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Monday, June 30, 2008

Why I love TED

1. I don't have to remember to visit TED or subscribe to the RSS feed because people so regularly recommend it on Twitter and elsewhere that I wind up there often enough.

2. It has a fabulously ecclectic mix of engaging speakers.

3. I've said it before but I'll say it again: the media player rocks. Look at this:

I can watch the video on the page, download it to my desktop or to iTunes (this is new since I last visited), embed it in my blog and link to it. Now that's sharing.

In case you weren't sure, they spell out the how and why of sharing:

"TED's mission is to spread ideas, and we encourage you to share these talks widely: Email them; link to them; embed them in your website; show them in your classroom; discuss them at a salon... All our videos are distributed under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely played and reposted (so long as you follow certain guidelines)."
I can also see at a glance what the video's about, who's in it, how long it runs, when it was recorded, when it was posted, how far through I am. I can pause it and fast forward to interesting bits using the information that displays when I hover my mouse over parts of the timeline. And I can comment on it.


Newspaper closures are inevitable, says US media analyst

From a Washington Post media piece about still-declining ad revenue and "hiring freezes turned to buyouts and then to layoffs" come these two rather grim quotes:

“Never in my most bearish dreams six months ago did I think we’d be talking about negative 15 percent numbers against weak comps,” said Peter S. Appert, an analyst at Goldman Sachs. “I think the probability is very high that there will be a number of examples of individual newspapers and newspaper companies that fall into a loss position. And I think it’s inevitable that there will be closures in this industry, and maybe bankruptcies.”
Slightly less bearish but no cheerier:

Since the fall, when Media General, the owner of a major newspaper chain in the South, set its 2008 budget, “We have pulled our thinking down twice with respect to revenue,” said Marshall N. Morton, the chief executive.

Over the next few years, he predicted, “There’s got to be some assimilation,” with some major American newspapers going out of business or merging. At the corporate level, he said, “I would guess that rather than bankruptcies, you’d see combinations.”

I read the story in a newsletter sent out by the INMA, The International Newsmedia Marketing Association, who can usually be relied on for good news about newspapers even while everyone else is muttering dire predictions. But it appeared alongside a slew of stories about cuts in newspapers in the US:
Even in Taiwan:
Just in case you were in any doubt that the newspaper business is in trouble.

New York Times adds social networking

The New York Times has added some social networking capability to its site with the introduction of TimesPeople.

A Firefox add-on currently in beta, TimesPeople lets users create lists of friends and see a 'news feed' of the stories their friends are recommending, sharing and commenting on.

The Times describes it as, "A new way to discover what other readers find interesting on our site — and to make recommendations of your own. With TimesPeople, you can share articles, videos, slideshows, blog posts, comments on articles, and ratings and reviews of movies, restaurants and hotels."

A nice touch is that users get a page which aggregates their activity and it has an RSS feed - so you can show the world what you're reading on the New York Times by incorporating the feed into your blog or perhaps lifestreaming applications such as FriendFeed and Tumblr.

NY Times readers have been able to comment on stories and rate reviewed restaurants and movies for some time but recommending is new according to Caroline McCarthy, who reviewed the feature on CNET News:
TimesPeople members can also push their updates to their Facebook profiles by syncing the two. And if you'd rather just be an observer, you can subscribe to friends' updates on while leaving your own feed updates turned off.

Many print publications have been working on social-news projects, primarily by partnering with existing sites like Digg. Conde Nast's Wired Digital went ahead and acquired Reddit. Critics might say that by building a social-news technology in-house, the Times is hurting itself by not tapping into the user base of an existing site.

But here's the catch: while content is free, it requires a log-in to read more than a story or two at a time. The Times, consequently, has millions of user accounts already on file.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Death of a social network

Like tens of thousands of others, I got an email this week telling me of the demise of iYomu, a New Zealand-based social network designed to appeal to grown-ups.

Like tens of thousands of others, I took at look at iYomu at the beginning and enjoyed its colourful promotional campaign - a slick series of puzzles created in Flash. The idea was that you solved the puzzles and went into a draw to win $1 million.

But you had to acquire a certain number of points to go in the draw and the puzzles only accounted for so many of them. The rest came from filling out a really involved profile form and signing up lots and lots of friends.

Which was the point at which they lost me.

I had no interest in filling in endless details about myself and I had no intention of signing up friends before I knew whether or not I liked the service or what it had to offer. It felt coercive.

I came back a couple of times to look around but didn't know anyone using the service and didn't feel like I needed to. I already had Facebook, after all, where I knew lots of people, and LinkedIn and Twitter etc.

