May 2012 Archives
May 29, 2012
- Mobile is central to FT.com's business
- Online revenue and activity is shifting to mobile devices rapidly
- FT.com is focusing on HTML5 for both web and native apps
- Its apps are built on APIs to its content and other services
- 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 FT.com 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.
Rob Grimshaw, managing director, FT.com
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 FT.com 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
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
- The Future of the Network and the History of the Computer - two keynotes that kicked off the conference, with René Obermann of Deutsche Telecom talking about a more open future for mobile networks, and George Dyson showing how the past of computing might point its way to the future.
- Towards the internet of things - four talks about the emerging world of networked smart objects
- Designing Digital Services by Putting People First - a great talk for agencies and product managers by Lousia Heinrich of Fjord, about human-centric success
- Making Books into a shareable experience - Henrik Berggren of Readmill has ideas of how to make eBooks more networked.
- Hacker kids, Maker culture and Wired clothing - my personal favourite session of the first day. It felt like a glimpse into the culture of five years hence - or what talking to the Homebrew Computer Club must have been like.
- TV to come , TV to go - a panel looking at visions of Future TV.
- The startup pitch winners
- The velocity of digital business - Ajaz Ahmed and James Hilton of AKQA with a vision of doing great work in a digital age
- Give the teddy bears WiFi - Russell Davies' grab-bag talk of ideas from the future
- Selling fashion online and printed clothes - a weird mix of pragmatic advice about selling clothes online - and whole new ways of creating clothes, including 3D printed bikinis!
- Three views of the future of media - always connected consumers, updating eBooks and the psychology of publishing
- Dave Weinberger & the future of everything - not a children's adventure novel, whatever the title makes it sound like. ;) Mr Weinberger takes us on a gallop through the likely consequences of the networked world.
- James Bridle: Moving beyond the fanfics of technology and place - a brain-stretching journey through the cultural consequences for places and ideas of mash-up culture
- John Rosling: is the chief executive the chief entrepreneur - an inspiring talk on being an inspring leader (and how to lead rather than manage)
- Rajeeb Dey: the path to entrepreneurship - a young, successful entrepreneur lays out how others can follow in his tracks
- JP Hamilton: good business is personal - Virgin Media's Pioneers programme is doing both social and economic good. Here's how...
- Alan Moore: a navigation guide to a better future - fantastic climax to the morning, with a clear vision for how our organisations need to chance to compete in the new era
- Peter Shankman: Forget Likes, be liked - live via Skype, Peter gave the most entertaining talk of the festival, highlighting the human in the network
- Endeavour: GoodPeople's platform for social enterprise - Anton Chernikov outlines a vision for making a communication tool to find people for social enterprises
- Neville Hobson: Take courage - Neville concludes the event with a rousing call for the courage needed to make change happen
May 25, 2012
- Russ Lidstone: Why what you do matters - Russ kicked off the "ideas festival" with a talk that played straight to the core issues of the conference, and which explores the niches in society that make targeting so important
- Shannon Springer - reflecting interconnectedness in business - Shannon gave a passionate talk, on behalf of the young people demanding more awareness of the society and environment business rests upon.
- John Richardson - 1000 hours to transform your life - John's powerful talk about the rewards (and price paid) to follow your dream and be successful
- Robert Bean - the 9½ rules of branding - A talk that's just as much about how to make a great business as a great brand.
- Panel discussion: does what you do matter? - the only session of the day that felt unsuccessful to me. You may disagree. :-)
- Meg Grogan: challenging your business from within - 1000heads takes the conference's theme to heart
- Endeavour: teaching children to problem solve in new ways - Giving children problem-solving skills for the mobile age.
- Chris Moss - solving your business challenges - Chris does problem solving and advice to audience questions live on stage
May 23, 2012
This visualisation of social media marketing tools has been doing the rounds of late:
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:
ALL THOSE TOOLS.
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
May 21, 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 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
"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.
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.
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
May 9, 2012
May 8, 2012
Berlin. 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: