One Man and His Blog: June 2012 Archives

June 2012 Archives

June 26, 2012

Tactilize: a quick, web-based route to iPad apps

Valentin-Squirelo.jpg
While I was at Le Web London last week, I grabbed a few minutes from my frantic liveblogging to chat with Valentin Squirelo of iPad app publishing platform Tactilize. The startup is in closed beta right now, but he ran me through their quick, easy workflow for publishing iPad apps from a web interface.

It's a great idea. There are too few good solutions for publishing content-based iPad apps which don't rely on legacy page-layout apps like Adobe InDesign. The system he showed off was fast, elegant and intuitive. You use the Tactilize web tool to build your native app. It's structured as a series of "pages", locked into sections, and drag and drop interactive elements from a palette of options including Dropbox, Gmail and so on. 

Valentin described it as being "between InDesign and Tumblr" in ease of use, and I think he has a point. It's probably more on the Tumblr end. 

At the moment it's a cut/paste to get text into the app, but as he pointed out, it's still early in its life. They have added a parser that will strip all the hidden junk Microsoft Word leaves in text out, though. Smart move. At the moment, updating the content in the app means resubmitting the app to the App Store as an update, but they're working on removing that need in a future version - as well as adding Newsstand support. 

So, how does the output look? Based on the demo app he showed me, pretty impressive:


The prices they're pitching aren't cheap - $3999 for a one-off app, $1999/month + $1299$/app for a subscriptions. The team are talking at pitching it at individual bloggers and artists as well as at publishing houses - and I suspect they may struggle at that price, but it's cheap enough for the publishing houses to take a serious look at (although, they'll probably want CMS integration of some sort). I'd love to do an OM&HB app at some point - but at this price, it's too much of a financial punt for me at the moment. Valentin did suggest that the price was, in part, to enforce a quality level on the apps produced. I'm not taking that personally. :)

Tactilize is due to go into public beta in October. 
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June 24, 2012

Small site update - social sharing shuffle

If you're reading the frontage of this blog, you might possibly notice a small change to it: the social sharing buttons are gone. While they're still at the bottom of each individual archive page, I'm coming around to the opinion that they just drag down the loading speed of the main index without actually doing much to benefit the reader.

Right decision? Wrong decision? Dunno. But if you have a strong opinion one way or the other, let me know...

June 20, 2012

Keen versus Scoble: Fight!

The Keen versus Scoble fight

What to make of a debate between Andrew Keen and Robert Scoble, moderated by Milo Yiannopoulos? It's like a bubbling Twitter pot of internet controversial celebs... 

But was it any cop? Well, it was entertaining. We found ourselves presented with the question "Where's the real Scoble?" Is he purely relational? Is his sense of self completely determined by his followers? 

Robert Scoble

"I didn't have followers 10 years ago," said Scoble. "Back then I'd just find the geek at the cocktail party, and hang out with them." Apparently, he just keeps the bedroom secret. We don't know the clubs he was in in Amsterdam. (But I'm intrigued now, I don't know about you.)

Keen asked how many of the audience would be prepared to go as far as Scoble in making their lives public - and only a handful put their hands up. Scoble shrugged it off. He turned an example of embarrassing drunken pictures of him into a positive: "I've been invited to a better class of party since those came out."But he did point out that social media is killing people, because they don't put their mobiles down when driving.

Andrew Keen

Our two champions circled each other again, over the issue of data. Keen accused Google and Facebook of selling our data. Scoble struck back with the fact that Facebook sells access to you, not your data.

"Do people understand that?" asked Keen.  "People are getting resistant and wary of those social services. Social has climaxed, privacy is the next thing."

Scoble, of course, disagreed. Totally. He thinks people are changing their habits all the time, and the freaky line is shifting. And Keen and Yiannopoulos think that he's "super-freaky". 

Then, they turned to my second favourite subject: whisky. Keen pointed out that when he asked Scoble what's faster than real time, our favourite blogger replied it's when the server knows what your drink is before you get to the bar. 

"And yet, I've Liked Oban whisky on Facebook," said Scoble.  "And when I got to the Badoo party last night I was handed a champagne. I've never Liked chapagne. I don't like champagne."

milo yiannopoulos

Filter bubbles? Scoble wants filters to shape what people see of him, or what he sees. Keen suggests that newspapers are already a filter bubble problem. And the internet is destroying serendipity, because you always get served Oban. Scoble says that people who know he likes Oban bring him a  new one, which they think is better. 

Last words to Mr Keen: "Social media isn't social: it's creating a radically individualised web. It's destroying social."

He has a book out you know: Digital Vertigo: How Today's Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us. If you buy it from that link, both he and I get money. I have no shame. Much like the scheduling of this panel... 

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DataSift: Sentiment, inflection points and WikiStats

Nick Halstead

Nick Halstead, Founder & CTO, Datasift 

We're expressing opinions all the time on the web, via Twitter, via Facebook, via multiple sources - and that's all data. And Nick Halstead and DataSift take that data and, well sift it... As well as drawing out sentiment and analysing it, they're also interested in inflection; most day's there's a certain baseline discussion about a company. If it suddenly changes, that's worth noting.

The world of SEO is worth billions - now 50% of traffic to some sites comes from social media. How do you optimise that? DataSift take a cross-section of five news stories and analyse how people are reacting to them. Publishers can then tweak headlines and stories based on the information.

Wikipedia has peaks of 100 edits per second. No-one has ever captured this. Datasift allows you to filter against that content and see changes - it's an amazing resource for researchers, wanting to know how things change. WikiStats looks at all those edits in real time and looks for trends. 

Big data in practical use. 

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Soundcloud: bringing sound and emotion to the web

Alexander Ljung of Soundcloud

Alexander Ljung, Founder & CEO, SoundCloud  

Alex explains that Soundcloud was born of the founders' desire to share sounds on the web, in a pretty sound geek-focused way. However, they discovered what they were really interested in was all these social platforms that allowed people to connect. Their favourite form of expression was sound - and that could be social. And suddenly the idea went from their geeky need to something they felt the world needed - and they had to do it. 

Soundcloud solves specific problems: "I'm a musician, I want to promote my album, and spread it through networks". But they're more interested in sharing moments through sound. He admits to always being a sound geek. Sound can be music, a baby's first works, a lecture ore a political speech. Sound evokes more of an emotional reaction than the written word. 

Sound is incredibly simple to create - we're all walking around with these incredible microphones in our packet. One button - 140 times simpler than Twitter. Yes, it's slower to consume - but it can be consumed in parallel. Imagine how much time you can spend with a game or a video if you have other things to do. It's limited. In a connected age, sound can follow us around everywhere. It can be slower in terms of information transfer, but you have more time to do it, and it has more of an impact. 

jamillah-knowles-Alexander -Ljung.jpg

They've seen incredible growth, and a lot of passionate users - and they give feedback on the site. The web has progressed since the site launched, so they wanted to incorporate feedback, and make the site faster, more gorgeous and more engaging. They brought in ideas from the mobile app. They're making it easier to share sounds, and adding real time notifications. It should be easier to go through sounds quicker, and added seamless playback throughout the site. And you can create collections of sounds. 

Hack days have been really important. Hacking is very similar to how designers work with prototypes - you're solving a problem by actually doing things. That's tremendously powerful. It's not limited to writing code - you can hack in every discipline. They've had an API since the public launch. The web is, by definition, an inter-connected thing. If the parts aren't connectable, you're just an island. They wanted to be a Lego block. 

Freemium is working for them. They don't see much scope for charging brands in a different way - people seem to have individual account, even within a company. It's a flexible and successful model he seems very content with, because it keeps the interactions personal. Their profiles have been revamped on the site to make fluid sharing of sounds across the web, whatever the platform more easy. 

