Tag Archives: Digital media

Web 2.0 or Social Media? It Depends on the Year

A client asked me the other day what the difference was between social media, new media, digital media and Web 2.0. I told him: time.

To see what I mean look at the following timeline from Google Trends:

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The blue line is searches of “social media” since 2004, orange is ”new media”, red “web 2.0” and green is “digital media”.

Of course digital media can also include things like games, Flash and things where media is defined not so much as a means of delivering information but of a platform of expression. I guess the same could be said of new media.

But what’s telling for me is how social media has overtaken web 2.0 as the favored way to capture all the various elements of the revolution that began back in 1999. I noticed I started using it more than Web 2.0 in late 2008, which seems to be about the time that other people did—to the point that in late 2009 it overtook Web 2.0, at least according to the Google chart above.

Indeed, at that point it also overtook new media and digital media in popularity (or at least in what people were searching for.)

This is natural, and reflects the fact that Web 2.0 really describes the engine, the machinery, the working parts of the revolution we’ve witnessed in the past 10 years. This is not just the code, but the principles that underpin the code.

Now we all use it, we don’t need to call it anything. Instead we describe the world that it’s created: social media  where everything is by default set to sharing the process of creating, commenting, editing and working.

Social media for most of us now are things like Twitter (2 billion tweets) and Facebook (500 million users). They may not look much like social media as we recall it back in the day, but they are: Facebook provides all the tools one needs to create, comment on and share content online, while Twitter is the natural conclusion of all that thinking back in the early 2000s: Simple tools, evolved as much by the users as the creators, built on the implicit principle that it’s better to share stuff than hoard it.

We might have called it Web 2.0 back in the day, but now it’s mainstream, and it’s social media.

The Heatline of a Story

Google, apparently prodded by the ground covered by twitter news, has introduced a feature on its Google News search results that indicates what one might call the ‘heat’ of a story—how many sources are covering it over time:

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As with Google Search Trends, the stories below the chart are linked to the graph via letters (although one can’t click on the letters.)

The chart appears to the right of any news search:

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I think it’s clever, and a good way of merging two different Google services (and a third: the images in the bottom right hand corner.)

A note at the bottom explains the placement of stories on the graph:

The selection and placement of stories on this page were determined automatically by a computer program.

The time or date displayed (including in the Timeline of Articles feature) reflects when an article was added to or updated in Google News.

The example above, concerning phone tapping in the UK, indicates that things have quietened down a bit, although that could have more to do with it being a weekend than anything else.

I would imagine this kind of thing would be useful, too, for news organisations to let readers navigate big stories. The sheer number of stories on one particular issue make it hard for users to find the most relevant ones, or to be able to see where that story sits in their coverage timeline.

The Myth of Customization?

I noticed that the BBC website, one of the most trafficked news websites on the planet, is abandoning customization due to an apparent lack of interest. Instead of being able to choose between a UK version and an international version, all visitors will get the same homepage.

Steve Herrmann explains it thus:

So why bother with the change? Because the option allowing you to choose “site versions” (which relatively few of you actually chose to use) has started to lead to some potentially frustrating experiences for you, as well as some significant technical complications for us.

He says that one of the reasons for this is because of conflicting rights and legal issues to do with audio and video, which “has led to a growing number of potentially confusing results.”

But another reason is that it makes it easier to feed ads to overseas users:

The change also means that the advertising which you can see on our pages if you are outside the UK can be integrated around our pages without the need to change page formats for the UK version of the site.

Makes good economic sense. But to me the most telling thing about this is that users just weren’t using the customization enough. And not just the choosing the UK or international version, but the whole module thing that the BBC set up some time ago, allowing users to create a sort of iGoogle, or NetVibes homepage. Herrmann says that international users won’t be able to do this anymore but adds

[i]t was used by a relatively small number of you, but if you were one of them – I’m sorry, and please bear with us while we work on developing the site. We’ll be looking at how to make the site customisable in other ways as part of that work.

This is all quite revealing. I’d suggest a couple of quite possible conclusions:

  • Perhaps BBC website users don’t care so much about customization because they care more about what the BBC editors choose to be the news. In other words, part of the value in the content is the choice of that content, its placement, what is left in and taken out etc.
  • Users just don’t have time to customize stuff. My long-running point is that the scarcity in news is now attention. If you insist on users taking up some of that attention time with customization—whether or not it may save them time in the long run—it does not seem to be an investment users are willing to make. (Unless, perhaps, they pay for it?)
  • Customization is hard. It’s not easy to make it palatable and appealing to users.

