One Man and His Blog: October 2011 Archives

October 2011 Archives

October 31, 2011

When is a phone not a phone?

3 on iPad
There's a quite astonishing (to me at least) post on the Three blog today. Phil Sheppard has posted that 97% of the Three network's traffic is data


That means that this "phone" network is actually just 3% voice traffic - a tiny amount. At those levels, it almost makes sense for the company to just encourage everyone onto VOIP solutions, and let the voice business go. And, that's pretty much inevitable in the long term. Modern smartphones, like my iPhone, treat voice calls as just another app. It's not the central raison d'être of the phone as it once was. So far today, I've received two phone calls on my "phone", sent a couple of dozen e-mails, checked into four locations, browsed dozens of sites, sent a few tweets... 

They're not phones, they're just ultra-portable computers that can do voice calls. The network operators are just providing me with data access - and that's clearest on my iPad, where there is no built in phone. The sooner voice and SMS fade away into the data stream, the better. 
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October 28, 2011

Journos and Scientists: observed…

I am a journalist. I am married to a scientist. You can guess why I enjoyed this so much…

The journalist and the scientist are two species that inhabit the same ecosystem, but have very different behaviors. I have spent many years carefully observing both of these species in their natural habitats, and have compiled this guide for the use of anyone interested in understanding their social structures.

Well worth reading to kill those last few minutes before beer o'clock…

Don't Mourn Paper Books Just Yet

A webcartoonist laments:

I've seen examples of the beautiful work being done in interactive ebooks for children. They depress me. Kids are in a world of their own and we seek ever more to make concrete things that would have lived in their imagination. Any graphic work is dead on screen compared to how it looks on paper.
This is the first time I've felt like this. I love digital media. They free us from clutter, from waste. But I don't think we have to be beholden to gadget manufacturers on books. I don't think we need to enter the dismal Kindle's annual upgrade curve. Books aren't a delivery medium, they're an art form. We forget that at our peril.

The shift to eBooks seems to have created a stronger nostalgia factor than music or movies did. But then, CDs were never as emotive a medium as LPs were, and the combined efforts of tape, minidisc and CD pretty much prepared the ground for MP3s to take root. And those of us who remember buying TV shows and movies on VHS video cassettes will remember what a dire format that was.

Books, though, shouldn't be entirely an either/or choice. I'm now buying the majority of my reading in digital form, but I still buy, love and enjoy owning well-priduced hardbacks. Digital should kill the paperback. I think great hardbacks, as objects we can enjoy intrinsically linked to their content, should have a great future.

Covering air shows, the RBI way

I posted this on Twitter last week, but I think it's worth reposting here. Here's how FlightGlobal moves a whole chunk of its publishing operations to air shows, so they can maximise their coverage:

[via Runway Girl]

Journalists: a bunch of reactionaries

Rosie Niven comments on the BBC's attempts to get its staff to mix it up a little:

I’ve been in a few newsrooms now and while I applaud the attempt to get staff out of their fiefdoms and mixing with people on other desks, I can’t see how this heavy-handed policy is going to work.

Oddly enough, the lack of integration between, say, news and features desks is often a problem on print titles, that just gets exaggerated as you move towards digital. The web/print divide is just the latest in a very long line of cultural chasms that have littered our newsrooms. At least that's been my experience over the last couple of decades.

I'd be fascinated to know if anyone has every done any research into the psychology of journalists and why they can be both territorial and suspicious of change.

October 27, 2011

The Social Publishing Tipping Point

Idle thought, born of a conversation with a colleague:

Have we reached the point where having a social publishing strategy is no longer an advantage, but not having one is a massive competitive disadvantage?

If we haven't, it must be imminent. 

Asking the right iPad questions

George Brock:

Given the eye-popping sales of the iPad, people are inclined to wonder out loud if tablets will "save" journalism. Wrong question. No platform or technology will "save" anything which depends so completely on the content and how good or bad it is.

