Friday, 21 December 2007

A community tale to warm the cockles of your heart



As it's Christmas.

Farmers Weekly has had a thriving online forum for many years.

This year they upgraded their software to provide a faster, more fully featured service (including photo-sharing and community blogs) using the Community Server platform.

The result is a thriving and growing community (the 1,000th new member signed up this week) which has strengthened in the most unexpected ways.

The photograph above shows two of the most active members - kansasfarmer and AllyR and their respective spouses (Mrs kansasfarmer and Mrs AllyR, of course).

In a dramatic transition from online to "IRL", kansasfarmer and Mrs KF visited the UK this year and stayed with various members of the online community (the dollar being what it is, this was probably the only way they could manage it!).

Other highlights included one of the members blogging very personally about the process of adopting a child in China. Meanwhile another farmer blogs from Transylvania. You couldn't make it up.

Farmers are - by the nature of their jobs - quite isolated and the fact that they develop such strong relationships and take the trouble to blog about their lives to the rest of the community is really heart warming.

Moreover - from our point of view - it has quite dramatically changed the way that news decisions are made. Journalists are able to see what the hot topics are as they emerge on the forums and get feedback, information and try out ideas.

This is a fundamental shift in journalists' attitudes and - indeed - to the way that we go about communicating.

When the dreaded Foot and Mouth Disease reared its ugly head again this year, the forums proved the fastest, most effective way of getting bullets of news out to the community (especially overnight).

Moreover, it gave the community a way of feeding back what exactly they wanted the journalists to research - everything from "Can I move my cows from here to here?" to "If this outbreak has come from a government lab, can we sue the government?".

It's brought the Farmers Weekly brand, magazine, website and journalists much closer to the people they are serving.

And - dare I say it - puts the farmers very much in the editorial driving seat. Fantastic.

Gets you right there, doesn't it?

My Christmas list


So much to choose from. But here goes.


I don't - as a rule - wear t-shirts, but even I could go for these:


A Worst. Keynote. Ever. t-shirt

Or a Wi-Fi Detector t-shirt ("The glowing bars on the front of the shirt dynamically change as the surrounding wi-fi signal strength fluctuates").

Or...




... for sad days - you could get me this social media shirt which features a list of the 79 most popular social networking sites. "Wearers can use a marker pen to tick off all the sites they belong to, then display all to all and sundry when out"

Bloggers entitled to protect their sources

Thanks to colleague Andrew Doyle for spotting that a US court has ruled that bloggers are as entitled as journalists to protect their sources.

The BBC reports that computer firm Apple brought a lawsuit to make fan site Think Secret reveal who had leaked details about the cut-down computer.

Apple is notoriously secretive about forthcoming products and it sued Think Secret claiming that bloggers should not enjoy the same rights to protect sources granted to mainstream journalists.

A California court initially sided with Apple but the hi-tech firm lost the case on appeal. The outcome of that said bloggers should be considered as journalists and subject to the same protections.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) aided Think Secret in its legal fight to stop Apple forcing it to reveal its sources.


But it reports that the end result of the case is that Think Secret will be closed down.

Think Secret issued this press release:

Apple and Think Secret have settled their lawsuit, reaching an agreement that results in a positive solution for both sides. As part of the confidential settlement, no sources were revealed and Think Secret will no longer be published. Nick Ciarelli, Think Secret's publisher, said "I'm pleased to have reached this amicable settlement, and will now be able to move forward with my college studies and broader journalistic pursuits."


which is presumably the blogging equivalent of "spending more time with his family" in UK politics.

But a good judgement, nonetheless.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Paper Weight: incentivising online UGC with print



The very impressive, professional-looking image on the front cover of the latest edition of Flight International magazine is User Generated Content.
Flight's community site - airspace.aero has been running a photo competition. The main incentive was that the winner got their photo published on the cover of Flight International - the weekly industry magazine.

It's a neat way of exploiting what is normally an obstacle for us - the perceived greater prestige of print over online. Printed magazines you can hold, carry, show and frame. Online can't hold a candle in this respect.

In this case it's a matter of us saying "OK - press has great prestige so that can be your reward."

Stunning photos, too. Check out the entries in each of the categories:



Wednesday, 19 December 2007

BBC personalised home page and Dr Who

Thanks to my colleague Sophy Ashworth for reminding me to mention the BBC's home page personalisation (beta).
.

It's a kind of NetVibes, iGoogle kind of thing and it's a brave effort, but not brave enough to let you get rid of the stuff that they want to push at you (the big Christmas pudding in the above shot) so you could probably get more personalised screen real estate by taking what you want from RSS and putting it onto your own personalised iGoogle page or whatever.

Having said that I got distracted by the tantalising Dr Who game and that was the end of my exploration of the home page. So I guess they know what they're doing. Engagement. It's seduction really.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Newsmaps on Reuters



Am loving the news maps on Reuters.

Rather engaging, I feel. Have look here.

Cheap shot, but this might be of particular value to Americans, one feels:



Moderating the Telegraph

Some interesting insights into the issues around moderating user generated content (or "reader intereaction" over at Journalism.co.uk.

It's an interview with the deputy community editor Ceri Radford.

Apparently:

Comments on news stories and opinion pieces are screened by the team before they are put live, while retrospective action is taken on blog and My Telegraph comments, which appear automatically after a user has registered.


How do you know you are getting it right?

Says Radford: "We get as many complaints saying we're letting anything through and it's irresponsible, as we do accusing us of censorship and stamping down on people's right to freedom of speech - so as long as we get complaints in both directions we're doing okay."

Read the article here.

Monday, 10 December 2007

How journalists can use social networks to improve beat reporting

If you haven't already seen it, do check out BeatBlogging.org, an experiment to explore combining beat journalism with social networks.

The aim of the project is explained thus:

Are there network effects in beat reporting? Across the US, a dozen reporters (with beats) are going to try to find out—simultaneously. This will improve their odds of succeeding.

This is a simple project testing a single idea: Maybe a beat reporter could do a way better job if there was a “live” social network connected to the beat, made up of people who know the territory the beat covers, and want the reporting on that beat to be better.

That’s the entire idea—so far. Beat reporting with a social network: can we get it to work?. And here is the rest of it.


Check it out on Beatblogging.org where the journalists are blogging as they go. Fascinating stuff.

Reuters and International Herald Tribune in content deal

Jeff Jarvis observes:

The Reuters deal to provide business content to the International Herald Tribune online and in print — and share revenue with associated advertising — could, I think, be a model for other news organizationst to take care of commodity news.

As an idea, it's certainly not new. How many newspapers compile their own TV listings, crosswords and so on? It's a ridiculous idea.

On the other hand, when we think about these kinds of deals online all kinds of other issues come into play.

Will this material appear in a Google Search of the IHT?
If so, will it be penalised for duplicate content?
If not, what's it worth?

On the plus side, with unlimited space available on your website, why not squeeze in every bit of content you can get your hands on? Especially if your only cost is giving away some of the additional ad revenue (assuming you can't meet the demands for advertising).

On the other hand, how will it be branded? if it's branded Reuters rather than IHT, is that a good thing or not?

I once worked on a (paper)magazine where we looked at outsourcing a section very akin to a business section to an online specialist title we also owned.

On paper it looked irresistible. Their specialisation meant they could do a far better job than we ever could, but on balance we decided against it on the basis that it looked like something of an admission of defeat on our part.

Were we right? I don't know.

