Archives for the month of: June, 2010

This morning I read four different articles on paid content – three of which point to the future successs of the subscription model of content, and one which doesn’t – news.

American streaming website Hulu (which allows you to watch your favourite televisionprogrammes) has began making serious moves towards a $10 a month subscription plan. Exciting times for anyone looking forward to the launch of products like Google TV. Is our television package still going to be worth paying for with such cheap and accessible content available online?

Lovefilm has indicated the exciting future of web TV. With the high probability of having a browser embedded in all future TV’s, the company looks set to lead the way with a subscription based movie streaming service. A large part of their success comes from their loyal fan-base – 94% of users would recommend the service to a friend!

Finally, computer game streaming service OnLive has been receiving positive reviews from the first batch of gamers to try the service. Currently limited to PC gaming, OnLive allows you to hire and stream games over the internet instead of paying full price. The idea is for the service to come to the home television in the near future.

All of this seems to mark the start of the central home hub – a single box to stream and control all the media content into your home. Exciting times as we move into the cloud!

But, the Times newspaper website has suffered a fall in market share after forcing people to register before access. People are switching off and going to the competitors instead. I personally found myself facing the Times registration page earlier in the week and decided to direct my browsing elsewhere (after all – i know I’ll just have to pay soon). How much more will their market share drop when the paywall comes into full force.

This comes at a time when the latest ABC’s show that online news has enjoyed another significant period of growth.

The internet is changing who we are. One of the most important changes that is taking place is the way that we consume information. This is a question of increasing importance to any one that works in communication – such as marketing and public relations – but it is particularly important for those that create and distribute news.

In fact, the creators and distributors of news are trailing far behind the communication experts in marketing. The reason for this could be because marketers are open to new ideas about how to communicate their message, and need to stay at the top of their game. Communication experts jump on the latest tool and master it before anyone else has heard of it. And once they have mastered it they will be the ones to shout about it and get everyone else using it. Newspapers, on the other hand, suffer from having a tradition media model that has been crafted over time and that hasn’t needed to change dramatically for centuries. But newspaper circulation is steadily decreasing because more and more people are turning to the internet to get their latest news and information for free. So the question of how to monetize news and help journalism survive has become a pressing issue of our time.

But to deal with this challenge, creators and distributors of news must first understand how the internet is changing the audience. In todays busy world we live in a continuous state of interruption, distraction and time pressure. Today’s reader will be checking emails, using a multitude of social networking sites, using the phone for messaging and calling, surfing the internet and keeping on top of a continual stream of news. With so many different channels of communication we are finding it harder to concentrate. And whilst we are taking part in this confusing hive of digital activity we are bombarded by adverts – clever adverts.

Adverts today are not static sections of a newspaper, they are not regular breaks in programmes, and they are not billboards begging for your attention. Advertising is raw and unleashed on the internet – dancing images of alluring women tempt you to click them whilst you try to read a news report; loud, bright and flashing logos are placed exactly where your eyes land when a page loads up; targeted adverts that know exactly who you are and what you want float around your email inbox; games, competitions, offers and once in a lifetime opportunities become more and more appealing as your resistance weakens. These adverts are preying on our primitive subconcious desires and fears, and they are growing in effectiveness and power as the people that sell learn what works and what doesn’t online.

And it is not just these in-your-face techniques that advertisers and marketers are using. The trend is shifting towards generating a complete positive experience around a product or brand online – telling stories, asking the audience questions and involving them emotionally. The goal is to deeply affect the audience and create a strong and deep connection to what the marketer is selling. Again – this is something that news organisations need to learn from. They need to begin creating these stories themselves and learning these new techniques.

Marketers know that we love novelty. Our brain releases chemicals that make us feel pleasure when we encounter something new. And like a drug it makes us want more. It is this demand for novelty that is making us habitually look at our phones for the latest tweet or update. Our brains are reacting in much the same way as they respond to drugs, food and many other things. This addiction to novelty is what is making it harder to concentrate on long pieces of writing. Reading text in our digital environment could be stunting our ability to read deeper into what we are reading. Because we have more sources vieing for our attention, our brain is hooked on novelty and wants “meaning” shortened down to bullet points and sound bites. All of this is leading to a reader that, more than ever, skims through news rather than stops to think about it.