More and more of our lives are mediated - and eventually everything will be mediated by the internet. The issue with that is that online interactions are mainly based on visual communication - but that's not reflecting the richness of what it means to be human. He's really excited to see sound take a more important role on the web in general. In five or six years they won't be where he wants - but they'll be a lot closer. It will be normal to speak to the internet, and it'll be less clunky and more fluid - and more people being moved by their web experiences. 

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Hugh MacLeod at work

Hugh MacLeod
The famous Gaping Void cartoonist doing his thing...

Turkey: the new internet frontier?

Efe Cakarel

Efe Cakarel, Founder, MUBI

A global VoD platform that I've never heard of - I'm so very parochial. But isn't everyone? As Efe points out, only 13% of global internet users in the US - and it's a steadily declining share. His business started in Palo Alto - and it's easy to think of that as the centre of the universe. But the US may not dominate the internet in 2030 - and dominating that world means understanding other countries. 

Their business mashed Netflix and Groupon - one movie a day, at a much lower price point. And they decided that Turkey was the country to focus on - it's got growth of 9% right now. Forecasts show Turkey as fastest growing OECD country. Half of Turkey is less than 30 years old - and they are very social media savvy. And - to the benefit of his business - they have a healthy disregard for copyright. 

So, it's time to wake up and smell the Turkish coffee. 

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Ex-Entrepreneurs and prediction failure

Mike Arrington and Kevin Rose at Le Web

Do entrepreneurs have a sense of the future? Based on the session at Le Web billed as being about the future they don't have the first clue. When we spend more time talking about Kevin Rose's car collection than the future, we have a smug exited-startup love-in. But lets cut through the dross and find some information in the discussion.

Why do entrepreneurs who have made a good exit still work? Chad Hurley gets up to have fun - life's too short to sit around. Kevin Rose just doesn't think about it as work. Niklas Zennstrom loves competition. 

Chad Hurley

Hurley is working on AVOS, which has a series of components which allow them to get things off the ground quickly. They have Delicious, and Zeen is coming next - a tool for building online magazines. Delicious was a challenge - they had to rewite the whole codebase and migrate the data. They've been focusing on their other products, but are coming back to Delicious, and are hoping to build on the brand with some innovation. 

Zennstrom's Atomico is aiming to be a global investment operation. And Rose is with Google Ventures

What's the future? Zennstrom thinks we're no longer building the technologies- we're building the products. And the opportunities are in where people connect online. 

Hurley is bored of tweeting and liking. The default position is socially sharing everything - but he doesn't care what his friends are doing - he wants to figure out what he's doing. 

Rose would like to get involved in TV-commerce related stuff, should he go back into entrepreneurship after his "break" from it in Google Ventures. 

Niklas Zennstrom

Zennstrom brings up climate change as something not being aggressively addressed enough yet.. 

Are Google Ventures looking at eco tech? Rose says he's more involved with early stage startups, and is interested in the quantified self idea, tech that monitors your body and lifestyle. He also suggests that there will be eight to 12 apps we will use every day. You need to figure out what those will be.

Zennstrom thinks that common apps like calendars and address books are still ripe for disruption. Enterprise is too slow still - it's innovation cycles are very, very long. 

Q. Anyone doing anything in education?

A. Rose invested in Treehouse. 

Q. Investments in Africa?

A. No. 

If these guys have good insights into the future, they didn't want to share them with us. 

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Socialbakers serves up Socially Devoted - social media rankings for business

Jan Rezab socialbakers

Why do so many businesses which claim to be social have closed Facebook walls? How many companies use social media as more than a thin layer on top of traditional businesses. Good questions, and Jan Rezab, Co-Founder & CEO, Socialbakers thinks he has some answers - analysis. 

Socialbakers - only a 50% response rates to their fans. They knew they needed to make this better. He's read articles about social media IVR - it's automating responses. He thinks that isn't going to work. You can't automate people and it misses the point of social media.

Industry response rates

They've started ranking companies socially. 70% of fan questions go unresponded. We do marketing to communicate with people, and get interest. And then we ignore the interest. Why? 

Their ranking of top social companies actually shows south american companies doing very well. The bottom three? Ebay, Yamaha Motor Indonesia and BlackBerry. Ah, poor RIM.

These leader boards are all available on their site - Socially Devoted - which they've just launched at the show. It's built as a starting point for the industry to start talking about this issue - to get some sees of what the industry benchmarks are for response rates, response times and the like. And in an industry where social media snake oil in is severe danger of drowning the genuine innovators, that conversation needs to happen.

Highlight: metadata for the people around you

Paul Davison of Highlight being interviewed

The app of the show, in terms of meetings, seems to be Highlight. I've just been notified by it that there are 30 people who might be of interest to me around me right now. Pity I'm busy typing...

Paul Davison, Founder & CEO of the app is being interviewed by Milo Yannopoulos, Founder & Editor-in-Chief, The Kernel.

And he's full of enthusiasm when most of the audience are trying to drink enough coffee to be awake.

We have the tools in the real world to identify common interests, he suggests - band t-shirts, for example. But we don't have the tools to know if the person sat next to us is a friend of our mother. The real world is like a bad version of Facebook or LinkedIn, with only one profile photo and no details on who they are or what they do. Milo is horrified by this view of the world. Paul doesn't really seem to care. He want's to "fix" the real world with Highlight, by starting to give people information about those around us. 

If you've enabled it on you phone, Highlight allows your profile to pop up on screen for another user who might find you interesting  when they are nearby. Identifying "interesting" is a deeply contextual thing, starting with friendship, that friends of friends, and leavened with a mix of familiarity and frequency of proximity. You can throttle notifications to make sure people aren't overwhelmed, but also look at response rate to identify people who like meeting people. But they don't see it as a meeting tool, more as a metadata tool for the world. 

We've only just reached the point where the technology supports what they're trying to do - battery life supports push notifications properly, and they can now publish into this space above people's heads. He posits that the app is solving the problem of forgetting people's names when joining a company. He thinks it's made offices more friendly, more communicative, because barriers to communication drop away. 

Still needs to get over British reserve, though... 

June 19, 2012

Lindsey Stirling at Le Web

Lindsey Sterling (and Loïc)
Without doubt the most entertaining performer of the day... 

Martin Varsavsky: how to be successfully lazy

Martin Varsavsky

The founder and CEO of Fon is coming out of the closet - as someone who doesn't work that hard. He doesn't think that entrepreneurs need to work that hard, despite the traditional image. How does he do this?

  • He never watches TV - just YouTube and Netflix sometimes. 
  • He doesn't watch sports - but he does them. 
  • He reads few books - but he writes a lot, ask yourself: "am I prepared to give 20 hours of my life to this person?"
  • Guys spend an average of 83 minutes grooming themselves. He spends 10 minutes. 
  • He flies his own page and has a driver. That saves time - but is "elitist" he admits. 
  • He almost never talks on the phone - he uses messaging clients instead. 
  • He doesn't drink. 
  • He doesn't do business meals - he hates them.  He saves meals for family and friends.
  • He shows up on time. 
  • Social media works for him. Twitter is his best search engine. He asks questions. He hires people...
  • He sleeps with his baby. Sleeping is important - and you should share it with the people you love
  • He goes to conferences - but says "no" to a lot of them. Saying "no" is a huge part of managing your time. 
  • He devotes time to philanthropy - because he enjoys and believes in it.
  • He spends wight weeks sailing - with his family and friends. And he doesn't pretend that he's working. But it's great for problem-solving
  • Oh, and he has a great team. 