Blog readability scam - an inspiration

Charles Arthur has blogged a great post on The Guardian about a cunning scam which gets bloggers to unwitting link to a commercial site offering loans to boost its Googlejuice.

But I believe that 20% 0f every idea is good and to be nurtured.

Exposed: another fiendish way to make money on the web relates how a number of prominent websites have been conned into linking to a company by publishing a "blog readability" score on their website.

It's interesting because it fits in with a number of conversations we've been having here, lately:

1. Finding ideas for compelling widgets for other people to put on their sites and blogs.

2. My "Seven Deadly Sins" theory of human behavioural motivation. Sounds grand, doesn't it? It's not. It was one throwaway slide at a recent conference.

Anyway, I'm stretching it because I don't think vanity is strictly speaking one of the seven although it could come under Pride, I suppose. Or Gluttony.

Anyway, the point is that appealing to the vanity of bloggers ("Hey! My blog has great usability!") is probably a great starting point for devising that killer widget.

Oh, in case you can't name them, the Seven Deadly Sins are:

Lust
Gluttony
Greed
Sloth
Wrath
Envy
Pride

I shall work my theory up into something publishable at some point...

Hardware hoarders competition on ComputerWeekly.com


ComputerWeekly.com has had a bit of a re-boot (as it were) and I'm impressed with the imagination behind their new competition idea - Hardware Hoarders - the search to find the oldest bit of computer kit still in use.

The competition has the potential to be rather engaging, I think. I'm not much interested in hardware (although I am now regretting getting rid of my Amstrad Wordprocessor. Oh, hang on, no I'm not) but I'm rather drawn to it.

The image at the top of this post was submitted by Senior IT analyst Burak Agca who "sent in this picture of his 1992-vintage Mac SE. Burak has kept hold of the much-loved Apple for many years, with the intention of turning it into a fish bowl, or 'MacQuarium'..."

Entries can be submitted by uploading a pic to the Flickr Group or uploading a video to Brightcove.

ComputerWeeekly.com has never traditionally gone in for user-generated content of any kind. This is an imaginative first step for them.

Things I like about it:

- Very visual
- Multiple media options - photos / videos
- Back-up for the less technoliterate (email entries)
- What makes the entries really compelling are the stories - why have you kept it? what are you going to do with it?

Here Comes Another Bubble - The Richter Scales

The latest amusing Web 2.0 viral video. It's based on a Billy Joel song, but don't let that put you off.



Alert credit: Roo Reynolds.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

The Millennial Generation

Back to Online Information 2007 and a presentation from Mary Ellen Bates (describing herself with charming self-effacement as the "digital grannie") on the Millennial Generation. Definitions vary, but these people never saw the Berlin Wall and never knew life without the Internet. What is their attitude to information and search?

From electronic games, the millennial generation has learned that:

  • failure doesn't hurt
  • risk is real
  • leaders are irrelevant
  • coaches are unnecessary
They thrive on ambiguity. Millennials have less interest in "authoritative" sources and trust their ability to evaluate the worth of an information source.

I was very conscious of her observation that personal networks are key to the way they search for information. This reassures me that the development of work and industry networks that we are undertaking is exactly the right way forward for tomorrow's workers.

So how should workplaces accommodate millennials?
  • Give them room to explore
  • Offer experiential learning
  • Learning is play, not an investment
Mary Ellen's website is here and her presentation here.

Footnote

Marie L Radford of Rutgers School of Communications, Information and Library Studies shared some interesting research outcomes on behaviour of Millennials.

They score lower (ie do less often) than adults on:
- thanking
- self-disclosure
- closing rituals

But higher (ie do more often) than adults on:
- Agreeing to suggestions
- using lower case
- greeting rituals
- admitting lack of knowledge
- interjections
- slang

Millennials trust peer reviews twice as much as the average adult.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Virtual Worlds - Roo Reynolds

Here's one of Roo's previous presentations. A great 101 on virtual worlds.



Social media and organisations

I was drooling at the mouth at Online Information 2007 to hear about IBM's intranet.

Rather than merely being a directory, it's like a social networking space where you can tag you colleagues with things that they know about or characterise them. I noticed that Roo Reynolds was tagged with "nice-guys-who-finish-first" but this seems to me to be an intensely practical way of organising the organisation around the individual and enabling them to organise themselves around their internal networks. It's mashed up with maps and has social graphs and stuff. Very cool.

Also, any employee at IBM can have an internal or external blog if they want one. They just have to follow the rules, that's all.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

When worlds collide: Second Life and virtual worlds

By an astonishing co-incidence I had two Virtual World encounters this week, although both were in the real world. On Wednesday I snuck into the back row of the Computer Weekly 500 Club debate "Second Life or First Life" at Claridges. The following morning I was at Online Information 2007 to hear IBM "Metaverse Evangelist" Roo Reynolds, umm, evangelise on the same topic.

CW500

The CW event was set up as a debate for its audience of top IT directors: is Second Life a flash in the pan or should businesses be getting in there? Are virtual worlds the new Internet revolution or the new CB radio?

It's off the record so no names, but...

Speaker X spoke against businesses troubling themselves. His points included:

Accessibility: Second Life requires hardware of a specification beyond that of most corporate machines
Reliability: SL is "dramatically unreliable", he said, pointing to stats that reveal that one quarter of all sessions crash before they complete.
Architecture: One square can only hold 40 avatars so it is not scalable.

The track record of corporations going into Second Life has not been good, he said.

Dell went into Second Life but who in their right minds would buy a PC in Second Life, he wondered? American Apparel got a lot of publicity for going in to SL but then gave up.

Speaker Y argued that virtual worlds will meld at some point. A lot of people are exploring virtual worlds and although no killer app or tool has emerged yet, it's too early days. "You have to follow your clients," she said.

Chair Dr John Riley said he felt virtual worlds were on the verge of becoming something really big and exciting and it reminded him of the early days of the Internet when attitudes were much the same. He urged the room to watch China's Virtual Economy District.

Online Information 2007

So one company that is serious about virtual worlds is IBM whose "Metaverse Evangelist" is Roo Reynolds.

The alliterative Roo (who I note is - like me - an Andrew. I may change mine to Roo, too. You couldn't get angry with a boy called Roo, could you?) spends his days extolling the virtues of metaverses within IBM and beyond.

He describes World of Warcraft as "the new golf": a place with many rules and strange clothes where people build relationships. (Incidentally, IBM has published a study regarding leadership and online games.)

Why get involved in virtual worlds? Roo says there is something about "the power of presence" which makes them more engaging than merely, say, watching a video. He cited the example of the CEO of IBM speaking at a conference in Beijing and simultaneously in Second Life (but presumably only to 39 other people unless he was standing on the intersection of four squares).

Second Life is not the only virtual world, of course.

IBM is playing with QWAQ a lot at the moment:

Qwaq's virtual space solutions increase the productivity of distributed teams. Designed for the enterprise, Qwaq Forums is a virtual workspace application that delivers immediate benefits by bringing users and critical resources together in virtual spaces. Easy to set up, highly interactive, persistent, and secure, Qwaq Forums enables users to work, to collaborate with others, and to identify and solve problems in ways that weren’t possible before.


And Forterra's Olive is a virtual training system which can be used to train in situations which are too risky for real life (e.g. medical, road traffic accidents).

Forterra's software and services enable organizations to train, plan, rehearse, and collaborate in ways previously considered impossible or impractical. Using the OLIVE™ (On-Line Interactive Virtual Environment) Platform and industry standard PC hardware, customers can rapidly generate realistic, collaborative, 3D Internet solutions that easily scale from single user applications to large scale simulated environments supporting many thousands of concurrent users.


