Friday, 30 July 2010

The future of news? (a quick follow-up)

A few days ago I posted some of my thoughts on the future of news as a response to an email a student sent me.  I was a little pressed for time so I didn't manage to cram in all the points I wanted to make, so this follow-up post will be a slight update to that post.  I had a physical copy of Wired magazine open on my desk at the time of writing and I wanted to include a few points that were in their "The Big Question: New media's effect on journalism".  This is the link to the online edition.  The question they posed was:
In the next decade, what new platform will most affect journalism and self-expression?
They had a variety of guests answering the question including Arianna Huffinginton (Cofounder/Editor of The Huffington Post), Clay Shirky (Academic, author of Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus), June Cohen (Journalist and Director at TED Media), and Nick Bilton (Leader writer at the New York Times blog) amongst others, and this is what they had to say:
"I think we will see an explosion of news sites engaging their communities in the editorial process. We’ll see a great expansion of the ways citizen journalists will help drive the news: recommending stories. Technology has enabled millions of consumers to shift their focus from passive observation to active participation." Arianna Huffinginton
"There won’t be a ten-year ‘Next Big Thing’. Here’s a slice of the last ten: WordPress, Wikipedia, Digg, Meetup, Flickr, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Foursquare. Twitter is the new headline news, QQ the new agora, ChatRoulette puts the ‘self’ in self-expression. Expect more of the same in the next ten." Clay Shirky
"There won’t be a single dominant platform, but rather many platforms that rise and fall. Overall, my money is on mobile: real-time and massively participatory media that will be primarily created and consumed via smartphones. Twitter is the first platform to truly harness this new ecosystem. But it won’t be the last." - June Cohen
"There’s currently a war taking place between big computing companies including Google, Apple and Microsoft; they are all competing to own the mobile platform. Self-expression and journalism will be born from the same mobile devices and the difference between the two types of content will continue to blur." Nick Bilton
They all seem to point to the idea that news will be social and communicated across lots of different networks and platforms.  It will be social, responsive and more conversational.

With the advent of new tablet platforms I expect we will see more applications like Flipboard for iPad appear, which are capable of creating a news/magazine experiences on electronic devices (you can find a quick review on Wired here).  It's a unique experience in which you get to build your own magazine out of the content being shared across your social networks, including articles and images being shared across a network like Twitter. Check out the video below to get an idea as to how it works.



The interface is pretty neat and transforms the reading experience into something akin to the traditional page flipping/browsing one found in paper formats, except it will have the advantage of being able to play digital media like video and audio. If it doesn't do this yet, services like it in the future will certainly have this kind of functionality.  Having said that, the service hasn't come without a set of problems, especially around copyright and the way in which the application scrapes content from websites and then hosts that material on its own servers.  Joel Johnson has posted on this issue in detail over at Gizmodo.  Mike Masnick on Techdirt points out this is similar to the issue that News Corp had with Google in which they accused Google of stealing their content.

What this points to is that the new developments in technology and software are capable of creating a context in which more people can read more information relevant to their interests (remember Zuckerman's warning about this kind of filtering!) providing the legal contexts in which copyright ownership around content is flexible enough to adapt.  I see that as being one of the potential barriers to the future of news.

Panographs of the Media Centre

I've been playing around with a cheap little photography app for the iPhone 4 called 'You Gotta See This' (yes, a truly awful name) by Boinx Software that allows you to make quick and easy panographs.  A panograph is a collage of still images that, when taken as a whole, create a larger image. I took the pictures below this morning outside the David Puttnam Media Centre:



The app only works on the iPhone 4 (not the 3G or 3GS) due to the utilisation of the inbuilt gyroscope feature.  It's an affordable toy at $1.99 (iTunes link) or £1.19 (iTunes link) but the images do appear a little compressed in my example.  As you can see in the slides above there are a number of default themes bundled in the app which you can't turn off which is a shame.  It would be great if you could access a large image without having the borders that appear on each of the themed templates.

The app isn't perfect but it does enable anyone to create their own unique panographs easily.  Here's a quick tutorial video explaining how the application works:



I'm sure this is one the first of many apps that will take advantage of the new hardware improvements in the iPhone 4.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

What's the future of news? Don't ask me!