It seems to me that we join social networks that already have a critical mass of users we already know, or want to know. Once you've joined one or three, most of us don't need or have the time to sign up with more. Opportunities therefore lie not in creating ever more social networks, but in linking and adding value to them - which is what lifestreaming applications like FriendFeed are trying to do.

That said, Richard MacManus argues in his post about iYomu on ReadWriteWeb this week that he still thinks there's room for a niche social network for adults. Something less breathless than Facebook presumably and with a more settled, considered crowd of users.

He's probably right. I don't use much on Facebook apart from messaging and a few applications like Scrabulous (an online adapatation of Scrabble) and Shelfari to track the books I'm reading (but that's offline as much as it's on so I'm looking for an alternative).

But I've yet to come across anything that's sufficiently appealing to encourage not just me but all my friends to move. Not that they're all in one place anyway, I talk to some friends through Facebook, some through Gtalk instant messaging, some through email, text, Skype and Twitter. Occasionally I even pick up the phone.

Age alone isn't enough of a point of differentiation, given, for example, that I have friends ranging in age from 20-80, that it's shared interests, humour and worldviews that attract me to people not their age, and that adults with children want to be on Facebook sometimes precisely because their children are - they want to know what their children's world is like and be part of it.

iYomu had one or two other shortcomings. For a start, I couldn't leave it. I tried but was told the only way to quit was to delete my profile information, but when I tried to do so the form wouldn't save with no information in it, or even with limited information, so I was back to square one. It's not a good idea to trap people.

Then there were the emails that came from time to time advertising $100 spot prizes and $1000 Cash Grabber prizes which expired within 24 hours and so required you to keep coming back to the site. There was something a bit desperate about them.

That said, I'm sorry for the creators, who had what looked like a good idea and gave it a whirl. Let's hope they have better luck with their next venture.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Looking forward to seeing NZ On Screen

I had a sneak peak at the NZ On Screen website-in-progress last week and it looks great. I didn't have much time on it and didn't see much in the way of content because the site's still being developed and the content edited and checked for copyright.

But first impressions suggest a lot of thought has gone into making the site user-friendly, intuitive to navigate and packing all the tools you need to enjoy watching moving images on a computer screen.

In a nutshell, according to NZ On Screen, the site is: "A showcase of moving image and sound content created in New Zealand or by New Zealanders for local and international audiences."

More than that I cannot say because I haven't seen the content list and I'm not sure whether there will be complete works on there or just excerpts or both. But I'm told it's a rich and interesting catalogue and that more will be added over time.

I'm hoping it'll be a place where you can scratch the kind of itch you get when you half-remember a short film you saw at a festival in 1986 and want to see it again. Or want to watch Angela d'Audney read the news or Hawkesby present The Top Half (is that what it was called?) or a documentary about a film-maker or a film about a documentary maker etc.

I gather the site will launch later this year although there's no official launch date yet. In the meantime you can drop in on the blog.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A beatblogging success story

A nice story from one of the Beatbloggers about how using social networks - advertising that you're interested in hearing from residents of a community - can work a treat for rustling up stories.

This is from US reporter Daniel Victor, who writes for the Patriot-News (Pennsylvania):

A woman in the town I cover believed that she had spotted an injustice... But she didn’t know what to do with this knowledge, so like any other computer user, she turned to Google.

She typed in the name of a resident in town who her neighbors had recommended, a person who might know what to do with this information.One of the first results took her to The Hershey Home, the Ning network I set up for the beatblogging project. The resident she sought has been a frequent contributor to the network.

Once there, she strolled around the site. She read all of my solicitations for story ideas, background information on stories I was already working on, and feedback for stories I’ve already written. She went ahead and e-mailed me to set up a meeting.

After she spilled the beans at our meeting, I asked her why she contacted me. “I just read through your comments on the site, and you seemed like the type of person who would want to hear this,” she responded.

Imagine that! I may have stumbled upon a high-impact story based on a tip from a person who isn’t even a member of the network. She chose to contact a reporter because the network put up an “Open for Business” sign, and revealed that I have a genuine interest in hearing from as many residents as possible.

Dial a journalist

I've been meaning to point to this for a while. US journalist Dave Cohn, aka digidave, is exploring new models for journalism with a site he's building called

The site aims to put news consumers in touch with journalists and publishers - allowing the consumers to request news about topics of interest. As Dave says in an introductory video: "If you have 200 people, they can all hire a journalist to write a story that those 200 people agree is important."

As I understand it, will assist not only in putting news consumers together with journalists (presumably freelances) but will also try to find publishers in relevant locales willing to publish the story once it's written.

This is an interesting exercise in empowering consumers to contribute to the news agenda - traditionally the preserve of news editors.

If it gains traction it could prove a useful middle ground between trained/paid journalists and citizen journalists who have an eye for a story but lack the time, resources or expertise to develop it.

It's certainly a step up - in terms of transparency and inclusion - from news hotlines, private emails to reporters and those 'email us your pictures' invites on mainstream sites.

Transparency, one of the key qualities of successful online business ably described by the folks at The Cluetrain Manifesto, has long been lacking in news.

Your average consumer has no idea what's involved in gathering and reporting news. They've never heard of news editors, copyfetching, sub-editors, production editors or page layout. And journalists tend to think readers should trust them implicitly with the business of gathering and telling news stories. They give very little away about how they go about it.

Reporters may quote people and sources in the story, but they give no indication of how many people they spoke to or over what time period, whose comments were dropped owing to lack of space or erudition, how much of a given story came from the wires, where the initial lead came from. They seldom reference the websites they've looked at while researching the story, or books or journals. Yet these are all pieces of information that give context to a story.

The practicalities of listing an entire set of resources for each story are prohibitive: it would take too long and clutter the website/newspaper. So the trust does have to be there. But I believe far more openness about newsgathering processes will become essential as online sensibilities take hold and as news sites become more prolific and less uniform.

A good start would be to make sure there's information on news sites about editorial policies and processes, style guides and how front page stories are chosen - what the acid test is for a good story. Making journalists more accessible is also a good idea (including email addresses with stories, encouraging those who blog to engage in conversation with readers, using social networks to work more collaboratively with sources, for example).

I hope that over time seasoned news veterans and newer non-mainstream journalists will learn from one another and adopt a loose set of standards for news. Such that all stories, whether published on a blog or on a mainstream news website, will include details and links for their sources (people and websites) to enable readers to check the facts for themselves if they want.

Bloggers, of course, have made an able start having adopted the practice of routinely linking to source material and generally including some information about themselves on their sites. There's room for more information though about how they go about gathering material, what policies they have for quoting people, accepting free stuff, checking facts etc.

Astute readers will notice I haven't done this on my own blog. Fair cop. But it is on the to-do list, along with a complete redesign of my various online outlets. Someone give me a nudge if I've made no progress by the end of next month.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The future is local

Interesting to see that US blogsite Huffington Post is branching out into local news (via ReadWriteWeb).

Initially, the site will launch an edited news aggregation site (similar to the main Huffington Post web site) localized for the US metro area around Chicago, Illinois. The site will be managed by a single editor to start. "We are aspiring to be a newspaper in that we want to covering all news [sic], not just the political blogging the way we began," Arianna Huffington said to [Guardian News & Media's internal Future of Journalism] conference attendees.

Launched three years ago in May of 2005 as a politics-focused celebrity group blog, the Huffington Post has since grown up -- a lot. It added original reporting in November 2006, has taken $10 million in venture financing over 2 rounds, has expanded beyond politics to cover media, business, the environment, and other hot button issues, and is the most linked to blog on the web according to Technorati. Now HuffPo wants to taken on local newspapers.

That makes sense given that analysts have predicted that local ad spending will jump 48% this year to $12.6 billion. The majority of those ads will be search advertising, but clearly, local information is hot with consumers. We've written about the rise of hyperlocal information on ReadWriteWeb before -- Huffington and company are seeking to take advantage of this trend. They want to turn the Huffington Post into a national, virtual newspaper group -- think Gannett or McClatchy but completely online.

And that makes sense, too. A comScore study that we reported on in March revealed that 38% of those between the ages of 18 and 24 are unlikely to read a physical newspaper during a typical week, but non-news readers are still voracious consumers of news. They just get their news online.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Living under a rock

I've been in the process of moving house - to a place with no internet access - while spending a busy week producing the Fieldays Exhibitor, an annual publication created by Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec) students and distributed to exhibitors at the Fieldays agricultural show out at Mystery Creek, near Hamilton.

Between the 12-hour days, long commutes in the dark and paucity of connectivity at my new part-time home, I've barely been online for the past 10 days. I've also barely picked up a newspaper, haven't been able to find National Radio (a preferred source of news) on the dial and haven't watched television (haven't got round to buying a connector for the aerial).

I feel like I've been living under a rock. Can't say I like being that disconnected from the world. So it's nice to be back online while I'm on the road for a few days.

I've managed to get a little bit of connectivity going at my new place, via a Vodafone vodem - a dongle which you plug into a USB port on any desktop or laptop anywhere and get whatever connectivity's available - 3G in the cities, 2G in the hinterlands. It comes with an outrageously overpriced and unneccessarily complicated data plan, of course - that's telcos for you (masters of grasping obfuscation) - but it scores pretty highly for convenience if you're someone who spends a lot of time on the road and works out of different offices.