IBM also has an internal virtual world based on Garage Games' Torque platform.

Roo warned businesses not to treat people in SL as eyeballs. You have to be more engaging. He cited the instance of Starwood hotels which created a prototype of a new hotel in Second Life to get feedback from visitors there. Changes were incorporated as a result of the feedback.

Roo's presentations are available here.


Online Information: Quote of the day

"In the knowledge economy there are no conscripts, only volunteers".
Euan Semple (blog) used to work at the BBC doing knowledge management stuff and he is passionate about wiring up the world of work.
Here are the things he said that I wrote down to think about at some point:
  • Compared with knowledge management and document management systems Web 2 seems messy and disorganised to the corporate world. But giving people access to internal blogs, wikis and forums has great value.
  • They enable collective "pointing to stuff" (which is quicker and easier for people than creating documents)
  • Internal forums are the democratisation of the workspace.
  • They also make good people more visible
  • One person at the BBC put an idea for a programme on the forum and everyone people said he was mad because someone could steal it although - in truth - if someone DID steal it, everyone would know.

What's the most valuable contribution Flickr has made to the quality of corporate life?

Hah! Can you guess?

The correct answer is the volume of free, quality photography available to everyone to brighten up their PowerPoint presentations.

We had some great ones at the conference. I didn't have a good enough camera with me to capture them in their true majesty, but here's a grimy shot of Roo Reynolds from IBM (more on him later) in front of one of his slides.


We haven't even begun to take advantage of the wealth of photography available to us through Creative Commons licences yet. But that's another story.

Jimmy Wales at Online Information


I spent a couple of days this week at the Online Information 2007 conference at Olympia.

The audience seems to be mostly librarians but the issues are the same as we face here: competing for awareness, keeping up with the user experience standards that people are accustomed to these days and engagement.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales opened the conference.

Disappointingly, it was mostly an advert for Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Wikia and a teaser for the Wikia Search Engine product but here are the bits that caught my attention:

Motivations:Why do people put such time and effort into Wikipedia? Well, it is a grand, humanitarian project. It's an inspiring vision. Yes, indeed and I'm sure that's why there are no commercially owned wikis. I wish people would see our corporate intranet wiki as a grand, humanitarian project.

Anyway, the exception is Wikia which -if Wikipedia is the encyclopaedia section - represents all the other things in the library. Wikia IS commercial and yet a group of die hard Muppet fans have created 300 articles in the Muppet Wiki there including one on the Ford Motor Company (in the context of The Muppets):

Ford Motor Company is an American multinational corporation and the world's third largest automaker, based on worldwide vehicle sales. Based in Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, the automaker was founded by Henry Ford and incorporated in 1903.

In 2004, the company launched the Ford Escape Hybrid, the world's first gas-electric hybrid SUV. In 2006, Ford launched a campaign starring Kermit the Frog to promote the environmentally friendly vehicle. In a spin on the Muppet's catchphrase, he claimed that it was in fact "easy being green."

That's merely the intro, of course.

Content management systems: Are like a police state, according to Wales. They are designed to restrain rather than empower and he delivered his restaurant analogy again (see here).

Licensing change:
Although Wikipedia has always been Free Access (free to add to, edit, copy, modify, redistribute - even commercially) it hasn't been compatible with Creative Commons because it's based on a software licence called GNU FDL which is actually for documentation. Anyway, apparently this licence is changing and the new version will allow Wikipedia content to be relicensed under Attribution Share Alike (by-sa). Quite why this is important wasn't at all clear, but I pass this on to you, dear reader, in case it should mean something to you.

Wikia Search Engine Project: Wales said that traditional Search Engine algorithms are secret and the aim of Wiki will be to push editorial decisions out into the community, using the social networking trust model to keep the level of spam down.

Sum=Summary: Wales explained that when he talks about the ambition of Wikipedia to be the "sum of all human knowledge" he actually means "summary" not "total" hence the absence of very detailed medical stuff and the like. And no original research.

Wikipedia (which he describes as "the Red Cross for Information") is - according to Alexa (hmmm) - now the 8th most visited website in the world and the 14th most visited in Iran.

The dead canoeist story: now we're all detectives as well as reporters

"The woman who uncovered the picture of missing John Darwin with his wife found it with a simple search on Google."

The Daily Mirror reports:

She typed in the words John, Anne and Panama, clicked on images and up it popped - complete with date.

The single mum, who does not want to be named, said: "I'd like to nominate them for 'World's Dumbest' awards.

"Not only were they photographed but the date was actually on the picture. It was just too good to be true."

The photo of John and Anne was taken in July 2006 for a "Move to Panama" website. It has now been removed.

After finding the picture, the mum said: "I just blinked - and there they were. I rang police in Cleveland. The man on the other end said, 'You're joking'!"

Presumably a better result than Sun journalist Brian Flynn of The Sun got by posting on this bulletin board:

I am a UK national newspaper reporter keen to speak to anyone who knows or knew British ex-pats John and Anne Darwin in Panama. We pay well for information that is used in the paper. You can contact me at b.flynn@the-sun.co.uk.

Good stab though.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

What's the deal with blogs? Good video

Just found this What's the Deal with Blogs? video.




What I really like is the way it uses video. Simple animation.

Another social network acquisition by Murdoch

The rumours that NewsCorp was in the process of acquiring LinkedIn seems not to have been true. According to Reuters:

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp is not holding takeover discussions with LinkedIn, a fast-growing online social network for professionals, a source familiar with the matter said on Monday.

The source shot down news media reports that the two were discussing a deal worth about $1 billion (484 million pounds). The two companies had been in talks for possible future partnerships, the source added.

News Corp and LinkedIn declined to comment.

But yesterday the media megacorp did announce the acquisition of another social network .

It's a religious social network called BeliefNet and it seems very catholic with a small "c" (as in interdenominational, eclectic).

According to Reuters:

The site targets users holding myriad faiths including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and followers of Falun Gong.

Fox sees Beliefnet as a way to distribute its content, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's faith-based programming to HarperCollins's Zondervan and HarperOne brands.

"Eclectic" doesn't quite cover it:
Santas across Australia have thrown their jolliness by the wayside in protest of a new instruction that they say "ha, ha, ha" instead of the traditional "ho, ho, ho." According to The Daily Telegraph, Santa is "a rebel with a 'claus.'"

Westaff, a Santa training agency that supplies Santas to hundreds of stores across Australia, has told its trainees that "ho, ho, ho" could frighten children and be considered derogatory to women because of the connotation of the word "ho."
Anyway, the point is, as I predicted years ago, social networks are hot targets, especially for content providers looking for markets.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

And now for something lighter. An Ode to Facebook.

Things have gone a bit quiet on Engagement 101 recently due a combination of Websense (the company's Internet police) blocking all blogger blogs for a while, vacations and general busyness.

Anyway, here's something light to ease me back in - a YouTube video featuring a song about Facebook.

And very well done too.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Computer Weekly explains relaunch with video

ComputerWeekly.com has just relaunched and I like their approach to telling their users what's changed.

They've created a video featuring web editor James Garner (A person! Yeah!) talking you through it against a background which illustrates the site itself (with a cursor wandering about to show what he's talking about).

Maybe they could have talked less about "users" and more about "you", but it's a great way to humanise the product.

Here it is. There's more on the new-look site at ComputerWeekly.com.




.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Google magazines patent

Goodness. Isn't it hard enough coping with print advertising decline without Google muscling in on the action? The Internet is abuzz with news that Google has filed a patent regarding DIY magazine publishing.

There's a good summary over at Techcrunch of what appears to be a system which will allow users to create customised, printed magazines from Internet content (not sure WHAT content. IPR and all that - do publishers of the content get a cut?).

Crucially the magazines would also include print ads customised to suit the interests of the reader.

For more details (and some visuals) see this interesting post at huomah.com

Friday, 2 November 2007

One user at a time. Or possibly two at a time.

Work here continues apace on rolling out our new community software to various websites. Some of these are replacing old technology and are thus delighting their users with much improved functionality and performance.

But a couple of brave markets are trying to start communities from scratch and of course they are finding it very hard work.

At our weekly Community Editors meeting yesterday, one of them said he was getting in touch with a mate who had offered to participate in the new site and asking his mate to ask his mates to go along too.

It struck a chord with me as I had come across this ad the day before:



The line that hit me was: "Your web site does not attract thousands of visitors - only one at a time. Your web site must cater to individuals".

How true, especially of an online community.

I think that as a business we often lose site of this because we are used to doing things en masse: marketing, publishing magazines, news emails.

Thinking about forums in this mass-media way doesn't work very well with communities: what's required is for ONE person at a time to find it useful. Well - two people as they need someone to communicate with. I suppose what I'm getting at is that we need to be working really hard viewing people as individuals and engaging with them as individuals.

As a though excersie, I thought "If I didn't have the amazing resources of this company available to me and I was starting one of these forums from scratch, how would I go about it?"

Well, I'd get my mates in and get them to get their mates in....

Maybe it's not entirely literal; maybe it's slightly metaphorical.

But that's where I'm heading with it.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Utterly useless but mesmerising mashups No. 197


Did you ever wonder what Wikipedia pages were currently being edited by anonymous users and where in the world those users were?

No, I've never wondered that either. But I'm captivated.



Try Wikipedia Vision at your peril.

It uses Google Maps to show you where anonymous users are editing Wikipedia and what page they are editing.

It's amazing to think that there is a list of Ambassadors from the United Kingdom to Italy, never mind that someone is updating it.

Ditto Yard ramps

Damn you New Scientist for bringing it to my attention.

I think my point is that something doesn't have to be at all useful to be engaging; it just has to be fascinating (to some people).

Friday, 26 October 2007

Viral internet stars video

Many thanks to Piers for alerting me to this excellent Friday video.

Newspaper video practice

Thanks to Editors Weblog for drawing my attention to this interesting research on the use of video by online newspapers.

The survey was conducted by Andy Dickinson (which sounds quite like Angie Dickinson, doesn't it? Great name).

Anyway, the results are interesting:

* The average length for video is between 2 -3 minutes
* The average production time is between 2 -4 hours
* The most common camera used in newsrooms is the Cannon XH-A1
* The most common edit software in use is Final Cut pro
* Daily papers produce around 4-8 videos a week compared to 1-4 for weeklies
* Publishers with daily and weekly papers produce 2-4 videos a week
* It takes 1 hour to produce 1 minute of video

Useful benchmarks if nothing else.

Sheffield Wednesday can't unmask 'saloon-bar moaners', says libel judge

Interesting slant on the question of defamation on discussion forums. On this occasion the question is not about culpability but about whether or not the comment is serious enough to warrant forcing the publisher to reveal the identities of the people who wrote the comments.


According to OutLaw, the case concludes that comments that are "strictly defamatory" can still be so trivial that they do not warrant an invasion of the authors' privacy rights:

Depute Judge Richard Parkes QC noted that the order, if granted, would disclose "the identities, or at least the e-mail addresses, of users of the [website] who must have expected, given their use of anonymous pseudonyms, that their privacy would be respected."

In yesterday's judgment, Parkes wrote: "the court must be careful not to make an order which unjustifiably invades the right of an individual to respect for his private life, especially when that individual is in the nature of things not before the court."

Making reference to the Data Protection Act, he added: "Equally, it is clear that no order should be made for the disclosure of the identity of a data subject … unless the court has first considered whether the disclosure is warranted having regard to the rights and freedoms or the legitimate interests of the data subject."

Parkes said it was relevant "to consider whether the words complained of were, even if strictly defamatory, more than a trivial attack which would not be taken seriously."

"I do not think it would be right to make an order for the disclosure of the identities of users who have posted messages which are barely defamatory or little more than abusive or likely to be understood as jokes," he wrote. "That, it seems to me, would be disproportionate and unjustifiably intrusive."

A comment by a user called 'cbrbob' fell into that category. It replied to another's posting about a trip abroad by the club's manager and its chief executive to watch players with a view to making a signing. "They blew all the money on hookers," wrote cbrbob. Someone else replied, "It's not a hooker we need, it's a striker," to which cbrbob retorted, "they wouldn't know the difference."

Parkes wrote: "The Claimants are not, it appears, concerned about the suggestion that they spent the club's money on prostitutes, which I presume they accept might have been unlikely to be taken seriously, but with the suggestion that the [chief executive] would not have known the difference between a hooker in rugby and a striker in football, which would have been understood to mean that [the chief executive] would not have been capable of spotting a competent player.".


My thanks to colleague Kieran Daly for spotting this.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Editor 2.0 - the editor as curator

This blogging thing is great, isn't it I don't have to do any work other than reproduce bits of other people's thinking. This one is about the role of the editor as curator and the decline of the website as content producer.
Scott Karp on his Publish2 blogs writes:


Jeff Jarvis challenges news organizations to define the role of editor in the 21st century, i.e. Editor 2.0. Jeff connects a number of dots that involve a significant, even radical shift in the traditional editorial role, such as new search/tag editor positions. But one of the most radical shifts taking place is that editors are now being asked to curate OTHER news organization’s content in addition to their own.

In the age of limited, monopoly distribution, editors were able to focus exclusively on the product of their own newsrooms, because that was the only content their readers could get in most cases. Now that the web and search has made ALL content from EVERY source easily accessible, many media brands are realizing they can’t just be in the business of creating their own content — they need to bring their readers the ENTIRE universe of content on the web.

A number of traditional media brands have already started curating content from other news organizations — these efforts typically employ a traditional, command-and-control, single editor model, but they nonetheless represent a sea change in the disposition of news organizations towards content produced inside their walls vs. content produced outside their walls. In a networked media world, no content brand can do it all by themselves — news consumers, empowered by search and news aggregators, know this, and that’s what’s driving news organizations to take this radical step.


There are examples on his excellent post.

It's an ill wind...

There's nothing like a forest fire story for moving web news forward. We've had our own equivalents here recently and it's brilliant for helping focus the mind on what news is really about.

Martin Stabe reports how a San Diego TV station:

has responded to the crisis on its patch by taking down its entire regular web site and replacing it with a rolling news blog, linking to YouTube videos of its key reports (including Himmel’s), plus Google Maps showing the location of the fire.

There are links to practical information that their viewers will need at this time, including how to contact insurance companies, how to volunteer or donate to the relief efforts, evacuation information and shelter locations.

It’s an exemplary case study in how a local news operation can respond to a major rolling disaster story by using all the reporting tools available on the Internet.

Update: Mark Potts has a great blog post looking at the online coverage of the fires. What’s missing from local media’s coverage, he says, is user-generated content. Not so at the San Diego NBC station, though.

Both the Los Angles Times and San Diego’s public broadcasting station KPBS are using Twitter to provide rapid, rolling updates of the fires. A piece on a Wired blog explains how to do it. Both are also among those tracking their fire coverage on Google Maps.


