivia. People with no interest in self-hosted blog platforms can move right along. There's nothing for the like of you here. :-)

This blog has languished somewhat, from a technology point of view. Apart from switching to Disqus for the commenting, I'm essentially running on the same bit of software I've been using for four years now - nearly half the lifetime of the blog... That has to change sometime soon, and I'll make the decision between Movable Type 5, Melody or the more challenging shift to WordPress sometime later in the year, when I gave a little more personal bandwidth to get stuff like this done.

In the meantime, and in the quest for faster loading of the blog, I've activated a service called CloudFlare:

It's acting a combined content distribution network, security service and all-round site speeder-upper (a technical term, you understand...). I've had it running for around four hours now, and all seems fine. Load times are noticeably down on what they were before, and I'll be interested to see if that has any influence on site traffic.
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How little things change...

Quoting myself, from nearly eight years ago:

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, true enough. What most people fail to realise is that they are not entitled to have that opinion taken seriously. The ability to bash out a few hundred barely coherent words and post them on the internet does not automatically make your opinion worthy. That respect has to be earned.
Still a useful things to bear in mind when interacting on the internet...

September 21, 2011

Maybe I should have a caption competition...

Community Care journalists in silly hats
Just an ordinary day in the Community Care office, with the team wearing the regulation head temperature maintenance gear, as approved by occupational health...

Oh, all right. They're helping publicise Woolly Hat day, which is raising money for a homelessness charity. 

[via Bronagh]

Vimeo is selling you music for your videos

Well, this is really useful:
I was hunting for some music for a video project the other day, and struggled to find reasonably-priced selections of tracks to be used in that sort of context. Given the boom in popularity in online video in recent years, I was genuinely surprised there wasn't something like the Vimeo Music Store. But now there is. Given that I've utterly exhausted the possibilities of the music that ships with iMovie, I suspect I'll be digging into this store a fair amount.

Another (useful) media metaphor

A predictably insightful and inspiring post from Mr Mayfield:

It occurs to me that media and marketing businesses are like the master craftsmen of old. Master masons in the middle ages created cathedrals and castles of staggering scale and beauty. 
When science - and especially mathematics - began to make its influence felt more, though, a whole new world of possibilities opened up - what we think of as the modern discipline of architecture. Projects of scale and ambition were led by architects. Architects brought together science and the art.
That's not to say that master masons wouldn't and didn't have a future - but it was a future within the context of architecture as a discipline, as a world view.
I've felt for a long time that the future of media will look very different from even its recent past. This is more grist to the mill.

September 20, 2011

-7: Scaling issues

Development scale in Lewisham

One hour on the UK internet

Clock of internet usage blog.png

Fascinating how social media has come to dominate web use - and how the old "porn drives web innovation" maxim is clearly no longer true.

September 19, 2011

-8: Choices


10 Years Ago #2

Dad and I
Dad and Dusky
10 years ago today, I lost my Dad. That's him with me back in 2001 in the top picture, and as a much younger man in 1966 in the bottom one. A handful of days after 9/11, cancer took him from us, and my view of the world was turned upside down again. And I couldn't let the day pass without noting it (and I wrote about him earlier in the year, on Father's Day). 

There's a third "decade" anniversary to come in a few weeks. And it's a much happier one...

Learning to be a mutable journalist

Since my job morphed from "head of blog development" to "editorial development manager" (which happened a while before the job title change), I've struggled to give a clear, one sentence description of what I do. The closest I've got is "figure out how changes in technology, journalism and social media present us with business opportunities as a publisher - and then do everything I can to make sure we take advantage of that". Not exactly a conversation-starter at a dinner party.

This problem is afflicting the whole of journalism, I think. Jobs are becoming less defined as the work we do becomes more mutable. Arnold King sums up this trend in employment thus:

The paradox is this. A job seeker is looking for something for a well-defined job. But the trend seems to be that if a job can be defined, it can be automated or outsourced.

The marginal product of people who need well-defined jobs is declining. The marginal product of people who can thrive in less structured environments is increasing.

