One Man and His Blog: May 2012 Archives

May 2012 Archives

May 29, 2012

FT Mobile event analysis: Life in API time

Key Points

  1. Mobile is central to's business
  2. Online revenue and activity is shifting to mobile devices rapidly
  3. is focusing on HTML5 for both web and native apps
  4. Its apps are built on APIs to its content and other services
  5. Those APIs will be made commerically available to other developers


This morning's FT Mobile event (full liveblog here) contained much that was no surprise at all. The story of the FT's disatisfaction with Apple's App Store and shift to an HTML 5-based web app is well (and often) told. I think managing director Rob Grimshaw's characterisation of it as declaring independence from the tech giant's war for control of mobile was slightly disingenuous - the current strategy still relies on those giants shipping web browsers with their devices with really good HTML5 support, which Apple has done.

While I suspect a lot of interest will focus on the announcement of their Windows 8 app, the real heart of the presentation was elsewhere. In fact, I think the most significant part of the session can be summed up in three letters: API. But I'll come to that shortly.

One consistent message from Grimshaw was that publishers should be braver. Be brave enough to charge, he said. Be brave enough to step away from the App Store and other intermediaries and go your own way. I've seen people intepret that as a call for all publishers - B2B, local, consumer - to go that route, yet every example he cited was a national or major regional newspaper. I have my doubts that smaller circulation magazines could achieve the same success without the heavyweight Financial Times-style brand.

For me, there were two key points that emerged from the session:

1. The future is mobile.

The facts he gave were stark enough - 30% of the traffic from their core subscriber base is coming via mobile, with levels of revenue to match. A profitable digital business. The predictions are even more stark. With the FT predicting 50% of its traffic coming from mobile devices within three years, where will it be in five years? Grimshaw seemed to be postulating that within half a decade, the FT may be primarily a mobile publisher, with legacy print and desktop web businesses. And I think he's right. Rapid news will be consumed on the phone, and in-depth analysis on the tablet. The traditional desktop PC will become the least important digital channel.

2. The future is an API

Snuck into the middle of the presentation, and returned to later in the Q&A session, was the idea that the web app is now, essentially, an interface on top of a number of APIs; one for the content, one for search and so on. Grimshaw's talk of the work they're doing on photos suggests that an image API is probably on the horizon, too.

As delivery channels multiply, this feels like the only sensible approach to take. Having entirely seperate workflows and content systems for each digital product is clearly a non-starter. A clear seperation of an expression layer - the web app, the web site, the newspaper - and the content layer, with the gap between the two being bridged by an API allows rapid and efficient development of new products for new platforms, because of good, basic infrastructure hygiene. Essentially, they're thinking of their content as a dataset that can be interrogated by their products through APIs.

And, sigificantly, not just by them. Grimshaw was clear that the FT intends to open up the API to approved third party developers, through a commercial relationship, that allows them to build products that incorporate FT conent. This is the sort of propery, deep digital thinking as an approach to business that we see too rarely from publishers right now. Today's conversation may be all about web apps versus native apps. Tomorrow's will be about the right business models around API access to the content store.


The FT is pushing hard and fast into making mobile work, while the rest of the industry scratches its chin, and does the odd bit of experimenting. While some publishers are still figuring out what to do next, the FT has launched native iOS apps, replaced them with HTML5 apps, and then started expanding them to other platforms. It has built APIs that allow the FT to become an informational hub around which other businesses can develop. While The Guardian has done a good job of opening itself up to open web community, the FT is making a much more focused play for the commerically-minded start-up developer. I know which I'd bet on as the one more likely to fund a future for news.


Sarah Marshall's take on the FTMobile event is worth reading.

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FT Mobile event - Liveblog

Rob Grimshaw

Rob Grimshaw, managing director,

Liveblogged notes - prone to inaccuracies and howling grammatical errors

Just had first hack day at the FT. The winning hack was an XBox Kinnect controller, hooked up to the FT web app, allowing you to wave your hand to move through articles. A video is coming. It demonstrates that the development of technology is creating possibilities that are almost endless. Thinks it's going to transform publishing in a fundamental way.

He was surprised by the stats on penetration of mobile in the developing world. We're not far from the point where there's a mobile phone for everyone in the world. There are twice as many mobile broadband connections as fixed lines now. Mobile is becoming the primary connection to the Internet. We have to change our views of people's capabilities. 25bn apps downloaded from iTunes. 10bn from Google Play. The primary interface to the web is a mobile device.

News publishers have to get used to the idea that the future of news publishing Is on mobile devices. News is immediate - you want it now. And you'll use the device that's with you at all times. Most publishers haven't woken up to this. They're still pretty proud that they've got their publications on desktop...