All that and celebrities' houses in peril too. It doesn't get much more exciting than that.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Why journalists make ideal online community leaders. Maybe.

Interesting article on Online Journalism Review with the tantalising title: !Why journalists make ideal online community leaders".

Now, I kind of know where they are coming from, but the main arguments:

Journalists know how to ask relevant questions
Journalists anticipate the effect of their words
Journalists know how to find the lead
Journalists know how to promote

are a bit on the lame side really.

If the aim is to give journalists the confidence to engage with communities online, then fine but if I were recruiting, I'm not sure I'd call journalists "ideal online community leaders".

Some are of course. We have an excellent community editor who was previously a journalist, but as a recruiter, a journalist wouldn't be my starting point.

If I were going to be controversial, I might come up with an article called journalists make terrible online community leaders and my points would be:
Journalists like to decide what's important
Journalists despise user generated content
Journalists don't want to be community leaders


Not all of them of course. Just some.

The original article is here.

Oh, and as a PS, I think there's one thing I would add to the list:
Journalists are familiar with media law.

UPDATE and a PPS: Thanks to my colleague.Adam for spotting this excellent rebuttal (where do people find the time?)

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Managing (and coping with) user generated content

Two interesting and related posts about managing user generated content which I've picked up on today. One is about forums, the other about moderating comments on articles. It's the same thing really, of course. Anyway...
First off, a piece from Online Journalism Review entitled Take a fresh look at your site's posting rules which, ummm, entreats you to take a fresh look at your site's posting rules .


If you last modified your content-submission rules 10 years ago, they might not address all the conflicts that could arise today on your discussion board or in your comments sections. I'd like to offer a few suggestions for rules that you might want to consider adding to your interactive website.
And there's an interesting story about what amounts to anonymous election rigging to back it up.

There are some good suggestions for things to include and I can't agree more with the author's view that:

I've long believed that websites which accept content from users, from comments to discussion boards to wikis, ought to tell those users, in the plainest possible language, the rules that the site expects those readers to follow when they post. (The eye-glazing, mind-numbing legalese of a site's terms of service or privacy policy isn't enough.)
And I would add that it's also good practice with a genuine community such as in a discussion forum, to occasionally ask users which rules they agree and disagree with because:

  • On the whole, they will agree with sensible rules anyway
  • They will be pleased and engaged to be asked for their opinion
  • They might actually read them
  • If they've agreed with them, they're more likely to observe them


The second article is from The Guardian. In Open door the "readers' editor" Siobhain Butterworth explains the difficulty in moderating user-generated content responding to pieces abotu the McCann case.

At least 20 pieces involving the McCanns have appeared on [Comment is Free] since Madeleine McCann went missing in May. Not all were blogs commissioned by Cif, some were comment pieces published in the paper and automatically transported to Cif. Hundreds of comments were posted to a few articles in September, after the Portuguese police named the McCanns as formal suspects, with headache-inducing consequences for the moderators. Discussion threads on four pieces were closed, or closed early. The Guardian's talk policy does not allow defamatory postings and the problem was that many of the deleted comments were no more than strong opinions weakly held - they had no basis in fact.

The moderators are not lawyers, or fact-checkers. They cannot give reasons to every user whose comments are deleted, though they try to do so when time permits. To put their task in perspective, on one Friday in September, more than 3,800 comments were posted on the Guardian website. The volume means that the moderators' approach to enforcing the talk policy has to be broad brush. The McCann postings stretched the moderating resources too far, the moderators told me. They were concerned about the number of postings they were deleting and they were aware that people were frustrated. All things considered, a decision was made to close threads down.


All sensible stuff. Interestingly, the biggest complaints came from the way the deletions and suspensions were communicated:

a short note explained that this was for "legal reasons". Some readers felt this was not so much an explanation as a lofty way of saying either "we're not going to tell you why" or "it's too complicated for you to understand".


It's easy to forget that people want to be treated as adults, and they want detail even if they aren't going to understand it. A lesson that is easy to forget.

And that - on the whole - moderators are not sub-editors; they are not steeped in media law and if in doubt, they will (or should) err wildly on the side of safety.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Facebook - the new desktop?

Probably not, but you'll forgive me my woolly thinking as I'm still jet-lagged from my umpteen hour flight from Peru (holiday, not work).

Anyhow, Facebook's decision to let anyone develop Facebook applications has led to what seems like a billion lame ideas but one or two rather brilliant ones too (Shakespearean Insult Generator). I think that we as publishers have been slow (or too poor) to take advantage of this opportunity.There's an interesting article in the Online Journalism Review about RSS2Facebook:

RSS2facebook.com offers design, development, installation and hosting of facebook applications that take information directly from your website rss feed and enable users to install your application and display rss feed entries through their profile. Not only will this increase return rates from users with the application installed to your site, it will also spread the word to the users’ friends. As friends are normally interested in the same things this can be seen as a form of extremely cheap targeted advertising that has shown much better results than past methods.
For business publishers, the idea that "friends are normally interested in the same things" doesn't really apply except for quite sad people, but it does reinforce the idea that Facebook is very much the new desktop cum super-application - you don't need email, an RSS reader, Flickr etc - you can do it all in one place - Facebook.

Opening up to third party applications only accelerates the process and one does wonder if it will become somewhat unstoppable.

Now all we need to do is come up with that killer app.

And, by the way, here's an interesting piece on monetising apps.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Care in the farming community

We talk - quite blithely sometimes - about developing online communities in our business. But sometimes something happens that gives you a minor epiphany as to what that really means.We are in the process of upgrading our rather pedestrian forums into something nearer to social media in several of our markets.

We decided (for a variety of reasons which I won't go into) to go with Community Server which - in addition to forums - offers image sharing and community blogs

The first of our titles to implement this was FWi the online companion to Farmers Weekly magazine.

This already had a very well-used forum but thanks to the new functionality and the skills of the Community Editor Isabel Davies (a new role, incidentally) the whole thing has flourished and - to get back to my original point - given us a whole series of surprises.

Did we expect farmers to be into uploading photos? No. (the image gallery is now the biggest traffic generator)

Did we expect farmers to want to blog? No. That we have five people blogging is amazing.

But it's the human community stuff that has really amazed us. One regular US contributor came over to the UK for a holiday with his wife and spent the whole time staying with friends he had made through the site.

Another member who is in China adopting a baby is blogging about his experiences.

We are principally hard-nosed business publishers, so naturally these kinds of things don't appear in our list of metrics and success factors. But when they happen, you just know that our aim of giving farmers a space of their own has had some success.

If we weren't hard-nosed business publishers, it might bring a tear to our eyes.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Daily Mail-generated content

Two interesting posts on how the Daily Mail possibly allegedly maybe manipulates its user generated content.

Charles Arthur asserts that the Daily Mail not only hides adverse reader comments but adds fake comments too.

And the moral of the story is: no matter how clever you are, there's always someone around with enough time on their hands to catch you out and tell the world about it...

...especially if you are someone that people are always looking for an opportunity to trip up (such as the Daily Mail).

Monday, 17 September 2007

Read content from Handbag.com's rivals on Handbag.com

The Press Gazette reports that "As part of the Handbag relaunch, the company will introduce MyHandbag, allowing the audience to build their own corner of the web around the parent brand. “It’s basically like MyYahoo,” says [editorial director Debbie] Djordjevic, “in that people will be allowed to enter their own RSS feeds. They will be able to include content from our competitors – we welcome that – and they will be able to bookmark things and create their own blogs.”