Also, because we are continually multitasking with different streams of media, we are focusing less attention on any one stream. As consumers, if anything demands too much of our attention we are more likely to turn to a new and more novel source. And, according to one expert, the more channels of media we use, the worse our ability to filter irrelevant information, switch between tasks and use our short term memory.

The internet is epoch changing, but it is being dominated more and more by marketers and organisations that try to profit. A fragmented and distracted mind is easily targeted by communication experts. News organisations need to learn from these marketers and copy their techniques, and adapt them.  They need to learn how to provide informative and instructive content to an audience with a fragmented attention, it is only then that they can hope to connect in an effective way.

We are about to enter a major revolution in entertainment. I am talking about Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect – a natural user interface (NUI) controller for the gaming console coming soon.

Since the birth of gaming – man has been confined to holding a controller to manipulate a virtual world. By using their hands, people have navigated the most fantastic worlds humans can imagine. But now we are no longer just using our hands – we are using ourselves – our entire body.

Man will now fully entered into this new reality. The Kinect controller registers every nuance of your body, can recognise your face and expressions, and will respond to your voice.

So imagine – you come home from work. The motion sensor turns the console on and the camera recognises your face. Your profile is loaded and your favourite character pops on your TV to say “Hi”. But you’ve had a hard day and are looking stressed- the console will register this and your character will ask you what is wrong. It will then recomend some great stress relief games or offer a calming visual and sound experience. You then get teleported into the world of your character and begin to take part in games that utilise every part of your body.

This is all stuff the console can do already – imagine what will come. This moment is, without doubt, a landmark occasion. I can almost agree with James McQuivey when he says “Future historians of technology and society (the distinction is becoming less and less clear) will look back at this year, perhaps even referring to it as year one”.  Millions of people will buy this controller and become part of a great migration into a new and exciting virtual reality.

The games already developed are pretty basic – as you would expect. But the possibilities are astronomical. As any gamer can confirm – when you are playing a game with an intense level of concentration, you are “in” the game. The world outside disappears and you are nothing but your sense of vision and sound linked to the movements of your fingers.

But now that we are truly inside a game – what levels of involvement will come? Will this world become more vastly more appealing than current computer games? And if so will we ever be able to pull ourselves away? Will this be a major problem humanity will face?

One thing is for sure. We can currently imagine what we would like the future of gaming to hold. But soon it will be beyond imagining – soon gaming will become sublime, and we shall all be continually in awe.

Investigative journalism is no longer the domain of newspapers.

Newspaper sales are declining drastically and so (inevitably) are the staff. The Mirror group have recently announced one of the largest redundancy programmes of any news group, axing 200 jobs. As the number of reporters and journalists decrease there are greater time pressures on those that remain to fill up a paper with content. The result is usually an abundance of PR stories and a increasing dependence on news-wire stories that are often unchecked and sent straight to press.

The blame for these job cuts is normally focused on a loss of newspaper revenue caused by the free content available on the internet. But if the internet is the culprit for a decline in traditional investigative journalism, it is also breeding a new form of investigation.

For those that don’t know, crowdsourcing is the process of harnessing the power of the masses to accomplish tasks. By calling out to an interested crowd you can get tasks accomplished, ideas generated and develop the kind of insights never before possible. When this technique is applied to investigative journalism you end up with a massive team of investigators. The most popular example is the use of crowdsourcing to investigate MP’s expenses – the Guardian has so far recruited 26,763 people to review MP’s expense documents.

Developments in collaborative online investigations are being pioneered by Paul Bradshaw on his website Help Me Investigate. Designed to connect, mobilise and uncover – it allows users to investigate “things”. These things can be anything from how much donation websites take from charities to issues surrounding the digital economy bill.