But it's not for everyone. You have to be able to delegate - you have to say goodbye to having things done exactly the way you wont them done, and to decision making - but it gives you your time back. 

Voxer: rethinking voice communications

Tom Katis

Voxer turns your phone into a walkie-talkie. Folks download it, try it and realise that it's a bit more than that. It was born out of frustration with existing push-to-talk systems and of founder Tom Katis's experiences in Afghanistan -  the "complete inability to multi-task while being shot out". He served twice, and was in Silicon Valley between those two occasions. When he went back, he was really conscious of how badly designed so many of the tools they had were. 

They key to Voxer is that everybody gets the message - they can listen live, but if they don't, they still get the message as part of a threaded conversation. He suggests that the technology underlying had to unite live transmission with e-mail like message transmission. Live systems have to interrupt - which is why people tend to use messaging systems. Voxer gets around that by letting you jump in at any point when you realise your friend is talking - and the system plays the message so far a little faster so you start to catch up. 

He's cagey about releasing download figures, as he think's that's a vanity metric. Engagement is his preferred measure - how many people use the app daily, and he claims to have "exceptional" engagement. Growth really shot up when they went cross-platform. 

He doesn't believe that we're all going to become deaf as the world becomes mobile - it's just that the live voice system doesn't make it easy. There's room for a new way of doing that, and that's what he's see Voxer as. It's a useful application, which people get a lot of fun from, and he wants to see it grow all over the place. And he disagrees with the idea that startup life is all about the team, not the idea and pivot, pivot, pivot. He's keen on being determined to make an idea work...

Klout clouted at Le Web

Joe FernandezAlexia Tsotsis

That was the most awkward Le Web session I've ever seen, in five years of attending the event. Joe Fernandez found himself under hard questioning by Alexia Tsotsis over the role of Klout - something she's been openly critical of in the past. And I can't say he performed well. Sure, he kept good humour, but faced with a room where only five people used Klout - and only one of them considered it an accurate measure of their social media influence, he wasn't amongst friends.

Revelations? Klout's algorithm is about to be tweaked to bring in more real world influence - which sounds suspiciously like a direct response to Kred. He waved the algorithm change wand again in response to Alexia's pointed questions about the irrelevance of some topics Klout declared well-known figures are influential on. His admission that Klout wasn't semantically sophisticated enough to differentiate "I like TV show Lost" and "I've lost my keys" was just plain embarrassing. 

Honestly, if I had any doubts that taking Klout seriously as a measure of influence is a bad idea, they were erased by this session. Fernandez failed to defend his service against some fairly light-weight hostile questioning. That speaks volumes. 

Martha Lane-Fox and Michael Bracken: making the UK government digital

Martha Lane Fox

Martha Lane Fox has had her life changed twice by technology: once through launching lastminute.com, and again through recovering from a serious car crash.

8m adults have never gone online. They are predominantly older and from lower socio-economic backgrounds.  It's not acceptable as citizens that we pay for sub-standard digital services. 

Michael Bracken

Michael Bracken, on the other hand, is changing the technology of the whole country:

We use emergent technology, we fail fast. We're profound;ly changing bow we work and how we use technology within the government. And we're driven by user need. And we're doing id faster, better cheaper. We're behaving as if we didn't have a monopoly - that's the problem with government projects sometimes.  For example - the statutory maternity pay site gives you your information with just three questions.

MLF:

The government is pushing hard on this. They're working on procurement, trying to push it towards smaller companies. Other countries are doing well: Estonia, for example. The president there thinks that you can bring millions more online by giving them better government services digitally.

MB: 

Many of the countries that have got it right are small. The challenge is getting companies like the ones here into the supply chain. IN the past a large amount of our technology was held by a very small number of very large companies. This way of working is incredibly cost-efficient - we've saved at least £0.5bn, but that's just a side effect. Most transactions cost around £12 face to face. That drops to 35p online. 

MLF:

Government is only one factor: there's also charity and business. Go On UK - an effort to get those sectors involved in the process.  But there's at least 8m still to get on line. The charity's only six weeks old - but they know that getting people to understand the benefits of going online is critical. They've created a cheap PC - £95 for people on benefits - that does the job of getting people online adequately. It's a tiny pilot right now, but they're hoping to push our products through their network of partners. 

MB: 

Technology is predominantly open source - the engineers were left to select the technology, and they share most of it on Github. The whole platform is Open Source. So they're welcoming a community of developers to improve the technology. 

Phil Libin: Evernote by the numbers

Phil Libin

Phil Libin of Evernote is here to share figures again. 

He thinks that the idea that it's difficult to map money on mobile, common since the Facebook kerfuffle, is over-blown. They have 34 million users, across all platforms, up from 20m in six months. Their revenue money is direct monetisation - they don't sell the apps or the data, just services. 25% conversion rate in long-term users, under 1% in brand new - it got sup over time. 

Revenue per user per year per platform:

Mobile

  • $1.06 per annum on Android
  • $1.44 pa Windows Phone
  • $1.79 pa iPhone
  • $2.01 Blackberry
  • $2.18 iPad
Desktop
  • $1.81Desktop Web
  • $2.33 Windows
  • $3.16 Mac

Other apps

  • $6.73 Evernote Food
  • $8.44 Skitch
  • $9.22 Evernote Hello
  • $9.53 Top 10 Most Used 3rd Party Apps

75% of new users come from mobile - but 45% come to use the desktop version eventually. 

Q. Is the strategy of vertical apps on mobile working?

A. Yes. The more people use them, the more they want to pay. The more they use Food and Hello, the faster they fall in love with it. 

Q. You don't use in-app purchase. Is that because of the 30%?

A. We do in-app purchases. We let users buy the easiest way they can. We don't begrudge Apple their 30%. I'd rather they used that then a credit card, as it's more frictionless. Sure the 30% is expensive compared to a credit card - but it's not just transaction, it's logistics and marketing, too. 

Q. When will we see Evernote Photo?

A. They're not going to become a photo service - there are too many good ones. However, they do want to make their photo facilities better, as they have been doing with Evernote Food.

Q. Can you tell us a little more about your future?

A. Their goal is to be a 100 year start-up, by making the products they want in a business they don't want to sell. They're working on Evernote Century - a way of keeping you data safe for 100 years. 

Q. What do you do about customers who pay but don't use the service?

A. They're out best customers! They're very few of them, luckily. All our communication is about engagement, and reaching out to people to increase usage. We don't have a function in the company focused on increasing revenue - we focus on building the product. 

Now is the best time to create a new, meaningful company. Build something you lobe, and if you make it great for yourself, chances are 1bn other people will love it. 

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Box's Aaron Levie makes an enterprise forecast: cloudy

Aaron Levie

Aaron Levie, co-founder, Box is being interviewed by Mike Butcher. And they're talking about enterprise solutions. And yet, I'm awake... :)

What's changed in the enterprise software world? People bring their own equipment with them. People just go out an acquire their own solutions, rather than outfitting a data centre. Levie sees that as a huge opportunity, especially around cloud storage, and they're planning on growing. 

Box is making a big European move - 12 to 15% of their revenue is in Europe already. It's all organic - so they're working to double that. They're going to open a London office and then grow sequentially from there. 

Mike Butcher

Mike talks about the massive amount of acquisition in the enterprise space, including the current Yammer/Microsoft rumours.  Levie suggests that the traditional players aren't able to match the rate of innovation - they're having to buy their way in.  "We're seeing lots of companies where you're at risk if you're solution is just 'let IBM do it'." They're seeing the world's largest companies move to the cloud - and that the traditional vendors don't have the right solutions.