Brilliant stuff.

This underlines one of the biggest mindshifts for editors and journalists migrating from print to an online or integrated environment.

In the world of magazines, there were thee key tools in the fight against your competitors:

  1. To diss them every now and then (a risky strategy)
  2. To ignore them - never mention them in the hope that readers would get the message that they were beneath contempt and eventually forget them.
  3. To play down (or ignore) the news that your competitor played up, or had scooped you with.


Online the situation is very different - while brand loyalty and familiarity undoubtedly have their place, it is much easier for users to stumble across the competition and woe betide you if they find something there that you haven't told them about, especially in the B2B world.

Anyway, I love Handbag's idea, although I would love to see our own titles to take it a step further: Why make the user do the work by adding their own RSS feeds? Why not (also?) publish the RSS headlines of our rivals?

Then the everyday user (the ones who don't have personalised pages or Google Reader) would know they could come to our sites and be able to browse absolutely everything from there.

It would keep the journalists on their toes, too (not that I'm suggesting our journalists aren't already on their toes, of course; indeed, I'm sure most of them are practically en pointe).

New York Times storytelling memo

Another leaked memo: this time from Jonathan Landman, managing editor of The New York Times. I must start leaking my own memos instead of blogging - leaked memos always attract far more attention.

Anyway, as picked up by Gawker and Editors Weblog, this one talks about online storytelling skills:

Times have changed. Our online storytelling skills have evolved to the point where you really can get the whole story without reading a newspaper article. It's a remarkably rich experience that goes well beyond using video or maps or pictures to tell a story—something we (and others) have done well many times. The innovation lies in putting them together in a way that tells the story with all the nuance, comprehensiveness, authority and depth that define The New York Times. (It's hard to imagine online storytelling at this level coming from a non-integrated newsroom. Neither 'newspaper people' nor 'web people' could have done it alone.)
It's worth looking at the story that he links too not only because it is a good example of interactivity that could only happen on the web, but because it patently does not tell a story.

It allows users to explore the story - unguided - in as many directions as they feel inclined, but it doesn't tell a story. This isn't a value judgement, I don't think, just pedantry on my part.

One of the things that I do still value about traditional written journalism is the inverted pyramid which lets you read through the story from the most important facts to the least important facts until they stop becoming of interest to you. Indeed, I can get through pages of a newspaper reading only the headlines.

The intro to the NYT "story" begins:

To study the ground-level effects of the American troop buildup, reporters and video journalists for The New York Times visited Baghdad's neighborhoods, interviewing residents, Americans on patrol and Iraqi officials. To explore the videos and written reports, select a neighborhood below.
So, is the "story" the fact that the NYT has visited Baghdad's neighbourhoods? Maps, images, charts, and interactive stuff are brilliantly engaging, but don't confuse them with story-telling.

Footnote: Have I really written a blog post disagreeing with managing editor of The New York Times?Oh dear.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Embeddable Google Maps

Oh, yes, I know, this news is SO last week, but I haven't had time to play.Yes, Google Maps can now be embedded into articles, blogs, websites and whatever in the same way that YouTube videos can. To illustrate it I've put together this very complicated map outlining my journey from the office to the station

View Larger Map


My only gripe with this fabulous development is (from a UE point of view) the labelling. To find the embed code, you have to click on "Link to this page" which - while technically true (possibly) - doesn't quite advertise the fact.

Old quotes never die

One of the most beguiling aspects of the Internet is that while it feels for those of us who create content (as journalists or users) as though the content is transient - one minute a story is on a home page, the next it's languishing deep in the long tail - that's illusory. I was interested to read this article in Online Journalism Review by Elizabeth Zwerling, an associate professor of journalism at the University of La Verne in Los Angeles County:

By the time I got the e-mail from the spokeswomen for a major credit card company asking me to delete her quotes from an article we'd run almost a year before, I was skeptical. She had already contacted the reporter with various versions of her concern: she'd been speaking off the record, the reporter must have confused her with another source, the quotes were wrong. A man "representing" her had called the managing editor urging him to omit the quotes from the archive. "I think he was a lawyer," the managing editor told me at the time. (He wasn't.)

I'm faculty adviser for the Campus Times, a 2,000-circulation weekly newspaper of the University of La Verne in Los Angeles County. My staff of undergraduates occasionally gets things wrong and corrects them. But this was a solid story by a conscientious reporter, puzzled by the content, urgency and timing of the source request.

Most likely the credit card spokeswoman – a woman a Google search revealed is widely quoted by Reuters and CNN, among others – had searched herself online and found our story about college students and credit card debt, in which she spoke openly, if off-message, about the age group's unchecked spending habits.

That's quite an easy one to settle one's conscience. But how about this one:

Editors at the Pasadena (Calif.) Weekly felt they found a fair solution when in 2006, they decided to remove the name of an ex-con from an archived story, six months after it came out in print.

Joe Piasecki, the paper's deputy editor who also reported the story, had covered a protest at San Quentin Prison a week before the execution of Crips co-founder Stanley Tookie Williams, where he interviewed a man who said he'd been in prison with Williams. Piasecki researched the man's background through the Oakland Tribune's (offline) coverage of the man's 1998 trial and found the man had been charged with raping and sodomizing his former girlfriend, and convicted of assault. Piasecki included that information in the story along with the man's claim that he was innocent. "I'd called the Tribune library (to make sure) he was who he said he was," Piasecki said.

The story ran Dec. 8, 2005, in the Weekly, its sister paper the Ventura County Reporter, and on the Reporter's Web site. At the time the story went up, the Pasadena Weekly didn't have a functioning Web archive, so the source's call went to the Ventura, Calif., newsroom first. Then Piasecki and Pasadena Weekly Editor Kevin Uhrich were consulted.

"Our first reaction was 'no don't change it'," Piasecki said. "I tend to say that unless (the reporter) screwed up, don't change it. What's true is true."

Piasecki said his publication made an exception here because the man wasn't familiar with the Internet, and because his quotes toward the end of a story about someone else, were not critical to its "material essence." The man had served two years at San Quentin and remembered seeing Williams there; his quotes added color to the story, Piasecki said. The quotes are still in the Ventura newspaper's online archive, only the man's name was removed.

"The guy said every time he applied for a job they Googled his name and this was the only hit," Piasecki said. "We took his name out so he could move on with his life." (my emphasis)

I've had this issue myself only once and it wasn't nearly as dramatic. A news website I ran carried a run-of-the-mill Employment Tribunal story which involved a (from memory) small nursing home in the Midlands.

Perhaps a year later they called me and begged me to take the story down. They were trying to recruit new staff but when potential applicants did a search for the home on Google, our bottom-of-page-27 article on a minor point of employment law came up first in Google's search results.

Sometimes the Internet, like life, just isn't fair. I shan't tell you what I decided; I hope it's obvious.

Who are these people?

Old story, but it's interesting for those of us beavering away to create audiences to reflect on how numbers can tell half a story or less. The Guardian published an article called Print remains king - for now last month.

First, it is clear most newspaper websites are dominated by overseas users. Only 37% of guardian.co.uk web users are in the UK. The figure for timesonline.co.uk is lower at 33%. Overseas users are not without value, but not all advertisers want them and they tend to have a different usage pattern from UK users.
It can make advertising a very tricky proposition to put clients (especially for those without geo-targeted ad-serving capabilities)

And thanks to my colleague Kieran Daly for drawing this to my attention. Kieran notes:
The papers are focusing on monthly uniques in their reports. All well and good when you're trying to persuade advertisers, but lethally deceitful internally. Telegraph, it turns out, has 1.9 monthly visits per user!