Anyone can suggest an investigation – an activist, journalist or a member of the public. The investigation then becomes a series of tasks. For example, one investigation asks “How orchestrated or organised was the #janmoir campaign?” and the tasks are:

  • To provide background information
  • Analyse tweets
  • Suggest ways to test “organisation” and “orchestration”
  • Compare it to other “outrages”
  • Follow the source that led to the outrage
  • Invite experts to take part

Other investigations can involve writing freedom of information requests, contacting local councils and identifying possible contributors.

Although this project has proved its worth on a local level – it is clear the vision of this site is for national (and maybe international) investigations. It currently only has a few members and is still in development – but I think it will become the next big thing in journalism.

A key feature which will aid its growth is the addition of a user profile. When you take part you give yourself tags to indicate your interests and skills, meaning you are easy to find when needed. Also, whenever you contribute to or start an investigation your profile is updated to reflect your increased participation. It is almost like collecting points or badges. This game like strategy will increase user engagement and provide a level of recognition that could be lost with other forms of crowdsourced collaborative investigation.

I imagine the model of the website will get its first good test now that the government have begun the Coins data release. With such an abundance of government data ripe for investigation, Help Me Investigate can begin setting challenges to root out details from what has now been exposed.

I’m confident that this website will grow and will alter as it develops. I imagine that similar sites will start to appear – but they won’t be aet themselves up as competition because, after all, this is collaboration at its strongest.

Do we need to break free of the fish-bowl? Is it better to have a world of a million choices or a world with limited choice? This is a question posed by Barry Schwartz – and to which he concludes that, in western society, we all have too many choices and this has made us ill. Of course, the official dogma of our civilisation is that the more choice we have the better things are. However, Schwartz argues that when people have too many choices they find it very difficult to choose at all.

Choice makes people procrastinate, it can paralyse them into inactivity, they are baffled by an incomprehensible list of possible choices. Also – more choices lead to regret. You think about the joy you are missing out on if you had made a different choice. We start to have high expectations from all these choices – and with high expectations comes low depression.

The talk made me think about the book I am currently reading. The Commissariat of Enlightenment is about a guy called Astapov working for Stalin in Communist Russia during the early 1920’s. Astapov makes films to spread Communist ideology across the masses – he is a master of the new film making technology and loyal to the Communist cause.

With a complete understanding of the relationship between image and power he looks over to western society and compares the two cultures different use of the camera:

“[T]he west was creating an image-ruled empire of its own, a shimmering electrified web of pictures, unarticulated meaning, and passionate associations forged between unrelated ideas. This was how to do it: either starve the masses of meaning or expose them to so much that the sum of it would be unintelligible.”

In his talk, Barry Schwartz tries to get people away from the ideology that more is better. This idea is so engrained into our culture that it leads to clinical depression and suicide. Astapov, looking out from Communist Russia, admires the western use of images to baffle, confuse and perplex the minds of the population. He commends the creation of a society of people who would be “unable to complete a thought without making reference to some image manufactured for his persuasion”.

Confused, bewildered and exhausted – western society longs for thoughtlessness, and that is where political power and commercial gain creep in. It is important to liberate ourselves from these forces – and maybe it is better to stay in a fish-bowl than flounder in a world without constraint.

I think that Spotify could become as indispensable to music as Facebook is to socialising.

Currently 320,000 of the 7 million people that use Spotify pay the £10 subscription rather than listen to the advertising based free version. That’s a good conversion rate – and they are now one of the top four digital accounts in revenue internationally to two of the major record labels. More and more people will come round to seeing that a fiver isn’t much to pay for the most accessible, well categorised and extensive collection of music ever.

It is a business model designed to entice users away from the illegal environment – and one that looks like it could succeed. It is still a young company (it launched in October 2008) but has already taken on the might of Apple by liberating iTune’s users who were shackled to Apple software.

But with rumours of Apple venturing into the world of cloud music – Spotify had better up their game. In an ideal world Spotify would become ubiquitous and remain fairly priced – but to do this it needs to become viral.