This is a blog post based on my response to a student email I received asking me about my opinions regarding the future of news that I thought some readers may be interested in.  Now this is a very good student who transferred from a practical degree to take one of our theoretical degrees - BA (Hons) Media, Culture and Communication - who is currently on a Summer internship at ITN helping with their development team. It's not often that our team gets to talk about theory students doing practical work so forgive me for my little indulgence.  Anyway, they are working on a project looking at a number of issues including the the current broadcasting environment, the evolution of Internet-based news, Twitter, smartphones and how these are all becoming ever more integrated and converged, which all sounds pretty interesting.  Everything that follows has been cut and pasted from that email so forgive the spelling errors!

The future?

Ah, the future of news, eh?  I'll come straight out and say I don't know what the future is going to be and there are many people in the same boat (including news providers!).  Lots of talk circulates around mobile being the next big thing.  We've all head the hype about the iPad and how it may save journalism but it's still early days on that front.  3 million units sold is impressive but not when it set against the global fall in paid-for news content.  Personally, I have no doubt smartphones and tablet devices will play some part in nurturing news but I think there are a few barriers at the moment including technical infrastructures (like the UK 3G/4G networks, Apple app approval processes), data limitations being imposed by mobile providers (O2 and 500mb per month cap) which will restrict the way in which news is consumed via those platforms (I can stream Sky News and BBC Radio 4 on my iPhone via 3G but reach my data cap pretty quickly unless I switch to wifi meaning I'll consume less bandwidth heavy forms of news) and the prohibitive costs of ownership (iPhones/iPads are not cheap, but Android devices are affordable to many).

I'm still confident in the value of the printed word, I'm just not sure it's being delivered and curated by established news organisations effectively.  Let's look at two examples from the UK broadsheet/quality markets; namely Times Online and Guardian.co.uk

The recent Murdoch/Times paywall issue is interesting in that News Corp is happy to sacrifice large numbers of eyeballs (in front of ads) for about 10% of their audience who are willing to pay for the service.  They changed the website design so it looked more like a newspaper too, which is pretty strange.  I'm not sure a small paying audience is sufficient insurance against obscurity, especially when the Times doesn't seem to have the kind of content that other paywall sites have (ie the Financial Times has an affluent, niche audience willing to pay for business news).

Emily Bell, the former Director of Digital Content at the Guardian  (and now a New York Prof of Journalism!) has been pretty vocal about this issue, as has Jeff Jarvis (blogger, academic, journalist, entrepreneur).  You should skim Jarvis' blog for some excellent ideas on the future of (hyper local) news: http://www.buzzmachine.com/.  There is an idea that being highly visible is important for monetising news.  The more reach you have the better placed you'll be to sell advertising and services around content.  I think the latter is important here and maybe more important in the future.  The Guardian are currently toying with their Extra service (http://www.guardian.co.uk/extra) - a £25 per year service offering live debates, news room visits, masterclasses, liver performances, exclusive offers etc to subscribers.  It might help build reader loyalty - the incentive to pay and get something out of that paid-for service.  It might also be a last ditch attempt to stymy the massive losses they've been posting the last couple of years.  Who knows?

I do know that The Guardian are interested in hearing from their readers about what they should do next.  As an iPhone app customer I've been asked to take part in various feedback sessions and one online Q&A did ask about whether or not I'd pay a monthly subscription (for the record, I'm more than willing since I use their website a lot and have stopped buying their papers for the most part).  It's an idea that might work for them, but it might backfire - especially when there is so much freely available content (BBC, I'm looking at you) that readers can go to.  It might be in their best interests to keep the content free but build in some additional features into the application such as personalised content.  Currently app users can pick their favourite themes for quick reading and share relevant stories across Twitter, Facebook,  and email but there is no way to actually engage with the news from the portable device.  This seems to be completely at odds with their main website functionality.

Curate and engage

The ability to comment on stories and engage with writers via the blogs over on Comment Is Free is a model of how to curate and sustain reader attention.  I'm frequently surprised by the sophistication and persuasiveness of argument that can be found in the comment section by Guardian readers.  Sure, there are moments when the ability to hide behind a pseudonym allows for a fair bit of trolling, flaming and nastiness, but this is superseded by the positive forms of engagement on offer.  Add to this some of the excellent daily/weekly podcasts they put out (Tech Weekly, Science Weekly, Media Talk, etc) feature insightful news, relevant expert guests and feature some of the highest production standards (on par with the BBC) all of which they sustain and curate via their main news site as well as with Twitter feeds, Flickr groups and Facebook pages.  They have a consistent and wide ranging presence, all of which push the brand to readers in ways that being behind a paywall prevents.

