One Man and His Blog: March 2012 Archives

March 2012 Archives

March 30, 2012

Rethinking the High Street, post-retail

If you're interested in our urban infrastructure, Julian Dobson is always worth a read. His latest post is a good summary of the challenges facing various initiatives to regenerate our high streets:

The real problem is that neither today's announcement nor the NPPF address the underlying issue, which is that the high street is on a long term trajectory of change. The Genecon report, Understanding High Street Performance, made that crystal clear. If you don't have time to read it, watch the news instead: a record number of vacant shops, and retailers continuing to struggle.

Hard not to agree with this part of it:

The core of our argument was that we need to begin by thinking of the high street as the social heart of a town or suburb, not just the commercial heart. We need to reclaim town centres for community activity, learning, leisure and living. Viable retail and economic uses can then cluster around activities that people want to engage in, and in places they want to go to. Our main shopping spend went out of town years ago, and is now going online.

My local high street is increasingly dominated by social eating places - and is all the better for it:

March 28, 2012

Adur After Sunset

Adur after sunset

The danger of understanding social media through the lens of old media

British Telecom Trimphone

Back when I started training journalists in blogging (which must be close on seven years ago now...) I noted a tendency for them to try and understand blogging in terms of concepts they already knew. They looked at blogs. They realised that virtually all blogs were written in a personal voice. What kind of journalism is written in a personal voice? Opinion columns. Ergo, blogs are opinion columns.

They then went on to write 500 word opinion pieces on a blog three times a week, and wondered why no-one came to read them. Blogging, of course, wasn't just opinion columns. It's a new style of publishing which has a distinct, personal voice. The much-neglected term "personal publishing" captured that brilliantly, I think. Those journalists identified the right characteristic of blogging, but they went on to misapply it.

As I look around the corporate social media world of today, I wonder if the same thing isn't happening there, too. Companies are looking at social media, understanding that it is in some way important, but are trying to understand it through the lens of the old. "Social media is about connecting with people. Ergo, it's marketing." And I think that's a mistaken assumption and one that prevents companies from truly grasping the power of these new social tools.

Let's substitute another communications medium into that sentence from above:

"The telephone is about connecting with people. Ergo, it's marketing."

That's nonsensical to modern eyes. Everyone in a business has a telephone and is expected to use it to communicate with their colleagues, clients, suppliers and partners. But telephones were heavily regulated and controlled when they were first introduced into businesses, and only became  ubiquitous over time as people realised their worth to the whole business.

So, we have at least two transitional stages:

  1. Try to understand new medium through lens of the old
  2. Restrict new medium to certain departments

Here's my thesis: companies that manage the transition in such a way that they avoid stage one completely and pass as swiftly as possible through stage two into more useful models, will be the ones that gain competitive advantage. And it's not like I'm the first to articulate this: the Altimeter Group have been producing research on this for a while.

So: here's my question. Why are so many companies in the UK hung up on equating social media completely with marketing? Sure, it's a great marketing tool. But that's not all it is.

[Hat-tip: Neville Hobson]

March 25, 2012

What is Curation?

I love this video:

I think it captures the sense I have that we're building a new way of accessing and finding information that bears very little resemblance to the way traditional media allowed us to do it. This is a New Thing. It's in development. And it's be so very great...

[Hat tip: Neil Perkin]

March 24, 2012

Finally got the hang of being on holiday

Trickier than it appears when you're a newly-minted freelance consultant, as the blogging earlier in the week shows...

Normal service resumes tomorrow. 

March 21, 2012

Brace yourselves for Social Media Optimisation

This post by Sarah Marshal from the Guardian Changing Media Summit makes interesting reading in conjunction with my post yesterday:

Six months ago months ago Google provided 40 per cent of the Guardian's traffic. The launch of the Facebook app resulted in a "seismic shift" with social exceeding search as a driver on several occasions in February

Expect to start seeing "SMO" bandied about as readily as "SEO"...

March 20, 2012

Google targets SEO over-optimisation - so just write good stuff

I've long been suspicious of SEO. Oh, I do think it's valuable: there are basic "hygiene factors" on your page markup you should be getting right, and really good SEOs can help you think about the sort of content you should be creating (and how you should create it) to attract and keep the right community around your product. But that's my limit of comfort with it. When you're using SEO to help poor or rushed content to rank higher than really good pages, you're doing something disruptive to the value of the web, and which makes life worse for everyone but you.

Too much SEO "optimisation" seemed to pander to the big company idea that you can buy your way to success. Spend enough on SEO, and the right people will turn up on your site. And that's probably been the case for a number of years now. The number of e-mails I get from SEO companies looking to place content or reciprocal links on my blog every day suggests that it works. (They're all filtered into a folder I only browse through once in a blue moon, BTW, but from which the odd, really interesting and well-written or designed thing does get linked or published.) And every time you endure an article which repeats the same word and phrase five times in the first couple of paragraphs, you're suffering at the hands of an algorithm-gaming SEO.

When the big Panda update hit last year, targeting the content farms, it crossed my mind to wonder if overly-SEOed content would be next on the block. After all, Google is only trying to be an incredible fast, efficient human: to make judgements on the quality of a piece of content based on how the human searcher would do so. The more you play a particular form of SEO game, the more you're pandering to quirks of an algorithm rather than the interests of the human typing the search query.

Well, it looks like reducing the impact of over-optimisation is exactly what's next on Google's agenda:

Matt Cutts said the new over optimization penalty will be introduced into the search results in the upcoming month or next few weeks. The purpose is to "level the playing field," Cutts said. To give sites that have great content a better shot at ranking above sites that have content that is not as great but do a better job with SEO.