It only musters 2G at my place in the hinterlands so it's slow - fine if you only do one thing at a time. That's not my style, but it is what it is, at least for now. On the upside, there's a fabulous beach just down the road and lots of trees and birds. It's all about priorities, after all.

Anyway, back to the Exhibitor. It's a terrific publication that runs daily for four days during the Fieldays each year. Wintec journalism students take over a mobile newsroom and spend four days scaring up stories from the 1,000 exhibitors and more than 130,000 visitors to the event, the biggest of its kind in this part of the world.

Meanwhile, I had a team of five very capable design students – all third-year students of the Bachelor of Media Arts - on the production desk putting together between 8 and 16 colour pages a day, with copy and images often flowing in 15-60 minutes before deadline – very much like any other daily newspaper in the world.

It was great fun laying out pages again and working with such a young, motivated team who, despite having no newspaper layout experience, took direction incredibly well, soaked up information like sponges and produced a pretty tidy looking product.

It was a nice reminder of what I loved about being a chief sub-editor (on the Business section of the UK’s Daily Telegraph) - intense work, layout puzzles to solve, juggling a thousand thoughts and things-which-must-be-done-before-deadline - and what I didn’t love (long hours, tired brain). It’s hard work making newspapers, but singularly enjoyable.

So where’s the website for the Exhibitor? Still on the draftboard I’m afraid. For reasons outside our control we were in danger of doing two things badly rather than one thing well. So we opted to do one thing well. Next year will be a different story.

In fact, next semester Wintec is launching a digital journalism paper which aims to arm students with tools for multimedia storytelling, researching stories online, working collaboratively and distributing information and stories online. I'm really looking forward to seeing it take shape and I hope to write more about it in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Global online newspaper audience grows 100pc in three years

The online consumption of newspapers has risen by 20% in the last year and by 100% over the last three years, according to research released at the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) conference. has the story:

The World Digital Media Trends report - collected by 71 research companies and covering 232 countries – also suggested a 13.77% rise in the number of newspaper websites in the world bringing the total to 4,500.

52% of readers who view newspaper websites spend the same amount of time reading newspapers, according to the stats; while 35% say the time they spend with either print or online newspapers has increased.

Figures presented for print circulation worldwide presented an equally positive picture.

The circulation of paid for print dailies rose by 2.98% last year with the total number of titles increasing by 27.22%.

573,235,00 paid and free newspapers are distributed every day and 1.75 billion people read a print edition a day.

Print circulation in China, India and Latin America also showed growth.

Top tips on covering conferences live

This just caught my eye on Twitter - it's top tips from BBC blogger Robin Hamman on the tools and services you need to blog live from a conference. Really good stuff:

1. Make sure you've got all the kit you need and are subscribed to all the services you might want to use. The essentials pieces of kit you'll want are:

  • laptop with full battery
  • charger
  • mobile, preferably with good camera and usb charger
  • optional: digital camera, microphone, recording device, video camera

The essential services you'll want to be subscribed to or familiar with are:

  • twitter
  • an rss reader (if you don't use RSS yet see this explanation)
  • flickr (for photos) and a video sharing service (youtube, bliptv, qik, etc)
  • optional: a blog, friendfeed,

2. Figure out what the conference tag is going to be and use it. Some conference organisers are starting to announce the conference tag in advance. In the case of Social Media Influence, a twitter account with the name SMIuk08 has been set up so I'm assuming that's the tag they will want people to use as well.

Click here to read more.

NZ online advertising grew 67pc in Q1

Online advertising in the first quarter of the year grew 67.2 percent from a year ago to new record $46 million, according to a survey reported by NZPA (via

IAB Insight said the advertising was up 17.91 percent up on the previous quarter despite the first quarter traditionally being slower than the fourth quarter.

The IAB report shows dramatic increases over last year in all three categories of advertising measured by the report. Display was up 68.3 percent to $11.5m, classified up 52.4 percent to $19.2m and Search & Directories up 93 percent to $15.1m.

IAB chief executive Mark Evans said the increases were not unexpected.

"We've been saying consistently for some time that we expect strong growth as New Zealand plays catch-up with other markets, and that's what we're seeing here.

"This growth is clear evidence that more advertisers are starting to spend more money online, and we expect that trend to continue for some time to come as more and more advertisers start to spend more of their advertising budgets online."

IAB chairman Lee Williams said new advertisers were starting to spend online while existing advertisers were spending more, and there was growth right across the sector.

While overseas businesses were spending 15-20 percent of their advertising budgets online, in New Zealand online advertising is still less than 6 percent of total advertising.