Something to think about…

[via Jackie Danicki]

How Wikipedia dealt with Johann Hari

Promotional photograph of Johann Hari

Image via Wikipedia

Comprehensive account by Tom Morris of how Wikipedia volunteers deal with people who abuse the site, including Mr Hari:

David r was banned in July. Banning is a social measure where the community decides that the person's invitation to edit the site has been rescinded. You can read David r/Hari's ban discussion: there were fifteen users who supported a ban (myself included), and three who opposed the ban. David r is banned indefinitely from editing anything on Wikipedia. As we now have confirmation that David r is Johann Hari, Johann Hari is indefinitely banned from Wikipedia. This means that if he pops up with a new account and someone can confirm that the account is a "sockpuppet" used by Hari, that account will be blocked indefinitely on sight.
Who does all this? Volunteers.
Interesting contrast to The Independent's decision. 
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Hari: Knave or Fool?

Troll FaceGreenslade argues fool:

I admit that, having written that I didn't believe Hari guilty of passing off somebody else's intellectual work as his own, it did give me pause for thought. But I concluded, in company with other sympathetic journalists - of left and right and centre, such as Deborah Orr, Ann Leslie and George Brock - that Hari had been a fool rather than a knave.
And I'd be prepared to lean that way, if it wasn't for this part of Hari's apology:

The other thing I did wrong was that several years ago I started to notice some things I didn't like in the Wikipedia entry about me, so I took them out. To do that, I created a user-name that wasn't my own. Using that user-name, I continued to edit my own Wikipedia entry and some other people's too. I took out nasty passages about people I admire - like Polly Toynbee, George Monbiot, Deborah Orr and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. I factually corrected some other entries about other people. But in a few instances, I edited the entries of people I had clashed with in ways that were juvenile or malicious: I called one of them anti-Semitic and homophobic, and the other a drunk. I am mortified to have done this, because it breaches the most basic ethical rule: don't do to others what you don't want them to do to you.
I find it interesting that most journalism commentators skim over, or completely ignore, this part of the story, as Greenslade did. To me, that violation of basic web ethics makes Hari a Troll and a knowing troll at that. Hence: a knave. 

At one stage Johann Hari quotes David Rose in his blog, giving him biographical details like "a starred first from a degree specialising in environmental science at Cambridge, and extensive work in Antarctica observing the effects of global warming", to support a point Hari himself is making. Green counts "at least fifteen biographical facts (from a lawyer girlfriend in Walthamstow and subbing jobs at the Independent and Spectator, to a principled and noisy opposition to the invasion of Iraq)" about David Rose, none of which were true, because there is no David Rose. "[It] was a fluent stream of lies contrived just so that the systemic smear campaign and dishonest self-promotional exercise could carry on and never be exposed", he says.
Perhaps Hari should just admit that he's a fiction writer rather than a journalist and move on...?

September 16, 2011

-11: A commuter hub

Commuter Central

#futureofmobile - a few more observations

The future of transactions
  • We underestimate the impact of the mobile as the computer everyone has in their pockets at our peril.
  • The impact is less likely to be an evolution of what we do on the web and more likely to doing things centred around the local, social, ever-connected nature of portable devices.
  • I really want what Dwolla offers. And I want to be able to leave my wallet at home as a result.
  • HTML5 is way more capable that I expected, in the right hands.
  • Lots of lip service is being given to HTML5 and Andriod, but it was the building for iOS session that was packed out...
  • I really like the between sessions music at this conference... ;-)

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#futureofmobile - five observations so far

Making that App store decision
A few lunchtime notes:

  • Apple's mindshare at conferences like this is truly terrifying - I've seem maybe three non-Apple laptops, and one non-Apple tablet. Otherwise, it's wall-to-wall MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs and iPads.
  • There's a lot of hopes for Windows 8 / Windows Phone here, that's somewhat tempered by its lack of traction amongst the public, certainly in awareness terms
  • There's a deep air of uncertainty. People used to building for a standard platform - the web - are now trying to deal with a fragmented market of OSes. Apple's dominance in mobile app revenue is alluded to, but people aren't confronting it head on.
  • RIM's Blackberry has been mentioned precisely once. Based on this conference so far, it's a dead platform walking.
  • Several of the "consultants" around are clearly evangelists of one platform in a consultant's clothing. Beware, beware if you're hiring a consultant for your mobile development

Mobile: we've come a long way

uBelly t-shirt
Ubelly's t-shirt at Future of Mobile

#futureofmobile - Instagram's pivot

Kevin Systrom
I'm at the Future of Mobile Conference in London today. First up is Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram, talking about how to get a lot of users fast...