Absolutely right. The questions people should be asking are "can we provide people with a compelling experience on this device?" and "is there an opportunity to make some revenue from it?" George has some thoughts on that.

Liveblogging Like Minds: a post-mortem

So, what did I learn at this year's Like Minds, other than lying around doing absolutely nothing on a Sunday (other than a trip to the tip. Oh, and to Waitrose...) is a good and necessary thing sometimes?

Well, this was, as previously noted, the first time I've liveblogged a three day conference and the first time I've done that blogging on the conference organiser's site. Here's what I learned about that experience:

  • The statue on Cathedral GreenDoing three days of liveblogging and seeing your own site's traffic drop slightly is an odd experience
  • Being isolated from the traffic stats of the blog you're writing for feels like blundering around in the dark. I had no idea if my work was having any resonance with the audience whatsoever. This makes me even more determined to make sure our journalists have easy access to blog stats as soon as we can.
  • Being an "official" liveblogger as opposed to a guest one changes your mindset. I felt obligated to blog every speaker session that came up, when normally I'd pick and choose to give myself a break. Instead, I ended up skipping an immersive one day and a lunch the next for a little RnR and a battery charge.
  • Not having power to the seat for liveblogging is a major handicap
  • I was pretty much dead to the world each evening, hiding in the hotel and hitting the sack early to prepare myself for the next day.
  • This was my longest continuous period working with WordPress, and I'd nearly convinced myself to switch this blog over when database errors started cropping up intermittently. That scared me off...
  • It's interesting to not the differences between what live tweeters pick up, and what my liveblogging tends to emphasise. 
Still, three days of continuous liveblogging is possible, and I'm reasonably pleased with the results, which you can find on the Like Minds site. There's also a compilation of links to other bloggers' coverage, too. Onwards to Le Web...

October 26, 2011

An all-digital emphasis

Ah, things are getting interesting:

Ziff Davis Enterprise has launched a new strategy called OmniDigital that will take the company all-digital with emphasis in four keys areas--traditional websites, mobile websites, tablets and digital editions.
Revealing, and I think wise, choice of areas.

October 24, 2011

Apple advertising, 30 years ago

Talking of Apple, I made a fun discovery on the way home from Like Minds last week. I stopped off at my mother-in-law's, and helped her sort through some old family stuff. Amongst the various bits of memorabilia were these two souvenir magazines from 1981:

1981 Royal Wedding mags
And in the Telegraph magazine was the most wonderful advert. It was an Apple advert, for the Apple II in the pre-Macintosh days:

Apple advert from 1981
Not exactly a model of the modern, minimal Apple ad, is it?

This week's reading...

Steve Jobs: the Biography
Well, that's my reading sorted out for the next week or so...

(Couldn't bring myself to order it on the Kindle, and actually cancelled a print copy of it...)

October 20, 2011

Like Minds Liveblogging Day 1 linkage

Here's what I liveblogged yesterday:

And there's a whole bunch of Like Minds photos on Flickr.

More liveblogging about to begin, and probably some more analytical posts a bit later on. 

October 19, 2011

Like Minds ready to go...

All set-up and ready to go for three days (three...!) of liveblogging at Like Minds. Just a reminder: all my session liveblog posts will be on the Like Minds site, not here. I will be linking them later on, though. 

October 18, 2011

Liveblogging for Like Minded Folks...

Like Minds pre-conference dinner
It's Tuesday night, it's late and I'm catching up on admin in a hotel room. I'm here for the Like Minds conference, which runs for the next three days. And, predictably enough, I'll be live-blogging it. But this live-blogging will be a little bit different. I'm here as a guest of the Live Minds team, and I am the live-blogger for the conference - and that means that I'll be liveblogging on the Like Minds blog, not here. It's not something I've done before, so it should be an interesting experiment.

