One Man and His Blog: August 2012 Archives

August 2012 Archives

August 30, 2012

The Zeitgeist Project: The Curators Objectify

The Zeitgeist Project Berlin audience

To conclude The Zeitgeist Project Berlin, the eight curators who talked previously returned to the stage to pitch us on their choice of object that best represented the cultural zeitgeist. This is what they picked:


Simon Waterfall

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The one speaker that frightened the life out of him was the Google guy. He wanted his lifestyle and his pay check. He was talking about the physical all the time. Google don't do physical - but if they did, how frightened would he be?

He was going to nominate Google Earth. Google don't make anything, they don't produce anything. It's like an inflatable ring - filled with information from others, which inflates the company and hopefully allows it to produce useful things for you. 

Richard Seymour

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The Nest - a thermostat built by the team that left Apple after building the iPod. You pull off that grey piece of shit on your wall, and use this. And it learns. It turns stuff that your were bored about into something you're fascinated about. It knows what the weather will be - because it's hooked up to the web. It's going to know how energy efficient you are compared to your neighbours... Something I didn't give a damn about is something I'm really, really excited about. It's a delicious thing replacing the nasty thing that was there before. It's industrial judo; emotionally engaging.

Prof. Charles Spence

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The 70s was technology in food production. Now? Technology in food consumption. The tablet as a plate, giving you the sound of the beach as you eat fish. It's the signature dish in one of the world's restaurants now - an elite experience. But could you use your tablet at home to do this? Could it chance the taste? Alter the plate colour, and things might taste sweeter... (Things on white plates taste 10% sweeter.) It's neurogastronomy.

Michael Wolff

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The discussion in the boats were about connection. Headphones are about isolation; they're his secret weapon against Ryanair. He uses Bose's professional sound-eliminating headphone, to anaesthetise his journeys. 

Bobbie Johnson

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3D printed products are generally shite right now. The Makie is the exception. They're custom-printed dolls, built to your own specifications. It's interesting that we're starting with play. you create it on the web, and you give it a name and a story, and then a few weeks later it turns up at your door. There's a hole in the body that allows you to customise it further with electronics. This is the edge of the Zeitgeist.

Tom Uglow

His favourite thing, because he likes the idea of the remote control of the future, is MaKeyMaKey, which allows you turn any physical object into a computer key...

Kati Krause

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People's ideas of privacy are very polarised. Data collection is great, or terrible. Tor makes you untraceable on the internet - and they're developing it. It will be integrated into hardware, and added to mobile networks.

John Bird

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John has children of a wide range of ages. He went to the Azores for a month with them. He's fascinated by history, and is always trying to write books about it that will help. He took 200 books with him - on his Kindle. He had a phenomenal holiday, and was able to read a bit of any book he fancied wherever he was. He now wants a social Kindle - and is becoming a Kindle publisher, with a book about drawing: Why drawing naked women is good for your soul. He loves the fact that self-publishing is now respectable because of the Kindle. 

The Big Issue is looking at ways of allowing the homeless to work for a Kindle. 

The Zeitgeist Project - speakers liveblogged

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The Zeitgeist Project is a response to the "noise" of all the consumer electronics companies 'shouting' their products at us at IFA. It turns the idea on its head, focusing on the people and working back to the products. 

The eight invited curators are going to talk about the Zeitgeist of our times - the cultural trends that are shaping us and our products. The aim? Finding the product that defines our time. So says Adam Scott of FreeState, our host for the evening. 

Bring on the curators...

Simon Waterfall 

Simon Waterfall

There's a word for predicting the future: science fiction. And it's never good news. It's all "robots have taken over the planet" and "I've got wires where I shouldn't have". 

The old future - the way we understood things coming into our lives - was very genteel - all ebb and flow. You could see what was coming, absorb it, and let it change your life. That's how people put the future in front of you. You were in charge of it. The current future is not drip-fed. We are sipping from a firehose. We are surrounded by so many possibilities, that it's literally being force-fed to us. The communication systems is the most complicated, expensive machine humanity has ever made. 

Remember when you first saw Google Earth? Six weeks before it didn't exist, and then it was there in your life. You could see Scott's hut in the Antarctic. What did you look at? Your own front door. This isn't the future Google intended this enormously expensive machine for...

Look at the Arab Spring, look at Anonymous - they could be heroes or villains. How are they going to use technology? 3D printing is one of the most exciting things to have emerged. When you're stood in front of the big machine, ready to press the green button, what will you print? One guy with a £20,000 machine printed his surname first. 

In the future, inappropriateness is going to be key. Computers don't do desire - the devil does desire. If you think about the devil, what will you print? Why would you print a Gucci handbag, when buying it is most of the pleasure?

You will print the illicit, the illegal. The internet was born in dirty porn studios. What will you print, when there's no trace, no Visa track, no way of identifying? How can we drip-feed this desire into brands? 

Richard Seymour

Richard Seymour

The future happens at the rate we can assimilate it. Is a technology desirable? Do we like it? 

For the first time in 100 years, our ability to make things outstrips our imagination. There's a storm coming, which is coming so fast you can't see it. You won't have seen the inversion coming. Show a class of seven year olds a typewriter, what do they think it is? A laptop that prints, which you don't need to plug in. The people who are designing products know it's a typewriter. The people they're designing for don't. We have to wait for the anthropology to catch up. 

The big corporations that make a lot of big stuff might be in trouble. Emotional functionality is something we're going to have to factor into everything we create. Apple figured this our early on - the laptop sleep light is the first thing that a bean-counter would get rid of. They're building an ethos, and the product is a souvenir of that. We have to believe in things. 

In 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL was everywhere. He was omni-present. And we are on the brink of that now. When we flip, we might be able to get anything you want from anyone's kit. A new development of technology will occur based on omnipresence. If you need only to know who you are and where you, that's easy to do. It will lead to the rise of the fetish - the item that will identify you and your position. The next game you buy may be two metal dog tags you wave over your device and which download the game. 

But we'll always want stuff, but it's as likely to come from Dior as Sony. Siri is the first disembodied product to come from Apple. WIll it become omnipresent? We'll need extraordinary intelligence to model this future. Observing it from the past or present isn't particularly useful, you need to stand in the future and pull the present towards you. 

Charles Spence

Charles Spence

The future is about the brain, the most bloodthirsty organ in our body. We're starting to get a handle on consciousness, and that's beginning to feed into product design. We need to design around the brain. If we understand the rules of sensory interaction, you can move into a new area of design. Most of us don't realise how inter-connected our senses are. You can change how people perceive wine by a few drops of odourless food colouring. 

People have been predicting this since at least 1997 - the future will be synesthetic, they claim. There's advertising which tries to do this. There are people who see colours as numbers, or hear smells. They're all different. If you ask people what sweet and bitter would be like as sounds, sweet becomes high pitch, bitter low. There are patterns. 

People are trying to scent products - TVs with smells in the boxes. But it'll only work when they connect all the senses. 

Michael Wolff

Michael Wolff

Gout is extremely painful. He can feel it in his left foot. But he can't feel his brain - he has no sensation of it. People often don't notice what they're noticing. For a long time he didn't completely understand the power of language. The graphic design phrase "the copy" denigrates the power of language. 

They had two photocopies in an office: one was Xerox, one Canon. Both said "warming up" when you started them. One said "ready" when done, one said "start". "Ready" made Wolff feel it would do the work, "start" made him feel that he would have to do it. We underestimate the effect of words in graphic design.

Architects sometimes get overwhelmed by the details of buildings and forget place. And in product design we often forget about sounds. He could talk about "clicks" for an hour. Here's an a to z of sounds:

  • A is for Apple - the chord that a Mac starts up with converted him from technophobia. 
  • B is for baby crying - it has the most astonishing effect on you; it makes you think something tragic is happening. 
  • C is Coke bottle opening. 
  • D is a dentist's drill, which made him bite a dentist. 
  • E is for Echo, used in sonar, which allows you to see things. 
  • F is for Ferrari
  • G is for the whoomph of gas lighting
  • H is for a Hasselblad shutter.
  • I is the Intel Inside noise. 
  • J comes from Argentina - the sound of jackboots on cobbles
  • K is for kalashnikov
  • L is for Lawnmower
  • M is the German Diesel in a taxi
  • N is Nokia - the original ring tone
  • O is for Organ, the particular note
  • Q is for Quack
  • R is Rottweiler
  • S is for Spitfire
  • T is a train
  • U is for Underwood typewriters
  • V is for velcro
  • W is for the willow cricket bat
  • X is for Xerox copiers
  • Y is a yawn
  • Z is a zippo lighter, which he thinks has an American accent. 

Bobbie Johnson

Bobbie Johnson

We're all carrying around a smartphone. We're all doing the same thing - customising it. He has a photo of a baby on his, as do many others.... We have these mass-manufactured goods - and we're desperate for them not to feel mass-manufactured. We want them to have a sense of intimacy. We're seeing elements of intimacy break out across the technology industry - we don't want to be part of a machine. A chef's pan is meant to get better over time. Consumer electronics aren't like that. Their products' moment of perfection is when you take it out of the box. That's why people fetishise it - that's why there are so many unboxing videos. Religion is the greatest mass-manufactured product - and the most intimate.

Crowd-sourcing is an incredibly powerful way of creating intimacy in products. They allow consumers to connect with products before the product is off the drawing board. He's a journalist - obsessed with stories. Crowdfunding does an amazing job of getting people involved in the story. People want to believe, be part of the product. They want intimacy. 

He co-ran a Kickstarter a few months ago, and raised £50,000 in 36 hours. 