Instagram has a user base about the size of London - there's a huge opportunity in reaching a worldwide audience with truly mainstream apps. 

Started off as Burbn - an HTML5 web app that was meant to be a location-based game. Checkins were a magian word for investors two years ago. But the product was confusing, undifferentiated and slow. People outside their circle of friends were confused by it (good test of your product).

YouTube started as a video dating site! They saw unexpected behaviours - people were passing around a range of video, not just dating proposals. The same thing happened with Burbn - people were using the photos aspect more and more. The founders were keen photographers, the apps for photos weren't great...

Still a tough decision to take what you've put work into and switch to something else. But they did. And they focused on problems users have with photo apps.For example - at the time most mobile photos still looked rubbish at the time (this was just before the iPhone 4). The filter-based apps were the most popular in the store at the time, so they looked at that idea as a solution. 

The second problem they wanted to solve was speed. This would be the key to succeeding in mobile. They decided they would only send the minimum size needed to display on the iPhone 4. The 640 x 640 ristriction was a core part of their success. Also, they used asynchronous technology in the background to make sure photos could be shared to multiple networks in one go without a noticeable user delay. 

At launch, they targeted a user group who were passionate about the problems they were solving. BUT inviting influencers doesn't guarantee anything. They have to love the product. 

Other key factors:
  • Early internationalisation
  • A small team, able to be nimble
  • Single platform from the beginning - no reason you need to be on two platforms from day one.
  • Minimum viable product at each step
  • Invested in community very early has blogged the session, too. 

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September 15, 2011

Media140: The Unethical Web

Claire WardleWarning: Liveblogging - error, omission and appalling grammar likely

Claire Wardle

Claire was an academic in Cardiff - deputy ethics officer - lots of conflict over journalist wanting to do illegal things in a "good cause". On to the BBC College - where there were fights about contacting people and using materials from the web.

For her, the important stuff is the soft stuff - no-one is going to die if we do this, but is it right? Lots of journalists think that all information on the web is free for them to use. It's nonsense that journalists are all lazy and unethical, but there is increasing pressure on them to get the best news possible... The infamous Hudson River plane crash got used for free. People are getting wise to this - and are starting to put contact details on their pictures. We should ask

Arab Spring: Bahrain - DMs on Twitter are being used to threaten people. Activists using social media are targeted in particular. If we don't look at the darker side, we're being naive. Protecting sources is not new.

Blagging? Journalists befriending people on Facebook just to get information about them. It's not right, but it's not new either. Journalists have always blagged. The BBC has a policy that an open profile is fair game, but one you only have access to through a calculated friending or because you're in (say) a university network is wrong.

Verification: doesn't go away just because the social web is there. 

Claire ran us through a bunch of challenges, and it became clear that there's an interesting tension between journalistic misinterpretation of the social web, and users not understanding what they are exposing to the world. When those decisions are made in a pressured news environment, some pretty nasty mistakes can be made. 

Karin Robinson

Karin Robinson
Worked on the Obama campaign. Now advises major brands on social media policies. Has a day job and a night job - the night job is campaigning for the Democratic Party. Set up an Obama London blog for SEO purposes. 

Sarah Palin "All round fascinating human being" - put up a photo of Gabrielle Giffords in the cross-hairs of a gun prior to the shooting. Karin wrote a blog about this. And then she noticed that the one thing not removed from Palin's Facebook page comments was about it being good that a child was killed. It got loads of media coverage - but no-one ever contacted her about it from the media. Karin ended up feeling ambivalent because she didn't think it was that important in the scheme of things. 