Levie thinks there's tremendous growth for all companies in this space. It won't be competition for growth. They're exposing their platform to allow the next generation of companies to build atop of Box. 

It's certainly easy to create a different culture to IBM. We have the opportunity to address some new ways you build a culture. We don't make you wear ties and suits, there's alcohol sometimes. Silicon Valley is so hyper-competitive for talent that you have to optimise for you culture and your product. 

Mike asks if the company is mapping to the Bring Your Own Device movement. Levie things that business is becoming more complex, because everything is more connected. The crisis in Greece can affect a start-up in Silicon Valley. Big companies are starting to look at digital supply chains - and they need a global system to allow people to work like that, including their contractors and suppliers. That's why IBM, Microsoft and Oracle have a challenges, because they're focused on allowing just the company to access the data within the firewall. 

Google+ circles Flipboard - and other news

Google's Bradley Horowitz

Bradley Horowitz, Vice President, Product Management at Google is here to talk about Google+. Not very revealing, but some points emerged, 

  • Growth is good, but they didn't give details
  • They haven't reached the inflection point yet - but that takes years with social networks, he suggests
  • APIs are coming... But they're very cautious about pushing too much into Google+ and diminishing the experience.
  • Flipboard is a new partner, allowing you to access Google+ in Flipboard.
  • They're very happy with hangouts. They LOVE hangouts. They keep talking about them...
  • Kraft have been active on Google+ through the Cadbury's brand. They're one of the biggest conumser brands on there with 1.6m people putting Cadbury's in circles. They've passed Barak Obama.

Neville Hobson is on stage in a Google+ hangout - he asks about Google+ and its potential use in enterprise. Horowitz thinks the enterprise use case is a fantastic opportunity for Google+ - a perfect complement for Google+ "the virtual water cooler, to Hangouts for small team collaboration". People are using it this way already, but it's too hard right now. They're focusing on it. 

Jamie Oliver and Kevin Systrom at Le Web: an Instagram moment

Jamie Oliver

Jamie Oliver and Kevin Systrom have got to know each other through photos - Instagram photos, specifically. They've got to know about each other's families, about tastes in beer...

Twitter is great for getting messages out there and stirring the post, suggests Oliver. It's also good for engaging local communities. Facebook is like a websites, and people scratch deeper there. Instagram is an "amazing was of democratising being creative". There's something about weds that scan be quite poisonous - it's very bitchy. Jamie has so many followers, he gets worried if he doesn't get thousands of likes quickly. And he finds the press don't steal Instagram images as much as they do TwitPics. 

Kevin finds that brands who are most "true" on Instagram get the most engagement. He recommends that you follow Burberry on INstagram to see how to do it well. 

Jamie thinks Pinterest "makes crap look good". He uses it, but it bores him. He spends about 15 minutes a day scanning through social media stuff - but he has a digital team.  The stuff that works is emotion and recipes. "The internet is about being generous" he suggests - the make-up girl at Le Web has bought none of his books - she gets the recipes from the internet. But he think it all contributes to the sales. 

Kevin Systrom and Jamie Oliver at Le web

Jamie likes being able to delete "junk" comments on Instagram, but dislikes the "trail of shite" that idiots leave behind on Twitter. He praises Instagram for leaving an open API to allow other people to build businesses on top of the services, particularly around printing and making of physical goods. Jamie Describes this as a "generous spirit". Neither of them are convinced that video has been done right yet, but they think there's a possibility there. Kevin suggests the value of Jamie teaching you how cook an omelette, but Jamie thinks it would have to be very short. 

Never Seconds - a blog written by a nine year old girl about school dinners - was a good trigger point for restarting a discussion about nutrition in schools, that Jamie's team were able to take advantage of. Pink slime was another campaign they for behind and got trending quickly. 

"The food industry is as corrupt and filthy as the arms industry," says Jamie. He thinks the only hope is digital, because it allows communities to come together. The media can be fantastic he suggests - if they want to be. But the campaigning they do allow them to aggregate communities. The problem with measurement is that  "nobody does anything with it". He'll leave that to others. 

"Boobs, pretty girls and dogs" is what's popular on Instagram suggests Jamie. Kevin shifts the conversation swiftly to the idea that "honest" photos work, but they need to find better ways of creating channels of related content. Jamie points out that budgets for broadcast TV are massively down - 40 to 45% down, but new sources of money are emerging from places like YouTube. 

More details of the session from Arne

BIg Data - doing business faster than real-time

McKinsey & Company tell us what "faster than real time" actually means...

Philipp Nattermann, Partner

Philipp Nattermann

What is big data and where is it coming from? Every web interaction, transaction, social media posting is creating. 1200 Exobytes of data is being generated this year - 95% of it is digital. 53 zetabytes by 2020!

Mobile internet is exceeding desktop traffic in emerging economies. We have data, we have the computational power - and now we have the ability to compress and store it. So now we need to analyse it. It's all these elements happening now that are waking this happen. We can have massive amounts of experimentation in real-time. We can mash up data and get behavioural and intent-based information, rather than stated. Big data is bigger, quicker, better.

Eric Hazan, Partner

Eric Hazan

Research and purchase have moved online. Even furniture, health and beauty etc are shifting that way. But what is really increasing is mobile research. Social networks are becoming gateways to all other activities. They're the first place we get access to content. This is completely changing the way companies interact with their consumers. Online buzz for Free mobile was bigger the fro any competitor in France - and they didn't pay for advertising. 

Phillipp

There's a real chance to map mistakes in all this data. Five steps to get it right:

  1. There is a wealth of data out there: use it
  2. It applies to all organisation
  3. Data-based decision making
  4. Managing through big data
  5. Real business impact - competitive advantage

Free data

There's an 80% correlation between search intensity for crisis-related terms and yields on government bonds in the distressed economies. You can predict people's chance soy getting flu based on their searches for it. FMCG companies use search intensity to predict levels of sales, and plan their supply chains. 

Google search trends for the second week of the month is the best predictor for car sales for the month. This will only get better as more people participate in online research. 0.9 correlation coefficient between a movie's tweet rate and its box office performance. 

Eric

There are people are crunching geo-data and social data. Startups are leading the way. Some for marketing, some for investment, and some for sociology reasons. Kaggle.com. People are managing their data through big data. Barak Obama's campaign uses data analysis to build voter profiles. Amazon has 25 PhDs working on different versions of the website. People using big data are growing much after than their sectors. 

Le Web London 2012: Liveblogging ahead!

Le Web London at the Methodist Central Hall
The Le Web London stage set
Le Web. Liveblogging. London. On it.

June 15, 2012

David Green: Powering an Eco Island's economy with a smart grid

David Green, Founder Eco-Island Partnership

David Green

David was late - but made up for it with a torrent of information about the Eco Island project on the Isle of Wight, which with couple a smart grid with micro-power generation. Below is what could best be described as the very edited highlights of what he said:

Eco Island is unique. It turns us into a totally sustainable region in seven years. And t makes us something the Prime Minister is keen on - the green economy. He has a feeling that it might add up, and for us it has. 15 major investment funds are looking at "floating their boat", because the economic case is so compelling.

It started with an idea. You can spend all your life having bright ideas. If you can't turn them into reality, if you can't anchor them, nothing will happen. 

He presented the idea to the Isle of Wight council in 2007, and launched it with a picnic for 700 people. Meetings, advisory groups... They met in a pub every two months for three years. They ended up with 300 people in that pub. They took it to the corporate world, and gained 70 partners - IBM, Cable & Wireless and the like. Once they were in, everyone else follows. They haven't just come in with money - they've come in with massive amounts of help. 

There are five people employed at the hub of the network, with up to 7,000 people involved at the periphery. 