That's the service design end. At the other end, there's the short-run manufacturers in China. The economics mean you can do that in smaller and smaller numbers now. There are Chinese pirates who create products that look almost exactly like the products we know - an iPhone with an extra SIM card, or a much better camera. It's a iPhone tailored for you. An intimacy of sorts. 

3D Printing brings real intimacy to manufacturing. He thinks its good,but it won't save the world or anything. But it's intimacy from the word go. It's always a product of one - so you can tailor it to people's needs. Imagine a phone (or "handy"...) that's actually built for your hand. That's an intimacy we haven't seen before. 

If you take all these things, crowdsourcing bringing people in from the start, 3D printing allowing customisation - that's intimacy. 

Tom Uglow

Tom Uglow

A virtual (recorded) speaker.

We live in a post-digital world now, the point where we stop being awed by the power of computing. In fact, we're in a post-internet age. We should marvel at this technology - but we don't. We expect our phone to conduct three way international video conferences for free... This isn't "normal". 

There's a theory that we're connected to nature - we feel better under an open sky, wearing natural wool. We need to understand that in consumer electronics - where the white, black or metallic box is king - that we need this physicality. We listen to invisible music, and take invisible photos that live on drives. How do we bring back the physical sensations? 

We love damage, distress and residue in digital and physical spaces. We want to see it in our polished consumer goods. You want the scratches on the record. He loves the crack in his phone, the dent in his MacBook. It's what marks it out as his. Instead of augmented reality, we want reality, augmented. 

Twine thinks about how to connect the real world objects with messaging. Pebble tries to harness the power of your phone in your watch. 

Kati Krause

Kati Krause

48% of Germans don't use their real names on social networks. 20% use complete fantasy names. Google stopped taking street view photos in Germany, because so many people wanted their properties blurred. Microsoft have abandoned a smilier project. The App Stores are being sued for breaching German data privacy. 

The funny thing in German is that they're not concerned about privacy in other matters - they have ID cards, they have a census, they have a private company that holds everyone's financial data for credit-worthiness. Everyone's fine, because they know what data's being collected and where it's going. 

What does this tell us? It could tell us that Germans are illogical or that they are slow to adopt. She doesn't think so. She thinks that the internet companies are going to have to adapt to the German way of thinking, and handle personal data in a different way. This clashes with the desire to make products more personalised, and with the desire to make advertising-run products. 

John Bird

John Bird

21 years ago in London, he got a multi-millionaire to give him £0.5 million to get capitalism off the hook. London had a homelessness problem. He had to put aside his own politics, talk to everyone. And he launched the Big Issue, a street newspaper to help homeless people. Their intervention was very simple - instead of giving people handouts, they gave them what the middle-class love - the opportunity to make their own money, and grow. 

The world had conspired to keep the poor down by giving them handouts. Fuck the poor. He doesn't love the poor - he loves the poor who are becoming something else. If you're on the street, you'll meet people to want to exploit you, to prostitute you. 

Now - technology is the way we can crack poverty. Why is it in Africa that mobile phones have transformed everything? Why is the mobile the last thing the homeless will give up? Because it allows them to be like you - to have communications and move up. 

They're building Answers from Big Issue to turn the homeless into content providers - a respectable middle class job. When they launch in November, they'll be both helping people get off the street, and shining a light on corporate social responsibility projects all over the world. 

We nee to change the way we give. We need to ask questions. Nearly 25% of people are involved with charities. It's enormous, but it needs to get better. The web and the mobile will allow us to create a better tomorrow for the poorest people on the planet. 

Liveblogging ahead: The Zeitgeist Project

I'm in Berlin for the day, here to liveblog a fascinating-sounding event called the Zeitgeist Project. It's an antidote, if you like, to the consumer technology hype of an event like IFA. There's an introductory video that gives you some idea what it's all about.

I'll be liveblogging it here from around 5pm BST / 6pm CET.

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August 28, 2012

A cynic might observe...

An Evening Standard stand
...the lack of a qualifying adjective. 

:-)

Boss free? Or co-owned?

Working at the RSA

Oddly, since my "liberation" from corporate life, I've become fascinated by alternative working models. This is just fascinating:

Valve, whose website says the company has been "boss free" since its founding in 1996, also has no managers or assigned projects. Instead, its 300 employees recruit colleagues to work on projects they think are worthwhile. The company prizes mobility so much that workers' desks are mounted on wheels, allowing them to scoot around to form work areas as they choose.

Will McInnes' post on company co-ownership versus traditional corporate models is worth some time, too.

Really looking forward to Meaning 2012 in October...

August 27, 2012

Deep follows wide - why Facebook went native

Facebook's own reasoning for dumping the HTML5 wrapper app on iOS and going native:

By allowing us to write once and ship across multiple platforms, HTML5 has historically allowed us to keep the Facebook mobile experience current and widely available, and has been instrumental in getting us to where we are today. We chose to use HTML5 because not only did it let us leverage much of the same code for iOS, Android, and the mobile web, but it also allowed us to iterate on experiences quickly by launching and testing new features without having to release new versions of our apps.

