One Man and His Blog: February 2012 Archives

February 2012 Archives

February 29, 2012

Le Web en Londres?

It was a persistent rumour at Le Web in Paris last year. And now it's confirmed: a summer Le Web in London...

Not much chance of hypothermia at this one. ;-)

TED Talk from the year 2023

This is marvellous:

It's a piece of marketing for Ridley Scott's forthcoming Prometheus (a prequel, of sorts, to the Alien movies). I do hope that TED talks are this cool in 11 years...

Why Videos Go Viral

Bear this in mind next time someone tries to sell you viral video production services:

[via Lee Smallwood]

February 27, 2012

5 thoughts about Social Media Week London

Distarcted at social media week London

This post has lurked in the drafts folder of MarsEdit for the last couple of weeks because, well, my current state of under-employment is making me more nervous than normal of offending people. But if there's one thing the last six weeks or so has taught me, there's no point in trying to suppress who I am and what I believe just for the sake of a job*.

So, here's some things I noted during the course of Social Media Week London, from attending events, to talking to people who attended events, and from watching the hashtag streams roll past:

1. This is just beginning

A common theme at several sessions, including the Like Minds one on brand communications is that we're still just in the early stages of what the internet will bring us and how it will change our world. And I think that's accurate. The more I step back from my particular bubble world of journalism, the more I see how profoundly online communications and data pools are changing all sorts of industries. You'd better get used to change, because there's plenty of it still to come.

However, I'm amazed by how many self-proclaimed social media types don't seem to understand that. There's a distinct sub-class of social media "experts" that are familiar with Twitter and Facebook, and seem to be threatened by or - worse - be dismissive of any new form of social platform that emerges. They remind me of the way many "new media" types reacted to the emergence of social media: dismissal and hostility. And I suppose it is threatening if you're invested in a limited subset of tools that you've learned about second hand from others.

There's an advantage to this if you're in the market for social media expertise, though:  it gives you a quick way of spotting the good people.They're the ones open to experimentation, change and new possibilities. And that's what you need in this era.

2. Practical advice is thin on the ground

There were some genuine social media superstars talking at events during Social Media Week London. But I'm amazed by the number of people popping up on panels with only a couple of years' experience (and the degree to which they overlap with the people I talked about in the last point...). They're able to talk in a limited way about an equally limited subset of situations. They're much more comfortable talking theory than they are hard, practical experience. And many people attending these panels want to leave having learnt something they can apply directly. There was much disgruntlement at the night-time drinkies during social media week (and in coffee meetings afterwards) about the value of the content in many of the events.

Part of this is the nature of some of the panels: big name agencies want to sell their own services and flatter their clients. Fair enough. But I'm not sure they're doing themselves much good by providing weak, platitudinous speakers, though. If I was feeling cruel, I might suggest that Snake Oil is easier to sell than real medicine, because it tastes better - but does you a lot less good. But I'm not, so I won't. ;-)

Oh, and Google? People attending social media week have played with Google+. They don't need one of your engineers to demo it for them.

I suspect that panel organisers need to balance inexperienced but prominent people from big name companies with more experienced, but lower-ranking folks, even if they don't work for such big names, if they want their attendees to go away with the sense that they've actually learnt something.

3. Beware the noise

There was an interesting comment at the Like Minds event about events (metaevent?): "all you need is someone with an iPhone and a brain..." And that might be true now. But it won't be true for much longer. As social platforms grow, it gets harder and harder to attract attention - look at how hard it is to build an audience for a new launch on a mature social platform like blogging, for example. The more people creating content live at events, the more you need skilled practitioners to help cut through the noise and achieve the amplification you're looking for. It's easy to get attention when few people are doing something. It's so much harder when everyone's doing it. The bandwagon feels great, when there's five of you on it. It's a bit less fun when there's five hundred.

4. There's lots of work left to do on curation

I don't think anybody has really solved the problem of linking together related content on a topic. We've been trying since the days of Trackbacks and Pingbacks, which have all but vanished thanks to the sterling efforts of the spammers (thanks, guys). But the idea of a cycle of buzz-building before something occurs, live-coverage as it occurs, followed by curation of that live coverage through to analysis and discussion is compelling, and useful from everything from the events business to news coverage. And the tools for curation still feel like the weak spot to me.

While I can see, and appreciate, the use of Storify, Bundlr et al, they make me a little nervous. What happens to that curation of information if, say, they're bought by Facebook and shut down? It feels like they need to evolve into the sort of tool that we can have confidence in, even if the mothership goes away. Centralised platforms are always a vulnerability. I can understand why The Guardian has been working so hard on its own liveblogging/curation tool.

5. Events are the new media

There's plenty of evidence that we're moving towards a world where online and print media are ways of connecting and maintaining the relationships deepened and developed at face-to-face events. For all traditional media's sneering comments about "virtual friends", online communities seem more keen on meeting face to face than pretty much any other form of community, expect possibly swingers. Tweetups, unconferences, theme weeks, blogmeets (remember them?) et al have been a consistent theme throughout the growth of online media. That's steadily shifting onto a more commercial footing with media businesses moving into events in a big way (stand up UBM), while events businesses are slowly realising that they need good content resources to build momentum before an event and sustain it afterwards. The printed magazine was a great way of maintaining a form of community - an illusion of community, perhaps - but the mix of events and social media is such a powerful way of connecting people who have a mutual interest in a topic that I'm sure we'll see this cycle of face-to-face events and linking media as a major theme of all community-centric publishing over the next decade.

But people have been saying this for a little while, haven't they?

*If I'm broke, homeless and divorced in a year's time, you have full permission to quote this at me and laugh, in exchange for sparing some money for a cup of coffee...

Journalists: Link To Win

People have, on occasion, described TechCrunch (and ex-TechCrunch) writers are "bratty" in their writing style. MG Siegler does a pretty good job of proving the point in his complaints last week about the lack of credit he got from the Wall Street Journal:

Earlier today, I broke some news.
I don't typically do this anymore given my new job. But from time to time this will happen. But if you read The Wall Street Journal, you'd never know. Why's that? Because they're fuckheads who don't credit actual sources of information.