BBC – The Editors: Changes to international pages

The Problem With Memory Sticks

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… is that you forget you have them in your pocket. According to Credant Technologies, a Texas-based security company, about 9,000 USB sticks have been left in people’s pockets in the UK when they take their clothes to the dry cleaners.

This is based on a survey (no link available; sorry) of 500 dry cleaners across the UK who, on average, had found 2 USB sticks during the course of a year. There are, according to the Textile Services Association, some 4,500 dry cleaners in the UK. A survey by the company of taxi drivers in London and New York last September showed that over 12,500 handheld devices such as laptops, iPods and memory sticks were left in the back of cabs every 6 months.

Taking these figures with the caution they deserve—two? Is that ‘We find on average two thumb drives each year’ or ‘yeah I suppose you could say a couple’?—it doesn’t sound surprising. Indeed, you’d think it would be higher, and, indeed, in the centre of London, it is: One dry cleaner in the heart of the City of London said he is getting an average of 1 USB stick every 2 weeks, another said he had found at least 80 in the past year.

Credant want to remind us that data on thumb drives is probably going to be valuable, and there could be a lot of it. With most drives now at least 2GB in capacity, that’s a lot of files that some bad guy could have access to. Encrypt, they say (using their software, presumably.)

They have a point. Though maybe encryption isn’t so much the answer as asking whether there’s perhaps a better way to carry sensitive data around with you? Like not?

Illustration from Computer Zeitung used with permission

Pure Web 2.0 – Music Collaboration

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Via one of my musicial heroes,  Thomas Dolby, here’s a great example of how Web 2.0 really works—for musicians.

A very timely piece of software has become available for me to use on my album. It’s called Virtual Glass and it’s a plug-in you download from a web site/service called eSession.com.

The subscription-based eSession site handles all administrative aspects of auditioning, negotiating with, and recording with, a huge number of top professional musicians, all without leaving the comfort of your own home studio (or in my case, DIScomfort as it’s not finished yet!)

It ticks all the Web 2.0 boxes—free for basic services, allows users to find other like-minded users, and enables them to collaborate together online. In fact, I can’t really think of a purer encapsulation of the Web 2.0 vision.

Here’s how Dolby describes using it:

[I]t enables me to do a recording session with, let’s say Kevin Armstrong, who lives in London which is several hours away from me. Kevin has his own studio and uses the same software as me. So we can connect, open the same song, and Kevin can overdub guitar parts. We can discuss them, agree on retakes and so on, while hearing each other in real time. His face and/or his studio appear in a video window on my screen, and we have a ‘talkback’ system. The experience is actually not very different from me being in the control room and Kevin out in a booth. I can hear a low-res version of his part, then once it’s done he just drops the new recording into a bin online, and I update it on my end in hi-res. The software can keep track of the time we spend and even issue an invoice based on a pre-agreed fee.

Then let’s say I really need someone to play a jaw’s harp. I do a search for that keyword in the eSession talent profiles, and find out that Tony Levin as well as being a killer bassist is an ace jaw’s harpist (?!) and right now he’s got a mid-tour day off and he’s sitting in a hotel room in Nashville, Tenessee. I approach him and fix the fee. We can work together using Virtual Glass in real time over ADSL, or he can just work on it in his own time and send me a few takes to peruse offline.

Thomas Dolby’s Blog » Blog Archive » eSession rocks

Books. The New Google Juice?

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Increasingly I find that if I enter a search on Google for something that I need explaining to me, the first result is a book. Of course, the book is in Google’s Book Search, but chances are the search is in a page that has been scanned and is available without having to buy the book. What I’m not clear about are the implications of this.

(The above example is from me finding myself watching a UK quiz show from 2001 on the BBC’s Entertainment Channel, which I noticed is free this month on our local cable network. As a long-term expat I find these programs compelling viewing, because they offer a window on a culture I’ve lost access to huge chunks of. So when they ask about something old, I’m good, but if it’s a reference to EastEnders since 1987, I’m stumped. Hence the search for what ‘bank’ means on The Weakest Link.)

So back to the implications. Well, Google may be gaming the system. But it looks like a legit result to me:

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I don’t really understand how this works—I always thought links to a page affected its prominence in the rankings, but I’m not complaining. I found what I was looking for. But what does this mean for books? For publishing? Do authors and publishers try to SEO their books? Or will it eat into sales? Is it worth book-ising a website so that it scores higher on Google? Is it worth putting ads into books so when they appear in the scanned form on Google Book Search, readers see the ads? Just some thoughts.

Some Tools for the Productive

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m a big fan of tools that help sort through your stuff, or at least help you keep it orderly. TiddlyWiki is one of them, but it’s often just sat on the wrong side of the line in terms of easily getting stuff into it while you’re doing something else. You know the situation: You’re browsing, you like the look of something and you want to put it somewhere you can find it again, but you don’t really want to start moving around into other programs. TiddlySnip, in this case, might provide the answer:

TiddlySnip is a Firefox extension that lets you use your TiddlyWiki as a scrapbook! Simply select text, right click and choose ‘TiddlySnip selection’. Next time you open your TiddlyWiki file, your snippets will be there, already tagged and organised.

It works well. On the same subject, I’ve heard from the PR folks involved with EverNote, the scrolling toilet roll of stuff that works not unlike TiddlyWiki, but now, in its 2.0 beta,

allows users to search for text within images—the first time such a product is available to the public.

What this means, apparently, is that you can search images for embedded typed or handwritten text. There’s also a portable version of EverNote that you can put on your USB thumbdrive. Both versions might be worth checking out.

Foiling EMI

Further to my rant yesterday about digital rights management, my friend Mark tells me that getting around the Coldplay X&Y copy protection is easy — just rip it on a Mac. He’s right, at least for me: Works like a dream, after no joy at all on two ThinkPads.

This may not be true with all copies of the CD. I bought mine in Hong Kong in 2005, although it appears to be imported from Europe. A piece on ConsumerAffairs says the “CD’s restrictions also prevent it from being played or copied on Macintosh PCs.” Some folk reported problems playing it on their Macs.

Hopefully this idiocy will not last much longer. Boing Boing reported a couple of weeks ago that EMI was apparently ending copy protection on new CDs, although I’ve not seen anything since. If this is true, I suggest we all send our Coldplay and other copy protected CDs back to EMI and demand copies without DRM on them.

Bloggers Bash Into Chinese Walls, Part XVI

Once again, the non-journalist end of blogging is finding that its world is surprisingly like the old world of media. TechCrunch, a widely read blog of things going on in the social media world of Web 2.0, has run into the kind of conflicts that traditional media grappled with (and are still grappling with) since time immemorial (well at least since last Wednesday.)

The story, in a nutshell is this: TechCrunch sets up a UK version of its site. TechCrunch, itself heavily sponsored by Web 2.0 startup advertising, co-sponsors a Web 2.0 conference in Paris. TechCrunch UK editor attends said confab, which ends in controversy and accusations that the organiser, one Loic Lemeur, messed up. Organiser lambasts TechCrunch UK editor’s own accusations. Sparks fly, one thing leads to another, and TechCrunch UK editor is fired by TechCrunch owner and the UK website suspended. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth within blogosphere and talk of raging ethical debate.

I can’t pretend to have read all of the raging ethical debate (as raging ethical debates go, you want to set aside a good chunk of time for one that rages in the blogosphere: Harrington’s post on the subject currently has 78 comments, a few dozen more here before its suspension. Even Journalist.co.uk and The Guardian wrote about it, although judging from the headline I don’t think it was for the front page.)

Now there’s plenty of fodder for good debates here, and it’s not only Arrington who is getting a fair amount of flack for all this. But there’s an easy way of looking at this: Arrington is the publisher of TechCrunch. He’s Murdoch, Maxwell, whoever you want. TechCrunch is his brand. Anything that damages that brand, or appears to be damaging that brand, needs crushing, and that trumps everything else. You can’t blame him for that; if the editor of The Guardian starts damaging the brand of the paper you’d expect him to come in for some flak from the owner.

It gets complicated further in, however. Arrington is also an editor and writer. He’s also in the advertising and circulation department, since he’s out there drumming up business (often with the people he writes about, but that’s another story). So his role as publisher clashes with his role as editor, since a good editor will demand the independence necessary to criticise anyone, whether it’s sponsors, advertisers, even (and we’re talking theory here) the owners or publisher. Arrington in his role as editor was in conflict with his role as publisher and owner.

This is why traditional media separate these functions, and why, inevitably, TechCrunch and its ilk will have to too, as these kinds of crises occur. Editorial departments in traditional media have little or no contact with other departments, so oftentimes have no idea whether they’re sponsoring an event they’re attending. That’s how it should be, although it does perhaps contribute to the notion that journalists occupy their own little dreamworld.

Who knows where the truth lies in this particular mess, but if it awakens the blogosphere to the need to have Chinese Walls between advertising/sponsoring departments and the editorial side then that can only be good. In this case, if I were Arrington, I would start building them quickly. TechCrunch has at least 144,000 readers, a very respectable circulation, and that, whether he likes it or not, puts the publication into the realm of an outfit that needs to clearly demarcate the boundaries of its interests.