One Man and His Blog: July 2012 Archives

July 2012 Archives

July 31, 2012

Google's trust deficit

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.

Leadership without organisation

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

July 28, 2012

OK, now this changes things...

The hand of BooBaH
Hello, my daughter.

July 26, 2012

Digital Surrey: the Ed Parsons Map Project

Ed Parsons of Google talking at Digital Surrey

Tonight'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 information

The 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 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.

Continue reading Digital Surrey: the Ed Parsons Map Project.

July 24, 2012

Your archive content is valuable

Martin Belam

What's the value in archive content? More than you might think. Too many publishing businesses are caught up in the idea of the now, and they miss the value of the then. A huge amount of archive and historical content is shared around the blogsphere and social media every day - but too much journalism isn't archived in a way that makes use of this.

The Guardian might have learnt that lesson. Martin Belam, one of the team that built the Facebook Social Reader for the newspaper, gave a talk at Facebook Marketing 2012, and this was a key learning from the experience:

Any page could go viral, of whatever age. It taught them to be more active in managing archive content and how it appears. A good story is still a good story, whatever its age. A 2009 story on female body image was read over 1m times in Facebook. It's not an issue that goes away. They had over 1000 new comments in Facebook. The comments on the main site had been closed two years ago. 

[my liveblog for Liberate Media]

I've seen metrics cuts from B2B sites where the archive content accounted for over 50% of weekly page views - but still publishers don't take the idea of every page being the potential front page seriously - or seriously enough. 

July 23, 2012

Why did journalism never go gonzo?


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.  

July 22, 2012

From here to paternity

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!

July 15, 2012

The view from my window, Sunday evening

A view of Shoreham-by-Sea from my study window
A beautiful evening to finish the weekend. It's even stopped raining...

July 13, 2012

Life in the livestream; liveblogging and the news cycle - #newsrw

Owly Images 

How are news organisations dealing with stream publishing? Kathryn Corrick directs the flow...


Jason 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. 


Pete 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: 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: 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.


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: 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. 

Making News Mobile - #newsrw

A packed and hot room for a panel on the current state of publishing on mobile. Katie King back in the chair.

katie milner

Kate 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, managing editor of;

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, 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, 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. 

From Data to Story - #newsrw

Four visions of data journalism, moderated by Kathryn Corrick, digital media consultant

Bella Hurrell, specials editor on the BBC News website

Bella Hurrell

The BBC specials team produces a whole range of added-value content for the BBC website. They're becoming part of a visual journalism team at the BBC. Data journalism can be long slow projects, but not all of them. You should pick subjects that have a shelf life - road traffic accidents, unemployment, that sort of thing, Update the data and people will keep coming back. Make tools they will want to keep using.  Build sharing into it.

They did a project plotting road traffic fatalities through FOI requests - the map was the most popular element, because it allowed people to understand what the situation is where they lived. They also visualised some of the most interesting data - for example, bikers are 21% of fatalities, compare to 1% of traffic. They liveblogged every accident on one day to bring publicity to it, to help amplify the data and give it more life. It was really popular and followed nationally. Their military deaths in Afghanistan gets traffic every time there's a new death. Their unemployment tracker gets updated monthly and gets s ready stream of traffic. 

Visualisation helped bring a dry subject like the Eurozone debt web to life. They had comments open, and responded to the issues raised. "People really appreciated it". They key seems to be a double-whammy of personally applicable information that is also globally relevant. 

Claire Miller, senior reporter and data journalist, Media Wales

claire miller

From global to very, very local... The bread and butter of what Media Wales do is government data. The focus is still stories for the paper, so they're reacting to what is released by government, and finding stories in that. Beyond the day to day, it's a lot of FOI data used to create stories. With FOI you can get the data you want at the level you want. For example, she asked exactly when and where all the parking tickets where handed out in Wales. They visualised it using Tableau. A&E visits by location, not surprisingly, increased nearer the hospital you lived, and that showed up well on a map. Mapping empty homes allows quick identification of hotspots.

With open data, more and more stuff is being published, so there's lots of potential.  

People look for specific things, as uses of the data store show - local elections, the Olympic torch relay and sport. Education bubbles along all the time... They ended up making their own Olympic Torch map, because they couldn't embed the official one easily. It went crazy. It was the most popular thing on the site. Wales lacks the same easy access information on school performance in the UK. Media Wales gathered everything they could find, gathered it into one app, and let people access it. 

And anything with rugby in it is popular...

Damian Kimmelman, CEO, Duedil


Everything that consumes electricity will inevitably be connected to the internet. And that means it will leave a data trail. And they are, in his words, "data whores". 

Duedil is a site for examine the state of companies using available data (Martin did an excellent write-up of their Hacks/Hackers talk). They've had acquisition offers for £20m -  and they've turned it down. They're still seed funded. And they're still finding new ways of making data more interesting and useful. They're planning on launching a facility called lists. Create your lists of types of companies, and use the data to find new ways of tagging, categorising and analysing the companies. But they need more information. Mapping the companies around your social graph - will that show whose companies have changed dramatically over the last few years? 

Heirecrchy of needs for data: it needs to be clean - deduced and usable. It needs to be findable - and linked. 

Users need to know the provenance of data - who touched it, who keyed it in? Did the accountant make a mistake? The more people touch data, the more imperfect it. It's important to understand the authority of a dataset. 

James Ball, data journalist working for the Guardian investigations team

james ball

He's a reporter, dammit Jim, not a designer. Whatever you're trying to do - there's a dataset you can buy, open, assemble or FoI. But that's a bit like saying there's someone who knows the key to your story - how do you find them? He wants to challenge the idea of "from data to story". 

There's all sorts of caveats when you're using data from surveys and censuses. Investigating the stat used as the basis of a Diane Abbot comment piece lead to exposure of a biger story - one disproportionate rise in young black male unemployment - which hit the front page. Sometimes readers will simulate investigations - people claiming in comment threads that the vacancies claimed in jobs centres are not real, or zero hours contracts, or the like. They tried to scrape the relevant data from a government site - but it had protections in place. So he had to FOI it - and got the data, albeit heavily encrypted (but the phoned the password over). It was very messy, inconsistent data. 

This wasn't a story from digging around in data. This was questions from the readers and a comment piece which they could answer with data. Do you ring around your sources and ask them for a story? If you're doing that, you're doing something wrong. Don't do that to data, either. Talk to humans, look at news, and then ask the right questions of your data. This argues for not having data journalisms in silos. Don't just keep them in offices looking at spreadsheets... 