And I can't see this as anything but good news for professional content creators. Google seems to be trying to reinforce the message that the best way to build search ranking is to create good content, reliably, over long periods of time. There's no quick fix or magic fairy dust you can sprinkle over your site to make it rank better - and, if there is, you'd better be aware that the efficacy of the SEO fairy dust might disappear overnight, as many of the "content farms" discovered when the panda came visiting...

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Battery problems on your mobile? Pay for your apps

Samsung Android

New Scientist:

STRUGGLING to make your smartphone battery last the whole day? Paying for your apps might help. Up to 75 per cent of the energy used by free versions of Android apps is spent serving up ads or tracking and uploading user data: running just one app could drain your battery in around 90 minutes.

Consumer choice: money or battery life. You end up paying one way or another...

March 18, 2012

TED's spinning beachball of death

Interesting that the TED Talk format has now become so established that it's capable both of subversion (as above) and use for advertising. The format is, in effect, the brand.

Traditional journalism will 'blow away on the winds of the internet'

Philip Trippenbach:

Make no mistake: traditional, platform-based journalism is being crushed, and its dust will blow away on the winds of the internet. I know this is a melodramatic way to put it, but it's an important point to make. Newspaper, television and radio journalists now are all in the position of itinerant bards at the advent of the printing press.
The good news is that there's never been a better time to be a journalist. The bards have disappeared, but we still sing, and we still spread news. Just so, the digital sphere is growing fast as the blast front of an explosion.

It's hard to find much to disagree with in this post, even if the links with PR have inflamed some commenters. But its a crucial point: the demand for the narrative communication skills all forms of journalism have prized are in more demand than ever, just not so much in traditional journalism businesses.

In my-post RBI career, I've had a decent amount of work from non-journalism businesses, but only a very little from the traditional publishers. The world is changing, and the sagging business models of traditional publishers mean that many of them don't see how valuable the skills they have in-house actually are...

Sunday Newspapers on the iPad

The Sunday Times on the iPad

It's Sunday, and I'm on holiday - or as on holiday as an under-employed freelance consultant can be - and so my thoughts turn to those most vital components of a relaxing Sunday: coffee and the newspapers.

I'm largely a tablet newspaper chap these days, because of the lack of clutter, the reduced price and the speed of delivery. But I try to restrict myself to two newspaper rolling subs. And I'm about to make a change to those:

The Constant

The Times - Whatever your feelings about the politics around News International these days, they've done a fine, fine job with their tablet apps. The £9.99 I'm coughing up each month for my online package is a tenner well spent, in my book. (Or on my tablet... ;-) ) In particular the fact that the Sunday edition contains all the material from the glossy supplements endears it to me. I download it all on Sunday, and browse my way through the sections during the week. But it's not just a paper replica - there are videos and other multimedia content. It's the concept of the paper rethought for the tablet. It's a good value package, and the apps keep improving. And there's some pretty fine journalism in there, too.

The Rejected

The Telegraph - I've been a subscribed to this app since they launched a pay package, but the current month is the last for the time being. The app feels like it's falling behind the curve right now. None of the main supplements from the weekend editions make it in, which is irritating, and lack of little iOS touches  - like being app to zoom the photos to full screen - make it a curiously unsatisfying experience. It feels - right now - like a simplistic repackaging of the main newspaper content, and that's not enough to stay competitive. Departing from my iPad at the end of the current subscription month, until there's a significant overhaul of the app.

The Trial

The Guardian - I've not spent enough time with this app. I downloaded it, played with it for a while in the free trial, and then abandoned it for no good reason. So, the £9.99 that used to go to The Telegraph is going towards this for a while. Things I like: the haring buttons on the content, the design and the fact you can set it to only keep that day's issue (useful, as space on iPads gets more cramped) and it supports Apple's Newsstand. Things I don't: elements of the navigation. We'll see how I feel a couple of months in.

March 13, 2012

Five commuting reads for content types

Read and enjoy:


Apple's Knight of design

It's not often that a British paper gets an interview that the hungry jackals of the tech blogs all end up quoting - but the Evening Standard managed it. Mark Prigg's interview with Sir Jonathan Ive is fascinating:

A: That's quite unusual, most of our competitors are interesting in doing something different, or want to appear new - I think those are completely the wrong goals. A product has to be genuinely better. This requires real discipline, and that's what drives us - a sincere, genuine appetite to do something that is better. Committees just don't work, and it's not about price, schedule or a bizarre marketing goal to appear different - they are corporate goals with scant regard for people who use the product.

A real insight into what makes Apple's processes so very different.

Twitter buys Posterous: Why?

Twitter acquires Posterous

In a surprise move, Twitter have acquired blogging site Posterous.

The question of course, is: "why?" The information from the companies is pretty vague.

Guess 1: (the view held by my Twitter community) It's a pure talent acquisition, Posterous will be shuttered, and the team will help develop Twitter

Guess 2: From Splat F:

Both posts are predictably vague about what the Posterous team will be doing at Twitter, but here's a not-so-wacky guess: Building out Twitter's photo/video/link/multimedia sharing services. These are currently rudimentary, but they're important in competition with Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and other broad "sharing" services.

Guess 3: There's actually a synergy here, as Twitter start to build on top of their microblogging service with focused blogging that help feed their Discover product.

Anyone care to place a small wager?

The myth of the influencer

So, to reach the public through social media, you target influencers, right? Wrong:

Our data show that online sharing, even at viral scale, takes place through many small groups, not via the single status post or tweet of a few influencers. While influential people may be able to reach a wide audience, their impact is short-lived. Content goes viral when it spreads beyond a particular sphere of influence and spreads across the social web via ordinarily people sharing with their friends.