But, you know what? Bratty or not, he has a point. There's a whole underlying cultural issue behind all of this, one that is deeply embedded in the journalistic workflow. Sometimes, when training journalists in blogging, I've said something like this:

"Most magazines exist in this strange alternate reality where their competitor doesn't exist. They'll acknowledge anything that happens in their industry, other than the work done by their competitors."

It was the start of an argument about linking to your competitors, rather than just rewriting their exclusives without acknowledging them - which is what seems to pass for standard practice these days. No wonder we slipped so easily into rewriting press releases when we've been rewriting other journalists for years...

Here's the thing: not linking (or acknowledging) the reporter that broke the story first is part of the competition game that publications play between themselves. And you know who gets played? The readers. They're the ones you're trying to fool when you don't link to the original story, and if they happen to read both publications - which many do - you're busted. And you just made yourself look like a second-rate journalist, and a bad loser to boot.

As Matthew Ingram puts it:

I think that failure to link decreases the trust readers have, because it suggests (or tries to imply) that the outlet in question came by the information independently when they did not.

Perhaps it's all been exacerbated by the perilous financial situation that most publications find themselves in right now. Indeed, our national press only seem ready to acknowledge the existence of each other when the time comes to go on the attack, as Fleet Street Blue notes.

David Weinberger makes the "public good" argument for linking:

I think there's another reason why reports ought to link to their, um, inspirations: Links are a public good. They create a web that is increasingly rich, useful, diverse, and trustworthy. We should all feel an obligation to be caretakers of and contributors to this new linked public.

However, I'll give you a more basic, a more commercial reason for linking to your competitors. If you give your readers confidence that you'll link freely and generously to the best work done elsewhere, you've just given them another reason - and a compelling one -  to visit your site first. Don't win through pretending you broke the story; win by being the most comprehensive place to go to find information on a topic.

Update: Steve Buttry has some excellent reasons for linking, too.

February 24, 2012

Wired up for a new business model?

Well, this is certainly an alternative business model for magazines:

The U.K. edition of Wired magazine is getting into the consulting business -- and the editors are doing the heavy lifting. Condé Nast U.K. said Thursday that Wired Consulting will be a bespoke business consultancy, sharing its "access and insight on the techniques, technologies, and people driving change." The aim is to enable businesses to develop future strategies.

The concept is that the editors are learning more from their interview than they can put into the magazine. So they'll sell it as consultancy. Funnily enough, a couple of us proposed something similar in my last job, with the more web-savvy members of the company helping the target industries migrate online. We didn't really get any traction. Maybe the Wired guys will prove the model...

[via Kevin Anderson]

February 23, 2012

What happened to web Readability?

This looks interesting, although it'll take a lot to drag me away from Instapaper:

It says something about how bad we've been in designing websites for long form content that there are so many people working hard to improve the experience of just reading the stuff.

[via The Next Web]

Influential or just noisy?

Given that I spent most of social media week hammering at the keyboard of my MacBook, bashing out liveblogs for the good people at Like Minds, I'm faintly surprised to discover that I was, in fact, one of the top 30 most influential tweeters during the event. This, at least, was the verdict of the Brass Agency, who were doing all sorts of clever social media monitoring and analysing things during the week. 

Here's how they've showed the relationships amongst the top 30 (I'm at about 7 o'clock):

And here's how they explain it:

In the spirograph [above], each bar is an individual person or organisation's unique twitter handle. Bar height represents 'influence' (as calculated by the factors mentioned above) and the lines between the people represent who is following who (blue to pink indicates the direction of the link).

These sort of tools are clearly in their infancy, and separating the wheat from the chaff (or the influential from the plain noisy) is still a challenge - but it's still interesting. The blue /pink division give you a visual indication of where people who are isolated from the main "bubble of influence" which is a quick way of starting to judge where the outliers - and thus the potential connectors between spheres of influence - are. And that's worth publishing, I think. 

That, and I'm easily flattered into publishing graphics. ;-)

February 22, 2012

Why Digital Inheritance Matters

Mum & Dad's music

PandoDaily seems to be rapidly becoming the site I disagree with all the time. It happened again this morning, with a piece arguing that our children won't want to inherit our digital music collections:

Passing your iTunes collection down to your kids isn't the modern day equivalent to your dad passing his vinyl collection down to you.
Once you take away the physical element*, there is no sense of nostalgia inherent to that file itself. While there may be many a memory associated with a specific album or song, any copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy that you hand down holds no more sentimental value than a copy of that same song sitting on YouTube. You're not giving them something of yours, but a distant manifestation of something you paid for.

To which I say: bullshit. I have my parents' digital music collection in my iTunes library. It might not be the very same bits on the very same spinning platter that they used. (The hard drive still exists, though - it's in the same iMac, but it lives at my brother's place in France). As I outlined in a comment on that post, I paid to upgrade those tracks to a DRM-free format, just so I could listen to the music my parents chose when the mood took me. It may not be a physical pile of vinyl I can display in some form of physical shrine, but it is a tangible link to my late parents.

To say that it's a physical object that is most resonant of a deceased person is arrant nonsense. The most important thing is the choices they made, and that digital music collection is a set of those choices made manifest. I can click on that playlist, click play, and be taken back to my parents' house in Suffolk in an instant.

Our digital choices matter. Our digital inheritance matters.

February 21, 2012

RSA - The Spirit of Cities

One of the advantages of often using the RSA House as my London office is that there are some really excellent lunchtime events in my workplace. Today, Avner de-Shalit, professor of democracy and human rights at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was talking about the The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age, a book he co-authored with Daniel Bell on the identity of cities in a global age.

We live in an global era - it is flat in the sense that it is easy to move from one place to another, he suggested. But it's also flat in he sense that it's not profound. There's less debate about ideology than there used to be. However different states try to be from one another, the demands of the global market, the IMF, international law, etc, actually drive them into a stae of relative similarity. What does it mean to be French, German or Italian? It matters less and less, he suggested, but people want to feel particularity. Cities shape our lives because they promote radically different lives.

The book argues empirically that the urban identity is supplanting the national one, and that it's a positive thing. The authors studied nine cities, and compared them with other cities in the same countries.

He floated some nice ideas:

  • The stroller as the botanist of the street.
  • Why no children in the public specs of New York? You cannot walk in the streets if you are a child. At child height all you can see is legs moving.
  • Civicism - a sense of pride, love and desire to contribute to a city. Use this local patriotism to start to restrict the power of the state. Cities cannot fight each other - just complain.

And he had some definitions of the spirits of cities for us. Paris is the non-pasteurised city, leaving pasteurised to the bourgeois. Berlin is intolerance and acceptance - but mixed with intolerance. He explained this one in some detail. All modern buildings in the city are built with glass and are transparent; a stark contradiction of the Nazi era. However, there have been peaks and troughs of tolerance in Berlin. Tolerance has meant indifference rather than inclusion. On a different path now? We believe so. Berliners are no longer trying to be perfect.

The city as metaphor for corruption and crime is an outdated idea, he suggested. The idea of a city needs to be meaningful to local communities.

Some more ideas from the Q&A, moderated by Dr Fran Tonkiss, Reader in Sociology, and Director of the Cities Programme, LSE:

  • If the idea of a city is engineered top down as a marketing exercise, it needs to be done in a way which allows people to be involved in the process.
  • Cities have the right size - but not the right budget, so there are some problems with which they can't cope.
  • When we go to a city for the first time, we walk and walk and walk until we collapse - because we want to get a sense of the city.
  • London has different, competing stories. London was more like a federation until the arrival of the mayor. After the war, London decided to be a global city - the sane alternative to New York. A cosmopolitan city. Other cities like London: Tokyo. Maybe there's room for a book about neighbourhoods.
  • Transport - some cities are good to walk, some are lousy to walk. Lots of books about the workable city.
  • Climate effect on cities? Detroit was doomed by the cold. Cities that flourish in America are often determined by climate. The warmer the better.

I suppose, as a journalist and writer, the idea of cities having, in effect, a narrative of self appeals to me deeply. But the underlying principle, that of the city replacing the nation state as a point of identification, is compelling. I suppose I'd better read the book now...

Enhanced by Zemanta

February 20, 2012

The iPhone: Photojournalism Disruptor

I'm a little bored of the infographic onslaught we've seen over the past year. But this one caught my eye:
Continue reading The iPhone: Photojournalism Disruptor.

eBooks: the purest literary experience

Kindle trumps paper…

Here's a stirring defence of the eBook against the "paper purity" brigade:

The e-book, by eliminating all variations in the appearance and weight of the material object we hold in our hand and by discouraging anything but our focus on where we are in the sequence of words (the page once read disappears, the page to come has yet to appear) would seem to bring us closer than the paper book to the essence of the literary experience. Certainly it offers a more austere, direct engagement with the words appearing before us and disappearing behind us than the traditional paper book offers, giving no fetishistic gratification as we cover our walls with famous names. It is as if one had been freed from everything extraneous and distracting surrounding the text to focus on the pleasure of the words themselves. In this sense the passage from paper to e-book is not unlike the moment when we passed from illustrated children’s books to the adult version of the page that is only text. This is a medium for grown-ups.

And this comment gets bonus points for use of the phrase "learned fetishism".

February 19, 2012

Technorati Interviews Typepad. Hello, 2005...

It's like 2005's blogging world came back...

(Snark aside, it's interesting that both are still around, despite social media's relentless neophillia, and that Jeff Reine has some interesting things to say. Watch part two for some interesting stuff on the return of StumbleUpon and Reddit, and the fall of Digg.)

[via Everything Typepad]

Saturday Night's fine for content

Watching an advert on my Mac

So, Saturday night. Like the party animal I am, I'm sat around the house perusing the interwebs. I know how to live.

But while I was happily browsing away, I happened across a video on the site of a Like Minds acquaintance, and started watching. Then switched to HiDef, made it full screen and sat back with my feet up to watch it properly. And, at the end, I realised that I'd just spent over ten minutes watching an advert - and an advert for products I'd never buy directly.

It's an advert for glass - the sort of glass you buy and integrate into digital devices if you're a manufacturer. But some of the visions of the future are so compelling in the ad, it makes it an entertaining watch. Sure, there are things to quibble about. Certainly the sexual politics of this vision are a little 1950s for a mid-21st century set of predictions. There are a few clumsy moments.

But it's still a piece of advertising content that grabbed 10 minutes of my time, and made me think. That's pretty impressive.

February 13, 2012

Like Minds at Social Media Week London

LeSanto letweets

I've got a busy week ahead of me, liveblogging the Like Minds events at Social Media Week London. Above you can see the spectacular Like Minds social media hub, where Le Santo and I are hard at work; he's busy livetweeting the events and owning the hashtag.
I'm doing the blogging on the Like Minds site, so I'll link the posts here:

February 10, 2012

When social media types get old...

I'm participating in Social Media Week, through the Like Minds events, which I'll be liveblogging on their site. Hope to see some of you there...

February 9, 2012

How very, very Pinteresting

I'm finding new social media darling Pinterest compelling and entertaining. It does what so many people use Tumblr for - visual curation - better, and in a more agreeable layout. 

A few relevant links:

A final Kodak moment

The end of the Kodak line
Alas, poor Kodak. I've written about the implications of its fall elseblog, but I do still feel sad hearing about its final departure from the camera industry

And, this must mark the death-knell of the cheap handheld video camera, too. From the rise of the Flip to the fall of Kodak can't have been more than four years. It's around three and a half years since I first mentioned the Flip on this blog, and just over two years since I switched to a Kodak camera. Kodak had pretty much filled the Flip void before the Flip itself was killed by Cisco. And what's left standing now? The Sony Bloggie? It that it?

Pretty much. And it's clear what killed them - the mobile phone. With most smartphones now shooting better digital video than the early Flips, the category was doomed the second phones got that ability. Why spend an extra £100 for something you've already go on your phone?

Four years for an entire category to rise and fall. Four years. Is it any wonder so many companies are struggling to survive these changing times?

February 8, 2012

Do you hate change?

So, I logged into Vimeo to upload something for my personal blog, and was greeted with this:

It's part of a gradual switch towards the new version of Vimeo. I just love the choices on the buttons though:

That's the most honest assessment of why most people complain about site redesigns I've ever seen. And it's good psychology up front - get people thinking about their inherent conservatism before they even see the new site. Love it. 