Sustainably profitable digital publishing - #newsrw

Kathryn Corrick

Panel discussion on sustainable business models, chaired by Kathryn Corrick, digital media consultant.

lucia adams

Lucia Adams, The Times - When they launched a paywall, people predicted a disaster. But it hasn't turned out that way, and now all the newspapers are trying to solve the same problem. The big change is the advent of smartphone apps and tablets - which has opened the doors for other publishers to charge. Most still shy away from charging for web, but sites like The Economist are happier to do so. 190,000 130,000 digital subs [corrected my mishearing], 170,00 print subs. They have a bigger paying audience before. They make more money from subs and ads in digital than they did from ads alone. However - it changes their relationship with readers, to this idea of experience, not just pumping out articles.

The cost of acquiring a new customer is more than maintaining an old one. Understanding the value of the relationship is a big focus of their journalism. Engagement is not just nice to have, it's a business imperative. It's about thinking about what happens to the story afterwards... The story is a beginning of a relationship with a reader. The cycle campaign was a lively example of this. It was a conscious decision that the story was just the beginning of a series of touchpoints and calls to action. 

Their experimentation helps them understand how people consume their journalism. Will blogs win? Will Twitter win? She knows no-one who only has one thing in their lives. The Live Hub is a second screen experience for tablets to accompany the Olympics. If they hadn't been focusing on the reader, they'd never have arrived at something like this. They've learned and adapted as their business model changes. 

Dennis Mortensen

Dennis Mortensen, Visual Revenue: How do you figure out story demand in advance? Once you've figured it out, how do you decide which resources to commit? But he doesn't want to talk about those. When you have articles done, which you want to go out and promote, there's where you have an opportunity. THey see people having success when they figure out which channels to compete in. Some channels we focus on, some we virtually ignore - do your work your RSS feed? Maybe you should. Maybe it's a dramatic part of the article views you get every day. They sold their previous comp may to Yahoo - it's a fun place to be if you like data. You have a marketplace, where some products will be sold and some not. That's how Google looks at things - mix of paid (inorganic) and free (organic) search results. When you promote a story in the homepage of a site, you pay with opportunity cost. You wasted that space, if it doesn't work. If you go against the interest and will of your audience you should know. They've come up with a model to predict which stories will perform best in which places. 

Stephen Folwell

Stephen Folwell, Guardian News & Media: Three years ago he was doing  piece of work to prove that it was worth investing in digital rather than print. Amazing that was only three years ago. He's annoyed that The Times have a liveblogging Olympics platform. They have one, too. Their old model was guessing what people wanted, creating it, building an audience, and selling adverts. In the new operating model, they want to be at the heart of, and serving communities. People discover and share communities, commercial partners get access to those conversations, and The Guardian can sell products to them. 

They used to have a paid-for lesson plan resources for teachers called LessonPlan. They turned it free a year and a half ago, to serve a community of teachers. As a result of that, they're selling recruitment advertising, and starting to make the competition feel more uncomfortable. They're working to live stream opera, but give it editorial context. They're getting a "progressives" audience - forward-looking individuals who are curious about the world and technology. Digitally savvy, socially conscious, and more likely than average to blog or be involved in social networks. Ad agencies like that community. The average age on the Facebook app is 29, on mobile 33, on the web 37 and in print 44. They're creating complementary audiences with the channels. And they're accessing times of day which weren't accessible before - like the evening, where there's a lot of ad spend available. Facebook is big after school, then iPad as you go into the evening. There's an experimental Google TV app in the states for their video content. Other device manufacturers have come to them looking to use it, too. 

They encourage people to sign in with their social sign-up, which is new to the site. That helps with retention and targeting. They want bigger audience, who are better engaged, and whom they understand better. 

john barnes

John Barnes, Incisive Media: If you look at what's happened in their digital journalism journey, they've moved from big volumes to niche communities - which is great for B2B. Competing for volume drives down CPM. Trust is the most valuable asset they've got. They want to take that trust and make their content available to people where they want when they want it. AOP figures show that readers take adverts on trusted content sites more seriously. They use Scout and Google Analytics, as well as Google Live, to understand what their audience are doing on the site. Scout Analytics has some interesting ways of defining categories. They're mostly interested in the "Fans" category, and they want to move "Flybys" into "Fans" - and they think they can do that by using devices and context.

People have got much more selective on the web. They have very high bounce-rates, but if they got what they wanted, that's great. They see iPads as a good way of moving them to a more elective experience rather than a selective one. The iPad is for discovery, the web for in-depth research. Fly-bys are 11 times less valuable, because they're only being magnetised through selling eyeballs. As they move through their systems, they gather more data about the customers, which can be used to make them into the most valuable "Fans". They're mainly gated sites, and more AOP research shows that subscription people spend longer on the site when they're inside the paywall, and have a lower bounce rate. They've got about 10 minutes dwell now - they want to drive that up. The longer they're there, the more opportunities there are to sell them conference tickets, subscriptions, etc.

They encourage their teams to think about the devices differently. What does an iPad edition collectively add, and how was it synchronous with the rest of what they do. One size does not fit all. Mobile is Immediate, Desktop Informative and Tablet Reflective. They want high-quality content that people can't get elsewhere - their experts and unique opinion, as well as reader comments. When the Japan crisis hit, they wanted to target specific headlines for their markets, not generalist ones. If you just publish volumes to devices, and don't think about your users, you're not building any sustainability. 


Good discussion on the relevance of home pages. Dennis maintained that they're an important channel that can be optimised, and be a big chunk of their traffic. John Barnes disagreed vigorously, arguing that - for an engaged audience - every page is an effective home page. Stephen fell somewhere in between, saying that the have big fights over homepage placement, but they're getting better at optimising their other pages. And Lucia suggested that the situation is complicated by the device in play. 

The new integration: newsroom and developers - #newsrw

Katie King

A panel discussion on the digital future chaired by Katie King, senior product manager, Portal & Partners, MSN UK

Raju Narisetti

Raju Narisetti, Wall Street Journal Digital: If in 2012, if you're still talking about integrating print and digital, you're in deep, deep trouble. Good journalism matters - but experiencing that content matters even more. Good content is a table stake. everyone has to have it. Digital audiences will be even more promiscuous than they are now. They can experience other brands with the click of a finger, and through what is coming to them via social. And the only growth they're going to get from their businesses is from digital audiences. In 2012, the definition of a journalist must include bringing people to their journalism. What will enable that? The winners and losers will be separated at the intersection of content and technology. It's only the experience that will make them say "I enjoyed experiencing the oscars at the Wall Street Journal" - and come back. Both journalists and coders think their work is "art" and the other's work is just "stuff". You need to integrate the development and newsroom teams. We tend to fall in love with tools and try to fit them into our work. We need to start with experiences and work back to the tools. 


Joanna Geary, The Guardian: There is only one newsroom in The Guardian. The plan has always been to embrace the future platforms for the audience. You can't build a business model where the audiences are. The newsroom integrated in 2008 when they moved to Kings Place. This year they went truly digital first. The majority of the newsroom is dedicated to getting stories out on line. There's a slow stream - focused on producing up to 30% of the newspaper's content ahead of time. We get slightly excited by process change talking from print to digital. The process is great, but can really fall on their arse if you don't get a cultural change. There's a real need for an understanding in newsrooms about what developers do. That's a tough thing to crack. Bring eyeballs isn't enough anymore - they might not know it's our content. They might not care. We need to think of them as people and start building relationships with them. We have done well at bringing people to our content - but we have no idea why them come back. And until we learn that, and scale that, we have a challenge on their hands. Is it the young journalists who are best at engaging with readers? Not also. It's not a split between dispassionate journalism and social media. People still talk to their sources. They now have community co-ordinators embedded on all their major desks. It's about getting people to remember that this is part of their daily reality.

Alex Gubbay

Alex Gubbay, Johnston Press: At Johnston Press, the challenge of co-ordinating that journey across hundreds of newsrooms means we have to be more careful. If we rush headlong into all things digital, we over-expose the core aspects of the business: print. If we move too slowly, we get left behind and become irrelevant. What I've learnt since joining JP from the BBC, is trying not to be too dogmatic about all the phrases of digital journalism. Get to the heart of the issue needs cracking: print cannot govern or dictate anything we do digitally. We have to value for it as long as it remains a core function, but we need to ensure there are no legacy thinking or workflows in our digital operation. Keep the legacy platform going for as long as possible, but make sure nothing we're doing stops us progressing. They're up from 8m to 10m online audience in a year. Mobile is 26% of their traffic. And it's a significantly different demographics - 60% 35 or younger. Tablets is still early days, but there are good signs. Apple and Amazon remain fantastic shop windows for them - they see spikes from featured apps on Newsstand. Triggering competition between journalists is one good way of getting journalists to involve themselves in social media.

martin fewell

Martin Fewell, Channel4 News: A bit of a newcomer - only been in role for 14 years. As Ghandi said: to make a change, you need to be the change. The Guardian has given all its journalist tablets (Joanna seems confused by this) - we need to experience our journalism the way our audience do. He doesn't have a magnetisation problem, so his remit is to maximise the audience of their journalism. They focus on their distinctive stories, and go into depth. They develop the personalities of the reporters through blogging and social media, and they target niches. Ideas are king. Don't spend too long thinking about strategy - get on and do it. He heard someone on the radio talking about how ready London is for the Olympics. How easy would it be to get to the Paralympics if you're disabled - or anywhere around the UK. And that thought led to a series, with a great mixed skill team - cameramen, reporters, producers, social media people. They found powerful stories of lack of access around the country - No Go Britain. They had people live-tweeting their experiences. The whole stream has been a great source of journalism they never expected, over print, TV, online, social media.... There was no boss saying "go do this". Social media can help counter what's called "succulent lamb journalism" in Scotland - journalists bought lovely meals by collapsing Rangers and not actually writing negative stories as a result. Couldn't get agreement about breaking news online or on TV. So, no rules. They decide as they go along. They did a lot around working practices in small groups, as well. His problem is keeping his journalists off Twitter, not getting them on there. All the journalists get the power of their digital profile. They all want blogs, they all want tablets... Question from the BBC: Is your social media dulling the impact of your stories, or driving people to them? He's not sure it's either - it's about maximising the buzz around the story; getting influencers and other reporters to say "hey, they've got something", and then watch it, or catch up with it online. Yes, it's a risk, but you reap rewards by building bigger social media buzz. 


Both Raju and Joanna suggest they are in danger of being swamped by tools and platforms - you need to have a strategy, and you need to experiment and understand early on. You need to encourage entrepreneurship, but be realistic, suggests Joanna - and the only way you can do that is by measuring. Alex suggests that disciple and rigour in regional press makes some of the decisions for them. They need things that fundamentally transform their business - but they do need to leave time to experiment, but they need things that will scale from The Scotsman to the Stornaway Gazette. 

Very specifically on user-generated video, Martin has found it very "episodic" in its use. 7/7 bombings generated many videos and images. Weather stories are fantastic generators of video, as the Olympics might well be, but he was involved in an intense legal discussion about the International Olympic Committee's rules... It's a great event to think, that aside. Find the right project - set up a project team if you can - or sometimes great entrepreneurial journalists will come and show you how to do it. 

Stopping people reinventing the wheel is a bug challenge at The Guardian, says Joanna. They have lots and lots of ways of getting people involved internally, including a digital project talked about at morning conference twice a week. "Five minutes of honesty". They have lunchtime sessions, and are planning on :"community clinics". E-mails go around from the community team highlighting those who have done well. 

Just because something new comes along doesn't mean you need to use all of it. For example, says Raju, Google+'s hangout are of great value. You don't have to use all of it.

Joanna highlights the difference between business press - who (in theory) know who their audience are - and nationals, who often don't, and who need to figure that out. 

Mark Jones from Reuters points out that many journalists feel uncomfortable with the idea of interacting with their audiences, and struggle to move from broadcast to network mindset. Alex thinks it absolutely matters. For regional press to succeed, they have to be at the heart of their communities - and that means explaining the principles of interaction to their journalists without using jargon. They need to understand it's a non-negociable, but give them a range of ways of doing it. 

Joanna thinks journalists get confused because of mixed messages. The priority benefit isn't the finical one - it's bringing more people to your story to make it better. That's engagement in Alan's mind. If you're asking people to do new things, it's incumbent on you to show them why it's important. Get your engagement pompoms on. 

Present company excepted - journalists are incredible vain. Celebrate the champions, and everyone else notices it, says Martin

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Cory Haik keeps the Washington Post in beta - #newsrw

cory haik of the Washington Post

Cory Haik, executive producer, The Washington Post - @coryhaik

What does she do?

They're always in beta - iterating, prototyping, liveblogging, et al. They're trying to deliver strong, dynamic journalism to readers where they are - and that's why they need to keep experimenting and innovating. 