The first thing Spotify needs to do is allow people to categorise their playlists/albums in folders. With all that music available we need better ways to organise it – something better than a primitive single list of playlists. Spotify have confirmed that this feature is coming soon.

As soon as this happens it will be much easier to archive those truly great playlists and albums and get down to the exciting possibilities available.

The possibilities of playlists are yet to be fully exploited. Drowned in Sound have led the way by running Spotifriday – a weekly playlist with comments and links to the individual song reviews. Some celeb’s and musicians have created Spotify playlists – eg Radiohead, Gomez and Charlie Brooker. But it still doesn’t seem to have caught on properly – NME embed YouTube videos but don’t make any good use of Spotify playlists. Most of the music magazine websites I have looked through don’t seem to make much use of Spotify.

This is something that must change – Spotify playlists can be like the free CD’s you used to get with music mag’s, only a million times better. Now we have the possibility of a regular feed of free musical advice from people whose opinion you can come to really respect – music journalism is at its best when you can hear what is being discussed.

If this is something that the established music media industry won’t adopt – then hopefully bloggers will lead the way. Any young person trying to make a name for themselves needs to start exploiting the sociability inherent in Spotify –  and show how this massive music database can be fully adopted and utilised.

I look forward to seeing musical histories – or a critics favourite songs with notes explaining their reasons – songs tied together around a theme – musical documentaries – the list goes on. The social element of Spotify is great and I love seeing what songs and playlists my friends are storing. But the enterprise really needs leaders to take it to new levels.

Everyone seems to be getting more and more interested in data. Like computer gaming – data has left nerd territory and entered into popular culture. It is even (dare I say it) cool.

It is not surprising. Technological innovation changes our attitudes, opinions and beliefs in ways we couldn’t have expected.  The internet has accelerated the creation, spread and recording of data on a scale never before imagined.

First there are the data sources – today marks the release of COINS (Combined Online Information System). It is a massive 120GB of data detailing public spending – essentially showing how the government works. Data geeks around the world will begin to work out ways to sort out and organise this data into something that can be used.

There is already a vast database of government data available at data.gov.uk. Other data can be found at the click of a mouse – check out infochimps.org – a searchable list of available data sets from social network usage to betting odds. The Guardian runs a datablog which posts the latest and topical datasets.

It is not just records that are available – public opinion is instantaneous. I work for a company that has pioneered the first smart phone online survey software which already has thousands of users. We are able to get thousands of responses to any news story in literally minutes. Consumer attitude can be monitored and a change immediately exploited.

Secondly – there are the mash ups. Imagine the mash up music of 2 many DJ’s (mixing two or more songs together to create something new and unique) and apply that to data. Applications like Google Doc’s are allowing people to easily combine different data sets. So if you want to combine a Google map with a list of BNP members – voila! Or if you want to mash together the RSS feeds of your favourite websites and filter for things you care about – then a programme like Yahoo Pipes makes that possible.

Finally, the rise of the info-graphic. An info-graphic is a visual representation of information. The recent advent of online social-networking has bred a population of users eager to see how people are using sites like Twitter and Facebook – like this current state of Twitter info-graphic. Info-graphic’s have surged in popularity and are everywhere – from the trustworthiness of beards to the cost of the BBC. Some of my favourite sites that provide a regular stream of quality info-graphics are:

www.flowingdata.com

www.informationisbeautiful.com

www.chartporn.org

www.coolinfographics.com

There are websites that are allowing you to create your own visualisations, such as ManyEyes (which includes this brilliant chart of movie genres over time).  Tableau has just released a free version of its graph software, Tableau Public (which i’m yet to play with).

So, technology has given us loads of tools to make sense of this increasingly confusing and information overloaded world. The emergence and spread of tablet computers will help our love of data grow as we begin whizzing through info-graphics and interactive programmes using our fingers. It might just be me that is excited about  these changes – but i’m fairly confident that a popular appropriation of data will be the next big thing for the inhabitants of our plugged-in society

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 25 other followers