So while utilizing web technology has allowed us to support more than 500 million people using Facebook on more than 7000 supported devices, we realized that when it comes to platforms like iOS, people expect a fast, reliable experience and our iOS app was falling short. Now that our mobile services had breadth, we wanted depth. So, we rewrote Facebook for iOS from the ground up (I really did open up Xcode and click "New Project") with a focus on quality and leveraging the advances that have been made in iOS development.

The whole thing is an interesting read, even for the non-techie. 

The "placed" story and other failures of journalism

Sarah Lacy is outraged by PR behaviour

A company pivoted (read: failed) and decided it wanted some positive press. So it paid someone to write a story. Not a press release or a guest post, an actual fake news story, paid for and produced by the company. And it is now sending it around to tech blogs, asking if people who have forgone easier and more lucrative careers choosing instead to report and write news for a living can just cut and paste it under their own bylines. Or, you know, “something similar.”

Are you fucking kidding me?

If only this behaviour were unique to tech blogs. If only traditional media had never published anything like this. If only…

August 25, 2012

Saturday morning coffee reading - 25th August 2012

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Five things that are worth reading over your morning coffee... 

August 24, 2012

Friday chill out: The iPhone 5 - everything you ever needed



Please tell me how much fun I'm having...

The HTML5 speed tax

The Facebook native app

It's odd, given how much HTML5 is celebrated as the grand panacea that will save us all from nasty native apps, that what should be the flagship example - the Facebook app - has just shifted from HTML5 to a native app on iOS:

This doesn't mean that Facebook is abandoning HTML5, Johnson says. "The mobile web is still very important to us, as are all of our interfaces," he said. Problem is, HTML5 is a technology that, while promising in the long run, isn't able to deliver the type of speed and performance we expect right now. It's a long bet, and something that Facebook aims to continue developing.

Sounds like pinning all you hopes on skirting round Apple with HTML5 web apps might not be a guaranteed solution. If Facebook can't do it...

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Liveblogs! On a Podcast!

Le Web liveblogging

Rachel from journalism.co.uk was kind enough to interview me for a podcast on the fine and ancient art of liveblogging, alongside such luminaries as Neil Macdonald and Josh Halliday of something called "The Guardian", which is some sort of niche political site, I gather.

You can hear our thoughts by grabbing the download, or subscribing in iTunes

If you're really inspired, and want to know more, I'm teaching an evening course on liveblogging next month. 

Corporate voice is inherently impersonal

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James O'Brien, quoting Alex Goldfayn:

"Most of the content that companies put out on social media doesn't catch on," he said. "It's too corporate and promotional. Despite the money invested -- and the myriad social-media marketing agencies that have popped up -- there is no 'conversation' with customers. Bad, embarrassing material often goes viral. The good stuff isn't interesting, so it doesn't catch on."

Much as it pains me to link to something called the "Evangelist Marketing Institute" (really?), I do think there's something significant in that. The issue here isn't about the social media agencies - wherever there are people willing to spend money, there will be people willing to take it, and not all of them will be skilled - it's about the lack of courage and vision in big companies.

Big companies, by their nature, tend to attract people who like working in big companies - who like hierarchies, committees and a very slow pace of change. None of these things are conducive to genuine voice, an ability to not take yourself too seriously and the sense of fun needed to make really good social media content. It takes real vision from the top - and the courage to defy the self-protecting norms of committee decision making - to turn that around. 

August 23, 2012

re:Generations

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Probably the best decision I've made this year was to keep August quiet, with virtually no out-of-home working between my daughter's due date and the beginning of September, Balancing self-employment, largely home-based, with new fatherhood is a challenge. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes you lose five hours with no idea of where they went. 

One way or another, I'm starting to get back up to speed on my commitments, including posting on the TEDxBrighton blog with a new post about how points of passion can close generations - and how leaving it too late can cost you the opportunity to do so. Pity I missed the meeting in a muddle of cooking, nappy changing and baby soothing...

August 21, 2012

Sounds: Supplied

I'm a big fan of the new emerging funding models that the web is bringing. Yeah, there's Kickstarter, obviously, but I also like the "bundle" promotions that are appearing for software - and now music. I've just bagged my third bunch of albums from SoundSupply, It's a pretty simple concept: 10 albums, available for 10 days, for just $15. You don't need a particularly high hit rate to make that worthwhile...

Not a bad way of keeping a middle-aged Dad like myself in touch with the popular beat combos of today. Here's the promo video for Supply Drop 4, which has 8 days and 10 hours left to run at the time of writing:


The Assange Myths

Why your website is ugly

Duncan Arthur:

We’ve seen traditional publishers we applaud for beautifully designed print publications throw out their own rulebook for their web-based versions. High-end design, it seems, has been viewed as incompatible with amassing the glut of page views and ad impressions, required for commercial viability. And the more banner ad inventory prices have fallen, the greater the motivation to find ever more ways to push more ads to readers including such horrible tactics as the auto-refresh.