O2 employees go free range

The Next Web:

O2 is today launching what’s it’s calling “the biggest flexible working initiative of its kind,” as it lets a quarter of its 12,000-strong workforce work remotely for the day.
Employees at the UK mobile operator’s Slough HQ will carry out their daily duties as normal, except they’ll be working from home – or another suitable ‘remote’ location, as O2 closes the doors and switches off the lights at its 200,000 sq ft offices near London.

It's an interesting experiment. Most knowledge workers can work from anywhere with WiFi, so long as they have a laptop and a mobile phone with them. Personally, I think home working is over-rated. Nice for a day or two a week, but no more than that. I'd rather be out and about, working amongst my contents, clients and the industry I'm part of. Journalists - to my mind - spend far too much time in the office, and not nearly enough out and about in the industry they're reporting on.

If this is how you're getting SEO work...

SEO Spam

Boy, are you in trouble.

February 6, 2012

Briefing Media buys some dead trees...

 This is an interesting move:

Business-to-business publisher United Business Media (UBM) is to sell its UK farming and medical titles to Briefing Media, the owner of TheMediaBriefing, for £10 million.

So, Briefing Media, an online and events business up until now gains some traditional brands, and UBM continues its shift away from traditional publishing towards events. The shape of the B2B market is changing with ever-increasing speed...

February 5, 2012

Our Past

Lay of Pages
Relics of our printing past...

February 3, 2012

#newsrw - Social Media Standards and Scuttlebutt

Moderated by Kevin Anderson. Initial presentations from the panel:

Laura Kuenssberg

Laura Kuenssberg, business editor, ITV News

When she started on Twitter, there were no guidelines, there were no BBC journalists using it. She got permission for a three week trial during the party conferences, and from there it became a fundamental part of how UK political journalists operate - including how they get tip-offs and keep up with contacts. 

It's a simple rule: don't let them say anything on there you wouldn't be happy to let them say on air... It's another outlet, one with different potential and ways of working, but it's still an outlet. 

Don't say anything you don't know to be true. On the other hand, you can't ignore the stories that everyone is talking about but you can't confirm. Label what you know and what you don't know. The massive explosion of social media has made this a very common judgement to make.

Neal Mann, digital news editor, Sky News

Neal Mann

Everyone was using it. Stories were developing on social media. Guido Fawkes was using it. A lot of us were winging it, making it up as we went along. 

Again, if you're not happy saying it on air, or even a talk show, you shouldn't be putting it online. However, on social media, there is a level of interaction - there are jokes and humour, and you have to let the journalists join in that. Journalists can act and anchors in the information storm. 

But we have to engage in it. Before they would never engage in a rumour. There were riots of rumours in various towns - our job was to check and say if the rumour was wrong. We have to recognise that social media users aren't stupid. People see other services, so now we have to reference each other.

Katherine Haddon, head of online, English, AFP

Katherine Haddon

People often have more access to social media than tradition media in some other countries.

Twitter is an early warning system for news. International forces have Twitter rows with the Taliban - they're very hot on Twitter and social media generally. 

The agency's chief editors have issued guidelines which boil down to following the same standards as they do for the wire. Reporters must identify them, they must inform line managers of accounts and they avoid tweeting breaking news - because that's their business model.

Tom McArthur, UK editor,

New to the landscape - started in 2009, only took on full-time editors as of 2011. They're trying to be positive, fair and get things out - while giving their sources credit.

We encourage our editors to use their personal accounts - but don't say anything you wouldn't say on the site.


Q. Are your contracts changing to cover ownership of the account?

LK: People got into a terrible state about me taking my followers. You can't take them - they can unfollow you with one click. They're not "property". I never owned the people who followed me. It was an amicable agreement with the BBC.

Kevin Anderson

KA: It's more like a reporter's readers than their contact book. A columnist who's a brand will have an audience follow you.

NM: What are they going to do with it? If they give it to someone else, and the followers don't like them, you've lost anyway.

Q. Breaking news - when should you do it?

LK: As soon as you can, and in the fastest way. If you have a camera, do it on camera. If not, tweet,

KH: You have to take account of your customers - ours are the news companies, not the audience.

NM: But sometimes things drop on Reuters twitter feeds before they do on the wires. We've all got tow phones - our correspondents call it in and tweet it at the same time. It's still quicker on social media.  Court cases we run just off Twitter as its the only way of getting it out.

Francois Nel: Coudl I ask Liz about Facebook Subscribe?

Liz Heron: It is a personal account they start to use for work. I don't really have an answer yet, but I will develop one over the next couple of years.

Q. Are people over-stepping the libel laws on social media?

NM: There was a lot of that during the Jefferies situation. Journalists are getting involved to remind people that there is contempt of court. The key thing in social media is the nodes, the influencers. We often need to step in when a celebrity starts tweeting things.

Q. Is it conceivable that a staff journalist that was completely person, and not used in a work capacity, that they say things on that don't have work consequences?

LK: It probably is if you only put the most vanilla, mundane things in the world on there. And journalist with a byline, a findable name, would find it pretty tough.

KH: It's very difficult. As a journalist you always have to be conscious that whatever you do could be scrutinised. Any march you go on could be interpreted as a statement.

Tom McArthur

NM: If you look at the language of print journalists and broadcast journalists on Twitter - the print journalists will swear on twitter. Broadcast journalists never do.

Q. Media organisations increasingly rely on freelance staff - what sort of guidelines should they have?

NM: I was freelance for my first three years of using social media. As a freelancer you're more aware. The same advice should apply.

Q. Facebook comments - what do the panel think about different types of commenting?

LK: It is different when you know who people are. Guido Fawkes - very lively comments, and pretty much everyone there is a pseudonym. In the UK we're at an early stage with Facebook and news.

Q. How do you use the services differently?

KH: I keep Facebook for personal stuff - just close friends. And Twitter is for work.

NM: Twitter is faster and more newsy. Facebook is slower, and much more personal. I post music videos I like, for example, not just news. Facebook cogent hangs around much, much longer. Sometimes things stay there for a long while. I look at the key pieces of content, and put those on Facebook.

#newsrw - multiplatform strategies

Ron Diorio, VP of business development & innovation director, Economist Media Group

Ron Diorio

What is a platform? asked Ron, rattling through a list of OSes, apps and social networks, to a mixed response from the audience - there was no clear agreement as to what a platform is. The Economist Media Group publishes both text and date, and he works on both. The scope of their publishing through pretty much every device you can think of is challenging. They've just started working with SoundCloud to figure out how to socialise their audio content.

How can they take the data they have in the magazine and the organisation to create apps? My MBA allowed potential students to set their own preferences for ranking criteria. They're about to launch an iPad app called The World in Figures. A book to an app? They actually extract the data from the file they get back from the printer...

They're aiming to have continuity of experience across the different platforms. And they need rational pricing structures.

The World in 2012 was a straight conversion of the annual supplement. In June they started working with the editorial team to build a highlights app, and drive sales of the paper magazine. Intelligent Life. Great experience. His kids were really, really excited about him working on apps. His daughter read him reviews over the breakfast table... Electionism is an application they're building with multiple partners, allowing them to bring both their content and aggregation together in one place. It's an experiment in tablet publishing.

Lucia Adams, digital development editor. The Times

Lucia Adams

In the summer of 2009, all the digital journalists were called together, and told that a group of them were being sent into a bunker to work on the new version of the site. Not only were they implementing a paywall, but they would be a launch partner for the iPad in the UK... The engines of Wapping were in overdrive. They were doing two major things without precedent.

We knew that the iPad would have loads of exciting features - you could shake it to make it do things. Every time they ran up to James Harding with new features, they cam back simpler and simpler. It came to resemble the newspaper. It was the same at 9pm as it was at 6am. And some readers enjoy the linear experience that brings. No decisions to make... Like the newspaper it's put together by a dedicated team, who hand craft it. And the beginning the development was very fast. The experts in the team could see that a photo needed to be 5 pixels wider.

The iPads they were working with as they developed it were bolted to the desk. It was still a secret device. They were buildings things on an untried platform, with no existing support tools. And it's stayed in the top 10 grossing apps list.

They've had problems with the Kindle edition. They had to get the R&D lab to spend two weeks on it. It's out there - so you have to get it fixed. And they've not been able to find a way to get the Kindle edition into the general subs package.

They now have The Times in seven different formats. They're allowing the readers to choose - they're not dictating where people read particular things.

Douglas Arellanes, Sourcefabric

Douglas Arellanes

They're trying to Open Source news... They're an NGO, trying to lower the barriers to entry so that smaller organisations can punch above their weight in news. And it's to do with the least sexy bits of getting news online - the back end, the plumbing. Workflow needs to be built around content and not the other way around. In existing workflows, the technology determines the content. They try to reverse that, making it more natural for the journalists.

There are so many new platforms emerging that you need to be ready for anything. Make your system modular, tie them together with APIs, and make those APIs as rational as possible. When Basler Zeitung - a Swiss newspaper - was taken over by a right wing politician, the editorial team walked to set up by themselves as Tages Woche. Sourcefabric built Superdesk to bring the workflows together and manage print and web output from one CMS.

Ingest: Wires, data, APIS --> Process: create one, publish everywhere --> Output: every channel

Open source means free software (but someone from the audience disagrees). But more than that, you're free to tinker with it and modify it to your purposes. You create a community of interest around the software. They may be half way around the world, but they're dealing with the same issues as you. You can share this effort.

They are about to launch a new product called <name under trademark dispute>.  It's a solution for book publishing, be it print or ebooks...

Mike Goldsmith, editor in chief of iPad and tablet editions, Future

Mike Goldsmith

Should you be on iPad/Kindle/Nook? Yes. What should you do...? Ah. Interesting question.

Newsstands are good things for publishers. Rectangles made of glass are a lot like rectangles made of paper.

Future's publishing? Interactive editions: T3 (Woodwing), Guitarist Deluxe (Adobe DPS) and Tap! (their own platform). Digital replicas: 65 titles.

  • Digital replicas - make sense on tablets. Procycling looks fantastic on glass, because of its photography. And they're multi-platform. They're scaleable, affordable (team of 6 for all 65) and quick flag in the ground. BUT they're seen as a poor relation, they''re not completely automated, and you can't upsell advertising.
  • Interactive Editions - Perfect for iOS. (People aren't buying on Android) Performs well for conversion, developer friendly, and clients like it. And more chance of Apple promotion. BUT you can't necessarily sell them for more. And extra devices are extra work. The business  models have not yet settled - they're experimenting and the manuals have yet to be written. HD Edition has to have HD content. There aren't any good design companies producing HTML 5 ads yet - you end up doing it. You're figuring out this as you go. Interactive editions: sexy, expensive, the future - and in need of thought if it's going to be multi-device.

So... which is best? Digital replicas allow you to learn. Then you can (if the demand is there) upscale to an interactive edition and start to innovate.

There are new readers for you out there...

#newsrw - Social Media Optimisation

Martin Belam

Martin Belam, The Guardian

It's a way of breaking the cite of having to leave Facebook to visit The Guardian. 77% of visits from Facebook to The Guardian only saw one page. Wanted to improve that.  The more you see your friends faces, the more you use some content, say the Facebook people. Frictionless sharing.

They used their own content API - so they could build the app in about five weeks. They got a lot of negative feedback about the app. Some people are very negative about the idea of Facebook. There are 750m people using Facebook who could be reading our journalism - and aren't. They're over 5.7m installs of the apps. Over 54% of the users are 24 and under - that's an audience they struggle to reach. It's a love it/hate it proposition. Over 25 years olds in the testing sessions refused it. Younger? They installed it straight away. They feel that they're being "educated" rather than wasting their time. Archive content gets a new life. An old story about models and body image has generated 1000 new comments two years after it was published. A contemporary discussion around archive content. Every story becomes a landing page.

They're doing continuous design updates. Facebook has a saying: "move fast and break things". And they do.  The Guardian team delivered the app to Facebook's specification, and Facebook changed it a couple of hours before launch... (and this forced an emergency bug-fix). Forces them to work at Facebook's pace. They do get some revenue from sponsorship in the app.

Timeline - Facebook investing heavily. The success of their move will drive the success of the app.

And they won't attract a young audience with a print product...

Chris Hamilton, BBC

Chris Hamilton at news:rewired

BBC Twitter accounts were "hand-cranked" - they focused the editorial remits of three accounts. Focused on the quality of the tweeting - build on the automated headlines, and don't just do what everyone else is doing. A human voice, but a BBC voice. We needed to "add value". Photos, graphics, links to the correspondents. Taking the best of what the programmes are talking about, and putting it out on these three core accounts. They have follower targets - but engagement metrics are much more important. There are editorial guidelines. They use @names whenever they can. The top tweets rom last year were both from the Japanese Tsunami. Pictures often do fantastically well. Lightening hitting the Eiffel Tower was number four...

They're now working on workflow models - they don't want to be building a separate social media news team.

Google+ - engagement and quality levels are high. Like the NYT, they're finding hangouts very interesting.


Facebook - BBC World News, BBC Hausa, BBC London etc. Each for different audience, so lots of engagement.


They had 7/10 of the most commented/Liked posts from UK media.


Nate Lanxon,


Nothing reminds you to post to Facebook like a giant photo of Mark Zuckerberg. They have a photo which is passed around the office. Whoever has it, is responsible for posting that day. Just using RSS just gets you headlines, and people ignore it. The more people who ignore it, the fewer people see your stuff. You need to be interesting.

They don't get a lot of traffic from Facebook. It's not about archive content - it's about pictures of chainsaws - or random stuff they get from PRs. One day - Facebook went public; not much interest. A chunk of their roof falling in? Loads of interest. Our Facebook page isn't about driving our fans to WIRED - it's about driving WIRED to the fans. Most of their traffic from Facebook is from Likes, not from the fan page. People will share stories based on headlines alone! Move sharing buttons nearer the headline and using Facebook comments are high on their agenda.

Timing: they chose the (arguably) worst times. Recommendations say 8pm and weekends. Their key times are first thing in the morning, at lunch, and 3pm in the afternoon. And finally 5.30pm, for the just-about-to-leave work traffic.

Twitter is better with automation.

Darren Waters, MSN

Darren Waters

For MSN it's about managing conversations with millions of people talking at the same time. How do we manage that conversation. The MSN newsroom is a bit bijou. They have to be very strategic about how they use their resources.


How do you make sense of the barrage of information now the balance has tipped towards the audience. We've gone from who we regulate social media to how do we fuel it? Darren is their first head of social. The team all have social contracts with targets, and documentation of what they know. They do best practice sessions for their teams. They remove bots where they make sense. They try to understand the rhythms of their audience, and consolidate accounts (quality not quantity). 500 comments on a post on Facebook - what's the value? We know that if people engage on social media, they'll visit five times more often per month, and spen 7.5 times as long on the site.


They're not using recommendations and trending panels on their site. 90% of their tweets from branded accounts are human-powered. Being human gets 10 times the response. They're getting real traction from liveblogging. Getting readers tweets into their liveblogs makes a huge difference to response. They're moving towards a multi-screen social focus.


They want to develop tools to make sense of social media. baby steps for now, but in the coming months he hopes there will be products that really make use of traditional news skills and live content in one place.



Nate Lanxon


DW: using Facebook Insights to monitor success. Drives him mad. You need true metrics, but you also need to educate editorial teams still about what's working and why. We need a tool - Insights plus other data - that tells people why things work.


MB: They use both Insights and Omniture. Can link up Facebook and activity on their own site

CH: Analytics was at the heart of it, for the feedback loop. Facebook Insights plus a bunch of other stuff.

NL: Smaller volume of content, so they're going more on instinct. The use Insights - blessing and curse - and Google Analytics.

Kevin Anderson (moderator): Al Jazeera use Chartbeat

increase engagement on Twitter?

CH: Work out what you can offer that other people are.

MB: LinkedIn is a social media dark horse we're all per-looking

DW: Picking the right content for the audience is key. They post more light-hearted stuff to Facebook and the serious stuff on Twitter.


DW: We've used Klout, but probably just for the sake of measuring things. He's not sure of the value.

NL: Never logs into Klout.

Gabrielle Laine-Peters: If influence is to do with follower numbers, you're getting it wrong. It's the new penis envy.

NL: There was a Twitter rush. People with 1m followers often don't send much traffic.

MB: Is a big fan of algorithms and sci-fi and robots, but thinks that this is a job for people. Human-powered, human judgement.

Any experience in building optimised content for specific communities?

CH: BBC strategy is to focus on the core accounts. (So, uh, no… Very "mainstream" media answer)

General question about different types of content and different content agendas

MB: Facebook doesn't follow the news cycle. They don't do much breaking news or liveblogging in the Facebook apps.

DW: You're getting so much information about the likes and interests of their audiences through Facebook for the first time. How much we react to that in the next 12 to 24 months will be interesting. Will we start commissioning new content based on this incredible level of detail? This real view of the world will be a big challenge to newsrooms.

Some discussion of the frictionless sharing in Facebook, Belam pointed out that there's lots of criticism on Twitter, but the limited number of apps doing it so far means its more obvious. There may also be a generation issue here. Facebook is becoming a web within the web, says Lanxon. Belam says that Facebook now has a weight of numbers that it's going to make a shift like the MySpace to Facebook one very, very hard.

#newsrw - Making money from content

Alex Watson, head of app development, Dennis


Apple's Newsstand is a retail environment. Prior to it, you were just another app in the App Store. It is more of a retail shopping experience than we're used to with the rest of the web. $400,000 in consumer revenue since the launch of Newsstand. 17 titles, after the Apple cut and VAT. BUT - people want free samples, and the download costs of millions of free issues is expensive. They were over-whelmed by technical support from the start. iOS users expect bullet-proof reliability - and they expect platform-specific features and big production qualities. You will be judged against Flipboard - and it took more in VC than Dennis did in revenue last year.

Also, advertisers are very sceptical of "page turners" - PDF replicas of your magazine. Dennis's approach was a mix of quality and quality. Pretty much all their titles are on newsstand, bar those that there are content issues with Apple (Poker, alternative lifestyle). Some development of their own, some off the shelf solutions. They're using Pixelmags for the page-turners. (and The Week is PugPig-based).

Don't get carried away with the short term success of page-turners. $16,000 in revenue, 47k app download, no extra ad revenue.

The dedicated iOS designed one? 53k app download, $100,000 revenue plus advertising... Quality pays off here.

Next steps? Apple will sell more of these devices. People expect Newsstand. People will accept page-turners, but quality pays off.

Newsstand: Good for publishers, Apple and your users. But always think of your users.

Tom Standage, digital editor, The Economist

Tom Standage

Not a magazine about economics - an attempt to be a weekly newspaper for the world. They're growing both print and digital circulations. 300k people using the app every week. One third of the print readers are using the app regularly. "digital is not a zero-sum game". The main reason people cancel the subscription is because they can't keep up with the issues coming through. With digital editions, they can consume the magazine in new ways - the audio edition, for example. You can listen to it while jogging, you can read it on an iPhone, you can read it on an iPad. Great for customer retention. They're encouraging people to think they're subscribing to a weekly bundle of content, not to a magazine.

77% of digital subscribers are new to The Economist. 12% are lapsed print subscribers. The Kindle? A bookshop in your bag. People carry it around,a nd pay for content. iOS users are happy to pap for apps. There's more opportunity here than there is on the web. Finishability is important - the catharsis of getting to the end of the magazine. The web has no end. Readers are creatures of habit, and they like to read at specific times of the week. It's lean-back 2.0. The iPad app is read for long periods. Most people spend between and hour and and hour and a half.

One the web? Metered paywall - essential for sharing on social media. 5 story a week meter. Search referrals went up. Really promising model - works well for them.  You need to know who your readers are to get a good print/digital synergy going.

Chris Newell, Impulse Pay

If you get the "Buy Now" barrier wrong, you'll get low conversion rates. The average credit card takes 120 keystrokes to do a transaction. So their solution adds the cost to the mobile phone bill. Claims 50% conversion rate increase over PayPal. You get paid after 45 days, and get paid at least 75% of the tariff amount.

Francois Nel, researcher and academic


Francois Nel talking at news:rewiredAlchemy of business models. Alchemists have a bad reputation. Most were well-meaning intelligent scientists. They were experimenting to find ways of changing elements. So it is with business model innovators. Can we find some underlying principles? 

The key is reciprocity.

Sharing is caring - a key principle of personal AND business relationships. The core part of all business is the ability to give something back. Claude Lévi-Strauss's ideas: human beings are wired to follow rules, and reciprocity is the simplest way to create these rules that bind us together.

Media executives are planning on concentrating on new products and streamlining workflows. Write once, publish many - but with fewer people. The top five opportunities are about social, local, mobile - solomo. Media executives are smart - but at what price? To paywall or not to paywall is not a very sophisticated way of framing the discussion. We've always had different value propositions at different price points.

Business models are not just revenue - they're a way of thinking. Daily Mail - down 4.63% in print. One of the lowest declines. Online? Up 58.89%. Meteoric! The upshot is that they're making £75m profit. The Guardian is down 14.10% in print. Up 31.45% online. Huge amount of time and money on social, leaders on Facebook with their app. Operating loss is £55m. The Guardian's output is admirable, but we have to ask ourselves where the revenue is. 

The Mail app is free for 60 days. No integrated newsroom - separate teams for the two products. News agenda is different. The digital staff is small. They supplement the newspaper with the digital channel. The Guardian is offering you a substitute. One is a complementary strategy, one is a displacement/cannibalisation strategy.

But - new Guardian Facebook app. All the content. Is is complementary or cannibalisation? Facebook advertising doesn't belong to The Guardian. There's not a lot of love going back there...

We need to grow up. Users will start to understand the need for reciprocity in online relationships.

"So what?" asks the audience. There are lots of ways the audience can give back - money, data... We can't build sustainable relationship by only giving or only taking. There's plenty of money online - just because we're not looking for it in the right places, doesn't it mean it's not there.


And the panel erupts into debate. Is The Guardian's model based on a Britain-only assumption? Do they need to cut journalism costs, as well as up their revenue? The Telegraph once made an offer for paper for a year and a huge discount. Yes, it got the guy fired who came up with idea - but it captured a huge database of readers, which was hugely valuable.

Will people realise that if they don't pay, these things they like will go away? Nel returns to the idea of growing up. Pity - a panel that started well ended up on "how do we save The Guardian?". There are bigger issues than that.

#newsrw - Liz Heron and her hashtag science

Liz Heron

Liz Heron of the New York Times wants to talk about the new social media landscape we find ourselves in - and it's very different than it was a year ago. There are burgeoning amounts of social networks, and Obama is using hangouts on Google+, driving by requests from ordinary people.

400+ NYT journos on Twitter, 50+ using Facebook Subscribe.

2011 was an incredibly newsy year, and brought social media into the new mainstream. The arab spring, natural disasters and the occupy movement all played our on social media. The NYT is using a huge range of social media to push our quality content, while remaining sceptical in their reporting. Slew of training, best practices and worked on social media verification. She's not the only one with platform fatigue... The question is no longer "wether to engage" on social media, but how to distinguish themselves from  others doing it. And how do they scale as new platforms emerge?

The US Presidential Elections are driving this. Livetweeting the debates and primaries is no longer enough. Everyone is doing it. There's noise from other journalists, from everyone else. Instead, they're trying to report in real time. They have a real time fact-checking team, for example. She has a dozen (!) interactive developers on her team. They've built their liveblogs into a one-stop shop for news on the debates as they happen. Tweets are curated from a pre-defined list of people close to the debate. They also pull out the best readers' tweets on the homepage. The media cacophony also deserves its own coverage. Two reporters analyse the media coverage and Storify it - a liveblog of liveblogs. They are using both Facebook and Google+ to gee the readers direct access to the candidates. They also enable genuine two-way conversation between their readers and their journalists.

As the November election approaches, they know they have to keep innovating.

The iEconomy investigative series that looked at the human cost of Apple's manufacturing practices. The name was chosen because it would make a good hashtag - they call this "hashtag science". For this story, they put material out on Chinese networks, and them reverse translated the responses for the US audience.

The key with emerging platforms? Be strategic.

  • What are the strengths of the platform?
  • What are the big topics?
  • How can we distinguish ourselves?

Facebook is a larger network than Twitter - that's why they have been experimenting with Facebook Subscribe, especially foreign correspondents, and the "how you live" desk. The foreign correspondents have a wide audience who are grateful for the chance to interact. One Facebook query on Liz's account garnered 500 responses for a story on depression.

Google+? Its strengths are deep discussion and Hangouts. They're pretty excited about the Hangouts in particular. They're also being strategic on Tumblr and Quora.

Three pieces of advice:

  1. Be stragetic
  2. Be different
  3. Strive for meaningful interactions.


Using a tool called Mass Relevance - plugin what you want, and out comes a beautiful queue of Tweets. Haven't really looked heavily at archiving.

Lots of debate about measurement of success.  The NYT has journalistic measures and referral measure. And the pay"fence" is designed to be social media-friendly, so all links from social media go straight through. And digital subscriptions are exceeding expectations.

Time spent on social media? It should be integrated into your process, not in addition to it.

February 2, 2012

Pop Up People: Rethinking Our Town Centres

Dan Thompson talks Pop Up PeopleOnline shopping. Out of town retail. The economy. Our town centres have problems

Dan Thompson, the man behind the empty shop we used for the Brighton Future of News journalism day, and the guy who started the #riotcleanup movement, is trying to do something about it. He's been running the Empty Shops Network for years, but felt that the focus had to change, from the shops to the people who made something of them. And he wanted to get the Government's attention. And, with some Arts Council funding, he's done just that.

And so, this afternoon I wandered along the coast to Fresh Egg's offices in Worthing, to hear about the Pop Up People report. 

Dan wanted to do something different, something that wouldn't just add to the 30 reports that are sitting on the Government's shelves, telling them how "fix" those centres of ours. Three months of workshops and discussions later, the report is a slim, but focused set of ideas called Pop Up People.

The idea is bottom up, entrepreneurial, flexible use of space, driven by people's ideas rather than wholesale Government intervention. Sound interesting?

You can grab the PDF of Pop Up People online, and I'll stick the video into this post. 

Want to know more? There's a wiki full of useful information and guidance

Oh, and I have some involvement in this. I've written a piece of "bonus" content to support this initiative, which is available to download. Please give it a read and tell me what you think. 
Continue reading Pop Up People: Rethinking Our Town Centres.

February 1, 2012

Redundancy: One Month on

On the 31st of December, RBI made me redundant. The first week in January was the first time in my adult life I was without paying work. My future seemed more uncertain than it ever had before. A month on, how is life going?

Coffee, at the Farm

Contract work

The satisfying news was that I was only out of work for about 9 days. Since early January I've been working with the NEXT conference team, helping launch and run their blog in the run-up to the conference in May. It's been a pleasure working with them, and I'm really looking forward to the event itself.

It's only the equivalent of about a day a week though, so I've been taking on other bits and bobs of work. I'm just finishing up a feature for a former blogger from my old job, who's now editing an aviation magazine. I've got some liveblogging work coming up during Social Media Week London for the talented Like Minds folks. And I'm in early discussions about two other pieces of work, and writing  proposal for a third. Which is all good.


I've been in discussions about two full-time roles since late December. One of them, sadly, went into abeyance earlier this week - although with the promise that it might become a possibility again in a few months. I'm a naturally sceptical sort these days, so I'm not taking that promise too seriously. The other role is, well, a life-changing job, and, as such, one both sides in the process are taking very seriously. I have a strong sense of interviewing the organisation to see if I'd fit in there, as much as they're interviewing me to see if I have the right skills and would be a good match for the way they work. It's been a fascinating process, I've learnt quite a bit about myself along the way, and I suspect it'll be chalked up in the "win" column even if I don't get it. And it's likely to be a month or so before it's decided one way or another.


The big decision looming over me is "do I stay contracting, or do I seriously hunt for a new job"? I'm torn, honestly. Consulting is a lot of fun, allows me to work with different people and on different projects, but does lead to me spending rather more time at home than I'm comfortable with. I've been out and about networking furiously to try and counteract this a little - and I've enjoyed it - but if consulting and contract work turns into my main source of income, I'll more than likely take a desk somewhere - probably Brighton - or work from a co-working space. Getting up, leaving the house, and going to work is a surprisingly good discipline that, believe it or not, I miss. But this year will see a lot of changes in my life, and I think that, in all probability, I should get myself into full-time work by the summer, if I can. The problem is that I'm a relatively senior hire, and I'm looking for a work at a very challenging time in the economy. Lots of people want to work with me right now - but very few of them are in a position to offer me a job. So, from my early optimism in December, I'm now getting a sense of how hard it will be to get the right role. It was very kind of so many people to say, or assume, that I'd be "snapped up" - but that hasn't been the case, alas.


A wise man, whom I had lunch with last week, said that the biggest danger in redundancy in his experience was its effect on your mental health. It is, absolutely, a rejection by the company you were working for and that has a damaging effect on your confidence. And then you put yourself up for various jobs and pieces of work, and you get rejected for some of them. It's dispiriting and hard. I won't deny that. I'm glad that I've been taking on the contract work that I have, because it reassures me that I do have skills and knowledge that people value, and it's been a good bulwark against the corrosive effects of this situation. But I have good days and bad days. I have days when the future seems bright, where I see new possibilities opening up for me, where my working life improves over where I was a year ago. And on other days, all I see is the insecurity of income in a downturn, my age, and the relative newness of the industries and ideas that I've developed skill over recent years, and the patchy demand for them.

I had a rather lovely e-mail from an old school friend, saying that she respected the honesty with which I was blogging about my redundancy - and I've always thought we hide away too much that might be useful for people who are going through similar things -  so what can I do but continue to be honest? Being made redundant isn't easy.  It smarts. It kicks your confidence. It makes your future uncertain. But it also opens doors, allows you to meet and network with new people and explore different visions of your future. It's a roller coaster rise, and one I will probably be glad to have been on - eventually.

So... want to work with me?

If you're reading this, you probably have a good sense of who I am and what I do. Here's my LinkedIn profile if you don't.. If you think those skills could help your business, drop me an e-mail. I'm always happy to have a coffee with anyone.


Follow me on

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from February 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

January 2012 is the previous archive.

March 2012 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.