I think a lot of marketing and PR companies desperately want the influencer theory to be true - it makes reaching a target audience and managing the message more feasible. But I think there's a degree of willing self-delusion here, but the true reality of the new social sphere is so very unmanageable.

Anyway, good read.

March 12, 2012

There's gold in them there content archives

My grandparents' wedding

The internet has suddenly opened up new opportunities in archive content. Here's a few examples I've collected over the last few months:

Around a decade or so ago, a new editor on a magazine I was working on pretty much binned the whole archive of photos the magazine had. Anything over three years old? Gone. Decades of built environments images swept away.

That's the sort of short-sighted, now-focused thinking that's crippling so many publishing organisations. For all our obsession with news and the latest thing, people have both a passion and, often, good business reasons for being interested in the past of an industry.

What value lies in your archives?

March 11, 2012

Why the Android/iOS battle isn't just about numbers

My little Android buddy

Here's the reason one mobile developer is getting out of the Android game:

We spent about 20% of our total man-hours last year dealing with Android in one way or another - porting, platform specific bug fixes, customer service, etc.  I would have preferred spending that time on more content for you, but instead I was thanklessly modifying shaders and texture formats to work on different GPUs, or pushing out patches to support new devices without crashing, or walking someone through how to fix an installation that wouldn't go through.  We spent thousands on various test hardware.  These are the unsung necessities of offering our apps on Android.  Meanwhile, Android sales amounted to around 5% of our revenue for the year, and continues to shrink.  Needless to say, this ratio is unsustainable.

This is the hidden cost of fragmentation - support costs. Unless Google (and I think the liability falls with Google here, rather than the device manufacturers) finds a way to make Android scale more smoothly to the huge variety of form factors its being run on, it'll remain a less attractive platform for developers.

And I can't help but recall Alex Watson from Dennis talking about the sheer volume of support calls they received when they launched onto iOS's Newsstand. If Android generates even more support requests, publishers should be very, very careful about how and when they launch on it...

March 8, 2012

Dreamworks: building a creative business - #ftmedia12

Dan Satterthwaite, head of human resources at Dreamworks Animation gave a fascinating talk about how they've built a company that has coped with three major technology shifts, and fosters a creative work environment.

The first shift, of course, was from the hand-drawn, photographed and transferred to film workflow that dominated early animation, through to a CGI-dominated company. The transformation needed to backup that process was revolutionary at the time. It was 20 years ago, but the effects are still being felt. We had 1000 employees, now we have 2200 - but half of those started in the last three years.

60% of the employees made the transition from hand-drawn to CGI animation. It took an extraordinary amount of training and effort. They'd previously partnered with PDI that did CGI for adverts. They bought PDI, and a set of competancies with them. Animators essentially have to have acting skills to animate these characters.

The generational shift has happened lightening fast - and it left some people behind. There are a set of people doing different work now, because they weren't able - or willing - to make the shift.

Then they had the new wave of 3D. It's vastly different from the old 3D, because things are authored in 3D, so the wrokforce needed to be retrained in 3D thinking.

Now, they have multi-core processing in chips, which means they can do more, faster. They have models which know how the characters "function" and so can animate on an iPad-like device, just by tweaking the face rather than manually shifting numerical values about.

Stage 1 and 2 was seven years. Between 2 and 3? Three years. Maybe the next one will only be two years away?

Continue reading Dreamworks: building a creative business - #ftmedia12.

#ftmedia12 - The eBook (r)evolution

  • Matteo Berlucchi, Chief Executive Officer, aNobii
  • Santiago de la Mora, Director, Print Content Partnerships EMEA, Google
  • Tim Hely Hutchinson, Group Chief Executive, Hachette UK
  • Michael Serbinis, Chief Executive Officer, Kobo

Moderated by Richard Waters

Michael Serbinis - They've been in business 26 months, and they've seen it move faster than they expected. They've sold millions of readers (but won't say how many exactly), and that people who buy eReaders are reading more. People who read on tablets, less so. Casual readers are buying and using tablets. Dedicated readers are buying eInk devices - and reading between a book or two books a month on them. They have romance readers who are reading 30 books a month (!).

Tim Hely Hutchinson - 1% in 2009, 10% in 2010. Now around 30% digital on a monthly basis this year. Very, very fast transformation. They are largely substitutional sales, he says. The most vibrant part of the market is children and young adults. The big thing is the black and white ereader. Fiction and narrative non-fiction on eInk devices. He's given up predicting the rate of growt because he's been wrong so often. There's obviously still a lot of affection for the printed book.

Santiago de la Mora - People are switching between devices, reading the same books on their phones and their readers.

Hely Hutchinson - People want their tablets to do more than just replicate the book - they want interactivity. That will follow in things like cookbooks. In five years people at this conference will think that today's eBooks are very rudimentary.

Serbinis - We've not seen prices going up. We've seen a steady month on month decline in the prices people pay for eBooks. Publishers have been very responsive to prices based on sales.

Matteo Berlucchi - Tax is a factor. It varies country by country. In the UK, we pay VAT on eBooks but not printed books. It will take some time before prices find their natural price.

de la Mora - Google is supporting VAT homoginisation across Europe, and they think the wholesale model is the right one for the eBook vendors, rather than the agency one.

Hely Hutchison - the agency system was introduced partly because it was appropriate, but mainly as a pro-competition measure. We welcome Google and Apple and Amazon into the market - but they're all giants and they all have deep pockets. And they have agendas beyond selling books. And we're concerned that they don't wipe out the established book publishing market. By giving all vendors the same margins, it encourages competition. And it has worked.