This issue is about how important people are - Palin, for all her fame, is not in government. Should we hold public officials two higher standards that "ordinary" people. For what level of public good is it OK to use fake identities on social media sites? Context is everything. Karin suggests that the more powerful you are (brand or individual), the higher standard of behaviour is expected of you on social media. 

Categories of unethical behaviour: 
  • astroturfing - creating fake online grassroots reviewing/feedback. US airforce looked for persona management software to create fake personas on the social web. Why?
  • stolen identities - some brands write auto-posts from services you connect to Facebook as if you wrote it yourself. 
  • overreaction- Fouad Mourtada created a fake Facebook profile for the Crown Prince of Morocco - and was arrested and tortured for it. He shouldn't have done what he did - but the punishment outweighed the crime. The Trafigura case was an example of trying too hard to silence things. 
  • spying - US government departments have mentioned that Twitter is hard to get information from - but Facebook is co=operative to requests. The NYPD have a team trawling social media for evidence of crime. Ethical? Probably!
  • inappropriateness - Habitat using an Iran protest hashtag with their marketing promotions. #mousavi. Wrong and stupid. 
So - have clear guidelines, reinforce them constantly, follow the Hippocratic principle - and keep some perspective. 

Danvers Baillieu

Getting harder for companies to maintain the "halo" of being good/ethical. Ethics and the law are not the same thing. Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 gives a carve-out for news reporting - but specifically excludes photos. The Pigs on the Wing debate about the BBC's copyright stance... The Act suggests that you have to know you are infringing copyright for it to be criminal. Baillieu thinks that it's reasonable to use it first and ask the question later, if it's been pushed to a publishing platform like Twitter. It's an "implied licence" Doesn't apply to Facebook photos if you're murdered, because they were published without that expectation...

Plenty of rules govern advertising, and some specifically make astroturfing a criminal offence. Two year stretch! OFT sys it is never acceptable for traders to prevent to be independent consumers. Still, lots of it is happening, and the chances of getting caught are slim. But it does happen. Are you responsible for comments left on, say, your Facebook wall? Yes, if you Like it or otherwise respond to it.

The "Twitter bomber" saga - the CPS are taking a zero-humour approach. Sean Duffy sent to prison for leaving hostile comments about people who had been in accidents our murder - both prosecuted under the Communications Act 2003 (section 127). Designed for heavy breathers on the phone, pressed into action as an anti-troll law. 

Dangers inherent about using people's social media presence to research them. You can break discrimination act if you do this and discover their race/religion/pregnancy status... Pretending to be someone else for the sole purpose of gathering information is straightforward illegal. Fine or prison. 

(Unfortunately I can't stay for the Q&A - will try to Storify any tweets later or tomorrow)
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Hari-Kiri Reading Round-up

Troll FaceSo, Mr Hari has admitted to his crimes, and is slinking away for retraining training in journalism. I've made no secret of that fact that I think his behaviour fell well below the standards we should expect of journalists, and that too many journalists gave him an easy ride because many of his articles pandered to their political prejudices. The fact he created a sock puppet identity to attack his critics online pushes him into the category of juvenile troll. But that's just one man's opinion. 

Here's some other opinions for you to chew on:

I imagine this discussion will start over again once he returns to work, too. Trolling and sock puppetry are hard habits to give up...

-12: Where cultures (and eras) meet

Where cultures meet

The iPad as 21st century notebook

Apple logo on an iPad

I've found mobile devices to be especially effective for on-the-street interviews. When New York City brought in a new system of letter grades for restaurant health inspections last year, the WNYC newsroom asked me to get reaction from New Yorkers. Using my iPad, I asked people on the street where they liked to eat and then looked up the restaurant's inspection report online. I was able to capture their reactions when they heard the details -- things like evidence of live vermin at their favorite restaurants. It was tape I could not have gotten in the moment without an iPad.