20% of page views and 15% of new subs coming via mobile. 30% of page views from core subscribers come from mobile. The iPad and iPhone apps flipped their view of mobile from it being peripheral to central. They expect 50% of site access to be via mobile within three years. But there's both internal and external political battles to navigate. Technology companies are vying to own it, and it's easy to get caught up in that. He reiterates the story of the Apple t&cs switch. The biggest issue was Apple owning the relationship with the customer. The response was the web app. While they negotiated with Apple, they focused on building an HTML 5 app. When they started they were unsure how many of the features they could replicate. Audience has increased by over 50% since the switch from native to web app. They have demonstrated that they don't need an intermediary to do business.

Publishers should be more confident in the power of their brands. Android web app coming. Still in Google Play store, because the terms are reasonable. People use different devices in different ways. Phones are short, sharp visits. Tablets are much longer, more in-depth sessions. They gravitate towards more in-depth articles. They may need different front pages.

They think they'll still be publishing paper in 10 or 20 years - but they days of news in newspapers may well be numbered. Breaking news to reflective summary is nthe new news cycle. The news desk has a live news operation now, focusing on getting the first cut of the story out to the marketplace. The other reporters are then freed up to do the analysis that their customers rely on. A lot of work is going on in the background around images. They need to figure out how to bring graphics to mobile smoothly.

The API is they core of all this - the web app is fed by it now. Allows them to develop quickly. Will allow third parties to access content and develop tools via the API. Niche uses they'd never get around to developing. Content becomes truly portable, you could be able to read it on your Flipboard or Instapaper. You become originators of content, but the audience become the packagers, using it as they will.

This brings enormous challenges commercially and technologically. Subscriptions is going well, but advertising on mobile is a challenge. The volume of advertising on mobile is not reflecting the size of the audience. They are working on ways of bringing rich media ads to their mobile propositions.

They're very excited about Windows 8, and are bringing their app there. Beta version pretty much complete. Hoping to have a fantastic app ready for the Autumn launch. They don't believe that the tablet space is yet settled. Room for strong competitors to Apple. And they want the FT to be at the forefront of Microsoft's shift to tablets.

Being niche is a good thing on the web - it's easier to defend. But there are still competitors as long as your arm - blogs, other publications. Too many publishers haven't had the confidence to ask their customers to pay. He cites the success of the New York Times. However, models around rewriting of wire and press release stories aren't sustainable on the web. Confident that digital revenue can replace lost print revenue. 30% of revenues are digital, and the operations are comfortably profitable. Newspaper publishing is incredibly expensive. The weight of those costs disappears with digital.

Publishers have sat by and let the technology players define the market for them.

Print didn't change for decades. Publishers didn't have or need R&D departments. The Internet is infinitely open to experimentation.

Blog formats are different ways of covering content. During the Eurozone crisis the lead story on the homepage was a blog - because it was the right way to cover the story. But not much has changed yet. People like Clay Shirky at starting to challenge that. I'd be a,zed if they don't change over time.

Metrics are crucial - the have their own platform, but are also using Chartbeat. But you still have to lead the news agenda sometimes.

API access will be controlled, and paid. They're looking for development partners and innovative models.


May 28, 2012

The Demographic Paywall Problem

Missed this interesting paywall post while I was at Like Minds last week:

I asked my class of 20-year-old Elon University students how many were on Facebook. All 33 raised their hands. Many of them suggested they were addicted to the social network. (It was all I could do to keep them off Facebook during class.)

I asked how many would pay $1 a month for Facebook membership. All raised their hands.

"Five dollars?" I asked. A few dropped out.

"Ten dollars a month?" I asked. Nearly every hand stayed down. "No one?" I said. "I thought you guys were addicted?"

A student piped up with an explanation: "Someone will invent something else to take its place that is free."

It's an interesting challenge: older customers might be prepared to pay, because they're used to the model. Younger customers don't reject the model, but their expectations of value are very different. That suggests that paywalls, as currently constituted, are a defensive measure to gain revenue from a declining, older customer base.

Caveat: it would be interesting to see the same questions asked if it was company money, not personal cash at stake...

May 27, 2012

NEXT Berlin 2012 - liveblogs

The crowd at NEXT Berlin 2012
Ah, I love NEXT. Unlike many tech-based conferences, which are very rooted in the now, they have a remarkable knack of looking about two years into the future, and giving you a sense of what the world might look like then. I've been working with them since January, and it's one of the pieces of work I enjoy the most. Here's all the liveblogging I did for them earlier in the month:

Day One

Day Two

Videos of all the sessions are flowing onto the site now. Loads of juicy brain food for you there!
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Like Minds Exeter 2012 Liveblogs - day two

Links to my liveblogs of day two of Like Minds Exeter 2012



Continue reading Like Minds Exeter 2012 Liveblogs - day two.