They have a local audience - and an international one. They're busy - but they're defiantly shipping.

They're focused on things like mobile, social, data, partnerships and community/engagement.

The @mentionmachine monitors Twitter for mentions of candidates. It appears at the bottom pf page, showing how many mentions of the US presidential candidates have appeared over the last 24 hours. You can click through to dig into the data - and it was an in-house build. They like to think its raising awareness of social as a critical part of reporting in both the newsroom and amongst the audience.

Social Reader - frictionless sharing! It invites you to discover what your friends are reading, and personalises based on your interests. When you opt into the app, you agree to share with Facebook, and the stories you read show up to your friends there. 

Data and open apis - White House Visitors Log: The Obama administration is the first to release this data, and they do it every month, with a three month delay. The WP built a tool on the API sharing the data allowing users to drill down by names or interests, and click through to the details. Their developers built a service that continually calls the government web service until they're up to date, which stores the data, and which only uses open source software. They intend to publish that service so others can use it.

"All the web will be the mobile web" An app they're proud of - the iPad Politics app. Polls, maps of where the latest adverts are appearing, and all the best expert commentary. Summaries of the stances of the candidates of major issues. They graphically display how candidate's position shift. Oh, and a historical record of who won ever state through every presidential election in US history.

Investigative journalism - capitol assets. Mapping earmarks for public money into particular schemes. You can drill down even to street level. It was "quite viral" when launched. 

Embracing and engaging in the conversation: Back in November, when the Republican nominations started, they asked users and reported to use instagram to take photos for the elections, using a particular hashtag. That led to hundreds of photos with date, time and geo-data. Socialcam - will be used by Washington Post reporters and readers to cover the Olympics - and will be displayed on the WP site through an API that SocialCam built from them. 

She was challenged by Marc from the BBC College of Journalism about "iFanism" - designing for the iPad and nothing else. "Responsive design is the answer to most of that, and that's where we're moving". They have a pretty good chance of being there in 2013. They aim to build for mobile first and allow the site to adapt upwards to larger screen sizes from there. 

She likes to think that she works with a "disruption layer" across the site. The kind of people that work in that need a varied skill set. Journalism first, an idea of how technology works on a conceptual level. They need people in the newsroom who can speak the language of developers. They're trying to integrate agile into the newsroom. They have a new mobile project coming that they've done in an agile way, and will launch in an iterative beta. The Post wants to talk to people interested in that. 

Digg: web history, broken up for parts

Alexia, writing for TechCrunch:

Digg was an extremely influential site for anyone who worked in the early era of online publishing, so it being scrapped for parts is sort of weird, especially for those of us who used to beg friends to vote up Digg stories.

It's easy to forget how important Digg was to traffic in the mid-2000s, and how Reddit was dismissed as a second-rate failure. As early as 2008, the community manager of Computer Weekly was telling me that she was seeing more results from Reddit than Digg. Sometimes the decline is well underway before we notice it. Two lessons there:

  1. Even the most powerful social site can be rendered irrelevant
  2. The early winner isn't always the long-term victor

Bear that in mind as you fire up Facebook and Twitter this morning.

July 12, 2012

360 Integrated Earned Retrogressive Digital Media Social Media Second Screen Strategy

The SEO versus Content tension: a dialogue


Afternoon, Adam. You've been writing a lot about SEO lately. You got a problem with SEO?

Goodness, no. I teach a course on SEO for Journalists for goodness' sake. I wouldn't be doing that if I didn't believe SEO was valuable.

Then why all the SEO blogging of late?

Two things, really. The first is I feel freer to do so now I'm self-employed. Back in my corporate years, I felt I had to be careful about blogging too much about the areas of responsibility of other parts of the company. That burden is no longer on me. I've been interested in SEO seriously since a combination of Sethgate and a Google presentation at BlogHer in 2007. I've always experimented with SEO here on the blog, for example, and made it part of any digital training I delivered. I can now express that freely, and am enjoying doing so.

You said two things.

Ah, well, the other one is more complex.

Stop dodging and spit it out, man.


Well, it's evident to me that there's a tension between SEO and content producers that needs dealing with. It's born of both shoddy SEO behaviour and pure bloody ignorance from content producers.

Let's start with the shoddy behaviour.

If you insist. There are two significant issues I see at work here. The first is a subset of SEO people who understand SEO pretty well, but don't really know anything about content, other than seeing it as a data set to be analysed from an SEO perspective. They only have a hammer, and every problem looks like a nail. Good content on the web has to two do jobs - draw people to it (and SEO has a vital job in that) and then encourage them to do something else. For example, this very blog post is designed to attract people interested in the SEO/Content conflict, but also to display my knowledge, skills and views, on the off chance you'll hire me. 

I'm not gonna hire you, mate.

You already did. You're me and I'm self-employed.

Anyway, to get back to the point... Poor SEOs only see point one and not point two. And they can make content people's lives miserable, by both forcing them into producing shoddy, keyword driven content, that has very little business benefit - and by making the business as a whole vulnerable to the vagaries of Google's latest algorithmic thinking. You don't want to build a business on a marginal SEO technique that Google might change its mind on, and wipe out most of your traffic overnight - and that's exactly what we've seen Panda do, for example. 

The second issue?

That's the desire to cheat. And that's not always the SEO's fault. Sure, there are out-and-out cackling black hat SEOs that will take your money, exploit weaknesses in the algorithm to get you ranking well, and then charge you even more to get that ranking back when the algorithm updates to remove that loophole. They're the drug-pushers of the SEO world, and have about as much relationship to good SEOs as the dodgy heroin dealer in the back street pub has to an expert pharmacist. But that's not really what I'm talking about.

There's a strain of thinking in some businesses that they can buy their way to success, but for some reason that rarely extends to "let's buy really good content that will rank well". It tends to manifest as "we'll buy a higher search ranking for our mediocre content by paying for SEO to do magical technical stuff". It's a business frame-of-view, a transactional take on search engine ranking that SEOs can appear to offer because Google and its ilk don't. 

Is it really as simple as that?

No - I suspect there's an element of techno-fear/worship in there, too. Most business people don't understand how search engines operate, what an algorithm is, why Matt Cutts gets paid so much attention, that sort of thing. It's a technical mystery to them, and they demand (or think they can buy) a technical solution to it. Someone producing good content seems less, well, technical, than getting good SEO done. It make them feel more digital, somehow. 

So there's some bitterness in this, then?