I suspect we're only scratching the surface of the reporting possibilities a device that can be a notebook, a research tool, an audio recorder, a video edited and a publisher, and yet slip easily into a bag. 

links for 2011-09-15

September 14, 2011

-13: A place that looks elsewhere

A place that looks elsewhere

September 13, 2011

Five random thoughts on mobile

PhoneBased on recent work:

  • There are an awful lot of high priest of cults masquerading as scientists in this space
  • Some companies price their offering solely based on how little their potential customers know
  • There are lies, damn lies, and ageing web metrics products
  • There are two, diametrically opposed dangers on tablets: being a print fundamentalist and being a web fundamentalist 
  • An awful lot of people don't understand the difference between the internet and the web
YMMV. :-)

-14: The inevitability of change

The inevitability of change.jpg

September 12, 2011

Three random thoughts about today

  1. Meeting B&WThe problem with a job that involves looking at how technology changes will impact on editorial content is that the rate of change of technology is a lot greater than the rate of change of editorial businesses, so I spend all my time panicing about how far we have to go...
  2. All meetings should be measured on their Reggie Perrin Quotient. 0 RPQs is the perfect, enjoyable, productive, work-affirming meeting. at 100 RPQs, you're driving to the beach and preparing to fold your clothes neatly... (never went higher than 15 RPQs today)
  3. People who just go ahead and give things a go, without being told to do A, B or C are worth their weight in any precious metal you care to name right now. 

September 11, 2011

10 years ago #1

I had a working lunch on Wardour Street. It was with some residential property or other - I forget which one now. We walked back into the Estates Gazette office to find most of the team gathered around the (rarely used) TV in the corner. I made some joke to a colleague, and got snapped at. Something was clearly up. Nobody seemed very interested in telling me what, so intent were they in watching the TV. 

I learnt pretty much all I was to learn that day from the internet. The already-slugginsh BBC website gave me the basics, but it was an invitation-only internet chat room that I'd been a member of for several years that told me the rest. It was through an MPEG file that someone threw up on their own server that I first saw footage of the plane hitting the tower. It was in that chat that I first encountered the name "Al Qaida", which I had never heard before. 

And the, on the TV, I watched a building I'd stood at the foot of a year before, in awe of its sure size and scale, collapse. 

I don't remember anything else about that day. But why should I? The horror of that event, the shock that shot around the world, were the beginning of three months that literally changed my life. But that day, I was just another of the billions of horrified onlookers on a day that changed the world.
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September 6, 2011

TechCrunch: journalism's heretics?

MG SieglerMG Siegler of TechCrunch has published a really fascinating post on his personal blog, responding to the current brouhaha around Mike Arrington, TechCrunch and AOL. I'm less interested in the corporate politics of the debate than I am in just how differently the site operates to traditional journalism businesses:

First and foremost, the concept of an "editor" at TechCrunch is essentially just a title and nothing more. Generally speaking, neither Mike nor Erick (TC's two "co-editors") are overlords that dictate what everyone else covers. With a few exceptions (mainly for newer writers), no one person even reads posts by any other author before they are posted. 

Traditional journalists may be appalled to learn this. But this is a big key of why TechCrunch kicks their ass in tech coverage. We're fast and furious in ways they can't be, because they're adhering to the old rules. Are there benefits to those old rules? Sure. But in my opinion, the benefits of the way we work far outweighs the benefits of the way they work.
This is, from a traditional journalism perspective, tantamount to heresy. But sometimes heresy is the statement that changes the debate and allows new things to happen. The traditional priesthood of journalism will be stoking the fires when they read this:

Even if it's just on a subconscious level, each of these authors must know that the future of their business looks a lot more like TechCrunch than The New York Times. Love it or hate it, that's the truth. It's inevitable.
Well, perhaps. But the future rarely turns out exactly as the heretics predict, either...

Update: Alan's noticed the same thing, too, and has some interesting thoughts on the philosophy and finances of the TechCrunch model
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September 5, 2011

Information Overload Warnings for Dummies

Research suggests that we have an information problem:

A respected Swiss scientist, Conrad Gessner, might have been the first to raise the alarm about the effects of information overload. In a landmark book, he described how the modern world overwhelmed people with data and that this overabundance was both "confusing and harmful" to the mind.

Oh, wait. No. He's talking about the invention of the printing press, not the internet.

Looks like scaremongering about new technology is an ages-old art form. 

