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A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

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Farnham castle window

Mark Wilson, summing up his thoughts on last week’s Digital Surrey Google Maps talk:

Unfortunately, there are many who will not trust Google – and I find it interesting that Google is an advocate of consuming open data to add value to its products but I see very little being put back in terms of data sets for others to use. Google’s argument is that it spent a lot of money gathering and processing that data; however it could also be argued that Google gets a lot for free and maybe there is a greater benefit to society in freely sharing that information in a non-proprietary format (rather than relying on the use of Google tools).

Google has gone from one of the most trusted companies on the internet to one of the least in less than four years. I’d suggest that it needs to spend a lot less time on parachuting with Google Glass and dubious entertainment devices, and a lot more on rebuilding that trust. 

I really want them to sort this out. Google have done, and are doing, great things. But if they can’t win back our trust, their room for doing more is going to get ever smaller.

Image is of a window in Farnham Castle, the venue for the event.

Lloyd Davis:

Someone needs to say they’re going to show up for it. That’s what makes stuff happen. Lots of other important things help too, but it really kicks off when someone says “I’m going to be there or do this, no really, I am, I don’t care if nobody else does, I am.”

That’s what makes it so much easier for everyone else to join in. That’s leadership in a world of organising without organisations. Someone is committed.

I’ve done this. I’ve seen this work. With more ability to communicate, to network, to be social through the internet, new models are emerging. This is a cool but productive one. And Lloyd, Dan and others are pushing it onwards

Ed Parsons of Google talking at Digital SurreyTonight’s Digital Surrey event featured Ed Parsons, Google’s Geospatial Technologist talking about the future of maps and geospacial information. These are my liveblogged notes:

The blue marble of Earth in space is a very powerful, emotive image. We see it all the time. It means something to us. But for something that’s so emotive – it’s only been seen by 20 people with their own eyes. The Apollo 8 team were the very first to see it. The rest of us? We see it through tools like Google Earth. There are about 1bn users of it – and 1bn people use Google Earth or Google Maps every week. That’s a third of the population of the internet, or the same amount as Facebook and Twitter combined. 
An idea of Google Street View with annotated informationThe annotated world is taking that information, and starting to draw out the information that would otherwise would be invisible. In the digital world we can make a 1:1 scale map. Google is quite proud of its mapping – but it’s a long way from 1:1. They tag StreetView with additional information, to add invisible information – like one way streets, like the phone number and website of a business you can see. That can be harvested from the web, using geo information like postcodes. But how do you find things like waste bins? They’re not in a database anywhere. So can you “recognise” them in images? Can you pull out parking restrictions from analysing the images? They think so.

How about hotels? They create place pages for a hotel, and start to collate various sources of information from around the web on one place, from booking information, driving directions to reviews. They’re still experimenting with it – Ed describes it as “still quite conventional”.

What’s not so conventional?  A simple phone app to review a place, just by clicking a rating for specific things. Or Google Map Maker, which allows you to add content that doesn’t appear in the map. You can trace the boundary of a property, and submit it. It goes through moderation and them into Google Maps. You can bring  social element, where you can see what people you know have recommended around you. 

That’s today’s state of play. Geospacial information is where content is king – it’s all about getting as much rich data as you can. 

What’s next?

The 3D mapping wars. You can tell it’s a trend when the Daily Mail misreports it. The 3D in question is built from aerial photos, which are used to automatically generate a 3D rendering of the environment. Because you capture a city over a day or two, you get a consistent view of everything – right down to the trees. It’s amazing new technology. Google Maps has it, iOS is getting it, Nokia has it (but who talks about that?) and Amazon are getting into the game. 

But – it’s not actually 3D. It’s just a texture on a box. It’s 2.5D – just a surface. Real 3D – going inside a building, and navigating around it – that’s hard. But we’ll solve it over the next 10 years. 