That's probably fair. I've seen the skill and work of skilled, engaged and knowledgeable online content producers devalued by people who believe in the ability of SEO pixie dust to act as a sort of glamour, magically transforming shoddy content into a delicious, link attracting feast. As someone who is very rooted in the idea of excellent online content, that's upsetting to me - and I don't like seeing people's livelihoods devalued through bloody ignorance.

But isn't bloody ignorance what you accused content creators of?

Only some of them, but yes. I never need to hear the phrase "writing for the machine" again. Google (or Bing or Baidu) is not our readership - but it's the path to our readership. We are not writing for the machine, we are writing for people who want to find our content - and we are writing in a way that helps both the search engines and the search users find us. That's not writing for machines, it's writing for people. We just have to bear in mind the needs of the medium, just as we had to tailor the way we built magazine pages to the limits of the printing press. Nobody claimed that was "writing for machines".

I bet you some monks did, a few centuries back.

Heh. You're not wrong. 

So what do you want?

Well, the best experiences I've had with SEO/content relationships have been like a brigade working in a kitchen. You need top quality ingredients, well cooked. And you need the best condiments, sauces and garnishes to create a truly five-star experience. 

You're mangling metaphors again.

Darn tootin'. In this metaphor, the content producers are the ones selecting the finest ingredients and cooking them well, and the SEOs are the ones providing the garnishes and sauces. And together you have a yummy, yummy meal.

You haven't eaten lunch yet, have you?

No. However did you guess?

That's the second food metaphor in this blog post. 

Busted. Anyway...

What I've been writing has been in that context. I don't like finding underhand ways of getting links to your site on other people's sites as an SEO technique. I don't like people treating other people's websites as if they were their own. That's what too much low quality backlink building does. I don't like people jumping on a once-useful trend like infographics, and slowly devaluing it over time. I'm a great believer in the power of well-produced content, written by intelligent and SEO-aware people to do great things. I'm a great believer in intelligent and content-literate SEOs working with great content providers to help good businesses get found. And I'm intolerant of behaviours which soil or distort those relationships. 

What I'd like to see is a healthy, mutually-repectful relationship between content creators and SEO experts, and I can't hide the fact I'm actually rather pleased that Panda and Penguin, broadly speaking, have pushed people more in that direction. There will always be people who try to game the system, and I will not apologise for the schadenfreude I feel when they get busted. 

Fair enough. Can we go get lunch now?

Sure.  I'm ravenous. 

July 10, 2012

You got Cookie, so share it baby...

Maybe you clicked through expecting something insightful about the EU Cookie Directive.

Bad luck. It's Cookie Monster:

I find things like this utterly joyful. :-)

Marketeers: force feeding social media users

Shel Israel for Forbes:

There was once a Golden Age of social media, when people talked about the ability to find useful, interesting, valuable people to talk with all over the world. Businesses of all sizes discovered that there was great value in listening and engaging with customers and other relevant people. What had once been one-directional monologues became two-directional dialogs and most people saw that it was good.

Then the marketers got their hands around the throat of social media strangling engagement and stuffing messages down its throat.

I agree with almost every word.

Are Infographics next on Google's anti-SEO hit list?

There's a really great and interesting interview with Matt Cutts, who heads Google's web spam team, on the Stone Temple Consulting site. The whole thing is worth a read, but the discussion of infographics is particularly of note:

In principle, there's nothing wrong with the concept of an infographic. What concerns me is the types of things that people are doing with them. They get far off topic, or the fact checking is really poor. The infographic may be neat, but if the information it's based on is simply wrong, then it's misleading people.

The other thing that happens is that people don't always realize what they are linking to when they reprint these infographics. Often the link goes to a completely unrelated site, and one that they don't mean to endorse. Conceptually, what happens is they really buy into publishing the infographic, and agree to include the link, but they don't actually care about what it links to. From our perspective this is not what a link is meant to be.

I've come across this more than once when poking at an infographic I was considering publishing here or for work I'm doing for clients - and found links to a casino site or similar in there. Needless to say. I didn't publish them. 

Cutts, in his polite, slightly circumlocutious way, gets around to pointing out that this is spammy, and the chances are Google will start doing something about it:

I would not be surprised if at some point in the future we did not start to discount these infographic-type links to a degree. The link is often embedded in the infographic in a way that people don't realize, vs. a true endorsement of your site.

It must be a hard time to be what you might call an inorganic SEO person right now. Google has made dealing with the more calculated end of the backlinking game  a priority over the last 18 months, and there's an edge of panic coming from certain quarters.

Begging a Backlink

Several reasonably high-profile bloggers I've chatted to recently have noted the same thing I have: a surge in e-mails offering a "guest post" from a "skilled writer" in exchange for a back link. No customisation of the e-mail, no suggested topic. Usually no hint of who the guest poster might be. Just a clear statement that they want to piggy-back on my blog's authority for their client, with some generic content.

I don't accept. The people I talk to don't accept. Our blogs are our shopfronts - certainly it's been the source of the majority of my current work - and putting my search ranking at risk for the sake of your back linking campaign? Not gonna happen. The Penguin update in particular included the idea of spotting inorganic, unnatural patterns of linking. It's not much of stretch to see that these patterns of guest posting might quickly become something the algorithm gets a little sniffy about - and end up penalising both sides of the transaction. 

Panda Panic

Bloggers and other publishers declining these offers seems to be common enough that some people are getting desperate. Josh at Talking Points Memo got an e-mail that has to be seen to be believed. He titled it, appropriately enough, Chutzpam - because it was asking TPM to remove links that had been places by... Well, see for yourself:

This request is being made because your domain and link has been identified as one that may be causing our site a penalty post Google Penguin update. The work of previous SEO agencies on our behalf has caused problems for us post Panda so I hope you can help us comply with Google guidelines.

Translation: we spammed you via an SEO agency, could you fix that for us now, as it's starting to hurt us?

Payback is utterly delicious sometimes...

• Ironically, given the above, I'm teaching an SEO for Journalists course in September. It's a one-day, hands-on affair, that will give you all you need to know as a practicing content producer. And, believe you me, it's all, solid, practical advice that falls squarely in the camp of White Hat SEO, ways of working that assist Google in understanding your content and in making it better for readers. 

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July 9, 2012

What journalists can learn from the Onion - Baratunde at Le Web London

Baratunde Thurston at Le Web London
One talk at Le Web London a couple of weeks ago that I got far more out of than I expected to do, was the one by Baratunde Thurston, late of satirical site The Onion. His appearances on This Week in Tech have always amused me, and I sat down expecting 20 minutes of amusement, and not much else. 