Thankfully, that trend is slowly reversing. A clean, uncluttered site is becoming a mark of quality - and people will pay more to be associated with that. 

[hat-tip: Say Media]

Quick wins vrs long-term victories

An interesting quote from David Armano, that reinforces the discussion on cycles last week:

We've seen this movie before. In the early days of the web, it was the website that created a browser-fueled gold rush — until organizations realized that maintaining a website that provided real value was more difficult than launching something quickly. The same story is now playing out in social — getting something launched on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest is easy, but building an engaged and meaningful following isn't. And the same will happen in the rush to mobile if companies take a "channel" approach vs. a behavioral approach. In short, it's not about mobile as much as it is about understanding mobility.

I liveblogged an Our Social Times event on Facebook for Liberate Media a few weeks back. It really struck me at the time, that you could easily divide the case studies presented into "stunts" and "relationship building". Stunts work well in the early stages of a new technology's life, but once the noise and engagement levels go up, it gets harder and harder to get attention with that sort of behaviour. 

People who rely on stunts will always be rushing to the Next Big Thing, and abandoning other things as the become more challenging. But the people who reap most benefit from the evolving digital space will be those who use long-term investment in building relationships and value on current platforms to springboard success in the emerging ones. 

August 20, 2012

Rewire the streets

A book forest in BerlinTalking of the NEXT blog, my post on street furniture for a digital age got a whole bunch of traffic and interest (largely via Google+, interestingly). There's so much potential in rethinking the urban landscape in a digital context...

Peak hype?

The 2012 Gartner Hype Cycle for emerging technologies seems to have snuck out this year, without realy catching the blogosphere's attention. The one thing that struck me this year is just how densely technologies are clustered around the top of the hype peak:

The peak of the hype cycle
Lots of bets on the table right now. Lots of new ideas jostling for our attention. What's the outcome: a technology lust bust? Or a transformative decade?

Further analysis on the NEXT conference blog

August 18, 2012

Unfollowed... with prejudice

Someone wanted to make sure:

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August 17, 2012

Friday Chill Out: a day in the life of the Olympic Park

Go HD, full-screen and ramp up the volume:



Childcare takes on new Meaning

From a Meaning 2012 conference e-mail:

The childcare is provided by Officrèche, an Ofsted-approved nursery which offers co-working space with flexible childcare onsite and is 10 minutes away from the conference venue.

Funny how things like that have suddenly become a lot more important to me in recent weeks…

(The conference itself looks really interesting - an examination of how organisations could really operate in the 21st century, with the new options available to us)

B2B publishers no more

From Patrick Smith's Media Briefing e-mail a couple of weeks ago (it was two days after my daughter was born, so I was a bit too busy to read it back then ;-) ) :

In this context, should I stop saying "publisher" to refer to companies like RBI and UBM, when so much of what they do is not in journalism but information dental equipment manufacturers or aviation experts of the best techniques and stuff to buy?

It's worth noting that RBI was originally RBP - Reed Business Publishing. It's around since it made the change, and it was a pretty clear indication of its direction back then. Now? It really doesn't look like a publisher. Only parts of UBM do. 

They're not publishers. They're B2B information companies. 

Longform, listed

Interesting list of long-form journalism projects, compiled by Rachel McAthy at journalism.co.uk

Twitter: bringing third party developers to heel

Fail whale

A blog post from the Twitter folks:

If your application already has more than 100,000 individual user tokens, you'll be able to maintain and add new users to your application until you reach 200% of your current user token count (as of today) -- as long as you comply with our Rules of the Road. Once you reach 200% of your current user token count, you'll be able to maintain your application to serve your users, but you will not be able to add additional users without our permission.

Translation: if you Twitter client or social media management application gets a significant number of users, you'll have to play by Twitter rules, and get permission from them to grow your client base. If you don't, you're capped at twice the number of users you have now. 

I bet we'll see the demise of many Twitter apps, and social media management apps conforming to Twitter's vision exactly in the coming months.

Build your business on someone else's platform, and you lose control of your business

[via The Next Web]

August 16, 2012

The new tech tabloids

Harry Marks on the high-profile, high traffic technology blogs:

Business Insider, CNet, ZDNet, eWeek, Gizmodo, and the rest (there really are too many to name) aren’t news organizations, they’re the online equivalents of 24-hour cable news noise networks with half the facts and one-third the personalities.

These websites perpetuate a myth that they are well-informed, knowledgable news outlets that tell the world what it needs to know. What I’ve learned, however, is just the opposite: they’re ad-driven FUD machines that run on pageviews stolen from attention-deficient readers who would rather digest a shocking headline on a digital tabloid than read thoughtful commentary provided on an actual news site.