GPS doesn’t work indoors. How do you navigate in the great indoors? They’re working with John Lewis to map the inside of their stores, and use the WiFi signals within the store to help geolocate you. It’s accurate to about 2 or 3 metres. They’ve also done the railways stations and are working on the museums. There are various technologies competing to do this…

The Map of the future…is not a map

Paper is awful for doing geospacial information. You’re fixed when you’ve printed it. You can’t do things above or below it, it can’t animate. We are no longer stuck with that. As of six months ago, if you have a Google Account, the map you see is personalised for you. No two maps are alike – they’re customised with what they know about you. It’s figured out where you home is. Businesses which friends have reviewed are highlighted. Five years ago, it took six weeks to generate all the map tiles for the world. They’re now doing it all on the fly for individual users. HTML5 has facilitated that – it allows you create really dynamic maps. He shows us St Paul’s moving its perspective as you move around it on a map to demonstrate what can be done.

Google Now uses information about you on your phone, your habits and your personality, to proactively provide you with useful information. It’s not showing maps – it’s giving you weather, travel instructions and exchange rates – but geospacial information is being used to give you contextual information. 
Ed Parsons being filmed at Digital Surrey

Big Data – beyond the marketing

Google Earth is about 6 Petabytes. We can handle that. That’s not the problem. The problem is that it’s mainly static. Big Data isn’t about volume, but velocity. The industry still struggles with that. Google did some research with the European Commission, looking at Twitter messages to figure out where natural disasters were happening. The problem is that the Twitter firehouse is huge. You can’t query it as fast as the information comes in. SQL is no use for big data.

Think it’s bad now? It’s gonna get worse. There are 35bn devices connected to the internet now – about six each. Ed has over 40 connected to the iterate at home…These device are all sensors. Those multiple sensor are all gathering data… 

Crowdsourcing 2.0

Moving from improving systems to capture data we could already get, to capturing information we couldn’t. There’s a project to get everyone in Boston to give their ideas of the neighbourhood boundaries. There’s a lot of agreement on Beacon Hill. Bay Village or Allston – loads of disagreement. This is information you just couldn’t get before. That’s explicit crowdsourcing.

How about implicit crowd-sourcing? The average speed of traffic in Dublin, for example? Normally, you’d use sensor on the major roads. But you can do it with mobile phones, anonymously. There’s an element of heuristics, to figure out who is walking and who is in a car. Quite hard in London….

Linked Data

It’s a campaign, coming from computer scientists, to make the web more intelligent – to add more semantic information to the pages. It’s hard. Schema.org is a lightweight version of the semantic web – which allows you to tag things to indicate that they’re an address or an event or so on…

Summing Up

  • Paper maps are dead.
  • It’s all about more personalised information – and location is a component of that. It gives context.
  • If we share more information, we can get more back. But we will only do it with people we trust. So the industry needs to win people’s trust. That’s a challenge. 

Q&A

Drinkies at Digital Surrey

Does everybody’s phone become a mobile weather station, if they all have barometers in them?

The verdicts out if they will get barometers – but at the moment forecasting is based on a few hundred fixed stations. Millions of stations have the potential to dramatically improve the forecasting.

How much of what you’ve talked about is propriety and how much is open?

A mix. Some of it is coming from Open Government sources. Our modus operandi is that any data you give you should be able to get out again, through the Data Liberation Front. We then make the data available through APIs. 

What is the energy requirement of all of this?

Google designs and builds its own servers, and focus on making them low cost and low energy. and then put them in locations to minimise the need for artificial cooling. But server farms will always need a lot of energy. But you only use what you need – servers don’t need graphics cards, for example. On the phone, the big energy draws are the screen and the various radios. Intelligent control of parts – like turning off the GPS when you’re not moving, using the accelerometer which uses much less power. But it’s a big challenge.

The Big Data you’re using? It has a lifespan. Will you need to expire it?