Instead, I learnt a whole bunch of stuff about how to create great content, fast, on topic and in a way that really engages people.

Baratunde brutally eviscerated the pretensions and humourlessness of journalists who took The Onion's twitter coverage of a fictional siege of congress seriously. The completely lacked the nous to spot it was coming from a well-know satirical site. Or indeed to see that the idea of a bunch of armed congressmen holding children hostage was inherently ludicrous. 

But he also showed how to make stuff for the teh interwebs that really works. The Onion's process for making the most of big, attention grabbing events is just inspired:

  • Compile a list of links to archive content related to people likely to be featured at the event (say, the Oscars
  • Monitor the hashtag for the event, as well as event coverage
  • As people are mentioned, tweet out links to archive content that matches, using the event hashtag
  • Enjoy the traffic gains
Their use of online tools for brainstorming is interesting, too. For big events - like the death of Steve Jobs - the team pulled together a Google doc outlining all the possible stories with associated headlines they could do, before deciding which one would strike the right balance of humour and taste for their audience. This may be all in the service of satire - but there's plenty more conventional journalists could learn from them about how to use online tools for effective team working and fast response to breaking news. 

Here's Baratunde talking about running a campaign on Foursquare:

And here's the whole thing:

(I actually make a guest appearance in this one - look for me at about 8:10... ;-) )

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Why traditional publishers can't soothe the crying baby

Morning coffee and The Guardian on iPad

I feel rather bad for my colleagues in the national newspaper business this morning. As they trek into their plush central London office, sipping their lattes1, they find the world predicting their doom and destruction.

Frédéric Filloux treads a familiar path, contrasting the transitional newspaper approach to selling their stories online ("content marketing", if you insist on jargon) with that of the tech-based news publisher and aggregators: 

The essence of what we're seeing here is a transfer of value. Original stories are getting very little traffic due to the poor marketing tactics of old-fashion publishers. But once they are swallowed by the HuffPo's clever traffic-generation machine, the same journalistic item will make tens or hundred  times better traffic-wise. Who is right?  Who can look to the better future in the digital world ? Is it the virtuous author carving language-smart headlines or the aggregator generating eye-gobbling phrases thanks to high tech tools?  Your guess.  

Snappy end to a piece, sure enough. But also, a bit of a false dichotomy, n'est pas?. In theory, the traditional news publishers could learn from the attention tactics of the aggregators a great deal more easily than the aggregators could staff up a full-blown journalism operation. When it comes to the survival of top-flight reporting, it might be time to start holding your nose, and using some more aggressive attention techniques...

That's not what the big publishers are doing, though, is it? They're busy chasing new dreams of a sustainable future. They're just, well, not very committed to them... Here's Mr Rick Waghorn, talking about The Guardian's repeated switches from local, to the US, to Open Journalism as its saviour business model:

Pivoting your product into new market-places every 12 months is, indeed, classic start-up behaviour - but only of those start-ups that, basically, don't know what they're doing. Or who or what they are trying to be.

My former employer went through this sort of process, switching from funnel marketing, to lead generation to data services as its saviour business model over the course of six years. That's a new business model every two years for those keeping track...

I have, for fairly obvious reasons, been reading a lot of books on the subject of baby care in recent months. One of the most oft quoted pieces of advice is that often parents fail to soothe crying babies, because they don't keep going with the soothing activity long enough. Too many publishing businesses feel like desperate parents, trying the next new thing to soothe the wails of their failing business model, and then chucking it away when the results aren't immediate and overwhelming. 

But then (let's push this metaphor hard) they had a placid little baby for decades, who suddenly developed bad colic one evening. They had no experience and no practice in this situation. It must be hard to switch from managing incremental improvements on a long-established business model to an environment of disruption, change and innovation, especially when you look down your nose of the tactics of those who are succeeding...

1 Why is it so easy to use lattes as opposed to any other form of coffee when you want to lightly mock a group of people? What is it about this weak, milky form of caffeine delivery vehicle that makes it inherently humorous?

July 4, 2012

Third Place Thinking

Small Batch Coffee cup

I've long been fascinated by the concept of the Third Place (or Space) - the liminal space between home and work. It's a lingering obsession from my days as a commercial property and architecture journalist, where I encountered plenty of new theories on the possibilities inherent in new workstyles, but precious few companies willing to step outside of the cultural norms of office life.

One of the delights of my six-month journey from corporate drone to versatile self-employed knowledge worker has been the chance to experience some of that in reality. Brighton in particular is a hub for virtual organisations, temporary project-based team working and third place environments. This afternoon I followed up a rather pleasant lunch with Mr Mayfield with a visit to Clock Tower Cameras to collect my newly-repaired EOS 500D, and then a spell in Small Batch Coffee - a classic third place, and as close to an office as the TEDxBrighton team have right now.

And that lead into an impromptu TEDxBrighton meeting when I bumped into organiser Natalie Lloyd. She invited me to sit in on a chat with Andrew Sleigh, as part of her networking and preparation for the conference. It was a cool, dynamic, unexpected afternoon of the sort that just never happened in my corporate days. I love that. I want that. It's a working future for the next chunk of my life that really appeals to me.

There are some pre-requisites for this sort of working to, well, work. For one, you need a cluster of businesses and individuals in one area that are numerous enough for chance encounters of this kind to both happen and to be useful. And you need the kind of businesses that are suited to flexible working structures. In that, I've rather fallen on my feet. When we decided to move to Shoreham-by-Sea, I had no thought of the work possiblities inherent in the Brighton digital scene, but now it's a core part of my working life. And just up the coast. Win. As I contemplate the next six months, other than the looming presence of a lot of nappy changing, it's crossed my mind to consider forming a virtual content agency of some kind, for reasons that I'll explore in another post. Officeless, yet using digital tools and third spaces to keep communication more open and useful than in many siloed businesses.

I have a deep and abiding suspicion of one-size-fits-all solutions, and yet we still bias towards a single base model of the working office. Desks, fixed location, repeated patterns. Even those offices which have adopted hot-desking tend to find people hitting formulas of behaviour - theoretical hotdesks becoming someone's preferred working space, and so on.

For many creative and knowledge-work based tasks, a mobile phone, a laptop (or an iPad...?) and power are all you need in terms of working equipment. Certainly those (and, admittedly, a digital SLR for liveblogging) are all I've needed to make my living. Indeed, I've never understood the attachment so many journalists have to their desks and offices. Why don't they want to be out and about amongst their communities - their beats?

The office as a place of information work seems curiously undisrupted as a model by the advent of information technology. Disruption is inevitable. And I rather fancy being part of it...

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July 3, 2012

Hacks/Hackers Brighton - making Matter and exposing eavesdropping

Bobbie Johnson - making Matter matter

Bobbie Johnson

About a year ago - he got pissed off. He came from The Guardian which has a "troubled" relationship with profit. Why does the meaty, good in-depth investigative stuff he likes not really exist online? Why does it need paper subsidy to make it work. And he wasn't the only one who was feeling that way. These stories are hard - they need time and legal backup to do well. He talked to his friend Jim who lives in San Francisco - he's a science writer who writes for New Scientist et al. They want to find a way to do long-form investigative journalism that's build for the web. Blogs are brilliant. He owes his career to them. And it's become the native format for news on the web. But long stories look and feel the same on the web - and that bores you. 

They saw the prices for journalism dropping - but they saw the rise of Kindles and the iPad as new avenues for people to read. The browser is better than its ever been before - particularly with HTML. And pretty much all devices that people use for reading use webkit as the underlying browser technology. So, the obvious answer seemed to be to sell people the long-form content via these new channels, as people has shown a wiliness to pay.

Matter will be a lean, distributed journalism organisation that only produces long, deep pieces of journalism - ideally once a week. The age of journalism businesses doing all forms of journalism are done. They ran the business ideas past some people "who knew what they were doing". They recommended testing and experimentation. They got some feedback on potential Kindle sales. So how do they get started? They needed money. Bobbie's Guardian redundancy money was long spent. They both have babies on the way. The roadblock to getting investors on-board was the need for proof of the concept. And so they decided to try out Kickstarter, the US crowd-sourcing services. They aimed for $50k to commission three big pieces. The most ever raised  on Kickstarter for journalism was $55k. They wanted to be "number two by a little". They called in favours from friends to get their video done, e-mailed everyone they knew. They hit the thousands of dollars out of the gate. Overnight they hit $25,000, and hit their goal in 38 hours. Kickstarter gives you a month to hit the funding target... By the end of the month they had $140,000 - making it the most successful publishing project on Kickstarter. 

It's changed his idea of crowd funding - it suddenly became a much more powerful idea. They have no other shareholders, thanks to crowd funding - but the have 2,500 with an emotional attachment to it.

They're no longer building a bare-bones service, but they're building something that will look beautiful over all devices. They're working with Clearleft to build it, and they hope to launch in September. The first three are neuroscience, cyber-crime and environmental stories.  

They've got a great group of journalists - people from the New Yorker, Wired and Harpers as freelance editors. Each story is being treated as a publication, with their own team. It's like a small book. They'll commission art for it. It's not a magazine. It's not a website. It's Matter. 

People thought he was going to run off to Brazil with the money - but their aim is to build a dedicated journalism start-up that can keep its head above water. It might become an umbrella for events and the like. There's another form of crow-funding called payment... They've crowd funded their way to the starting line. 

Q. Since they have a business plan, are they worried that they won't be taken seriously by the tech world.

A. VCs want them to have a "big plan". Getting people to pay for journalism is a big plan!

Q. Has there been much success with Kindle Singles?

A. There are a lot of requirements for Kindle Singles - at leads 5000 words, pre-sight by the Amazon team. There are about 200 titles. The average sell is 15,000 copies. Matter is targeting $0.99 price - once everyone has taken their cut you might get $10,000 back. Finding those numbers was the "lightbulb" moment. 

Marketing is their big challenge. They'll sell through iBooks and Amazon, but they're hoping people will want to write about their stories, and that their 2,500 supporters will help promote them.

Duncan Campbell - the culture of surveillance 

Duncan Campbell

His story started in Brighton 40 years ago. This is a tale about the secret world of surveillance, a biographical tale about journalism, and a call to action about what the government are about to launch against us. There's a small rocky island in the North Atlantic where once all information was owned by the government and publishing it could land you in jail for six months. The 1911 Official Secrets Act was antithetical to journalism and asking questions. Indeed, you could be jailed for asking questions. He was prosecuted in 1977 for a crime which could have landed him in jails for 30 years. That law was eventually repealed in 1989. But now we face a similar situation...

Data journalism is a new opportunity for journalism. He's involved in what he thinks is the biggest data journalism exercise ver. The bill launched by Theresa May a few weeks ago - the Draft Communications Data Bill -  is a monstrosity that allows everything on the internet to be data mined by the government. They want access to every layer of the internet - and they're selling on the basis that the next terrorism atrocity could be planned by two avatars talking in World of Warcraft. Since 9/11 a vast industry has grown up selling interception kit to every form of government that allows them to monitor the internet. It's known as "Signals Intelligence". 

40 years ago GCHQ in Cheltenham was an absolute secret. When he proposed a feature to Time Out, he phoned up GCHQ, and amazed the receptions hit by the sheer fact of knowing it. 

David Orman 2010 book. Protint - protected information intelligence - all our private information will be available to the Government, under special conditions. Travel bookings, passport and biomentric intelligence and so on... The former director or public prosecutions has said that this is information no government should be trusted with. The 1976 GCHQ article caused shock across Whitehall, because what they thought was a well-protected was splashed across a listings mag in London. His telephone was tapped shortly afterwards. He was followed by MI5 - whom he never noticed - and the special branch - whom he lead a merry dance across Brighton. Whitehall saw his article in the alight of Watergate - as a threat that needed to be contained. He was arrested for doing an interview with a former solider. The transcript was marked secret. Then "top" was added. And then it was stamped "Top Secret" again. The trial failed, and the law had to be changed. It had exposed the fact that much of what GCHQ was doing was illegal. The tapping work had started 40 years ago, and continues with the new act. 

He continued researching this, and then the BBC and Panorama followed suit. Disclosures under the 30 years rules give an insight into how the Government reacted. The government worried about the BBC making Campbell's activities respectable. The documents show an extraordinarily paranoid view amongst the most powerful people in Britain. He wasn't trying to bring down Britain - they knew that - but he was branded as an unaffiliated revolutionary. Robin Cook was one of them branded in this way - and he ended up running the security services! The net result was the government was forced to bring the intelligence services into the rule of law - and the country afield to collapse. Campbell went to work for the BBC, and started a series called Secret Society - and did a story about the first government spy satellite: Zircon. The show was promptly banned, but the story got out through a magazine. The magazine, Campbell's house, and the BBC's office in Scotland were raided. The director general of the BBC was sacked. By 1988 Campbell was exposing Echelon in the New Statesman - it was already 20 years old by then. 