RIP Trey Pennington

There's been a general sense of shock in the community that gathers around Like Minds, with the news that Trey Pennington took his own life yesterday.

I only met him once, briefly, at a Like Minds event early last year, where I took the photo above. Scott Gold and Christian Payne, who knew him better, have both posted movingly about Trey. 

But I'd particularly like to highlight Bridget Pilloud's post, which addresses the issue of mental illness - depression in this case - head on. I've seen friends and family battle with mental illness of various stripes, and it made me realised how ill-informed I was on the subject. We don't talk, share and discuss these issues nearly as much as we should, and end up stigmatising those who suffer as much by omission as anything else.

Rest in peace, Trey. We all lost when you lost your own battle. 

September 2, 2011

#dConstruct - Time and Relative Devices in Space

Matthew Sheret
My intuition suggests that Matthew Sheret is a Doctor Who fan...

We take synchronised time for granted but it's only a few centuries old. With the railways came the need to synchronise and make sure London and Brighton aren't 15 minutes apart. People already had "pocket" watches - they were early adopters, but as they become smaller and time became more synchronised, they became more common. Society adapted to a new network.

Connections you make through the things you carry around bleeding into everything you do. They show what's most important to you. A Boris Bike key in your pocket in San Francisco reminds you of the network it's part of - people, places, home?

Oyster cards are avatars of yourself. It represents you to a system. It registers as you, and has an effect on the system that has an impact on you. The RFID chips within them have the potential to represent you in many ways.

Now think of this in the context of another pocket object the iPhone - and the ways it represents you and your life, over time.

Service on an aged object?

Should we care about the objects we carry with us? Should we regard them as "old friends"?

So, yeah. Mobile devices are personal devices, life companions. And that should change the way we build for them. It's a metaphor (and bigger on the inside).
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#dConstruct - building stories online and rules in life

Dan Hon

Interesting couple of talks to round off the post-lunch session. Dan Hon walked us through the exploration of new forms of storytelling that have been going on online. Some are facilitated by a coder and writer combo. The development of new tools has lead to new forms of storytelling, from alternate reality games (ARGs) (Hon cites one associated with A.I. he got sucked into in 2001) to people using Twitter and its ilk to create fictional personas and narratives.

However, he suggests that there are significant issues around discovery and participation right now. In particular, as entertainment and information objects make a digital transition, we often lose the context of their design. Book covers become 200 pixel wide icons. TV becomes 640 pixel wide boxes on screen. Everything's being reduced to icons, to small versions of the physical object it used to be. We lose context.

We need to explore building products that facilitate these new forms of narrative and gaming rather than constantly adapting existing forms and tools.

Kars Alfrink

Meanwhile Kars Alfrink was thinking the other way around - how we bring our understanding of games back into the physical work. In a sense the games of politics are already manifest in our world: there are towns split between countries as a legacy of history. There are fictional and real examples of cities which exist alongside one another without interaction) -  The City and The City and  Berlin in the post-war cold war era. Areas of London where gang confrontations happen alongside couples eating and drinking at a bistro. In extremes, this leads to riots.

Rules are fundamental to this. The riots highlighted the existence of two different cities in the same place - with different rules. What if we could make those rules more tangible? Simulation fever - the stress of two completing rules sets (games versus reality) He's not tailing about gamification - by rewarding reciprocity, we suggest there's not inherent value in it. Mary did a good post about this earlier. Games can bring societies together - like chess in the park - or they can create monocultures. (I suspects FPSes would count here).

Pervasive urban games are part of the routine. Visible Cities - a chase game, with checkpoints in "other cities". You're not allowed to interact with people in "different cities".

Rules as memes. Bookcrossing is a simple ruleset that promotes behaviour. Werewolf amongst geeky circles. Games as social practice. Nomic - a move is to suggest a new rule. Life is roughly a massively parallel game of Nomic. Can we create a game that takes these implicit rules and makes them explicit?

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#dConstruct - the architecture of serendipity and analogue Tumblr

Frank Chimero

A really fascinating talk by Frank Chimero about curating, organising and accessing all the digital "possessions" we're accumulating, including Likes and things we favourite, and notes we make.