My feelings about Twitter as a news source change regularly.  I started out by using Twitter as a way of discovering news stories when the number of people I followed was relatively small (ie less than 200) and manageable.  As the number of people you follow increases it becomes harder to negotiate the inane from the relevant, especially as Twitter is geared around short bursts of phatic communication.  I suppose this is one of the reasons why the Lists feature was introduced, so users could tune in to certain people and not others at any given time.  Twitter is good for pointing people to interesting stories or links but it doesn't quite beat a good RSS feed in my opinion.  There's no real way of knowing how long Twitter will be around for, especially in its current guise without a clear business model, so I'd be cautious about seeing it as the future of news.  As a cost-free network for connecting people with interesting things to say, Twitter is great, but it isn't a creator of news content with some exceptions (see this fictional dystopian story for an example: http://vimeo.com/10060159).


I haven't really got around to talking about books on the subject and I'm going to have to be brief.  There are many writers who have sung the praises of the Internet in it's various stages of evolution: as a medium of abundance, a pluralistic space, a democratising tool, etc.  One of the better books I've seen in recent years was the edited collection by Natalie Fenton (2009), New Media, Old News: Journalism and Democracy in the Digital Age - there's a few good chapters in there.  There's one which suggests that the despite the Internet bringing us new ways of reading about more diverse material we are actually becoming less engaged with differing viewpoints.  We tend to consume news or info that already supports our pre-existing ideas. The irony here is that the world of abundance hasn't broadened our engagement - rather we've filtered our world views through lenses that reinforce our established positions (with the odd exception).  Add to this the academic work of people like Justin Lewis (Cardiff University) which has pointed out that massive cuts in the financing of expensive news content has led to widespread reliance on PR copy and what Nick Davies calls 'churnalism' and the future of news doesn't look so bright.

There's also a great presentation on TED by Ethan Zuckerman (from Global Voices, a site for bloggers around the world producing non-mainstream news content: http://globalvoicesonline.org/) in which he discusses how easy (and dangerous) it is to filter out issues http://www.ted.com/talks/ethan_zuckerman.html


I want to come back to a recent example of the ways in which, despite the advantages of the Internet with its easy distribution channels, the traditional news providers still have an important (gate-keeping?) role to play.  You might recall that in April Wikileaks released a video of a US Apache helicopter firing on Iraqi civilians (2 versions: one 39 minute unedited version and one 18 minute edited version framed with a quotation from George Orwell) which drew a lot of attention and criticism from the US government. I've embedded that video below but you may need to sign in to YouTube to watch it.


Wikileaks is a site dedicated to whistle-blowing and supposedly free from editorial inflections - the edited video seemed very much like editorial work rather than a objective fact.  This week the announcement that Wikileaks  had released 92,000 documents about the war in Afghanistan to the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel was an important one.  Julian Assange (founder of Wikileaks) realised that in order for these documents to have maximum impact they needed to be examined and considered by professional journalists who could make sense of the content and frame it in a way that the public could readily engage with.  There's an excellent account of this process on Comment is Free by Dan Kennedy (academic)

Whatever the future of news is, it has to be responsive to news consumers and responsible to the basic tenements of democratic engagement.  If news providers ignore their audience, they'll soon discover they have no audience.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

On the way to #ORGCon

I'm currently fuelled by caffeine and taking advantage of the free wifi on the East Coast train service as I write this post.  It feels like a while since I was last posting over here as I've been on my hols with my wife (the Dalmation Coast - lovely!).  This morning was an early one; a 5:15am rise in order to catch the 6:30am train from Newcastle to London and I'm not sure how coherent I'll be today given that I struggled to even form a sentence at Costa to purchase coffee.  While the caffeine kicks in I thought I'd try and forward plan for today's Open Rights Group conference, as there are bound to be some clashes ahead (just like Glastonbury - without the music).  The line up is listed here and also below:



My route through the day should be as follows:


  • 10:30 Thriving in the Real Digital Economy - Cory Doctorow et al
  • 11:35 ACTA campaign workshop
  • 12:15 The Incredible Shrinking Public Domain - James Boyle
  • 14:00 Digital Economy Act: What's Next - Tom Watson MP et al
  • 15:00 DEA campaign workshop
  • 15:45 Reforming Privacy Laws - Lilian Edwards et al
  • 16:45 Dismantling the Database State - Phil Booth et al
  • 17:30 ACTA A Shady Business - Andres Guadamuz et al
  • 18:15 Pirate Party Fringe
I've had to make a few compromises along the way.  I was looking forward to attending the Open Data  session (featuring Heather Brooke) I've been impressed with the work Lilian Edwards has been putting in over the last 12 months with regards the Digital Economy Act so that was a tough call.  On a similar note the ACTA session with Andres Guadamuz is also a draw in the same basis but I'd also like to attend the Future of Privacy session running concurrently.  I'd like to catch up with the Pirate Party UK folk if time permits but I've got a 19:15 train to Newcastle to catch so time may be against me on that front


Decisions, decisions...

Anyway, if you want to say "hi" I'm the 30-something guy in thick framed glasses:


For once, I won't be wearing the Stormtrooper helmet with Apple and Pirate Party logos on it:

Saturday, 10 July 2010

MacBook Pro Wifi Fail

This is bugging me - over the course of the last 24 hours my relatively new (ie < 6 months old) Macbook Pro has started to drop its wireless signal. I can be sitting with both the new Macbook Pro and an old Macbook (circa 2006) both connected to my network via Time Capsule with both of them working fine, only for the Macbook Pro to suddenly seize up and lose the wireless signal. Hours later it works again, as if by magic! 


The strange thing is the Menu bar shows that I am connected to my network, but Airport Utility cannot see either the Time Capsule or the Airport Express on my network Does anyone know of any diagnostic tools or terminal commands/logs I can use to try an pinpoint what or where the problem is? Any advice gratefully received. 


I intend on taking this Macbook in for servicing but I'd like some evidence first otherwise I'll look like a bigger bozo. Currently, all I have as evidence are the screengrabs in this online album.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Is PlayStation Plus A Good Deal?

Over at IGN the Playstation team have been asking the very question: is the newly launched Playstation Plus service a good deal for users or is it a waste of cash?  For those who aren't quite au fait with what this service is or what it means, you can check out the Sony press release for full details, but I'll offer a brief summary of the main features below.

What is it?

Since it's launch  in November 2006 the Playstation 3 has had a free online network (entitled PSN) on which Playstation owners could speak to or message each other, play games with friends, browse the web and purchase content in the online store.  Everyone with an internet connection could use it free of charge - just as well, because the service could be pretty glitchy in the early days.  Microsoft have a similar service for their Xbox 360 called Live, except theirs came in two tiers: a Silver (free) and a Gold  variety (annual charge of £39.99).  The basic package allowed for some communication between members and the purchasing of downloadable content.  If you wanted extra features such as playing online games you had to pay the annual fee.  This had some advantages - namely Microsoft could invest that subscription fee into paying for servers to host content - something Sony struggled with at first.


Last week Sony announced Playstation Plus: their fee-based subscription service for the PS3 which retails at £39.99.  Unlike Microsoft, they still provide all of the online services that the PSN launched with.  Sony see Playstation Plus as a service that adds extra value to gamers by virtue of offering the following:

  • Discount on games and/or downloadable content
  • 4 free Playstation games per month (this includes old Playstation 1, Minis, and standard PSN titles)
  • Premium avatars and themes
  • Full game trials (a try-and-buy scheme using a full game rather than a limited demo)
  • Early access to demos and beta versions of games
  • Automatic content downloads and updates


In total Sony claim that Playstation Plus will offer subscribers content to the value of at least £200 per year.  There is a drawback though fail to renew your subscription and you lose all the 'free' gaming content you downloaded.  However, in order to offset that setback subscribers were given the excellent LittleBigPlanet game to keep even if they don't renew their subscription.  I already owned this game so it saves me nothing but some gamers may not have it.  You get to keep the avatars and themes but these are small value items.  So, the question remains, is £39.99 a good deal given that most Playstation gamers got by just fine on the PSN without spending a penny?  In order to work out if this is good value for money I'm going to join the staff at IGN in monitoring my use of the service.

Another tracking project...