Capenhurst "ETF" - microwave communication around Britain. The Dublin to Manchester link was the backbone of Ireland's communication internationally. At the cost of £20m the government built an interception tower near Birkenhead - even those they weren't legally allowed to intercept. It was decommissioned in 2002. He proposed to Channel 4 that they make an offer to buy it. They were allowed in. The equipment was gone, but they knew the pattern of holes in the floor that would be needed if they were intercepting the signals - and they were there sure enough. Once again, this lead to putative changes in legislation. It was taken to European Court of Human Rights by Liberty - and they won. But the Government never made the relevant changes in the law. 

He wrote a report for the European Union in 2000 in Interception Capabilities - a set of laws were passed by the EU parliament in September 2001 - but were buried by the appalling events of 9/11 just a few days later. Then came a series of attempts to provide means to monitor the internet. They focus now on deep-packet inspection. Vast amounts of data can be extracted from communication systems and fed into analysis software. People's movements can be tracked via their mobile phones. Automated number-plate readers are spreading - and they are much more serious than CCTV - which needs to be analysed by human beings. The number-plate readers are automatically banking records of all journeys passing these checkpoints for up to 10 years. 

The later, greatest and most serious move is direct access to the internet. Very sophisticated semantic traffic analysers are being placed in major internet switching points. Narus. Both Bush and Obama have legislated to stop court cases against this for breach of privacy. All of the tapping was done in the early part of 2003 - but the plans go back to 1998. It was not triggered by 9/11. As far as can be told, the same is true in Britain. As far as threats to national security go - they already have the access. So why do they need the new legislation? 

Just like drone operators, surveillance operators have suburban commuter jobs in comfortable offices in country locations.

The establishment have more paranoia than even radicals of the left. They want all data to be theirs, and are legislating to make this happen. The value of human rights and of privacy is fundamental to our integrity and is worth fighting for.

Q. Bruce Scheinder is big on the fact that kids don't care about privacy any more.

A. It's a fair summary - but that's how they're inculcated to think by Google, Facebook et al. If the product costs nothing - you are the product. The country that understands this best is Germany, possibly through their process of de-Mazification.

Q. The constant cat and mouse that goes on -- presumably the new bill is about making things legal that they're already doing. Is there ever and end to it? 

A. There is s central journalistic problem in telling this story - the can be dry as dust. What you need is a victim who has been hurt by surveillance. It's hard to do theism - it's very limited. And there's a chilling effect - people don't feel free to be who they are because of surveillance. Things they're trying to do now - like accessing Skype - are harder to do now. The case is being absurdly over-stated. It's about hanging on to power, not about understanding what they need to keep us safe. The mobile phone hacking we're talking about at Leveson is all PIN-based voicemail hacking. They couldn't get phone records. However, we are at risk of a financial collapse, a 1930s style environment where people will want access to data.

It doesn't look like they have lines in ISPs yet - that's what the black boxes in the new legislation are about. They want direct access to new forms of communication that aren't e-mail, like Facebook messages. They want an ultimate trojan so they can identify who anonymous people actually are. 

Q. The phone "hacking" stuff isn't really hacking. It's a party trick. Who here has signed the Official Secrets Act?

About four or five have: people who have served in the forces, who have worked for BT. 

A. Signing it amounts to nothing apart from the fact you've read the act. If the duty of confidence to the government - if that has been improperly claimed, I hope journalists will breach it.

Q. Is Theresa May just a mouthpiece for what the security services want?

A. Minsters always are. The justification that the new bill meets the European human rights regulations is so badly written he suspects that all the hard-core civil servants have been sacked. I hope that this amateurism might allow a collation of interested parties to defeat the bill.

Q. Is this anything to do with Wikileaks?

A. I don't think so. Wikileaks is a happy harbinger of the sort of journalism we're starting to be able to do. But this is the historical tentacle of the British state - the same people who built communications tapping operations in Cornwall to monitor its own citizens. 

Campbell was never locked away for 30 years - he believes that the state is still stronger than the secret state. But 9/11 is being used to beat us over the head. They tried to tap the internet then - but didn't manage, possibly because they had no budget. This is the latest attempt - and it reflects things they've been asking for for 10 to 12 years. The FBI are talking about the "world going dark" in terms of information - but things have always been dark. People have planned things in meetings like this - people talking in rooms above pubs. 

He's looked a lot at terrorist's computers and communications. Do they use cryptology as people claim? None of the planners of 9/11 used any encrypted communications. That's true in the majority of the cases of terrorist plots in the UK - but not all. They us etchings like e-mail dead drops - free e-mail accounts with shared passwords, where they never send the e-mails, just leave messages in the account. That was established art early as 2000 by Al Queda. Now they use the cloud. 

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July 2, 2012

The sting in MobileMe's tail

MobileMe is closed
MobileMe, Apple's less than successful cloud offering, is gone. It passed into the night on Saturday, and is now formally succeeded by iCloud.

But it left a sting in its tail.

I had planned to put up a post this morning about lessons journalists could learn from The Onion, based on a talk at Le Web London. I went to grab my photos from Aperture - and this is what the application has been doing for the last two hours or so...

Aperture moving MobileMe
This process makes the rest of the app inaccessible. So, you'll see that post tomorrow at the current rate of progress...
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Linking to paywalled content

Five Swiss Francs

I had a brief discussion with Jon Slattery over the weekend about why his "quotes of the week" posts don't link to their sources.

His response:

The reason I didn't link was because I wasn't sure what to do with quotes behind paywalls.

But I think I will, where I can, link in future.

I was under the impression that this was a solved problem. The standard form seems to be to put a [£] or similar after the link. For example:

Why procrastination isn't all bad [£]

I think that makes is clear that the link is to paywalled content, while giving appropriate attribution to the source of your content. 

Seem fair? 

Tactilize: free?

Hey, remember Tactilize, the iPad publishing tools start-up I wrote about last week? I had one major reservation: the price. Looks like that's changing:

They're now saying a release date of August. Looking forward to it immensely.

Back in print...

Socially Savvy Apex mag
One of the nice surprises of this year has been finding my way back into print. A copy of Airline Passenger Experience dropped through our letterbox this morning, carrying my feature on the use of social media in airlines. 

The editor, Mary Kirby, is the once-and-former Runway Girl of video blogging fame, and has been kind enough to commission me to write several features now about the intersection of web and mobile tech and the airline experience. Good fun. 

The feature itself has been online for a month.


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