Berlucchi - the focus of our service is how to discover books - and it's much harder to do that than music of videos. We're focusing on harnassing the power of the crowd. The decision of your next book is often mediated by someone - a reviewer, a friend over dinner, etc. If you don't have a healthy margin, you won't be trading. There's a very big elephant in the room that trades at nearly zero margin.

Hely Hutchinson - They're certainly not our enemy. Our only concern is that having any big corporation dominating an industry is of concermn to all the other players on it. That's why we've tried to create a level playing field to invite others in.

Berlucchi - They're fantastic at executing when they're executing - but customers don't realise they're locked into the Kindle ecosystem. You can't leave the platform with your books.

Serbinis - We've been an open platform from the start - you can download your content and go wherever you want (apart from Amazon who won't let you in).

de la Mora - Google's strategy is one of openess and Google Play (the new name for the Android Market + Google Music + Google Books) offers a very easy experience. (And then he repeatedly dodged the question if carriers were free to to include Google Play on phones).

Serbinis: Romance and sci-fi genres might be good for subscription models - we've seen demand for it.

Berlucchi: Books are highly social, and a great conversation currency. They'll be using Facebook, but not Credits - just working through the API.

Serbinis: Facebook Timeline/Ticker are blowing away the previous best marketing tools for books.

de la Mora - We're big believers in the long tail, and we've seen it in Google Books.

Hely Hutchinson - it's completely transformative of how we do our marketing. It used to be about getting large stacks of books in shops and supermarkets, and that's going to change completely. It's great that they han have a book in their hands as soon as they have the impulse.

Berlucchi - Books are much more timeless than movies or cinema.

Hely Hutchinson - Packing books with e-edition, and passcodes and that sort of thing hasn't really worked. It seems to put people of. And we need to balance the cost of doing it, and the return we're getting.

And then Berlucchi completely steals the show by demonstrating the principles of paper rights management:


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Notes from Disney and Havas #ftmedia12

Andy Bird, chairman, Walt Disney International

Interviewed by Richard Waters, West Coast Managing Editor, Financial Times

People here are very fond of quoting "leading brand" studies, and comparing that with digital companies - I wonder if they realise how very defensive that sounds? Andy Bird, the chairman of Walt Disney International just did it, as well as dazzling us with figures like the 2,000 imagineers worldwide they have.

They have a "great relationship" with Apple, but are platform agnostic as a company. Where they tend to hold back is where they are uncertain if consumers will get the best experience.

He's being very careful about talking about Keychest, their video on demand product at all, that sounds like a digital locker with some similarities with the Ultraviolet idea. He won't comment either way about joining that.

More open about their ventures into gaming. Disney Interactive is a small and loss-making business, pointed out Waters. They over-invested in the console business, and a change of management has changed things, especially with a focus on games apps.

"We want to be everywhere our consumer are consuming - or have the ability to consume - our content."

He gave some interesting thoughts about emerging markets and the dominance of mobile and tablets in that space, and that they may move straight to those consumption modes without moving through many that we're familiar with.

They're also making use of social - 300m Facebook fans of Disney. Dory from Finding Nemo has 17m on her own - and when they release Finding Nemo in 3D that's an interesting marketing base.

They're also working with - rather than against - indpendent creators making work based on Disney properties, like DJ Pogo.

This was a curious, curious session. Disney and its range of products make it an interesting company, but Bird was a very cagey speaker. He seemed happier slipping towards app demos and standard lines about platform agnosticism, then he was discussing startegy in any depth. When people on Twitter were getting excited about the 50-year old concept of Imagineers, you know that not much new was coming from the talk.

David Jones, Chief Executive Officer, Havas

Interviewed by Tim Bradshaw, Digital Media Correspondent, Financial Times

David Jones at the Financial Times Digital Media Summit

"We're heading to the age of damage. Social media is going to make companies more responsible." That was his opening premise, that corporate social responsibility is being moved to the profit and loss statement by social media. Dominos Pizza had the worst possible experience with employees videoing horrible things happening behind nthe scenes at restuarants - and ended up on every TV news. They learnt from that and started a radical transparancy campaign. Every single week someone comes unstuck through social media.

Apple is the biggest example given of a company that is non-transparent. But even it published its supply chains a few weeks ago. Jones thinks that in over 90% of cases, when social media voices have a problem with a company, they're right.

He's on the Facebook Client Council, which sounds like an interesting operation. He suggests that very few people ever miss a meeting, possibly because everyone's fascinated by what the company is doing and what it might do next...

This is very much a standard, base level social reputation mangement talk - I think it tells you a lot about the main audience here that this sort of talk is necessary. "Transparency, authenticity and speed" and "honesty not perfection" are baseline assumptions behind much of this stuff.

He thinks that this century might be about big business having their traditional great execution - but finally some good intentions, policed, essentially, by social media. "It will become harder and harder to succeed if you don't behave in the right way." The biggest challenge is the financial markets. If some of the socially responsible companies don't outperform the market, we might see some pushback from the city, arguing that it should all be about short-term profit.

Reinventing the TV experience #ftmedia12

David Abraham, chief executive office, Channel 4

David Abraham talking at the FT Digital Media Conference

What is the role of the television network in the connected world? Over the past decade we've refined our offering into tightly defined channels, rather than just one general channel. That's why the channel is more important than we expected it to be in 2012, Abraham suggests.

TV networks need to find their own way through the three definitions of network: the traditional view of TV networks, the network as in networked computers, and the network as in the social network... How do you do this? Identify the audience more tightly, personalise content for them and then use those as optimised channels.