Things three:

  1. Their business model is built on shifting sands. They need unsavvy, uneducated, unfussy volume advertisers. They will decrease over time, and the battle to survive will grow fierce, entertaining, and will eventually destroy what little credibility they have left. 
  2. Is there any wonder that people are looking to find new forms of slow, long-form journalism?
  3. Gullible

Flash? In the pan


Messages about Medium, an Obvious new publishing tool

A Medium collection

Well, look at that. Another web tool to reinvent social publishing that we hoi polloi can't use yet. The Medium might to be the message this time - the users given access to the Medium are. Anil Dash made some good points earlier that this "private quasi-public beta" is actually more serious and troubling than my joking references imply. It's actually reinforcing a new web establishment, who get the chance to establish themselves on new services before the rest of us. Dash:

Building a social tool for "just us geeks" permanently privileges the few people who get in the door first, which means you're giving a huge leg up to those who already have a pretty good set of advantages to begin with.

And:

Much of my own success is, as I've said, attributable largely to me having gained access to online social networks earlier than most people. Being early and loud will give you a better shot at being heard than anyone who comes after you.

In the end, the power players become either the inner circle of early invitee tech industry people, and then, eventually, the existing mainstream media who have the audience base they can shift to a new medium. This is a consequence of the move from building web tools we could install and use ourselves on server space - forum software, blog platforms like WordPress.org and Movable Type - to completely owned and controlled platforms. I'm not sure I'm delighted by this shift. While It's brought more ability to publish to a wider number of people, it's made those people beholden to a smaller number of companies. Compare switching your Tumblr blog to another platform compared to the (relative) ease of switching between WP and MT, for example. 

So, there's a cool new publishing platform, that we can't use, but some cool insiders can, and we get to press our noses against the glass like small children outside a sweet shop. Lucky us. Some people have written some interesting things while glued to the window.

Joshua Bento highlights one interesting facet of the design sense and organisation of Medium collections: 

What's most radical about Medium is that it denies authorship.

Okay, maybe not denies authorship -- people's names are right next to their work, after all. But it degrades authorship, renders it secondary, knocks it off its pedestal.

It, in fact, renders authorship the same status it has in most tradition media websites: there, but secondary to the overall content package. This is a very old model in new clothes. 

Matthew Ingram develops the theme:

While that personal aspect of publishing has been one of the core principles behind blogging -- and Twitter has popularized the idea of a "personal brand" that journalists and content creators develop by connecting with their fans -- Medium is focused more on the value of the content, regardless of who is producing it or voting on it.

 Fundamentally, I like Stowe Boyd's take on it:

Medium -- to the degree that we can fool with it so far, or so far as they have fooled with it -- is more of an indication of a new aesthetic that the Obvious Ones are pursuing than anything else. It has a iPad-like clean design -- shared by all the curations that have been pulled together.

There's much to like in it - the break with reverse chronological streams for content that isn't define by time is a welcome one. But streams, and their role, is fodder for another long post... 

August 15, 2012

Social media isn't failing - the mainstream is just fickle

Richard Stacy on predictions that social media is failing (woe! woe! woe!):

Is it a failure of social media, or is it a failure of marketing to adapt itself to work within social media.  In my view it is the later.  As I never tire of saying, social media is a completely different space with a new set of rules.  You cannot drag traditional one-to-many mass marketing approaches into social media and expect that they will work.  Cue favourite analogy: if tradition media / marketing is the land then social media is the sea.  It is perfectly possible to operate in both environments provided you understand the difference. You can make a car that floats, as Top Gear are fond of showing us, but it is never going to be as effective in the water as a boat.

Here's what always happens:

  1. Some cool new online thing is invented
  2. Hobbyists do great things with it
  3. Specialists do interesting things with it
  4. The mainstream piles in, grafting it on top of their existing processes
  5. Noise levels shoot out of control, stunts no longer get attention
  6. Mainstream declares it a failure, and moves on to next cool thing
  7. Specialists and hobbyists continue doing interesting new things

Remember all the "blogging is dead" stuff that came out 18 months ago? That's stage six at work. We're at stage five with Facebook/Twitter right now. 

Is Google getting into print?

Kevin May:

It is also unknown as yet as to whether Frommer’s will continue as a standalone brand, as well as if Google will effectively become a printed guidebook publisher – a massive leap from its online-only world.

One possible consequence of Google's acquisition of Frommer's that hadn't occurred to me. 

Building my own iPad magazine every morning

Pocket on my iPad

In 2001, when I first became aware of blogging and RSS feeds, I used to speculate about magazines of the future, built of feeds which allowed you to select the reporters, reviewers and commenters that mattered to you. In recent years, I've used this as an example of how very dangerous and wrong predictions based on old models can be. Yet, when I read this piece by Hamish McKenzie, I realised that I might have actually been more prescient than I realised:

I haven't got a focus group to prove this, but I would bet that anyone who uses reading apps such as Longform, Instapaper, Readability, and Pocket prefers those content delivery mechanisms to bundled magazines. These platforms allow readers to select and sort content in a way that works for them, from disparate sources, without having to deal with cumbersome digital magazine files and swathes of packaged content that simply isn't relevant, or of interest.