And that's not the only reason it'll be different. It's also the first time I've attempted to liveblog for three days straight. I'm normally absolutely whacked after two days, so goodness only knows what state I'll be in by Friday PM. But that's a long time away. The pre-conference dinner (which was particularly lovely, and at a hotel with special memories for me) is over, my liveblogging kit packed, and I'm ready to hit the sack. See you tomorrow, both here and there...

October 12, 2011

While you're waiting for iOS 5 to drop...

Middle class are some links to distract you.

And, finally, possibly the most evil app ever invented for carnivorous Londoners. Damn you, Sue Llewellyn for bringing this to my notice. 

October 10, 2011

Metrics begin where journalistic instinct ends

Testing our instincts
I have a theory that we place too much importance on instinct in journalism. There's a good reason for that - back in the print days, we didn't have much else to go on. Defining what elements of the magazine were and weren't working was largely a matter of instinct, as there was no clear and easy way of doing on-going market research. The instinct of the editor lived and died by the circulation figures. And there's a mythology in our trade around the editor's snap decisions and the instinct of the reporter. 

But we don't only need to work like that now. Even free analytics tools can give us clear pictures of what is attractive on our site, and what was a waste of our time and money. But again and again when I ask "who/how many/how often" about parts of our site, I'm met by blank looks. We have headline traffic stats, but very little analysis of how people move around, or how much impact a certain box on a homepage or list on an article page is actually having. I was in a meeting last week where two really good, really eye-opening pieces of analysis were presented that materially shifted our thinking around a particular website. I really wish we saw that more often. 

Now, to be clear, I'm not just talking about hits and traffic measurement here - that's a woefully crude way of measuring success - but figuring out where the busy plazas are on our sites, and where the deserted, neglected back alleys are. What value is that box, or that header area adding? How does the traffic it drives or its usage compare to the development costs or the site speed?  We think stories of that type are important - but if people aren't reading them, why is that? Are we wrong? Are we telling the stories the wrong way? Have we made then too hard to find? Start with instinct, by all means. But test if it's right, and if you find that it's not, figure out why it's not and learn from that experience. 

I'm not saying that we should do away with instinct (because, honestly, I think instinct is often a better way of launching things than market research). But I do think we should be testing that instinct more rigorously once it is codified into our websites. 

October 9, 2011

Like Minds and Le Web: Liveblogging ahead

The end of the year always seems to end up as conference season for me - which is no bad thing. A good conference sends you away full of ideas and enthusiasm for the coming months, and hopefully the current crop will see me intellectually kitted up for the challenges of 2012. 

And I'm delighted to say I've been invited to be an official blogger for two forthcoming conferences.

Like Minds

The last few Like Minds events have been some of my most enjoyable and useful times at conferences in the last few years. The Exeter conference, which kicks off next week, has expanded to three days. Scott Gould has invited me to join the conference as an official blogger - I'll be liveblogging sessions on the Like Minds site - so I'll be there for all three days. 

If you can conceivably get to Exeter for those three days (19 to 21st October), I really recommend that you do. 

Le Web

LeWeb - Register Now!I can't quite believe that this will be the sixth Le Web I've attended. I know many people who attended the predecessor conferences Les Blogs find that it has grown out of the range they feel comfortable with, but I think I enjoyed the 2010 Le Web at least as much as any other. I'll be heading to Paris in December as an official blogger once more.

I don't think there's any other event where the European and US tech scene meet and mingle quite so much, and I'm really interested to see how the extension of the conference to three days will change how it feels. Let's hope it's not bedevilled by snow like it was last year, though... 
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October 8, 2011

Happy 10th Birthday, Movable Type

10th birthday cake for Movable Type
Movable Type, the software that runs this blog, hits its 10th birthday today. Blimey.

Makes me feel a little guilty for having spent the day futzing around with WordPress...

Free Starbucks WiFi = Local News Opportunity?

Yesterday, the news broke that Starbucks will start offering free WiFi in the UK. They're not the first - you can get free WiFi in Caffe Nero already, for example - but the content partnership model they've followed in the US suggests some intriguing possibilities for local news publishers:

Now, if I were any one of the major regional newspaper groups, I would be beating a path to the door of Starbucks to offer my, say, TrinityMirror (Cardiff) content for the 'portal' that has just opened up every time I open up my lap-top in a Cardiff Starbucks. It's a whole new way of finding your audience; that doesn't involve them buying a copy of the local newspaper from the grizzled old vendor stood outside.
Any good reason why they shouldn't follow Mr Waghorn's suggestion?

Twitter: the foundation of a new site launch?

From Dan Frommer's progress report three months into his excellent SplatF blog:

Top traffic referrers include Techmeme, Twitter, and Daring Fireball. I'll probably write about this in more depth someday, but it's amazing how much Twitter influences how someone like me or Michael Arrington or Brian Lam can start a new site and immediately have thousands of readers. This sort of endeavor would be much harder without Twitter. (Obviously, most of it has to do with the work we did before our new sites. But Twitter is the glue that connects us with our readers, and that's really cool, and something that didn't used to exist. It's obvious why Facebook and Google are trying to get a piece of that.)

It's certainly my experience that it's getting harder and harder to launch new sites effectively unless you have a significant pool of pre-existing relationships in social media to get the initial and sustained attention. 

October 7, 2011

A last post about Steve Jobs

A magazine whose cover lines feature Steve Jobs
Just to round off my blogging around the death of Steve Jobs - which rendered the cover line on the magazine above strangely apposite when I spotted it in Victoria Station last night - here's a few other posts that have crossed my radar.

Kevin Anderson notes that Steve Jobs saw the internet revolution coming before most people:

We still are moving through the early days of this revolution, but Steve Jobs saw it coming more than a quarter of a century ago, when he was only 29-years-old. He didn't make it to see another 29 years.
And it's worth noting that the first web browser was created on a Steve Jobs created machine: the NeXT cube. 

Stephen Fry has harsh words for those trotting out a usual criticism of Jobs and Apple:

The use of that last phrase, "style over substance" has always been, as Oscar Wilde observed, a marvellous and instant indicator of a fool. For those who perceive a separation between the two have either not lived, thought, read or experienced the world with any degree of insight, imagination or connective intelligence. It may have been Leclerc Buffon who first said "le style c'est l'homme - the style is the man" but it is an observation that anyone with sense had understood centuries before, Only dullards crippled into cretinism by a fear of being thought pretentious could be so dumb as to believe that there is a distinction between design and use, between form and function, between style and substance.
(Although some are just baffled by the whole fuss around Apple)

Byrne Reece tells the tale of a summer of interning at Pixar while Steve Jobs was there full time:

I remember seeing him for the first time that summer and looking upon him with the same sense of wonder that only exists when looking at a celebrity: staring, unable to look away until you realize his gaze might be turning towards yours and then quickly turning your head as to not give the impression you were staring. For the first couple days I did that, joking with others that he literally wore the same outfit everyday: black mock turtleneck and blue jeans. I imagined him getting dressed in the morning and opening up a huge closet with rows and rows of blue jeans and black shirts hanging before him, with him carefully choosing what he would wear that day as if each shirt and pair of jeans had a special meaning to him, even though they all looked the same.
But, really, I like these personal stories of the effect the products Jobs produced have on people's lives best:

In the summer of 2010, Max was in hell. Everything was right there and now, the noises that were too scary, the smells that were too much, the lights that were overpowering. He had no way of being able to tell us, so he screamed. And screamed... and screamed. In a moment of desperation, out came Mummy's iPhone, with a Cbeebies video on of Razzle Dazzle. He instantly focussed all his attentions on that, and the meltdown just disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.
Life goes on.

About your advertising-led business model...