He's made (one of...) his houses into one of the most sustainable houses in the country. Those principles will extend into the Eco Centre - and then into a mini Eden Centre that might translate into a tourism piece - there's a real eco tourism movement that might open to them. A fundamental part of the process is figuring out what will feed the local economy best - and they think tourism is the answer. 

But there's lots of meetings, consultations and presentations. Sustainability is his passion and the Isle of Wight is his home, so he will go anywhere to make it work. A whole raft of technology solutions are coming the way of local small businesses, many of them for free, which will halve their energy costs. 

What they're doing is creating a virtual power plant - they don't exist in Europe yet, and are just emerging in the US. It's a mix of sustainable energy generation methods, with a smart grid layer over the top. The virtual power plant can generate, store and retrade energy when the main grid gets into crisis - and that can raise loads of money. It has the potential to make a direct competitive challenge to a fossil fuel-based market and be at the heart of a green economy. 

The system is being under-valued by 80% because the advisors don't think that the market is ready to accept it. The PM asked for a prospectus, because he thinks this vision of a green economy might be a challenge for Mr Osbourne. 

He then rattled through the structure far too fast to liveblog - it's a fascinating structure, so check out the website for more details.

Another initiative: Greenback cards - rewarding green business with discounts. Getting huge support on the islands. The average family can save £400. 

The first phase will create around 400 jobs. Put the green investment back in the economy and it will take off in different ways. 

The Community interest part will net around £20m a year - that's not toy town money. 

Making sustainability pay; getting raw with materials

So, carpet tiles. Probably not the most exciting thing in the world, but a major component of most office environments. Like all physical building components, they have the potential to be a huge consumer of resources, and therefore somewhere where you can make a difference to sustainability.

Kelly Grainger

Kelly Grainger, Sustainability Manager of Interface talked through the company's sustainability focus, and the difference it has made to the business. He highlighted three areas:

  • Revenue - cut down on waste - they use ultrasonic cutting tools developed by NASA to eliminate waste in the carpet tile cutting process
  • Reputation - people view sustainable businesses favourably
  • People - the best people want to work in sustainable companies. They've attracted talent that would never have consider the carpet business, drawn by the possibility of making a difference

Old sustainability is about corporate sustainable - we need to shift from making the company more sustainable to making the products more sustainability - that's what people actually buy. Less of the CSR - making companies "less bad"  -  more of a beauty parade for the company producing the most sustainable products. 

You have to start with the data; understand your impacts and assess your impacts. For carpet tiles, the majority of the impact is at the materials end - 68%. For example, they're focusing on reducing the use of Nylon (oil-based), and trying to use more recycled yarn. A product - Microtuft - which uses 50% of the nylon of other carpet tiles - has impend up new markets, because it can be used to make products for markets that traditionally don't like carpets. And they've managed to make carpet tiles from 100% recycled nylon, which only a decade ago was thought to be impossible. 

The next step is trying to create a circular business - where they can take back products at the end of their life, and reuse the materials in the next generation of products. Their preference is like-for-like recycling, where the products can be broken down and used in the manufacture of a product with similar value. 

The Eco Technology Show 2012: a glimpse

The Smart Business Conference, which I'm liveblogging all day, is part of the Eco Technology Show. I've only had the chance for the most cursory of looks around, but I'd like to spend longer:

eco-tech-show4.jpg
eco-tech-show1.jpg
eco-tech-show3.jpg
eco-tech-show2.jpg
The conference is today only, but the exhibition is on tomorrow, as well. 

Brighton's future as a smart city: finding a vision

Jason Kitcat, Leader, Brighton & Hove City Council

Jason Kitcat

Jason, as befits his position, gives us a pitch for why Brighton is so very great.

He highlights Brighton's position as a "super-city" and one that will drive job growth and help us out of recession. The jobs are being driven by the sustainability and new media sector. And he runs though the list of attractions of the area - the universities, the South Downs. Kitcat came to the city 12 years ago to start a digital business. 

Consulting on a 20 year plan, that will keep all existing employment spaces, as well as identifying new places. 

He highlights a range of developments that have been built (or are planned to be) to very high BREEAM ratings: the new American Express building, some public sector buildings, including The Keep, and the i360 proposals 

Tony Mernagh, Chief Executive of Brighton & Hove Business Forum and Executive Director of Brighton & Hove Economic Partnership

Tony Mernagh

"Brighton is a city of the future - and it always will be". That needs to change. They need to make it happen. 

The 2007 economic strategy doesn't really reflect the situation the city finds itself in now. The intent is to review, revisits and probably rewrite it. How do they create the growth they need to support the next generation of workers sustainably, against a background of recession and global economic crisis - and climate change? They need a constant policy vision - the city has had three separate administrations over 12 years, each with their own vision. That's not great for investors. So they want a vision that all political parties can buy in - and that's quite an ask. But doing this will determine if Brighton will actually become the city of the future. 

Scott Marsh and Bruce Nairne - the City prospectus

Scott Marsh

They've consulted with 70 businesses and individuals within the city - and outside it, to see how people view it - and if they see it as a serious business location. 

So, what makes it attractive, according to the consultation? It's unique and distinctive. People struggle to name a similar city. But, from a  business perspective, there's not so clear a distinctive message. Access to London and the airports is seen as valuable, as is its approach to business and cosmopolitan nature. One person commented that they've never come across a place so engaged in architecture debates. It does business in cafés and on the beach, not in boardrooms. 

Bruce Nairne

There are challenges - no financial incentives or grants. There are limitations physically - with the sea to the south (although that means that return on developments is good). Cost of living is high. Parking and congestion is an issue. Consistent policy direction is needed. There are public realm issues, with run-down areas in some of the gateways. And there are social divide issues. 

Does it need another big corporate here? Some think so, others think not. Crawley is very corporate - and Brighton is never going to be Crawley. We might need to be careful about being too restrictive about sectors. Should we be looking more for international investment - or should we target London?

Is it a world class city? It isn't a Barcelona or a Manchester - but there are businesses that do world class things here. 

He has a whole chart full of buzzwords that people apply to the city, but it all comes back to "Creative": The Creative City. 

Q&A

Is Brighton too laid back?

Nairne: there is an issue with "sharpness", particularly in dealing with businesses from London. Business done in cafés can be effective, and as effective as business down in smart suits in boardrooms. 

If we are dealing with a lack of assets and readily developable land, what is the willingness of the current administration to put into that mix publicly-owned assets?

Kitcat: Business rates retention is incredibly complex. As regards to council assets, it's clear that our assets aren't necessarily in the right places, and we could release some through rationalisation. 

Mernagh: We're going to annex Adur: no, we're not. But we want to persuade Adur and Lewes that they want to be part of Brighton. They have land that could be devoted to housing or workspace. Burgess Hill is creating homes - it's only five miles away. It's also creating a business and science park, on 23ha. Brighton has always been inward-looking, we need to work more with our neighbours. 

The digital cluster in Brighton is invisible. Maybe there's something in digital and creative being a world leader...

Kitcat: Every business can have a digital challenge - but we have businesses that create digital stuff. That's different.

Mernagh: Green has gone on the back burner, but the world crisis will end, and green agenda will still be there...

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Can we have growth in a resource constrained world? Three MPs debate

Panel

GB: Efficiency is a great driver for innovation. Energy efficiency is going to be a benchmark of a prosperous economy.

Caroline Lucas

CL: I agree with much of that. We want to see growth in the renewables sectors - and technology is important in making things in a more efficient way. But if everything is growing, well, we're on a planet of finite resources, so we can't go on growing all times in all sectors. We need to reduce our consumption to allow developing companies to develop. We need less stuff, but more efficiently produced. Just having more and more stuff, even if it's efficient, is no good. 