That's exactly how I operate right now. My morning iPad routine looks something like this:

  • Skim through my e-mails. Deal with the urgent ones.
  • Skim through my RSS reader. Push anything that looks interesting into Pocket.
  • Flip through Flipboard. Push anything that looks interesting into Pocket.

I'll then leave the iPad and head to my Mac in the study to push on with other work. Come coffee break time, it'll be back to the iPad and back into Pocket to read the longer pieces I was interested in.

What I've done is build a magazine for myself, selecting not the authors I find most interesting, but the actual pieces. I'm treating the web like a content buffet, where I select what I'm interested in, and create a personalised lean-back reading experience. Those magazines and newspapers I subscribe to in Newsstand take a back seat - they only get opened when I've finished with the Pocketed pieces. 

Now I realise that I'm an atypical consumer of online information. But I also realise that I'm an early-to-mid stage adopter, and my behaviours tend to be reflected in the general online populace eventually. I wonder how long-term viable Newsstand actually is? 

August 14, 2012

Google+ Hangouts get stereo music

Google's Matthew Leske:

We wanted to make these live hangout concerts sound more like the stage, so today we're rolling out Studio Mode. As a musician, all you need to do is start your Hangout On Air, click settings, and switch from Voice to Studio Mode.

Studio Mode optimizes your individual audio for music instead of conversation, and no else needs to change a thing!

Hangouts remain the stand out feature of Google+, and they're making them ever better - stereo music Hangouts? Yes, please. 

Branch: new conversations for the internet

Branch, a new discussion platform for the interwebs is out of beta, but not out of needing an invite to get in. Ah, well. Until we hoi polloi are allowed in to play, we can gaze adoringly at on-going Branches, like Jim Giles's one on long-form journalism

Here's Branch's de rigeur arty launch video. If you don't laugh at the "empty engagement" moment, you have no soul, work in social media marketing, or both. 

Why do so many publishers hate their journalists?

Roy Greenslade, talking about Trinity Mirror:

But nothing I have heard has changed my thinking. Kelly's going is part of a pattern, confirming that a company that publishes newspapers and news websites has no respect for journalism... and certainly none for journalists.

I'm always surprised by how many people who reach the higher ranks of news publishing businesses seem to actively dislike journalists and journalism. It's like a vegetarian running a butcher's - you have to wonder why they do it. 

August 13, 2012

Office tyranny in the Theme Park

Lay of Pages
I wrote an essay for the good people of Theme Park on the tyranny of paper and wires on office work - and our future liberation from them:

Like so many tyrants, paper was overthrown - by the digital age. And, like so many revolutions, we just exchanged one tyranny for another. We took the wire as our new ruler, and it bound us tightly to our desk. The electric cables to power our computers; the ethernet jacks connecting us to the internet; even the twisted copper of the phone line all conspired to keep us on the office's side of the window.
Theme Park is a great, interesting attempt at doing a deep, thought-provoking blog. Well worth a few minutes of your time. 

Narratively: another long-form, slow journalism Kickstarter

Another long-form journalism Kickstarter:

Narratively slows down the news cycle. Each week, we'll explore a different theme about New York and publish a series of connected stories -- just one a day -- told in the most appropriate medium for each piece. We might feature a longform article with portrait photos on a Monday, followed by an animated documentary on Tuesday, then a photo essay, an audio piece or a short documentary film. Every story gets the space and time it needs to have an impact. We'll bring you weeks devoted to New York's waterways, hustlers, sexual subcultures, obscure pastimes and countless other themes. We'll even get you involved in theme and story selection. 

Efforts like this and Matter suggest to me that we're seeing a push-back against the quicker, faster, more sensational style of online news, and a resurgence of the deeper, longer sensibilities of the feature writer.

About time, too. 

Here's their pitch video:

One Man & His Commonplace Blog

Mr Whatley on RSS and commonplace books:

However, I prefer reading everything at random. It's a habit I've kept for a long time but it's something that's recently been re-enforced by learning about the origins of the commonplace book, and its place in both history and the creation of serendipitous innovation.

A decade or so back, more than one person made the connection between the linkblogging/aggregational style of blogging and commonplace books. It's a concept I honour through the name of my Tumblr, a service that makes commonplace book-style blogging almost compulsory, through the way its structures its post formats.

James's principle is a good one - read widely, and certainly beyond the boundaries of what you perceive as your own field. Oh, and keep notes on the best stuff. You never know when it'll come in handy... 