The very different characteristics of digital and analogue material are certainly a fascinating topic. Analogue is owned and forces you to remember it by its presence. Digital feels like we pay for access to it, and is often invisible until we seek to find it.

Digitally, we have piles of stuff, but it's not a physical pile  - it's a collection of information, much of which lacks context in an accessible forms - particularly our choices to star/heart/favourite/like/+1 pieces of content. Can we put everything we like in one place? 19th Century Gentlemen did in their Commonplace books. (An analogue Tumblr blog...?) It's "curation as authorship".

The Creator Economy - producing and consuming in the same act

The Architecture of Serendipity

Curation is collection with an architecture of arrangement. Arrangement requires  a second pass. (I agree with that - I often give onld sections of this blog a second pass - I should do more of that with my "information buckets") We need technology optimised for the second pass:

  1. How we sort things - location, alphabet, time, category, hierarchy (latch. We tend to sort things in reverse chronological, which is great for the new, but not for things you've seen before. Digital is infinitely mutable - things can exist in more then one place at once.
  2. How we move through time - content can time-shift. Instapaper allows us to postpone reading things. It's a time machine that pushes content into your future.
  3. What media is supported - Lots of women's fashion blogs do this - they curate looks, Biblion - an iPad app that curates exhibitions specially.
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#dConstruct - Books, Stories and other Myths

Some sessions pretty much defy blogging. Craig Mod's session, notionally on the future of the book, was one of those.

There was some interesting discussion about taming unfiltered data. Most people aren't mad enough to try and read their whole Twitter stream. Many companies are trying to figure out how to extract useful things from the whole steam. And you can see how the idea of a book - as a contained, discrete portion of information might play into that idea. 

He also talked about the challenge of producing quiet data. The Kindle blends in when placed on a table, while the iPad shouts for attention. Sometimes quieter is more productive.

Perspective - a PhD is just a tiny nipple outside the boundaries of our human knowledge of the universe. Startups are just the same, a small new thing in this whole ecosystem.

And then: a long piece of mythology about the past, present and mythology of the book. Was it a pretentious waste of time, as many of the peanut gallery on Twitter seemed to think? Or "awesome" and full of insight as others suggested? Honestly, I have no idea. I want this talk as a podcast so I can listen to it again at my own pace...
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#dConstruct - Stifling your inner control freak

Double-hander presentation from Bryan and Stephanie Rieger:

Stephanie RiegerPrinting brought us the idea that knowledge could be controlled, attributed, finished. And that lead to people wanting to claim and protect their ideas - hence patents. Processes allow us to duplicate what've learned. Once you can duplicate, then you can scale it, and then you can make money...

The power of the network online is more powerful than any individual, and so we're starting to see the idea of ownership of an idea break down. Ideas self-replicate and grow. It takes on almost biological characteristics. Once something is out there, it leaves our control.

And now we have the net and social networks in out pockets at all time. This amplifies these effects - and accelerates change.

The balance of power is shifting. We can't expect people to interact with our protects in linear, controlled ways. They no longer have to wait for us to create experiences. Instapaper and Flipboard take away your navigation and ads and give people a better reading experience.

Bryan ReigerIt's counter-intuitive to present people with incomplete, draft products, but people like to ability to adapt what you present. People are not homogenous, and don't want homogenous products.

It takes time to figure out the social contexts and requirements around new technologies (took ages with the car). You go through periods of stability, rapid change, then a new period of stability. These used to be quite long. Now? Interlocking mini s-curves. Constant change. And the result is generation gaps. People only a few years apart in age are having very different experiences of technology.

The more complexity you build into a system, the more reliant you get on other actors in the ecosystem. Compare self-ground coffee and a French Press with Nespresso system. Simple can be better, because it gives you more ability to customise.

We are creating a new culture, new systems to adapt to a new age.

#dConstruct - Kelly Goto gets us to think contextually

Kelly Goto

Are we going to spend the rat of our lives staring at our mobile screens? A babysitter spent the first half hour just texting and ignoring Goto's kids. She bans texting, iPads et al at the dinner table.