Safari Extension Gallery
So, I wondered over to the Safari Extensions Gallery to grab the new Evernote extension. And what did I find at the top of the most popular list?

AdBlock Extension
I'd always assumed AdBlock and adblocking browser plugins were very much a minority activity. Now I'm wondering if that's case...

October 6, 2011

Here's to the crazy ones...

An unaired version of the Think Different Apple advert, narrated by Steve Jobs

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At 5.45am

I'd been awake for about 20 minutes before my iPhone blared into life; Wake Up Boo filled the bedroom, and I leapt off the bed to switch it off before my wife woke. As is my habit, I flicked the phone off airplane mode, and gave my e-mails a cursory look.

Oh, shit.


I remember my first encounter with a Mac vividly. I was still in my teens - just - and in my first year of an English Literature degree. I'd been persuaded by a friend - whose name I'm embarrassed to admit I've long forgotten - to see what I could do to get the college magazine back on its feet after a disastrous year. There, sat in the cubbyhole that masqueraded as the magazine office, was a Mac. No hard drive, tiny greyscale screen. That tiny little box changed my life. We wrote in Word and laid out in Aldus Pagemaker on that little box. It did what we had several expensive typesetting machines and a handfuls of PCs to do back at Felix, Imperial College's student magazine. I had the power to publish on a desk, in one box. I was hooked.


RIP Steve JobsWhen the news came, years ago now, that Steve Jobs had pancreatic cancer, I felt a chill. The last time I heard that diagnosis, it was applied to my Dad. The oncologist had looked each of us in the eye, and then handed me a piece of paper with the number 3 written on it. "Years?" I asked. "Months," he replied. Dad beat the odds. He made it to 9 months.

Within weeks of that horrible day, I had bought myself my first Mac of Jobs' second era at Apple: one of those much-mocked clamshell iBooks, in graphite. I bought it so I could work from Suffolk when I needed to, and my brother bought a digital video camera so we could capture some of those last, happy days. And so I discovered iMovie, and a new set of opportunities for creation, for recording and sharing opened up. Within a few months of my Dad's death, I was blogging, and using that to post the first pictures from my very first digital camera. 2001 changed my life in many ways, but many of those changes were mediated through that toilet-seat iBook.


I'm sat on a train somewhere between West Sussex and London, typing these words on an iPad. (You know that whole "iPad is for consumption not creation meme"? I never got the memo.) It's given to very few to change the lives of millions in a positive way. It's given to even fewer to provide the world with beautiful, functional tools that change our relationship to both our own creativity and the creativity of others. Jobs looked at the digital revolution and dreamed of using it to do things better, to live better, to make things better. And he did that. What a life.

Thank you, Steve. I can honestly say that your work made my life a better place, and continues to do so every single day. 


Some other posts about Steve Jobs from friends or acquaintances:

Thank you, Steve - Jen Dixon
I met Steve Jobs once - Mike Butcher

October 5, 2011

iPhone 4S as a reporting tool

The iPhone 4s
There's plenty for journalists to learn from yesterday's Apple event, not least that spending weeks doing reports based on unsubstantiated rumours about a forthcoming iPhone is a really, really great way to make yourself look incredibly stupid once the event has happened.

I don't really have a great deal to say about the new iPhone 4S, other than to note that it's a solid update. From a journalist's tool point of view, the most significant announcements were probably the following:

  • Better camera - the iPhone 4 was already capable of producing print-quality photos. This only improves that
  • Faster camera - an underreported but significant update. Just over a second to camera readiness? Half a second until you can take a second photo? Great for fast-moving events.
  • Gyroscope-based stabilisation for HD video - another improvement that makes this a great field multi-media tool
The iPhone was already a great multi-media reporting tool. This update just makes it even more compelling. 

October 3, 2011

Is Andrew Marr getting very pretentious...

Andre Marr in a Telegraph caption
...or does a sub on the Telegraph's iPad edition need their knuckles rapped?


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