One Man & His Blog: rebooted

All change! This blog has a brand new look, and for those of you in RSS readers, here's a screengrab of it, with the explanation and thinking behind it afterwards: 

The new-look One Man & His Blog

Today is nominally my first day back off paternity leave - as far as the self-employed can ever have paternity leave. How do I decide to celebrate? By completely revamping the look and feel of this blog. Back in the early days of One Man & His Blog, its theme changed every few months. But some time around 2006, it ossified into the design it's had ever since. I've been dissatisfied with it for at least a year, and the time has finally come to bring it into a more modern form.

I wanted to achieve a number of things:

  • Radically simplify the design - all that multi-sidebar stuff is so mid-2000s. 
  • Clear away a lot of the links to pages that are rarely visited - category archives, for example. 
  • Experiment with better web typography through Typekit
  • Give images - always a bit part of this blog - more room to breathe on the page
  • Give a much clearer focus on the content - and give comments more prominence
  • Create something that would work particularly well on mobiles and tablets. 
Some things haven't changed:

  • Taupy the reptile is still the blog's mascot, but in much reduced form. It's a touch of continuity with the old design.
  • It's still Movable Type under here. Maybe one day I'll make the move to WordPress, but it doesn't feel necessary right now. 
  • It's still being heavily cached and minified and CDNed through CloudFlare. The page load times were pretty good under the old design - hopefully I've driven them even lower with the new look.
This design isn't complete - I'm trying to get myself back into the mindset of the blog being in perpetual beta, so expect to see tweaks, changes and alterations for the foreseeable future. For now though - what do you think? 
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Always a nervous moment...

Rebuilding this blog

August 12, 2012

That's the end of that...

A Union Jack iPad badge
Well, that's the Olympics in London all but over. Hazel made me miss the opening ceremony by choosing to be born just after it, and she's made me miss the closing ceremony by dint of being reluctant to sleep. 

Ah, well. Sometimes living your own life has to take precedence over watching fit people do sporty things. 

Expect exactly no commentary at all on the media coverage of this Olympics... ;-)

August 9, 2012

Coffee Spill Art

A quick blog history lesson for tech bloggers

The link bird

Stephen Hackett of 512 Pixels linked to Marcelo Somer's post about linkblogging:

So what's going on? Slow news cycle in the summer? Maybe. But the link post is much more to blame. It was pioneered by John Gruber back in 04, and was one of the first forms of simple curation on the web - generally featuring a blockquote from an interesting part of a piece, and then linking directly back to the source.

Hackett comments:

The irony, of course, is that this is, itself, a "linked list" post.

No, the irony is that so many tech bloggers are so deeply unaware of the roots of their profession that they think linkblogging is new. It's not. It's where blogging began (or, at least, one of the places). For all Gruber's talents, he did not pioneer this style of blogging. It existed long before Daring Fireball came to be. 

I was doing it in 2003, but I was a latecomer, aping an attractive style. Andrew Sullivan was an early proponent, and a big influence on me, but his early archives are now gone. (This is the earliest around) If you want to see linkblogging emerge, try starting with the archives of Kottke from March 1998. 1998

Gruber created the "linked list" style of making the headline URL of a linked list direct to the site he's linking to, not the permalinked page for his post - but that's a technical style change on top of a long-established medium. 

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August 8, 2012

The two things Google+ does brilliantly


Hangouts and photos. If you want to start exploring Google+ - start there. 


August 7, 2012

One Man & His Daughter

My beautiful daughter and I

August 6, 2012

The Mighty Marvel Pinterest

Basically just an excuse to have superheroes on my blog

Marvel Comics launches Pinterest and Tumblr accounts.

A visual content publisher promotes itself on visual aggregation and sharing sites. Utterly simply, perfect match.

I could do without the "begging for engagement" comments under every image, though:

"What do you think of this blog post about Marvel on Pinterest?"

The UK eBook tipping point

The Kindle app on a Nexus 7

paidContent UK:

About two years after Kindle launched in the United Kingdom, Amazon UK says it is now selling 114 ebooks for every print book.

You've got an eBook strategy in place already, right? 

No? 

Oh, dear.

The work/life infusion

One man and his mobile phoneDan Catt on his reasons for leaving The Guardian:

It was the crushing lack of scope for creativity within the projects that was the problem. They fell very much into the category of 'move this over here, put that there, add something somewhere else'. Undoubtedly very important but without very much scope for creativity within them[4].

The flip/flop re-org I could handle... in a team? Great, new projects? Why the heck not, new process? Sure, I like a challenge. All those things were fine. I figured I'd do them 9-5 (actually 10-6) with my usual flair and skillz and carry on fiddling with my own hacks in the evening and weekends.

What I wasn't expecting was that the lack of being creative during work time would suddenly and mercilessly suck all the energy and joy out of those evenings and weekends.

It's been my experience that people who do great work in publishing businesses also tend to be doing great, creative things in their spare time - and that the two sets of activities cross-inform each other. 

A very long time ago - another century ago, in fact - I was told that employers looked as much at your extra-curricular activities as your degree when offering people their first jobs. There's a wisdom in that that applies to people recruiting at any level for digital creative jobs. 

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