May 25, 2012

Like Minds Exeter 2012 Liveblogs - day one

Like Minds 2012 Exeter audience
Links to my liveblogs of day one of Like Minds Exeter 2012

Morning session:

Afternoon Session:

Continue reading Like Minds Exeter 2012 Liveblogs - day one.

May 23, 2012

A bad social media workman is scared of his tools

This visualisation of social media marketing tools has been doing the rounds of late:

Buddy Media's social media marketing tools diagram

I found it on Business Insider. It was created by BuddyMedia

The general reaction has been something along the lines of:

Oh no! Woe is me! It's all so complicated! I thought Social Media was just Twitter and Facebook!

You know what's worse? Look at this:

My wife's tool boxes


Whatever am I going to do with them all? House maintenance is too complicated!

Now, here's the thing: exactly how seriously would you take a tradesman who turned up to your house with one size of spanner and a single screwdriver, and complained when the job required more than that?

You'd kick them straight out the door, and throw their tools after them.

True craftsmen respect a diversity of tools, know that different occasions call for the use of different tools, and they have the skill and knowledge to adapt when the task requires it.

I wouldn't like to suggest that the social media "profession" is one rather over-burdened with amateur hacks who've learnt how to use two or three tools by rote. No, I'm not suggesting that.

I'm stating it.

The social media world is split between people who look at that diagram and go "oh my God, how do I cope" and those who go "Oooh, possibilities."

Can I suggest that you'd be better working with the latter? People who are excited by possibilities are so much more fun than those who are afraid of them...

May 22, 2012

Social Media is...

Well, it got me through the mid-afternoon lull... 

May 21, 2012

OM&HB Agenda: w/c 21st May 2012

The week ahead on the much-neglected One Man & His Blog:

This evening I'm off to the Brian Solis Tweetup in London (all sold out, sorry). It should be a fun evening, but I've no idea if anything bloggable will emerge. You'll find out tomorrow.

Talking of tomorrow, expect some blog catch-up activity, as I have my first day "free" for a while, and getting some serious blogging done is on my agenda, along with some bits of paid work and more unpacking at the new house. In particular, I'm hoping to get some posts done on GameCamp 5.

The Like Minds logo - on the floor

The end of the week is all Like Minds all the time. I'm heading down to lovely Exeter on Wednesday afternoon, and will be liveblogging on the Like Minds site for the following two days. Not quite sure what will appear here... 

Tickets are still available, and if you can make it to Exeter for either of the two days, I can highly recommend the event. Like Minds has been one of the highlights of my conference schedule for several years now. It's a genuinely thought-provoking and challenging event. 

May 15, 2012

How corporate structure can accidentally stifle innovation

Flickr 2012-styleAh, Flickr. In 2004 I loved that site. But today is not a day for nostalgia. Today is a day for looking at the mistakes corporates make, and how you learn from them. And the Flickr/Yahoo relationship is a compelling example of just that:

"The money goes to the cash cows, not the cash calf," explains one former Flickr team member. If Flickr couldn't make bucks, it wouldn't get bucks (or talent, or resources).

Because Flickr wasn't as profitable as some of the other bigger properties, like Yahoo Mail or Yahoo Sports, it wasn't given the resources that were dedicated to other products. That meant it had to spend its resources on integration, rather than innovation. Which made it harder to attract new users, which meant it couldn't make as much money, which meant (full circle) it didn't get more resources. And so it goes.

As a result of being resource-starved, Flickr quit planting the anchors it needed to climb ever higher. It missed the boat on local, on real time, on mobile, and even ultimately on social--the field it pioneered. And so, it never became the Flickr of video; YouTube snagged that ring. It never became the Flickr of people, which was of course Facebook. It remained the Flickr of photos. At least, until Instagram came along.

It's a terrifying tale of how a corporate stifled the very innovation that it had bought, because t's entire business structure was built around rewarding existing successful businesses, not nurturing the business sectors of the future. Too much management philosophy is rooted in defending and growing existing success. And as long as companies enshrine that principle in their structures, jobs and employment approach, they will not be able to innovate - or profit from buying innovation. 

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Has your CEO lost touch with your industry?

As a recent evictee from the big corporate world, who spends some of his time working for big corporates, I'm still fascinated by the problems these huge companies face in adapting to times of massive change. 

I noted this post by Seth Godin a few weeks back:

This is a sure sign of systemic failure as well as a CEO who is not doing the job she should be. When smart people who care get frustrated, something is wrong.