Knowing when data is stale is  a big challenge. The StreetView information for this town is two years old. When do we drive again? That’s a big challenge. Also, what you see is a processed version of the data. The original, raw data has been destroyed due to data protection issues. He argues that that could be valuable historical information which is now lost. 

200 year old maps are still readable. What about your data?

The current thinking is that you never keep data still – you move it from medium to medium as technology changes. There’s a policy issue, too. We don’t go and burn the census because it’s personal information. There’s a danger that we destroy things just because they’re digital. 

Fear'n'Loathing

Kevin Anderson pointed out this interview with humorist and newspaper columnist Dave Berry, in which he makes a pretty damning assessment of the newspaper business:

So what role did newspapers play in the decline of humor columns?

Newspapers have had a consistent problem over the past 30 to 40 years that whenever they are offered two options, they always pick the one that is more boring and less desirable to readers.

Personally, I attribute the modern failure of newspapers to English majors. We let our business be run by English majors, but since the model was a foolproof way of making money and the only place for Sears to buy and print a full-page ad, they could do whatever they wanted. This created the notion that whatever they were doing had huge market demand, and when the Internet came along, we found out that wasn’t necessarily the case.

Kevin explores the issues in the second part of that, but it was the first part that struck me. There is, to my mind at least, a streak of self-importance and worthiness in journalism generally, and newspapers specifically, that makes them, well, a touch boring. It’s as if the industry has collectively decided that to be useful dn informative, you have to be dull. And that’s a terrible mistake. One of the reasons that I spend more time in my RSS reader on my iPad than in newspaper apps in Newsstand is that, on the whole, the writing is better – or at least, more entertaining.

It’s like gonzo journalism never happened. Or, at least, that mainstream journalism has so failed to take on its ideas that they left space for it to rise amongst pure-play internet media.  

An ultrasound scan of a child

The observant will have noticed an unaccustomed silence here for the last week. Apologies, but I’m in full-on “preparations for life upheaval” mode. Our first child is expected to make his/her arrival… well, any time now, in fact. Certainly within the next fortnight.
Pretty much nothing is getting done bar paid work (that new mouth will need feeding…) and preparing our new house for our new arrival. So, posting is likely to be patchy here for the next month or so.
Don’t worry – this is unlikely to become a “daddy blog” once the little one arrives. Whatever I do post about my offspring and my paternal experiences is likely to find its way onto my personal blog, rather than this, my “serious” one. 
In the meantime, think good thoughts for my wife and baby as the birth approaches… Thanks!

Owly Images 

How are news organisations dealing with stream publishing? Kathryn Corrick directs the flow…
jason.jpgJason Mills, editor, web for ITV News: the ITV site is built on a stream. it shows that you don’t have to be a station to have a news channel.

Raju Narisetti, managing editor, Wall Street Journal Digital Network: It’s a flowing list of content – you name it, it’s in the stream. We’re doing more of it because his competition is not the other sites – it’s readers’ time, their one non-renewable resources. Streams give them more for their time. And people are used to seeing discrete periods of time for events – why can’t news coverage happen in the same way. 

Patrick Heery, UK editor, BBC News website: Streaming news has always been part of their operation – but Ceefax is closing. So they’re doing it in new ways. They’re mixing up video, content from correspondents and the best of the user content. They’re hugely popular with the audiences. They’ve reorganised the newsroom to bring the Twitter writers into the heart of the newsroom. 
ben.jpgPete Clifton, executive editor, MSN: They can now switch to liveblogging when they need to – either doing it themselves or through the press association. They need to pick their battles, though. They know they’re good at entertainment, so they target those occasions. They should also think about innovative things, to balance their lack of scale. They’ve started doing live trending blog on the front page, driven by signals from social media. They want to make live sports coverage more interactive and involve the audience. But simplicity can be the key on  alive page, especially on mobile. 

Ben Schneider, senior director and general manager for CoveritLive, Demand Media: It’s difficult to make sense of the vast firehose of information coming at you. That’s what you turn to the big players for a story. They want to bring those streams into one place where they can be shaped by the journalist or editor. 

