Could Moblogging Replace Photojournalism?

A panel at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas last weekend discussed the future of moblogging — the art of creating online journals composed mostly of photos uploaded in part direct from camera-phones — and, in part, whether such activities may threaten journalism. With so many folk armed with camera phones — and some even knowing how to use them — might they be better placed to record momentous events than journalists and photographers?

Heather Somers, managing editor of the excellent Weblog of the USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review, reports from the conference that at least one panelist was unconvinced. Molly Steenson, a professor at the Interaction Design Institute in Ivrea, Italy, said journalists should have no fear that they will be replaced by roving digital chroniclers. “They’re not a threat — we shouldn’t even be going there,” Somers quoted her as saying.

I’d agree. A blurry lo-res snap is not the same as a decent photo professionally taken. But camera phones bring to the table two important things: immediacy and ubiquity. If we can get pictures onto the web within seconds of an event occurring, that means that events small and large are likely to be available to a lot of people very quickly (remember that camera phones work both ways: It’s possible to receive photos as well as transmit them.) The ubiquity thing — everyone has them, and everyone is everywhere — also means that few events are likely to be witnessed without someone with access to a cameraphone.

The bottom line: While journalists are used to writing history’s first draft, I think they (we, I guess) need to get used to the idea that there may be an even earlier draft, written by tech-savvy individuals who are on the spot and have the technology to get their version, along with pictures, out to the world more quickly than we can. We need to adjust to that. In fact it’s a great resource: Now we have witnesses who can show what they saw. Would we still be in a state of confusion if moblogging had been available at the time of JFK’s assassination?

Will mobloggers replace photojournalism? No, but I think they will change it.

The Real And Lucrative Art Of Mobile Blogging

Here’s a new version of mobile blogging — using maps.

WaveMarket have just announced a new “location-based blogging system” that enables users to send and view information that is time and location specific. Korea’s SK Telecom will be the first to use the technology, called WaveIQ, which they hope to launch soon.

It works like this (the website does not do a good job of explaining how it all fits together, so I may get this wrong): You use your phone as a sort of mobile blogging tool, posting information and/or pictures — say a restaurant review — to a central blog, organised by space and time. Others can then see that posting (stored, I guess, either by date, location or type) by either reading the blog as text, or seeing postings by location on a map viewable on their handphone.

Another feature is WaveSpotter, which allows you to wander around and by seeing where you are on a map, look for content near you — restaurant reviews, or whatever, or more personal stuff you or people you know have recorded, such as where you first dated your spouse (you mean you forgot already?)

One other feature is WaveAlert, which ‘enables wireless operators ”to notify you when you are near something important to you, like a speed trap before its too late, or a good friend who happens to be in your area”.

Here’s WaveMarket’s vision: “We enable a single screen archive to catalog an anywhere, any time visual history. Suppose 20 years from now, you want to see what happened here today, where the future of technology is being shaped. WaveMarket will have your photos and postings of what happened in this room at this time. WaveMarket can maintain a daily history of what happens anywhere — from this time forward. Events — big and small — state primaries, Middle Eastern conflicts, neighborhood improvement projects, family reunions or baby’s birthday can all be captured, broadcast, shared and archived. In short, WaveMarket enables you to see a visual history of the world, from today forward, written by the people of the world as it occurs.”

Um. OK, that sounds pretty radical. Thinking more short term, I can see this may be a neat service, and one that could really catch on, especially with those night-time folk who seem to spend more time communicating via SMS or voice with friends they’re not with than the ones they are with. But it may also have more practical benefits for cellphone users, such as figuring out the nearest hospital, the nearest bookshop, or how far from home your son is.

Of course, behind all this are some serious marketing opportunities. The last bit, in particular, sounds like a serious opportunity for firing off location-based ads via SMS/MMS. And of course there’s the privacy aspects: The whole service depends on being able to monitor your location in real time, something you may not be too excited about. Another downside: If one company has a daily history of your movements, your postings, your interests and whatnot, that’s valuable commercial data and you may want to think twice before having that stored somewhere. Not to speak of the interest law enforcement agencies may have in it. You may have done nothing wrong, but how about someone stole your phone and committed a crime with it in their pocket? Who ya gonna believe?

That all said, WaveMarket (the name, by the way, is telling) is the future. Handphones so far have not made full use of the fact that they are, among other things, very effective homing devices. Put that data on maps and hook it up with other time and spatial data and you have some powerful services — and marketing opportunities. And these guys clearly have overcome the huge data processing requirements of this kind of service. Must head off to Seoul and see how they use it.

Service: Phlog? Photog? Photblog? Phoblog?

 From my friend Rani in Singapore, I read with interest of a new service designed by two 19-year old twins Keng and Seng. It’s called Phone Logger, or Phlogger, and it allows anyone (not just those residing in Singapore) to update their blogs (online journals called web logs, or simply blogs) via their handphone’s Short Message Service, or SMS. Actually it utilizes the more advanced MMS, or Multimedia Messaging Service, which includes longer messages and photos. The service is free, and while testing has already got 340 registered users.
An interesting idea, and great that it’s being developed in this part of the world. My main worry, apart from the less-than-mouthwatering name, is that it’s already been adopted to mean Photo Logging — see, by a guy called Alan from Reading in the UK. Who was first? There’s also moblogging, for mobile blogging, which is pretty much the same thing as Photo Logging, firing off photos from your handphone to a website. Fotopages is one example of this. Other terms still floating around: Photog, Photblog, Phoblog. I’d plump for moblog to mean any blog that’s being updated wirelessly, whether it’s pictures or text. Objections, anyone?