NB: There's good growth and bad growth.  We need to make technology available to make sure that as countries develop, they do so with clean tech and green fuel. 

GB: You need an ambitious vision. But the reality is that it's not at the top of most people's priority list. We need to take a vision to the wide population. We'll be doing this with the Green Deal this autumn. It's a transformational way of approaching energy efficiency. Up until now we've relieved on Government initiatives delivered through the energy companies, but there's been little public appetite. We're creating  new marketplace that will bring in ll sorts of new players. It's not just selling energy efficiency, but home improvement. We need to make these innovations more consumer-friendly. Going green needs to be an attractive as well as sensible thing to do.  

CL: A modified Green Deal would be part of a greener vision. But we have a treasury giving out messages that anything green is a burden on business - and actively lobbying in Europe on that. Greg is right to make this something aspirational. For too long, we have given the impression that being green is about shivering around a candle in a cave. We've given that impression for too long. How do we use the best brains in advertising the he alt benefits of a really great bike? 

Norman Baker

NB: Austerity? No. We've got the biggest rail building programme in decades right now. We have to recognise the times we're in. £560m is there for local sustainable transport schemes.

CL: If the Government was really serious about getting us out of this, they'd be investing (and borrowing to invest) in this, as you'd get the return in jobs. 

Some skirmishing between CL and NB on issues like a third runway at Heathrow, which she claims is back on the agenda, and which he denies. 

GH: There are different ways of pursuing a green agenda. We're trying to take green measure off consumer bills, and onto general taxation. Good housekeeping and good accounting is compatible with the green economy. If you let people make profits all over the place at the expense of consumers, you will give green a bad name.

CL: But you have contradictor policies. The wholesale price of gas is the biggest driver of fuel bill rises, and what you've down is create a new rush for gas. 

CL and GH debate the need for a binding energy efficiency target, with Lucas arguing for one, and Barker suggesting that previous targets have been unrealistic and worthless. He wants a "realistic, worthwhile" target. 

GB: Expecting Sharp to move its solar HQ to the UK in the next week or so. The government ways the UK to become a great place to make renewable systems, not just install them. They want to great new payment methods and investment systems to get encourage development.

CL: We fell from third to 13th in green inward investment last year. We need policy security, and we don't have it. The government keeps changing it. 

Q&A

NB: Loss of fuel duty from getting people to go into cities on bicycles or foot are offset by the commercial gains from making our town centres more vibrant and friendly without so many cars. 

Greg Barker

GB: The real engines for growth are the SMEs - we have a third of Europe's SMEs in the UK. There will be no Green Deal fees for SMEs for the first two years. Encouraging SMEs to come together to offer alternatives to the big energy companies is valuable. Caroline has been doing good work in Brighton on Hove that. People trust companies in their local communities to come into their homes. 

CL: We need to go further. We need to make it easier for local companies to take part in procurement processes, and to specify local companies. There are exciting opportunities out there. Brighton & Hove are arguing for faster broadband. Becoming a second tier status city would help that. 

GB: Will be working to try and get more uniformity of interpretation of planning guidance amongst local authorities. Pioneer cities - to lead the way on carbon management. 

NB: Everything we do need to create growth and cut carbon. The localism agenda isn't being talked about enough. It's a huge change - including planning, so you should be able to have more influence what happens in your local area. Localism vision is a way to get buy-in from local people. 

CL: We need to get away from "growth" - to prosperity, value, well-being. We need more creativity in planning. You can bring together tackling the deficit and the green agenda. Invest more in the green economy and it'll help lift us out of recession. 

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Ian Abbott Donnelly: visualising solutions for smart cities

Ian Abbott Donnelly

Ian Abbott Donnelly, European CTO Smart Cities, IBM

Cities are systems of systems, with things interacting in interesting ways. How do we work with them to make things better. Smart cities aren't about growth - they're about prosperity. 

They're about making insightful decisions, predicting problems, and co-ordinating resources to operate effectively. 

Peterborough is one of the UK"s leading cities for sustainability. They're gathering huge amounts of data, but very little of its is being sued by business or public sector decision makers. So they're trying to produce it in new forms. They create visualisations to make the information more accessible. For exampe - a visualisation of water meter use. 

Walkscore.com - allows you to figure out how many services are accessible without a car. 

They've mapped and visualised the green tech cluster in the city. 

It doesn't need to be complex data analysis - just visualising the size of the landfill hole - and how full it is - makes it clear what the scale of the problem is. 

A group of IBM people's expertise was given to Glasgow to help explore the issue of fuel poverty. They came up with 60 ideas for improving the situation. Visualise the ares that are a problem - you can target them easily, and get the most return for your investment. 

Intelligent Operations Centre for Cities - you run air traffic control 24/7, not by a strategic plan. Why not cities? IBM has software that allows you to do that. It pulls together data and social networking, allowing you to connect to the right people once you've found an issue. It's the ability to be resilient and adaptable is what a city needs. 

Water management used to be about people in vans, driving around and fixing things. That doesn't scale over time or space. Now they use analytics, allowing you to spot emergencies, anomalies, and issues. You can do small fixes on the way to big fixes, optimising both daily routines, and emergency response.

They're working in Dublin to deal with traffic problems. Traffic prediction analysis is starting to become viable. It's over the next hour, and allows you to respond to situations. 

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Jen Hawes-Hewitt: strategies for smart cities (Smart Cities Conference)

Jen Hawes-Hewitt, Accenture Intelligent Cities

Jen Hawes-Hewitt

In 2008 we saw a tipping point where more people now live in cities. We've had 200 years of urbanisation to day, and we've to 50 years to do the same amount. It's a short window. Cities are the centre of resource consumption. Yet the most highly-eductaed, successful workforce are globally mobile. Technology can help this smart meters and grids are infrastructure, but they're just sensors. People can become sensors, too, bringing all sorts of information together. 

B&Q is leading the private sector by example, setting itself harsh targets for CO2 reduction. Smart Cities was google 7 times more in 2011 compared to 2010. €75m of EU funding was released in 2011 for the Smart Cities & communities agenda. 

Smart grids have been around for a while. Now we're moving towards a superset, where you think about making everything in a city smart. There's a recognition that Mayors have a role to play in this debate. But we're at a peak of hypes - she's been invited to 20 conferences this year. We've got two to three years to really create something before disenchantment sets in. 

There are a multiplicity of stakeholders, with public sector on long decision cyslcels, and private on very short-term ways. And people's views of what makes an urban environment desirable vary. Politicians want to tell stories and show blue, citizens want to lower their energy bills and have more discretionary income. There's lots of talk about technology, but not much explanation of what it actually means for people's lives. Getting the narrative right is important, not just vendors pushing products. Cities are systems - much of the value will come from integrating different projects. And, in an age of austerity, we need to get smarter at how we fund these projects - and that means business model innovation. What will people pay for, because fit make their lives better or cheaper? 

A smart city is one that is focused on using technology in more intelligent way. They're beginning to elect CIOs. How do cities create markets for the information age? Live Singapore project, run by MIT. They use the live GPS data from taxis, to know where they are. They use meteorological data to forecast the local rain storms - and feed that to the taxi companies, to make sure they're in the right place in the right time. And it reduces CO2 by making sure that the cabs are not driving around pointlessly.

We need to change our approach to planning. We need to think about infrastructure, and the right services to attract the right talent to a city. And cite need to collaborate with partners  to compete. 

Ciudad Creativa Digital - making Guadalajara into a hub for Hispanic video gaming. They're redeveloping the city centre to create a business clusters, integrating the physical and the digital. Accenture are advising them. 