Biggest disasters?
raju.jpgRaju: Google wasn’t really indexing the stream – it didn’t see it as a single piece of content. Plus, 40% of their visitors go straight to the home page. What do they do when a both a stream and a popular branded blog are covering the same event? They run the stream on the page, and a link to the blog as well. 

Jason: Not that I can think of yet. Their stream isn’t an add-on – it is the site. Can it be done with all stories? Pretty much. Stories develop. We just open source our journalistic notebook. But your publishing tool has to be very fast – it was by Made by Many. 

Ben: There was a liveblog covering pro-Obama issues. Their Twitter hashtag automated importing starting accidentally pulling in anti-Obama comments. They quickly removed them, but the realised that unfettered access may not be the answer. 

Pete: Accidental obituary releases. Large “Hardon” Colliders. 
patrick.jpgPatrick: It’s more complicated than it should be to start up live pages. 

Tips from the audience on B2B liveblogging:

  • Lots of prepublicity
  • Work in co-operation with the audience
  • Open a dialouge
  • Use tools that work in low bandwidth.

Pete: Pin the key points to the top, so people can get a quick picture of what’s happening. 

Ben: It’s very contextual to the event: photos are vital to an Apple event, for example. 

What’s the next big innovation in liveblogs?

Ben: What is everyone asking for? One is more data. That’s a theme for everything. And how can they do more the engage people more? We need more intuitive ways of filtering through massive amounts of content.

host-and-guest.jpg

What’s the influence of sport on the influence of liveblogging? What might emerge from the Olympics?

Jason: We didn’t look at sport, we looked at how people consumed news in general; the Arab Spring etc.

Raju: Sports has been less of an influence to us – for us, it’s been the way markets are covered. The elements that make for a good stream are sometimes not available for sport because of rights issues – the video and the audio. 
pete.jpgPete: The sports people were pioneers in showing how you can write copy in a way that compels people even without video. Not everyone can do it. Sport really pointed the way at the BBC.

Ben: Sports is a huge part of what CoverItLive is used for. The Olympics presents a unique challenge. Coming from across the pond, there’s a delay effect (for the US audience). They want time-shifted streams. Give them the opportunity to see it again.

Everybody is build live platforms – have any of you figured out the magnetisation piece? We know users are super-enganged, but we struggle with metrics. 

Conrad Quilty-Harper: Engadget used sponsorship – they knew how many people would be coming. There should be more people liveblogging from the field. People today want to sit in offices doing it – not at the event. (I beg to differ, sir – I’m typing this in the field. ;-))

Raju: Time-span becomes a relevant measure again. People spending more time on the site means more ad impression, which are good for us.

Jason: Two models: banner ads and sponsorship. The tagghing enables sponsors to sponsor certain parts of the stream. 

Pete: The story we tell advertisers is people coming back to the site and staying longer – it’s not a specific sell, but live is part of that. If we can bring all the live elements together, it will be a great place to look for sponsorship. 

Chris Hamilton, BBC: Is the article dead at the hands of live digital streaming?

Ben: No. But it is certainly secondary if not tertiary. But there will always be the case where people need to rebuild context around something. 

Pete: No, you have to offer the choice. Some people just want a well-written, concise version of what occurs. 

Patrick: No. There are lots of live football reports – but a match report at the end of it.

Raju: I would be very cautious about streams that people just watch rather than engaging with it – because your business model goes away.

Jason: Our audience doesn’t distinguish. They don’t mind. We are looking at different ways of telling stories using the stream. 

A packed and hot room for a panel on the current state of publishing on mobile. Katie King back in the chair.
katie milnerKate Milner, mobile product manager, BBC News

Tablets and mobile are changing how people are accessing BBC News content. Traditionally, they’d focussed on the lunchtime peak of desktop. But tablets are bring us huge traffic peaks in the evening, and mobile in the mornings. They’ve been on mobile for two years – 12m app downloads globally. People expect better services from them in apps – but it’s a complicated landscape. Browsers are getting more capable, and the number of devices people are using is growing. 