Viewers no longer silently consume our content - they talk back. The first step is to ask them to register to join the conversation. We're investing in creating a viewer relationship programme. They've signed up >2m demographically profiled viewers. They're seeing changes already - over 50% of video on demand users are now logged in. The new cookie laws are a challenge, but he sees it as an opportunity for a more transparent conversation with the viewers.

They've been recruiting a team from outside broadcasting to make use of their data. Soon, they'll be offering recommendations based on their preferences. A proportion (undisclosed) are already actively managing their accounts - they expect that to grow as they add more incentives to do so. And they're experimenting with "social recommendations" to understand how to engage with readers on social networks. And the database of viewers and their preferences should allow much better ad targeting. They're engaging with ad agencies around interactive ad formats and other innovations.

Channel 4 is launching a new channel 4Seven which replays the most buzz-causing programmes from the last week. "Not an algorythim - mix of social media buzz, and traditional ratings measure".

Panel Discussion

  • David Abraham
  • Patrick Barwise, Emeritus Professor of Management and Marketing, London Business School
  • Anthony Wood, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Roku
  • Andrew Fisher, Chief Executive Officer, Shazam Entertainment

Patrick Barwise - we should be looking for a half-way house. CPMs are higher on the main channels than they are on the targeted channels - different from, say, newspapers. The truth is always somewhere between San Francisco and Oxford. IN TV, the truth has always been closed to Oxford's "there's nothing new under the sun" than SF's "the internet changes everything about everything".

Abraham: the past is not necessarily a guide to the future - the technology can now pass back information on behaviour, which it couldn't do before. If all devices are connected, it will change the business models. Online viewing is still in low single digitals - but the growth is there. But these things are decade-long spans.

Barwise: We use these words like "linear" - we look at homes with 100s of channels, with broadband, with DVRs - they're still watching the same programmes from the same channels from the DVR, and catch-up with the VoD. It's linear TV, just more convenient.

Wood: The number of hours on a Roku player is up to 12 hours a week right now. Usage is growing rapidly. The things that consumers find interesting are choice. The internet provides many more choices. Customers like watching television on television - but they like choices of prices and programmes.

Fisher: Half the advertisers in the superbowl this year had Shazam-enabled their ads. 1m people interacted with that advertising. (Hold phone up, it recognised the ad, launches additional content on the second screen.)

Abraham: the important thing is that the second screen ensures that TV advertising isn't a blunt instrument. It's not about all of the people doing this all of the time, it's about some of the people doing it all the time.

Barwise: It's all evolutionary. We will still have TV channels in five years' time - but we see lots of interesting things around the edges. Social media is more relevant to small channels, by creating buzz around their programmes.

Fisher: We're big believers in social media. It's very hard to market to the younger demographic without it. There's a social currency in being the first to tell your friends about a cool new show - a badge of honour.

Wood: the advantage of social media is recommendation - the Netflix app will share what you're watching to your Facebook account, letting your friends see what you're watching. For us, the photo and video aspects of Facebook are interesting to bring to your TV.

Abraham: We're building a new railroad system. We've put some new stations and tracks in, but we're not sure quite where it will end up when it's done. TV is clearly getting more responsive and interesting.

Wood: There are different sorts of shows. There are the ones they want to watch live - sports, gameshows - and those they want to watch on demand. There are shows where there will be a game component, but the majority will be entertainment-based and time independent. You'll see the home page of smart TV platforms like Roku become the new TV guide. Recommendation engines work a lot better across the whole range of content than just one provider.

Barwise: recommendation will happen, but it's much harder than, say, books. The audience is less segmented, and you're only dealing with 28 hours a week.

Wood: the most common thing people do with second screens is look up the names of actors, etc.

My comment:

The whole session had a distinct feel of "it's all fine, it's all fine, the changes aren't that great, just a bit of useful evolution". And I think of Bill Gates's quote about how technology tends to change things less than you expect over two years, and far more over 10. I might be an edge case, but my wife and I haven't had a conventional TV for 18 months - we use a large computer screen hooked up to my Mac, and play content from iTunes or various on demand/catch-up services. I think more of that is coming than many people may be prepared to admit. Are we going to see a split between the passive consumer in front of the TV and the active consumer in front of a connected screen?

March 7, 2012

Is product lust killing strategic thinking?

This afternoon, Apple will unveil the latest iteration of the iPad, and quite possibly the new version of the little Apple TV box, too. It'll be another product announcement that both the specialist tech press and the mainstream newspapers will crawl all over, and with good reason. However you might feel about the company, it is the one defining the computing environment of the 21st Century, at least in hardware terms.

This morning, I saw Alan Patrick face to face for the first time in a couple of years, and he pointed out the way that product PR has essentially started to dominate sites like Techmeme. The discussion has moved from the possibilities of technology to the products of technology. In 2005, we were more interested in talking about how blogging would change the society around us, and only a handful of people were obsesses with talking about the relative merits of Blogger versus WordPress versus Movable Type.

All of a sudden we're talking about what's the next big shiny thing, rather than what we do with the shiny things we already had. For the last couple of years at RBI, I was constantly being asked "what's the next Twitter/Facebook…?" as if the future of social discourse and publishing on the web was entirely dominated by products. But there has been a movement that way. The innovations of the late 90s and early 2000s were largely open concepts - like blogging, forums and wikis - where you had a choice of vendors, both commerical and open source. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, we've seen the rise of the product-as-platform, be it Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

I think we've lost something in that transition. If we let commercial companies determine how we pubish and communicate entirely, if we hand that responsibility over to them, we lose control of our own destiny. But if we aren't aware of the way they're shaping the internet, then we're an irrelevance, and that's a difficult line to walk.

I think publishing companies in particular are guilty of ignoring the trends on the internet for too long, and then rolling over and taking it from the big internet companies as soon as they realised that this stuff was going to be important. Strategy first, product second, platform(s) third needs to be the focus, rather than the sudden panic that we should "do something" on Facebook or the iPad. That's not an excuse for making slow decisions, as speed to market is still an advantage. But it makes sure what you do is dictated by how you business should operate, not how the latest IPO darling of Silicon Valley wants you to see the world.

#ftmedia12 - Investment in Digital Media

Panel discussion between:

  • Neil Rimer, Index Ventures
  • Dharmash Mistry, Balderton Capital
  • Leonid Boguslavsky, ru-Net Holdings

Chair: Richard Waters, west coast managing editor, Financial Times

Inevitably, the discussion kicks off with Facebook, given its forthcoming IPO. Boguslavsky thinks it will be large, but there are questions about how far it can go. Mistry thinks that we're just at the beginning of the Facebook story - there are many areas where they could monetise where they haven't yet. The first question, he suggests, is "could Facebook be more valuable than Google" - and he thinks it could. The amount of information that people are contributing hourly to Facebook means it could provide increadible search results - so we could be looking at a world where you can live without Google, but can't live without Facebook.

Is the media about to be hit by the Facebook wave? Rimer suggests that Facebook has begun to learn that it's a powerful media distribution system. Sptofy has gone through the roof in the US by embedding itself in Facebook. This is the first level of integration with media. And Facebook is moving into money and ways of making payments straighforward.

Boguslavsky: humans have three major activities: information, entertainment and goods/services. The space indside those three dimensions is the space that both Facebook and Google are trying to grab. Mistry points out that media has content, which Facebook doesn't, but they both have audiences, and they need to figure out how to share them. Yesterday, they investing in a fashion brand called Nasty Gal. The business was born on the internet, and her entire following is based on Facebook, and her customers sharing what they bought and what they like. And now platforms like Pinterest are emerging. Some sites are so broad and deep - like Etsy - that they'd need an army of merchandisers. And here people are doing it for free for you. They're social businesses.

Rimer describes the trend of businesses building themselves off the distribution platform built by others - the companies Mistry is describing are doing just that. Mistry thinks companies like Conde Naste and The Guardian are doing a good job of pushing their content out into new channels, rather than just publishing old-style content in new formats.

Insurgents are attacking many parts of the vlue chain in media. Those companies who have been able to cannibalise themselves have done the most interesting things, suggests Rimer. Some photolibraries have embraced microstock and cannibalised their own businesses before other did it.

Is unbundling of video and TV channels going to happen? Rimer thinks that customers want the content they want when they want it and where they want it - but their is an issue with network capacity. But generally, getting praise for traditional media companies from the panel was nigh-impossible for Waters.

The standardisation of mobile platforms that iOS triggered is good news for investors, says Mistry. There's Apple, Android and maybe Microsoft, still. They can now invest and they're seeing real innovation, with uses emerging to help, for example, medical staff diagnose conditions better. Maybe there will be a choke point on innovation, but they haven't see it yet. Boguslavsky is less keen - he doens't think the advertising oportunity is there on mobile devices. The important thing to do is to create new mobile advertsing products. Rimer thinks we're just moving towards an age of computers with different screen sizes. Think more about customers and products rather than the device - sell them a product they can access through any device. But the dominance of just one platform would be a problem.

If you acquire your customers through Google or Facebook, and monetise them through Apple, you have a bad business model. You need to break one of those dependencies, suggests Mistry. Zynga are trying to break their dependence on Facbook, for example.

Some discussion about the limits of bandwidth, and Mistry suggests that people are cautious of investing in businesses that require more bandwidth from their products than current bandwidth can support.

Lots of questions from the floor about privacy - and a distinct lack of answers from the panel. There was evasion and dismissal, but no real engagement with thee topic - probably one to watch...

#ftmedia12 - the future of digital journalism and news

Panel debate chaired by FT media editor Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson. And he kicks off with: do you have a business model that will support your businesses?

Evgeny Lebedev, chairman, Evening Standard and Independent Print: We've changed the Standard to free. They're reduced its losses significantly. As a free newspaper, it will exist for years to come. For The Independent, they've launched the i, which outsells The Guardian, givinga viable print model. And they're relaunching the websites for both papers. He's proud that under his ownerships his journalists and editors have always behaved ethically.

Noel Penzer, VP Interenational and Managing Director UK, AOL Huffington Post Media Group:

The idea that we're just an aggregator isn't true: we have salaried journalists. The aggregation part, to quote Arianna, is to recognise that they're not the only source of good journalism. And the blogs give people of strong views a platform to make their ideas known. The business is advertiser-funded, especially outside the US (the US arm of AOL still has an access business.)

John Ridding, Chief Executive Office, Financial Times

Multi-channel, device neutral, charging for subscriptions has largely worked as a model. Content revnues are growing at double digits. It could be that this year that content revenues overtake advertsiing revues - but they like having both. You have to have a successful business to retain expensive journalists - they're actually increasing their number of journalists. And you're not just getting a subsitute for ad revnue, you're also getting a closer relationship with your readers. That's important in improving the quality of the journalism they provide.

Is Lebedev just missing an opportunity for revenue? They needed to be considered as print products first, he suggests. He's very admiring of what the editors have done - it's taken the Evening Standard off its sickbed. They're launching a new website called Independent Voices - a liberal, campaiging website, giving people coming to the site a voice. It's UK for now. It's ad-supported. He descibed it as "liberal fundementalism" - I though The Guardian had that sewn up? ;-)

Penzer says that they're seeing ad revnues growing across all products and sectors. They may not have print, but they are a former ISP, and they still have a huge volume of consumers which are heritage. They need to enrich their propoerties with advertsier opportunities - they're creating products to meet the needs of brand advertisers.