I recognised that feeling - that of caring about the company, and of seeing solutions which I just couldn't get implemented, because the people around me weren't in touch enough with what was happening outside their tight niche to see that the threats and opportunities were coming from elsewhere.

And then I saw this yesterday:

AirPlay, a software tool included with Apple's iPads and iPhones, is widely viewed as being potentially disruptive to the cable industry, because it makes it easy for people to view a broad variety of Internet content on a television. Time Warner Cable's leader, however, hasn't heard of it.

And that's the core problem, isn't it? A CEO who has worked his or her way up the company, in a different age, with a different set of challenges. They're not in-touch enough to know what the new landscape is. And they're not smart enough to listen to those people further down the company who are much more keenly aware of the true competitive landscape. So, it's both a systemic and a personal problem, as Godin suggests.

Try this thought experiment: imagine walking up to your CEO, if you work for a publishing business, and asking him to name his top five sites that didn't come from a traditional media background. If you can't imagine him giving sensible answers, start looking for another job. 


Journalists: the problem isn't better, it's different

John L. Robinson spots a great observation about journalism by Stijn Debrouwere:

Because the entire point is that journalism is not being disrupted by better journalism but by things that are hardly recognizable as journalism at all. Stepping up your game is always a good idea, but it won't save you.

It's a spot on observation. 

The trick is going to be ways of finding the core values and skills of what we call journalism, and finding whole new ways of expressing them in a totally different medium.

You up to that?

May 14, 2012

New view for a new life

This year has been difficult. Sure, some great things have happened, but getting our life back on track after the shock that ended last year has been tough, has required some difficult choices, and has lead to some emotional battering along the way. But those choices have lead us, finally, into a new home. And I'm in the process of getting my office set up:

My new desk
Let's just take a closer look at that view...

My new view
So, yes, it's been a tough year. But some great things are coming from it... :-)

May 9, 2012

Don't mess with the NEXT Blog Squad

The NEXT Blog squad
More NEXT Bloggers
Yet more NEXT bloggers
Photos of the NEXT official bloggers from the talented lens of Luca Sartoni

May 8, 2012

Sleeping Bag Marketing

Neat idea for attracting attention at a conference. I was steaming out of a conference session, in search of a coffee to sustain me for more liveblogging, when I came across this sight:

Sleeping bag
Uh, what the heck? OK, I stopped to take a photo, and while I was doing so, someone else walked up and asked her what she was doing:

Marketing from a sleeping bag.
And the story became clear. She's marketing for deskwanted, a site to allow people to find a better place to work than their beds. Or their sleeping bags.

Clever, attention grabbing and in line with the core idea of the site. And nicely targeted to the start-up and independent working crowd here... 

When in Berlin, Liveblog

NEXT Berlin official bloggerBerlin. Possibly the throbbing heart of continental Europe's digital scene. Certainly the scene of one of my most over-written opening paragraphs in years. But then, what else can a city like this stimulate in you? One of the opening parties last night featured a woman dressed as a peacock. That's all you need to know.

Oh, perhaps you also need to know that I'm here for NEXT Berlin, the annually digital conference that I enjoyed so much last year. And, like last year, I'll be liveblogging it. Unlike last year, I won't be liveblogging it here - I'll be posting on the official NEXT Blog, which I've been running since January...

Not quite sure what will be appearing here - probably some analysis, random photography. And possibly peacock ladies:

Peacock lady in Berlin

May 2, 2012

New starts, several times over...

Adur view
Blimey. It's been a bit quiet around here, hasn't it?

Here's why: I've just moved. We finally have the house we have been working towards for the past five years or so, and not before time, given that our first child is just a few months away...

Those two facts, by the way, are the missing elements of the story of my redundancy: RBI decided to part company with me while I was in the middle of buying a house, and my wife was in the early stages of pregnancy. Nice timing, guys. Some people wondered why I threw myself so fiercely into a job hunt back in December, given that the redundancy settlement was generous - certainly generous enough that I could take several months off without any concern at all. Well, now you know the answer: child on the way, house purchase in progress. Doing all that without a job looked like a frightening prospect back then. 

But here's the thing: we sorted out the house purchase without the job, and I'm finding the contracting opportunities more welcoming, and more enjoyable, than the job opportunities I'm seeing in front of me right now (and that's meat for several more blog posts to come). And so, I'm no longer a job hunter. I'm a freelance consultant, blogger and trainer (who might accept the right job offer).

2012 is certainly proving to be a year of changes for me...

Keep your eyes on this blog for the next few days, if you want to know a few more details of what I've got planned - it's not so much adders 2.0 as adders 3.0. 


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