In case you didn't guess, I subscribed to the service on launch day (June 29th) in order to see what the fuss was all about.  This give me the perfect excuse to emabark on another year long tracking project so it alongside my musical expenditure project.  I'm going to follow the strict rules set out by IGN:
For the next year, IGN PlayStation Executive Editor Greg Miller and IGN Guides Guru Colin Moriarty will track their PlayStation Plus PlayStation Network purchases every Wednesday. If they buy a full price game, it won't be logged here. On the chalkboards below, we'll track what the "free" content would have cost them as well as the discounts they're receiving. Now, these figures will only include new stuff that the boys have downloaded. If they already own a piece of content, it won't be included just because it has been discounted or marked as free. This is strictly what they've downloaded under the PlayStation Plus umbrella to date. 
The IGN staff are only counting the cash saved via the discount scheme, but I will add an extra field to include the value of the digital items that are kept after the subscription lapses (ie the avatars and themes).    Also, one of the PSN games that is 'free' this month is Wipeout HD - a game I already own so there is no real benefit to me this month.

If you want to see how much 'value' the Playstation Plus service is to a regular gamer check back here in a few weeks.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

New iPhone Wallpaper

I was a little bored today so I knocked up a quick iPhone wallpaper that may be of interest to some of you.  The resolution is 640 x 960 especially for the iPhone 4, but it works fine on the 3GS too.  Click on the image below to get the wallpaper from my Flickr account in various sizes.

iPhone wallpaper Silver logo

You can get the full .psd file here (2.5 mb)

Tracking musical expenditure: June

Month 10 of my tracking project and there was a fair bit of cash spent on music-related activities, mainly due to the Glastonbury 2010 music festival (which was great in case you missed any of the BBC coverage).  A total of £240.15 was spent in June, of which £210 of that was blown on festival activities. I also bought a couple of bits of clothing merchandise (a David Bowie t-shirt and a Guns'n'Roses t-shirt).



As for traditional albums or singles sales a rather modest sum £3.37 was spent on chart eligible material.  The running total on albums/singles is £195.99 with the grand total being £1535.68.  It would seem that expenditure in the musical economy is alive and kicking - it has migrated into non-traditional areas.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Your freedom - a chance to be heard or a copyright 'cover-up'?

Late last week, I overheard an announcement on Radio 4's Today programme that the Con/Dem coalition were planning on soliciting the opinions of the British public regarding current laws that are not fit for purpose.  Nick Clegg and the coalition Government have pledged to consider up to ten of the most popular workable ideas, which will inspire the landmark Freedom Bill later this year. A website has been set up for voters to put forward their ideas, entitled 'Your Freedom'.  Clegg spells out the aims in this video:



Now, this sounds like an ideal opportunity for opponents of the Digital Economy Bill to put forwards their objections.  Indeed, several people have already done this (search the site for "copyright" and you will find a number of tagged posts referring to the Bill). The site is divided into three distinct sections: restoring civil liberties, repealing unnecessary laws and cutting business and third sector regulations.   Users of the site can suggest topics and vote on the relative value of the suggestions, giving the government an indication as to what issues are important to the public.

'Cover-up'?

That is, of course, until you try and vote on the many topics that are specifically entitled "Digital Economy" such as this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this one.  This may be because some (not all) are tagged as duplicates - it is not entirely clear why some posts are locked down and other are not, but this reasoning is as good as any.  In one interesting post, a voter going by the name of bingoboblin has argued that a 'cover-up' exists on the Your Freedom site, noting that moderators were borought in the day after the site was launched.  They claim that 'copyright' was one of the most frequently used tags on the launch day, being highly visible on the homepage, but now
we have no Copyright, DEB or any otherrelated words on the home page despite these being without question the most popular and commented on subjects.
Is this really a conspiracy or is it more likely the result of multiple requests for similar sounding repeals has prevented an accurate measure of the public's attitude?  After all, if 200 authors all created their own post rather than strategically voting up post in a co-ordinated manner then the initial effort is wasted.  It's quite clear that a site like this would be a target for critics of the Digital Economy Bill, but it may be that a slew of similar sounding requests has resulted in a fragmented and disparate effort.  Either way, this is a great way for the government to engage the public around prescient issues.

At the time of writing a topic entitled the Digital Economy Act 2010 tops the 'repealing unnecessary laws' category in terms of ratings.  If you are against the Act, then this is the one I recommend you vote for.  However, in terms of being the most commented upon, a post entitled Digital Economy Act is rated higher - it wouldn't hurt to vote for this topic too.  A little co-ordination can go a long way