Ridding suspects that anyone playing the colume game on advertsing is going to struggle. Advertisers want combine packets of print, digital and video. Being able to target advertising allows marketing directors to prove ROI. You can prove very clearly who's reading what, and what the return is. They're concious of data privavcy, but you can prove who people are at the cohort level. They can achieve similar rates for premium digital spots as they could for paper premium spots - but at much lower distribution costs.

Lebedev - the Standard's advertising model is very dependent on print. If we wanted to raise the circulation we could distribute more copies, but the financial model works as it is for now. An app edition would allow it to be used on the tube - it's a commuter title - and would reduce costs, but would change the business model. They can just pick it up at the moment. The Independent advertising model also works as a package model. The website is seeing substanial growth, which is allowing them to charge more for the advertising.

Penzer - for the time being they don't have plans to go to paid-for apps on Newsstand and the like - but that could change as the environment changes. How much money can you make off mobile? From a display revenue point fo view, it's not setting the world alight. They do have some app-only products within the wider business, and they do see mobile as fundemtal.

Ridding - mobile is an absolute game-changer for the FT. They can reach readers internationally for zero cost. The US is their biggest new emerging market. They're seeing 70% plus growth on tablets, and 60% on smartphone. Will the content they do on mobile? The answer is "yes".

Lebedev wants to build a group of young, talented journalists and tchnologists to build something completely different with Independent Voices. The way the revolutions in the Middle East were reported and organised is a complete game-changer. Anyone can be a journalist - that's something you can harness, and allows you to reasses what you're doing. You can get the latest footage and photos from place you don't have a journalist. And you can do different things with your products. What the Evening Standard has done brilliantly done in the last year has run campaigns.

How will the FT sustain its share of the wallet as more titles charge? Ridding thinks the more the better, because it supports the principle of charging. The potential of using data and data analytics to increase the audience and the engagement of the audience is something they're just beginning to understand. He never thought, 24 years ago when he got into journalism, that he's be excited by data. We've gone from a world where you knew nothing about the customer in the newsagent to a situation where you know pretty much everything about them.

Penzer - data underpins all of what they do. It's fundemental, and they have 10 years' experience with it. But they do theink they will acquire readers from sites which have switched to a paid model. Social media isn't just about Tweet and Like buttons, it's about how you create around social media - watching trends, consumers being journalists for brief periods. How do you utilise that? How do you take that into an editorial context?

Ridding - they will continue to work with device manufacturer to build products on new devices. They want a long-term relationship with their customers on whatever devices they chose at any point. Are their incentives we can give to stimulate demand on other platforms?

Which is more important: smartphone or tablet? It's about volumes for Penzer - and smartphone penetration is growing, and lower devices are diminishing. They're about scale. HTML5 is one opportunity for experience on smartphones.

Ridding can't afford development teams for every platform, so they need software products that can be tweaked for each platform - and you need to be across all of them - and you can't second guess reader demands. You have to learn from the user data. Different content may be more popular on different devices.

How important is video? Lebedev is "very committed to print". He understands that the future is digital and that there are huge opportunities in videos around live debates and engagement. Print, unfortunately, cannot provide what consumers have a demand for.

Penzer suggests that they want video on as many pages as possible. But they're also think about how they take their video into every context. The numbers for UK video watching is huge. In the US they have launched the Huffington Post streaming network.

#ftmedia12 - Wikipedia and harnessing the power of social media

Opening Remarks - Rob Grimshaw, managing director of

Rob Grimshaw

Rob Grimshaw kicked off by making a rather disparaging comment about digital being for the whole company (which I agree with) rather than "100 geeks in the corner" (which is a pretty shoddy way of describing the digital pioneers in publishing business)...

How to take traditional businesses and their successful models and translate them into digital models, he asks. And he admits that it might involve working in very, very different ways.

Harnessing the power of social media - Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia

Jimmy Wales first met Tim Bradshaw at one of these events - and coughed red wine all over him...

Wikipedia was based on the idea of giving every human being on the planet free access to the sum of all human knowledge. Wales asks how many of the audience have edited Wikipedia - I'd estimate about 10% based on the show of hands, and he thought that was low for a digital conference. Wikipedia isn't just free for use, it's free for reuse, too. That's been an important element of its growth - the only requirement is attribution, which generally means a link back. And those links are a huge factor in its seach ranking and its traffic.

Wikipedia is very specifically an encyclopedia. Lots of people think that "harnessing the power of social media" is writing an advert for your company within Wikipedia - and that ends in tears, because it gets deleted by Wikipedians. The content isn't evenly distributed by language, though, with English and European languages dominating. Content creation is roughly balanced in subject type across cultures, but content consumption varies wildly. The Japanese read more pop culture than any other nation. The Germans are the most interested in geography. Nick Clegg's entry is only really read in the UK - the rest of the world isn't interested in the UK's deputy prime minister.

Who writes Wikipedia? For the next generation coming up, Wikipedia is just part of the infrastructure of the internet. They see encyclopedias in the light of Wikipedia, not the other way around. The creation community is 87% male right now - Wales is not happy about that, and want to address it. He suggests that the off-putting nature of wiki mark-up is part of that. It means that there are a disproportionate number of IT and tech workers editing the site. The average age of a contributor is about 26. And there's double the percentage of PhDs as compared to the rest of the population.