Worth reading: 



June 14, 2012

Who wins in the Google versus Apple battle? Us

iOS6 promotional image

Fraser Spiers:

I'm not a Google hater. In many ways, I rather wish that we could turn the clock back to 2007 and that 'merger without merging' that Eric Schmidt talked about with the integration of Google Maps on the original iPhone. Still, we are where we are and the current intense competition is certainly spurring some welcome innovations.

Spot on. However warm and snuggly the Google / Apple alliance of 2007 was, the current state of open warfare between them is pretty good for the consumer. Android and iOS are spurring each on to greater and great heights, and that's great news for every smartphone user. 

Skype: what is this strange human concept of "conversation"?

Skype's daft advertising idea

Andrew Grill, talking about Skype's plans for in-call advertising:

"highlight unique and local brand experiences"- what?? Humans don't speak like this to to other humans.  This is ad speak.

There is a clear phenomenon where people get so embedded in marketing and sales that they lose touch with normal humanity, and come to serve the abstract gods of marketing objectives. I am reminded of a marketing-written proposal for a mobile app I saw once, that required the user to go through two pages of data capture before they could start using it. Serves marketing goals, no sense of what humans actually do, doomed to failure. 

Or, of course, this could just be Microsoft brining its "magic touch" to Skype. I fear for Yammer

WordPress updates and integrates with Facebook

A couple of cool WordPress things have happened in the last couple of days...

Wordpress hits 3.4

WordPress 3.4 update
Some lovely little touches in this WordPress release, like the ability to embed Tweets natively from within the app, and to tweaks theme designs without having to get down and dirty with CSS. Once more WordPress is leading the way in making self-hosted blogging a non-technical experience by putting a great, simple user experience on top of things that used to require coding or FTP skills. 


Facebook releases an official WordPress plugin

The official Facebook WordPress plugin
There were a bunch of unofficial plugins to do this before, or your could drop the embed codes in manually, but this new official Facebook WordPress plugin makes life nice and simple, and integrates Insights into the dashboard.

The decision to stay with Movable Type or shift to WordPress on this blog has always been a balance of effort required to migrate versus benefit received. This goes just a little bit further to pushing me over the edge...

June 12, 2012

TEDxBrighton: new site, new theme

the new TEDxBrighton site
One of the most satisfying aspects of my new, freelance working life is that I can give time to unpaid projects that interest me. One of these is TEDxBrighton, the second edition of the independently-organised TED event, which is now being organised by a completely different team to last year's.

The conference's brand new site, pulled together by Digby Killick, the Content & Motion team and Pragmatic, has just gone live. You'll be seeing a lot from me on the conference blog because the talented Louise Winters and I are the official storytellers for the conference. You can grab the RSS feed, or subscribe by e-mail. 

June 11, 2012

Responsive Content versus Directive Content

Instapaper joy

The notion of the brand journalist has been playing on my brain again in recent days, partially because of some client work I'm doing. 

In particular, these two questions stand in opposition to one another:

How do we get our client's message out through social channels?

and

How do we provide our customers with the information they need? 

The more I look at this, the more I see why brands still purchase adverts to piggyback on the audience-building of publishers. Publishers are, at heart, concerned with building audiences. Many marketeers are still locked into the vision of pushing messages. There's a misconception, I think that journalists bring writing skills to a brand's content strategy. Well, yes, they can. But most specifically, they can bring their community development skills - because that's what a beat is: a community. And a journalist is someone who serves that community with content by understanding and being part of that community

Journalists pulling together a magazine have always had to walk a careful line between responding to the audience's desire for information and surprising them with things they didn't know they needed to know. It's that ability to generate what we might call responsive content that actually engages the community, while the unexpected content delights them. Too many marketing-driven engagement attempts, from customer magazines outwards, fail because their directive content - the message the brand wants push out - is too front and centre. There's no responsive content. Broadly speaking, my experience of most digital content pushes has been that: marketing-driven content that doesn't engage me. 

The Canon Example

The Canon iMage Gateway

For example, at this point, I'm pretty much a Canon brand-loyal customer. I have a significant investment in their DSLR line, that actually dates back to their SLR days. But there's a natural break point coming in the next few years. If I switch to a CSC-style camera - which might be better for the professional uses I put my camera to -  the friction of switching to a different manufacturer is significantly lower.

Canon is certainly trying to reach out here. When I installed the software for my new EOS 600D, I was invited to register for their Image Gateway site. It's a personalised photo-sharing and information site that appears to be an attempt to build an on-going relationship with the client. But Canon's attempts at engagement are, well, poor. You have to go through a long, marketing-driven questionnaire before you get access to the photo-sharing aspect of the service. Given how many other options are out there, I wonder how many people make it through that painful barrier, which is clearly there to serve the company, not the customer. In the end, that's why I'll probably never log back into the site: its services and information look and feel like what they are: something designed to serve their needs, not those of the customers.

Any chance that the company had to build an on-going relationship with me is shot: I remain  loyal to photographic magazines and blogs to get my information. And so, when I make the leap to an CSC camera, I'll be taking their recommendations.  

Following the money to motivation

As ever, it's a follow the money situation. In most cases, based on revenue, the magazine journalists' ultimate customer is actually the advertiser - but it's deeply ingrained in the culture of the business that the advertiser is best served by focusing on delivering the right audience. And that's best done by serving the readers first and foremost.

In all but the best cases, marketing teams, be they in-house or agency-driven, are doing what they're paid to: delivering a message. But that's a single, transactional model. Audiences have to be built for the long-term, and don't sit easily into the campaign structure. And that's why the long-term relationship building publishers do has traditionally been so valuable. 

As brands transition into a publishing world, as they seem to be doing, they're going to have to get a handle on this. That means adjusting their time scales, thinking long-term, and bringing in skills of engagement, community building, and responsive content generation. 

 (I also wonder if the habit of national newspaper journalists transitioning into PR and marketing might have a negative influence on this. Those of us from a speciality magazine background have a very different approach to journalism from our cousins on the nationals, who tend to have sources and contacts, but not readers communities in the same way. Fodder for another post, perhaps). 

In the end, just having access to the tools is no guarantee that you'll be able to use them. And if you want to build an engaged community around brand-centric content, choosing people with the experience to get you an engaged audience with those tools is the right choice. A broadcast marketeer is too ofter attempting to use an Allen key to hammer in a nail. 

Perhaps the idea of a brand journalist is more than just a jumped-up copywriter after all...

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June 8, 2012

For your Kindle or iPad: Content Meant? #1

Content Meant? #1 on Kindle
Have you come across ReadLists? They're an interesting idea from the (occasionally controversial) people behind Readability

The idea is rather interesting. It creates an eBook package out of a bundle of web content, and sends it to your Kindle, iPad or similar device for reading. I can feel some publishers sweating already - this means people reading their content without visiting the website, without seeing the ads, without pushing the precious hit count up one. And all of that's true. But all of that's true of RSS, too, and some people are more interested in being read, and deriving business value from that, than in driving traffic to particular page. So, I think it's an experiment worth trying. 

And, thanks to my MacBook being out of commission for a while, I had a whole bunch of slightly-aging tabs stored in Safari which made excellent fodder for lean-back, considered reading. So, rather than doing a traditional link post, I've built the first issue of Content Meant? for your weekend or commuting reading pleasure. This may be a one off - or it may become a regular thing. Let's see how you folks react to it, and how I feel this time next week. :-)

So, here it is:


Let me know how you get on with it, and I'd be particularly interested to hear how your experience was on different devices.. 

Update: some people are having problems with the ReadLists e-mail service, so here's a direct download link to the ePub file

Social is a search strategy

Mashable:

"Sixteen months ago we received the same number of monthly referrals from search as social. Now 40% of traffic comes from social media," Scott Havens, senior vice president of finance and digital operations at The Atlantic Media Company, said in a phone conversation ahead of his on-stage interview at our Mashable Connect conference in Orlando, Fla. last weekend. "Truly [our writers] are not really thinking about SEO anymore. Now it's about how we can spin a story so that it goes viral."

Of course, writing for social is an SEO strategy, as social is an increasingly strong signal in search.

Incidentally, I'm leading an SEO for Journalists course with journalism.co.uk. You might want to come. :-)

June 7, 2012

How the internet actually works

A surprisingly clear and concise explanation:


Not, in fact, a series of tubes. :-)

Brand publishing: time to get gonzo

berlin-blogging.jpg

Antony Mayfield is on a bit of a blogging roll right now, possibly spurred on by the long bank holiday weekend, with some excellent posts on mental health and the future of TV

Today's offering caught my attention for obvious reasons:

In the excitement and head-nodding that discussion of "brand publishers" has stirred up we have not often enough paused to question the role model we are taking on. You know that all is not very rosy in the publishing garden, right? This is an industry being ravaged by web-based disruption as much, if not more, than any other.

Antony's background is in that dark, suspicious place we journalists like to call Brighto marketing. It's an interesting point because many people from both the marketing and journalism side of the fence have cited "brand journalism" as the future for many of today's practicing journalists as the traditional industry sinks. 

I've been poking the "content strategy" business with a virtual stick over the last few months, and while there's some good thinking out there, there's also a heck of a lot of what looks to me like traditional publisher mindset badly hybridised with SEO-driven strategy. That creates content with, uh, sub-optimal value. 

I think the key here to to distinguish between the tools and the behaviours. The web has brought to the tools of publishers to brands (and, indeed, to anyone with internet access and a bit of creative spirit), but simply emulating the behaviours of traditional publishing is diminishing the value of that change. Imagine using your iPad in exactly the way that 1950s corporations used mainframe PCs, and you'll get the general idea... Those behaviours were constructed in a different age, one that was less content-rich and attention-poor, and are slowly dragging too many old publishers down.

Antony's point is a good one, and one that anyone now in the business of "publishing" should be focusing on: start with the notion of who you're trying to reach, and perform for them: 

  • Build an audience: Harking back to the post about audience management I wrote on the Brilliant Noise blog, the main concern of talent has to be to build an audience. The only way to do that is to be performing, creating, out there getting attention, even in a small way. If you're smart you'll be getting people on that mailing list, following you on Twitter and Facebook to find out more.
  • Find its voice: As well as building a fan base, getting out there with your work helps you develop your own voice. A lot of talent starts out copying others, then evolves their own way of doing things as they build confidence and learn from feedback.

The content creator as performer - where have we heard that idea before in the publishing business? Ah, yes, that's right: gonzo journalism. I'd say that what he's advocating here is essentially "gonzo brand journalism".  

Doesn't that sound fun to create? More to the point, doesn't that sound fun to interact with? 

News websites - a bit like the web, but with fewer links

Bird on chain links

Martin Belam on journalists' reaction to Johann Hari being "forced" to link:

Only people in an industry that has habitually avoided linking out to the rest of the web could possibly see adding links and footnotes as a cruel and unusual punishment.

It baffles me that, two decades on, so many people in the media business still don't understand the fundamental nature of the web. The clue is in the name: the strands that make up the web are links...

June 5, 2012

Back in business

macadam.jpg
That rather stern image of me above was taken while I was testing my repaired MacBook Pro at the Apple Store this afternoon. Two logic board replacements, and a microphone and speaker repair, and it seems to be back on its feet (metaphorically speaking). 

One of the challenges of working for myself is making sure that I have the kit I need to do the work I've agreed to. I've acquired a second camera body recently, after my existing DSLR packed up in Berlin a few weeks ago. I used the new body for Like Minds and was very happy with it - and the old body should be back from repair this week as my backup. My liveblogging kit is a little bit more robust, now. 

After a week without my laptop, I'm facing the fact that I'll probably need a back-up machine in the medium-term. I managed to get by with the iPad (all the FT blogging was done on it) and some loans of my wife's iMac, and could do so again, but I'm going to need to start budgeting for buying machines in a more professional way. 

Let's see what the next generation of kit from Apple brings us...

June 4, 2012

Redundancy: Five months on

A lawn full of daisies

The past five months have forced me to think about what I do with my working life more then I ever have. When I entered the workplace, in 1994, I had only one aim: become a journalist. Everything that has happened since then has been an evolution of that goal, the next step on a journey that had a fairly clear set of paths I could choose from.

And then the path got faint, and became a barely-trodden track - and then ended. I found myself looking at an open field. There are a few, basic tracks left by others. But they're still figuring out the best routes. For a while, I looked desperately for a new path, one that looked like the old ones, and came close to finding some. But I'm glad nothing came of those in the end. It would have been easy, safe and possibly even sensible - and they would have robbed me of the opportunity to really think about what I want my career to be.

Lately, in part inspired by some of the talks at last month's Like Minds, as well as long coffee-fuelled conversation with friends, contacts and colleagues, I realised the difference of emphasis between these two statements is subtle, but profound:

  • What can I do that will make money?
  • What can I do, that will make money?

Neither is inherently the wrong or right path. I know people who have followed the first path, choosing making money as their primary objective, but ploughing the money back into having a wonderful - and generous - life outside the office. Equally, I know people who are loving their work, but are challenged by the disparity between their income and many of their peers. Both have their pros and their cons.

I've spent a long time hovering between the two exteremes. I was working for a big corporate, but I wasn't making that much money. I was enjoying my work, but to allow that to continue I had to stop myself from seeing that my employers were significantly less committed to the sorts of philosophies and tools I was espousing than I was. I was dumbing myself down to serve security.

In a sense, I see that choice ahead of me again. I can walk one path, holding to my belief that social and communication tools will reshape our institutions and societal structures fundamentally, as the old barriers to communication erode. Or, I can put back up my old barriers, and choose to tone down those beliefs. I can try to reshape emergent technology in the form of old business models and structures, for a good paycheck, a nine to five job and a sense of stability.

But it's a false choice. The equation no longer resolves. The element that kept the second path viable is gone. My trust in corporates is broken. I genuinely believed that if I worked hard, focused my energies on the success of the business, and fought for what I thought was right, I would be rewarded. Instead, I was made redundant. I am no longer capable of trusting an employer like I did then. The noble words of valuing people can be proved empty in one, formulaic, soulless meeting in a bland little meeting room. It's likely that I'll take a corporate job at some time in my future, but I'll understand the provisionality of that job on both sides much more fundamentally.

That's liberating. That leaves me to pursue what I believe is right. I really believe - and have seen plenty of evidence - that human beings can be wonderful things, given the right tools for communication, for exchange, for conversation. Sure, there are darker aspects to human nature, but I'd rather strive towards the best, while preparing for the worst, than swim in a pool of committee-approved, unadventurous, packaged medocrity.

And you know what? So far, it's working. I'm not making what I was at RBI - yet. But the work is good and interesting, and usually for cool people who see the possibilities inherent in the changes we're going through. I have more time for family and friends. I'm taking a lower toll on the environment. I'll be around my baby when he or she arrives next month far more than I would have been otherwise. These are all good things.

Maybe this time next year, I'll have taken a new job, or have started my own business, or still be freelancing and contracting. I don't know. But, right now, the journey is its own reward. And that's cool.

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