They’re shifting to responsive HTML5 web design – the website automatically adapts to show more content as screen size increases. As the device gets faster, they can offer better quality video. They update the site’s codebase every two weeks. The can customise by capabilities – or can do it by geolocation on mobile devices. They’re working on richer advertising for outside the UK, and continuing to optimise for tablets. They’re working their way up to the desktop, and will completely replace the existing site at some point. They know for sure, thanks to responsive design, that their site will just work on the newly-announced Nexus 7. 

They’re not abandoning apps – the marketing opportunity around big events cannot be ignored. They see spikes of downloads around big new events.  
Robert-Shrimsley.jpgRobert Shrimsley, managing editor of FT.com;

The story of the FT leaving the Apple app store has been often told. Their fundamental principal is they want to be available everywhere their readers are. They’re not in a hurry to commit to being available through applications like Flipboard or Zite – but hope to do it. It might not be their optimal way of delivering the content, but if it’s what the readers want, they want to deliver it that way fi they can within their business model. 

They mine data religiously. They have so many dashboards that it’s staggering. they almost have a data overload situation. There’s an advertising benefit as well, as they target ads. But they can also customise experiences and target stories.

The iPad app has changed the audience’s relationship with the paper – they now treat it as a weekend read, too. So they’re changing what they do to adapt to that. The Daily is failing – he thinks it’s because its form over function. The Week made the mistake of updating daily. Their raison d’être is weekly. And The Economist is a digital representation of the magazine and nothing else. You can learn from all of this. The challenge is to make the product they have give the best experience they can on new platforms. The one core difference is on functionality – you need to make sure it’s up to snuff. Make it easy to share, e-mail and comment. 

They see the iPad version as a hybrid. They produce a dynamic version which is up to date with their US rivals. Their newsrooms internationally don’t just own their market – they own their time zone, and can update the content in the app during their “awake” period. Focus on your core purpose and everything else will take care of itself. 
Subhajit-Banerjee.jpgSubhajit Banerjee, mobile editor, Guardian

32% of their daily traffic comes through mobile. As so many people have said today, different devices at different times of day.  Subhajit was a bit hijacked here – many of his slides had appeared at the business model session this morning, or paralleled earlier in the session.

Interestingly, though, there’s a dramatic swing to mobile at weekends, which has not been discussed before. 

Their challenges:

  • Best products for different times of the day
  • Editing for multiple platforms
  • Understanding the user
His talk was essentially a potted history of the Guardian’s mobile development – but it overlapped enough with the other talks that there’s much not extra I can bring you, really. Sorry, Subhajit.
 

peter-bale

Peter Bale, vice president and general manager of CNN International Digital, (speaking about Zite)
 
Peter is here to tell us why Zite is important – and why it’s better than Flipboard. It’s developed by people who worked on Microsoft’s search engine Bing. He’s been drawn into the Zite world step by step, and now he finds himself reading it into the night. He believes curation is a powerful concept – no news organisation can tell all of a story on its own. The move of the web to mobile is a real phenomenon. 
 
Zite is engineered serendipity. If you combine curation with serendipity, you get the element of surprise and discovery. Personalisation can encourage you to go deeper and deeper into your own pathways. Zite answers that. It drowns in social signals, with a credibility rating – and it vets content suppliers for accuracy over time. It models the content from its sources, how much it shares and a semantic analysis. And it models you and your community, learning about you as it goes. It tries to give you what you want – with a cloud of fuzzy logic to give that serendipity. They key to it is the ability to use a thumbs up/thumbs down button to start personalising its recommendations to you. 
 
CNN bought it last year, and as it gets drawn back into the company you’ll see how powerful it can become.