Wikimedia Foundation - which runs Wikipedia - is a charity, and has around 100 employees. There are 100,000 volunteers. That "annoying" campaign - his words - when his face appears on every Wikipedia page asking for money is successful in raising the money they need to run. Wikia is their home for things that don't fit in an encylopedia. For example: Lostpedia - for the TV show Lost. The contributors to Lostpedia noticed that every time someone in the show mentioned Canada, they were lying. The show's writers hadn't intended that, but they took note of it and adopted it...

Question from interviewer Richard Waters: a lot of people in this room are tired of giving things away for free.  Why haven't anti-piracy measures worked?

Wales: To characterise SOPA as Silicon Valley versus business is wrong, it was the internet community that rose up against it. For paid media businesses, Wales thinks the rise of the app store models is interesting. Angry Birds is successful partly because it's so easy to impulse purchase the game. If I have to go online and get out my credit card to pay for content, that's a big barrier. Apps are so easy to buy that people do more of it. The way people pay for content has to make sense to them. People would be happy to pay for content they can't get yet - like someone in India wanting to buy the BBC's Sherlock. It's game over for the industry's staggered worldwide release model. He thinks there are things that can be done about piracy, but we can't afford to be clumsy and bumbling about it. We can't afford legislation that closes Wikipedia because one person uploads a copyrighted image. Megauploads was shut down - if we believe what was in the indictment their internal conversations were all about how to break the law - and the law is bringing them down. That's the right approach.

We'll always have teenagers finding ways of copying things - remember the cassette tape. You can still go after the large scale pirates where money is changing hands. The law needs to support the way people use media. Why should someone go to jail for sharing a track that they think their sister will love - and which might lead to her buying the album?

Wales is adamant about not using Wikipedia for general campaigning. The decision to black out Wikipedia in protest against SOPA was made by a community vote, not dictated from the "top".

Continue reading #ftmedia12 - Wikipedia and harnessing the power of social media.

March 6, 2012

Finally: My Perfect Writing Environment

Not much time for blogging today; between meetings, travelling, and doing some paid writing work, this old blog has been sadly neglected. (And yes, I'm aware I owe you a "redundancy two months on" and a "nine years of One Man & His Blog' post.) But I have learnt one very important lesson from use of my iPad as my main computer for the last 30 hours or so: I've found my perfect combination for long-form writing:

  • iPad in vertical orientation
  • Keyboard (in my case, the keyboard dock)
  • iA Writer

It's such a clean, focused writing environment that my attention stays focused on the job, and the words just flow out of me. Honestly, I wish I'd had this combination back in the days when I was bashing out 5,000 to 10,000 words in a day to hit a deadline on a White Wolf book. It would have made life so much easier.

In an odd way, it's the closest thing to a typewriter I've seen modern technology produce, combining the basic proportions and aesthetics of that writing experience with all the comforts of spell-checking and immediate access to the web for research that modern technology brings.

I suspect I'll be using this combination for much of my writing, even once the MacBook Pro is back in play.

(I suspect I owe Mr Belam some credit for introducing me to iA Writer. But he's my arch-enemy, so I won't give it to him... ;-) )


March 5, 2012

Goodbye MacBook, hello iPad

My  iPad on its keyboard dock, being used to write this post.

Well, if I wanted a good opportunity to test out the iPad as a primary work tool, I have it now. My MacBook Pro is off with the Apple doctors at Brighton's Genius Bar for a brain transplant. And it could be gone for up to 14 days...!

While I can grab some time on my wife's iMac, it means that my iPad is going to be my primary working tool for the next few days at the very least. Perhaps that's apposite in the week that Apple is due to launch the iPad 3. :-)

All posts for the next few days will be coming from Blogsy, the rather lovely iPad blogging app I've talked about before. Should be a fun little experiment, especially with some event liveblogging coming up later in the week...

Morning Coffee Reading: 5th March 2012

Mug reflected

Time to stop hogging these great links in my browser tabs and share them with the world:

March 4, 2012

Yammer gets big money

Yammer, which creates something akin to an internal Twitter for businesses, is raising big money:

In the four years since its inception, Yammer has been implemented by over 85% of the Fortune 500. In 2011 alone, the company tripled sales, employees and licensing. This momentum allowed the company to raise US$ 85 million in its fifth round of funding, which was led by venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, for a total of US$ 142 million in financing.

Yammer is one of the few things I miss regularly about my former job.

March 2, 2012

OM&HB Top 5 Posts: Feb 2012

Feb Stats

Here are the top five posts by traffic on One Man & His Blog in February:

1: news:rewired - Liz Heron and her hashtag science

Not at all surprised by this one coming in top. Liz gave a superb and inspiring talk, with plenty of practical tips you could take away and implant in the way you worked straight away. If only all keynotes were this useful.

2: news:rewired - Making money from content

Well, blow me down. The media are interested in how to make money from their content? You flabbergast me. ;-)

3: 5 thoughts about Social Media Week London

I'm pleased this one came so high. It provoked two interesting responses from Alan Patrick and Antony Mayfield, two gentlemen whose thinking I respect deeply, and triggered numerous conversations. Blog posts as social objects. :-)

4: Redundancy: one month on

I was surprised to see this one so high. Who knew that so many people cared about the travails of my working life? Or, perhaps, they're just interested in some honest blogging about what redundancy is like. Well, good news: Redundancy; two months on is on its way later today.

5: news:rewired - social media optimisation

Social media optimisation is the new search engine optimisation - and may prove to be more significant in the long-term. The fact this post was so well read - and shared - suggests that the media business is finally starting to get its collective head around this fact.

Just to give you an idea of the spread, the top post got around double the traffic of the fifth placed post. Respect the power of Liz Heron. ;-)

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