Worth a read.

Why I love and fear user reviews

OK. Story in brief. Scene 1: A bad-boy-turned-good-waiter rushes out of the Florida restaurant where we works to help a woman who is being car-jacked. He foils and subdues the alleged "perp" and is declared a hero. After an hour spent with the police and the media he returns to work and is sacked because the owner didn't like the attention caused by the "scuffle"

Fade out. Cut to: a Fort Lauderdale resident looking for a Thai Restaurant in the area. A Google Search comes up with an entry for 84 Thai Food on urbanspoon. Hmmm. Local, rated 3.5 - 4 stars by the Sun Sentinel. Sounds good. Let's take a look at the user comments...

Comments on 84 Thai Food on urbanspoon.

* "The Owner is Suspicious" by Rooting4theHero (1 comment posted)
September 12, 2007 - Who wouldn't want this good publicity? It is very suspicious and he should be checked out. In the meantime, I hope our hero gets offered a better job from a good hearted community member. He deserves more than 84 can give him!
* "The most careless & stupid decision to make in a business" by Horizon Public Relations (1 comment posted)
September 12, 2007 - To the Manager who fired the employee:
1. "Stop adding to the fire by making lies that you fired him because he wasn t a good employee. Ironic that it just happened when he left his shift to help someone in need"
2. You should apologize to your employee. Install him back with PAY as soon as possible.
3. You should issue an apology to the community as well (The community deserves the apology since we are your customers and you disgraced us with your decision).
4. Stop your idiotic excuses and start working on DAMAGE CONTROL before they BOYCOTT your ass. I am in the PR business and I know better.
To the owner:(if the manager of the restaurant isn t the owner):
1. You should seriously think about finding that manager of yours another position in the dish washing dept. He is no good for customer/business relations. Your business got damaged for a long time. Again, I m in the PR business and I tried calling your restaurant but no answer. I m trying to do you a favor.
2. You should apologize to your employee first, install him ASAP with PAY for the loss days/hours you caused/. Issue an apology statement to the community, the customers as well since they were disgraced as well.
This is how a business operates in America. Kap Koon Cup.
P.S> I lived in Thailand for 1.5 years. It is really disgraceful hearing that.
* "Manager should be fired" by spelbound (1 comment posted)
September 12, 2007 - If I was the owner of this restaurant, I would have fired the manager immediately. Can you imagine how much more business would have come your way, if the restaurant acted in a positive manner. Instead, the STUPID manager, decided it was better to sabotage the biz. Man, this was such a good opportunity. Idiot!
Alex
* "Unbelievable" by Willow (1 comment posted)
September 12, 2007 - I would never patronize an establishment that treated their employees in such a callous fashion. This action, in and of itself, puts this restaurant in an insurmountably unfavorable light, completely aside from whatever other excellence they may have achieved in the kitchen. Shameful.
* "BOYCOTT THE OWNER!!" by lyris2303 (1 comment posted)
September 12, 2007 - Can't believe the lack of sensitivity of this man. One member of his staff decides to help a lady in trouble and as a "reward" this idiot fires him! To make matters worse, he tries to overcorrect this idiotic act by offering the waiter his job back! Too late, buster!
Hope this hurts his pocket and voice spreads all over South Florida for people to pass on this 84 Thai Food place.
* "AGREE! DON'T EAT HERE!!!" by Debbie (1 comment posted)
September 12, 2007 - I am at a loss for words after reading the article about the true hero who went out of his way to help someone he didn't know and then to be fired!!! FIRE THE MANAGER for being such an idiot! I would hate to be the owner of this restaurant. The owners should step up and do the right thing! 1st fire the manager, 2nd beg and hire back the hero!!!
* "84 Thai food obviously doesn't care for the public!" by outraged (1 comment posted)
September 12, 2007 - I read the same article and am outraged as well. I hope the manager realizes that all the good publicity he could have gotten from this incident has turned around and bitten him in the a**. This waiter is a hero and is truly concerned about the public he serves, unlike the restaurant owner/manager! I hope there is a citywide boycott of this restaurant!
* "DONT EAT HERE!!!! THE OWNER IS A FOOL" by bob (1 comment posted)
September 12, 2007 - DONT EAT HERE!!!! THE OWNER IS A FOOL... Read on.. FORT LAUDERDALE - As the lunch rush started Monday, waiter Juan Canales stopped a carjacker from taking a woman's Honda CRV out of the parking lot where he worked. Hours later he lost his job.Canales, who worked at 84 Thai Food for three weeks, returned to work after spending an hour talking to police and the media. Once the lunch shift ended, his boss fired him. "The owner got belligerent" about all the attention his scuffle with the carjacker generated, Canales said. The owner, listed in corporate records as Sathaporn Yosagraiof Fort Lauderdale, could not be reached for comment despite two calls to the restaurant and one to his home.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

The public gets what the public wants

Vis a vis Internet news, there is yet another report out saying that people pay more attention to the news agenda of other users than editors. Well, of course they do. And then again they don't.

The research by the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) is reported on Editor and Publisher and picked up by The Editors Weblog.

Among the findings:

• "Many of the stories users selected did not appear anywhere among the top stories in the mainstream media coverage studied. And there was often little in the way of follow-up. Most stories on the user-news sites appeared only once, never to be repeated again in the week we studied."

• "Seven in ten stories on the user sites come either from blogs or Web sites such as YouTube and WebMd that do not focus mostly on news.

• "The three user news sites differed from one another in subtle ways. Reddit was the most likely to focus on political events from Washington, such as coverage of Vice President Cheney; Digg was particularly focused on the release of Apple’s new iPhone; Del.icio.us had the most fragmented mix of stories and the least overlap with the News Index."

• "On Yahoo News, even when picking from a limited list of stories Yahoo editors had already pared down, users’ top stories only rarely matched those of the news professionals."

There are lots of issues here - not least what "news" is - but it's pretty irrelevant really. People use different sites for different things and different parts of the same sites for different things. BBC News, for example, is great for telling me what the most "important" thing happening is (Foot and Mouth as I write this), but I know I can usually rely on the Most Emailed section containing something "interesting".

For the record, according to the behaviour of the visitors to Editor & Publisher today it is:
>

  • the fourth Most Printed article
  • the fifth Most emailed
  • but it fails to make it into the Top 10 Most Saved articles
So that settles that.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Should journalism students be taught HMTL?

Many thanks to my colleague Kieran Daly for spotting this version of the chestnut "Should journalists be taught HTML?". This time, the question is posed by the appealingly alliterative Mindy McAdams.

For us, the question is mostly an "old dog new tricks" issues, but Mindy is speaking from a pedagogue's perspective (Damn. Can't stop myself alliterating now Mindy, you Minx)

Anyhoo, I think the answer is almost certainly "yes and no" but my bigger, stroppier questions are "What the hell are they teaching kids in school these days?" and "What kind of skills and attributes should a prospective journalist student have?"

Stroppy Question 1. What the hell are they teaching kids in school these days?

I have no idea, but based purely on casual observation, it sure as hell isn't touch-typing (or, "keyboard skills" as it's probably called these days) which I find amazing. So many people work on a computer (and those that don't probably use one at home) that it's amazing that touch typing isn't a mandatory subject in school in the interests of productivity and health and safety (RSI and all that).