We shouldn't be designing for addiction, but to fit in to people's rituals. Do you read a physical newspaper over breakfast or RSS feeds on an iPad? Do you listen to the radio as you commute, or podcasts? Goto is shocked by how little people understand the customers they're providing business services to.

Mood and context change people's experiences - she gives the example of her Mini, and the "fun" of its design, and the way that shapes her whole driving experience.


  • get people to stay upright and communicate with others
  • understand what machine to human communications should be and how they should work.

The gulf between what people tell you, what they believe about themselves and what they actually do is a problem when researching user needs.

The iPhone home button is comforting because it always takes you back to the home screen, something clearly happens when you use it, and it has a optic experience that make sit feel good. Oh, and you can customise it, if you want.

We've moved up the hierarchy of needs to the point of comfort, beyond merely usable. Sensory engineering has been around since the 1960s, Kansei provides a framework for measuring emotional response to design. I like the idea of "contextual personas" - personas which reflect what people do at different times of day. One of my minor obsessions is that people consume news in different forms at different times in their day, based on their working, commuting and relaxing patterns. This looks like a good way to start exploring those ideas, and understanding the context of how people use what we do.

Fascinating talk.

#dConstruct - Don Norman on embracing systems and complexity

Don Norman at dConstruct 2011

Don Norman appears to be scene setting - he's talking us through many of the current issues in technology. He's given us a little light Google-bashing, talking about the familiar issues that you are not Google's users (unless you're an advertiser) - you're the product. The nymwars around Google+. The lack of design expertise.

And others - Apple and its rules.  So switch to Android - and you have to design for dozens of different devices, screen sizes and versions of the OS, instead of two.

And now we have tablets. There's no consistent language of what you do to achieve any particular task across devices yet (and Apple is busy disrupting ideas by reversing scrolling in Lion, too).

"It's a great challenge - and we're still learning. Are you ready?"

The distinction between devices is blurring, you can't be focused on a single device type any more. Interfaces are changing and blurring.

Apple licensed music, and made it easy to sell songs at a reasonable price. They made it easy to find music. iTunes is an SAP database - they took that complicated database and made it easy to use. And they made it possible for other people to develop accessories. And they made an "iPod approved" system which meant they could make money from that ecosystem. Amazon has done many of these things with the Kindle. Kindle dominates because it has the easiest system.

Twitter: Built of social clusters of people. Retweets get you from one cluster to another. Twitter provides the tools, and we provide the content (and the usage methodology, too - users came up with @replies and #hashtags). We're curating and editing through these social processes.

"You need to think systems" - as opposed to a single app or website.

Ah, I'm beginning to remember the style of dConstruct from last year - some of these talks are so wide-ranging (if you're being kind) or rambling (if you're not) that they're hard to summarise in a post. Norman is effectively exploring how we need to shift our mindsets from single products to systems, that we build in co-operation with others, be they other companies, or our users.


September 1, 2011

Journalists don't own their Twitter followers

A few weeks ago, a rather well-judged piece of linkbait set the journalism social media world aflame, as the BBC was accused of "losing" large numbers of followers when Laura Kuenssberg decamped to ITV and took her Twitter account with her. I was, as you may recall, rather sceptical of that argument

Well, somewhat after the event, she's decided to weigh in herself, behind the sheltering Great Paywall of Wapping:

If the Editor of this paper were to suggest that he owned you just because you are reading these lines, you might understandably be puzzled. Perhaps, not unreasonably, you would be downright irritated that the choice you made to read a particular article in a particular newspaper on a particular day could make you the property of a particular journalist.
And, in light of the growing evidence of how very efficient Twitter has become as a news distribution medium, I find this to be a rather revealing statement:

But, more importantly, what the fuss did demonstrate was how central online reporting has become to the work of journalists. No doubt, having started tweeting as an experiment two years ago during the party conference season, it became almost as important to me to break stories on Twitter as it did to get them on air on the BBC's rolling news channel.
It's a good, thoughtful piece, that, to me, really helps undermine the corporate-structure centric blog post that kicked off this whole discussion. It's about the communication between reporter and their interested audience. It's about speed. It's about relationship

Well worth the price of admission. :-)
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