As for learning HTML, well, given that they use computers in schools, you wouldn't think it would take much curiosity to pick up something about HTML along the way.

Stroppy Question 2. What kind of skills and attributes should a prospective journalist student have?

Well in addition to the traditional list...

  1. Touch typing (see SQ1 above)
  2. Blogging (if they don't already have a blog, how serious are they about journalism? And what does it say about their ability to just get on and do stuff)
  3. If they are doing 2, how much have they picked up about HTML and CSS along the way? If they're using Wordpress or Blogger they probably haven't needed to learn much to make it do what they want, but they will if they have any...
  4. ...Curiosity

Friday, 7 September 2007

DT does video

The Daily Telegraph has launched a video service on its website. They seem to be using Brightcove's service and the content is provided by ITN.

The site is quite imaginative and stylish IMHO. Because it's not generated by their journalists they sometimes feel the need to have the talking head of a hack appear at the end of the video to give you their considered slant, but this often feels redundant.

I suppose they feel they have to "add DT value" otherwise people might just go to the ITN site instead but I have to say that so far I haven't been struck by any fantastic new insights as a result of listening to the DT's conclusions. Indeed, these may come to seem rather counter-productive and I wouldn't be surprised if they dropped it quietly.

The videos are supposed to be embeddable. Indeed they are. Here's one below although I can't predict with any certainty what the story will be as my colleague Adam Tinworth explains.



Anyway, I like what the DT is doing in pushing things ahead with its web offerings. Brave stuff.

User experience

My colleague Karl Schneider is valiantly blogging from the dConstruct conference today and reading what he's writing I think I'm glad I didn't go. Not because it sounds dull or boring or anything, but because I think I'd be sitting there with my head in my hands thinking, "I wish".

I particularly like this post which reveals the answer to the question "What takes longer, heating water in a microwave for 1minute 10 seconds or heating water in a microwave for 1 minute 11 seconds?"

The answer is heating water for 1 minute 10 seconds. Why?

Because getting a microwave to run for 1 min 11 seconds involves hitting the same button (1) 3 times, whereas making it run for 1 min 10 seconds involves hitting 2 different buttons (1 and 0) - finding the extra button typically takes a user more than 1 second.
Now once I stopped wondering why anyone would heat water in a microwave in this way (it can be dangerous you know) and looked at the answer I was quickly back onto my hobby horse of User Experience. Many businesses and organisations still don't get it (try joining the National Film Theatre and booking tickets through their website if you don't believe me.

Quite often at work when I'm dictating my latest list of seemingly trivial enhancements to one of our websites, people will question whether they are worth doing. I'll bang on about how it will make the user's life easier and then they will respond with "But does it work?"

Hackles up. Wrong question. To me, functionality is just the hygiene of building stuff on the web. It's the project equivalent of washing your hands between urinating and tearing bread with your friends.

Today's internet users don't expect for things to just be functional; they expect them to be efficient, intuitive, fast and even fun.

In some far-flung corners of our corporation, there are even Heads of User Experience. I hope we follow their lead soon...

Second Life - an entrepreneur's environment

Virtual worlds such as Second Life are interesting, but the success stories of companies creating something very valuable in it are few and far between.

It's commendably frank of Philip Rosedale, founder and CEO of Second Life parent Linden Lab, to say that SL "is just barely getting off the ground. It just barely works". Presumably he didn't quite mean it like that.
This article quotes Rosen as saying that:

Thanks to processor advances by Intel (INTC) and Nvidia (NVDA), and more powerful computers running operating systems like Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows Vista, more people will soon have access to Second Life.
which is most remarkable for giving a positive slant to Vista. How often do you hear that?
While speaking to an audience at the AlwaysOn technology conference at Stanford University, he walked his Second Life avatar around a Second Life store that he said makes between $2,000 and $5,000 to per month.

Rosedale compared it to the early days of eBay, where stay-at-home moms could set up shop and make money. "That’s the same thing that happened on the Internet in 1996," he said. "This is exactly the same phenomenon, but it’s being done in 3D."

I have to confess that I don't really "get" Second Life and one reason for this is that every time I try and register it tells me that it is unable to register me at this time (but only after I've invested time trying to do so.

Anyway, I suppose we just have to wait and see on this one.

London 2012 and Web 2.0

The organising committee for the London Olympic Games in 2012 seems to be ahead of the rest of us regarding the future of the Internet.

Apparently Locog has plans to harness the power of web 2.0 to encourage engagement and interaction from the public. Business Week reports that the committee is looking a digital photo sharing as just one of its new media channels which "will be the number-one way for people to share, access and participate in the Games".

The number one way to participate in the Games? Fantastic. Count me in. Locog says:

Social networking is a way that can make the Games more relevant to a younger audience. We are thinking you have to actually embrace that and build a framework for people to do that. You could, for example, take a narrative of an athlete coming 54th in the marathon.
The Londonist amusingly wonders how this might work exactly.

But two observations:

  1. With the speed of evolution of the Internet, there is pretty much only a "now" for most of us. What's 2012 going to look like? It's five years away. I'm struggling to remember what the Internet looked like in 2002 but I'm sure nobody could see 2007 from there. My advice (not that anyone in their right mind would ask, of course) would be: don't go overboard with the planning at this stage.
  2. Something will happen anyway. You won't even need to facilitate it. As long as people want to do it they will find a way. Don't try to own it.
However, I admire their pluck. And if they do know something I don't about 2012 would they please get in touch

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Marketing on Facebook

Many thanks to my colleague Sophy Ashworth for forwarding me an email from Hitwise which contains an analysis of the impact of a River Island marketing initiative on Facebook.

Facebook's strength, in my humble opinion, lies in the fact that only people can have profiles and that - by and large - they are real people.

That leaves marketers only a handful of options for reaching the users: advertising, creating an application or creating a group.

The Group approach can be quite hard unless there is some benefit to joining. There are quite a few London theatres (The Menier Chocolate Factory among them) which offer ticket deals to group members.

In fact, most people join groups but never or rarely visit them. Most of the time they have little more value to the user than as badges or emblems - "this is part of who I am" but if a brand can create genuinely crazy brand loyalty groups are probably a good way to go.

Anyway, back to the Hitwise report which looks at one particular Facebook group:

A good example is 'Addicted to River Island', a Facebook group with over 600 members dedicated to the apparel retailer. This represents a group of loyal customers sharing their thoughts on new products and sale bargains, but what is the impact on the brand?

One good way to understand this is to measure the amount of traffic that Facebook sends to the River Island website. As a benchmark, Facebook ranks 20th in terms of delivering traffic to retail websites for the week ending 18 August. 4% of people leaving Facebook go to a retailer, and this number has doubled during 2007. In contrast, Facebook is the 10th most popular website visited before the River Island website for the week ending 18 August , and the amount of traffic it sends has increased 5-fold during 2007.
Five-fold is either a lot or a little depending on the base - did 10 visits a month turn into 50 or did 1 million turn into 5 million? Because Hitwise's statistics are based on a cross-section of Internet traffic we shall never know unless someone from River Island tells us. Still interesting, though.

Hyperlinks in video

I'm constantly amazed at how rarely the mother of invention on the web seems to be necessity. So often it seems to be more about "what if?" and "why not" and general envelope-pushing. Then begins the head-scratching (for mere mortals such as me, anyway) to come up with a way of making it really useful.

Anyway, being of little brain or imagination, I'm not sure yet what I'd do with the facility to attach notes and hyperlinks to people and things in videos, but I love the idea! This is what Asterpix (gettit?) does.

Here's an example: