Sips from the Firehose

Apr 08

What is “native advertising” anyway?

Posted: under advertising, Digital Migration.
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The IAB has published their view. I have my own opinion.

One of the biggest problems with “native advertising” is that it is such a new, made-up term of digital art, that it’s taken on an Alice in Wonderland-esque quality, in which the phrase means whatever the speaker thinks it means in that moment, while the listener pretty much has their own interpretation.

 “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

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Jan 23

Bookworms love the new Nook e-reader

Posted: under E-ink devices, new media.
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Setting a couple of bookworms loose to play with the next generation e-readers is like setting Augustus Gloop loose in the Wonka Chocolate factory.

The first thing that strikes you about the Nook is how much *faster* it is than the Kindle. And Janine loved the touchscreen. More video to come on Digital Family.

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Apr 02

Charging for News Content on the Mobile Platform: Not So Fast…

Posted: under Mobile commerce, new media, Newspapers.
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Another quick hit, because I’m swamped with assignments right now.

Many newspaper/media analysts have eagerly seized upon the micro-commerce capabilities of mobile phones and devices like the Kindle as possible ways to get readers to pony up for their content. Steve Smith, the self-deprecating mobile industry analyst, has an insightful take on this issue over at Mobile Insider:

I think it is a mistake for media companie [sic] to think that putting the same old content into our pockets or “at our fingertips” is enough to merit a fee. They need to reimagine content as a service. That is a tremendous challenge/opportunity. It means that publishers have to think beyond the media and imagine how people put information to work (or to fun) in their everyday lives.

If a publisher can turn media into a utility, not just more data, then the rest of the argument about pay-to-play models on mobile make more sense. If there is something of value to buy on the mobile platform, then the built-in payment system, the always-there convenience, and the pay-to-play habits of mobile usage make a fee-based model workable for some. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful by-product of the mobile media evolution if it forced publishers to revisit and reimagine how and why their product makes our everyday lives better, easier, healthier, or more enjoyable? Content could have functionality. Media would be a service — not just, well, media.

The thinking on this is pretty terrifying to anyone hoping that the news business will be able to just point their CMS outputs at .mobi or m.[whatever] sites and go on their merry ways.  If what Smith says is true, the news business is going to have to get a lot more disciplined about packaging up the information and presenting it to the average time-starved reader in a way that is immeidately, recognizably useful.

This means that big, exhaustive, Pulitzer-bait investigative pieces that curmudgeons point at as the core business that can’t be replicated … are not going to be in the lifeboats that make it to Digital Refuge Island. Well, at least, not in the way that we’ve all come to expect. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about investigations lately, and I think they represent the best of traditional media … and the worst.  Yes, they are responsible for great, sweeping changes and for holding corrupt politicians, abusive bureaucracies and ugly social trends up into public view. 

But these investigations have become an industry unto themselves, and like many institutions these days, they function based upon their own internal logic, rather than upon what the external market/society need.  That is, the investigations are done in secrecy, over a long period of time, consume vast amounts of manpower, and are disgorged all in a huge tidal wave of text/photos.  All to an audience in which – according to readership surveys – 80% of the intended audience never skips past the first column of text on page one to dig into all this hard-won information.

If an investigation is published and nobody really pays attention, was it really worthwhile?  I can already hear the outraged screams in response to that question.

How about this: wouldn’t it be better to accomplish what a big investigation sets out to do – that is, to identify problems, focus in on miscreants and victims to breathe life into the story, suggest solutions, AND FOLLOW UP IN AN OLD-SCHOOL CRUSADE – in a way that readers actually pay attention to? 

One of the “ah-ha!” moments I’ve seen in the trainings we’ve done is when we talk to the ad/biz side, and ask them whether they think advertisers are buying column inches of ads – or if what they want is more customers walking into their stores.

This (buzzword alert) paradigm shift in the mission of newspapers has to have its own parallel epiphany over on the editorial side. 

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Mar 11

Why 4G Matters: 300Mbps Data Rate (well, almost)

Posted: under Mobile commerce, Video.
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HD video demands – at pretty decent color depth & resolution – about 15-25 megs. (Well, unless you’re trying to deal with uncompressed 1080i HD, which calls for about 400 megs – but the only reason to do that is to capture/edit, rather than watch, which is a whole other can o’ crawlies.)  That means that a 4G phone is basically the final linking device to provide the addressable TV & instant content delivery that we’ve all been blathering about for the last 20 years.

This article on Gizmodo is about the clearest, best-written piece I’ve stumbled across in the last year or so of baking my noodle in the alphabet soup broth of mobile media acronyms.

But what’s so special about WiMax and LTE? And how fast can they really get? Very simply, West told us, “The magic is the channel width.” LTE and WiMax use really fat wireless channels, so they can move a lot of data at once. For example, AT&T’s Kafka told us that “peak speed for LTE in 10MHz is about 140Mbps and peak speed in 20MHz is about 300Mbps.”

Did you see that? 300Mbps? Over the air? Whoooa. Well, don’t let your panties get blown away yet. Yes, 4G will be way faster than 3G. But don’t expect Asian city internet speeds wirelessly in the next couple of years. Clearwire’s Barry West throws a bit of cold water on the ridiculously scorching speeds you might see hyped for LTE: To get to that 170Mbps, “that’s like 8.5 bits per hertz and I’ve never seen a system achieve more than 5 bits per hertz.” Huh? Basically, it doesn’t take a whole lot of interference to slow your connection down, because it and WiMax use a complicated modulation scheme that you can’t have constantly cranked to 11. So real world speeds will be slower.

This, coupled with the laser-projection capabilities being built into the next phones, and the ever-smaller and higher-rez cameras, is pointing to one helluva information device in the future – one that can capture, upload, download and display crystal-clear video.

“In the future everyone will be a television network. For 15 minutes.”

Quick glossary:

4G: 4th-Generation cellphone.  The big clunky analog beasts that we used up til the late 90s were 1G. The switchover to digital (when bad connections were echo-y and robot-sounding rather than crackly and static like bad radio reception) put us to 2G.  iPhones operated at 2.5G, which means data rates of about 200K.  The faster data rate is 3G.

CDMA/1XRTT/EVDO: The compression & transmission technology sets used by Verizon and Sprint. Popular in Korea, Japan, South America and U.S.

GSM/EDGE/HSDPA: The data transmission sets used by AT&T and T-mobile. Everyone in Europe uses GSM technology. It allows you to swap SIM cards between phones, but is slightly less efficient than CDMA.

LTE/WiMax: The coming data transmission standards that phone companies have been beating to death for the past 10 years. LTE = Long Term Evolution.  This is a the data speed that will also be known as 4G.

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Jan 19

APT on Shaky Ground: Yahoo’s Ad Sales Partnership with Newspapers

Posted: under adsense clickfraud, Digital Migration, Newspaper Deathwatch.
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Three quick hits:

1. Here’s an interesting article about the one bit of bright news the newspaper industry had in the past year or so – the APT partnership with Yahoo that allowed newspapers to use Yahoo’s user-targeting technology to serve up ads. Here’s CNBC’s description:

It’s an online marketplace for display ads.

It allows publishers of display ads (like newspapers) and buyers of those ads to connect in this web platform that’s intended to be an efficient, transparent system.

Apparently the business of selling display ads is incredibly time intensive and complex- it even involves old fashioned technology like -gasp- fax machines to demonstrate what an ad would look like. This new technology aims to make the process of selecting and targeting display ads fast and easy.

Well, unfortunately, there’s a new CEO in town, and the APT partnership with newspapers is one of the things that Carol Bartz will be taking a look at. And with the sad & sorry shape of newspapers these days, having Yahoo get all “what have you done for me lately, baby?” is not optimal.

Or maybe it’s part ROI and part gut instinct. Maybe Bartz reads the (thinning) newspapers and decides that there’s not a lot of upside in her company investing its resources heavily in association with what looks like a dying industry.

2. Meanwhile, over at BrassTacks Design, the whole form & appearance of online display ads is being questioned.

CPC works for Google. It works for Google’s advertisers. It will work for newspaper Web sites.

Uh, no. Sorry, but no. Make that, “Hell, no.”  CPC would be a disaster for a newspaper that has to pay to produce content, and therefore, the ad space is limited and costly.  Google’s ad space is created via spiders & algorithms – far cheaper than a pavement-pounding reporter or stogie-chomping city editor.

Google’s ad spaces are created by users typing in search strings.  So a craptastic ad for Lizard potty-training manuals written in Urdu really doesn’t mean all that much.

That same CPC ad crammed onto the front page of a newspaper is a disaster.  Why? Because nobody but drive-by curious will click on it.

CPC only works in a blog or newspaper space when the products being sold are good.  It’s basically like an affiliate program.  You have shitty products that don’t sell – and the advertiser doesn’t really pay for the ad placement, but the content creator loses the valuable ad space on the page. 

And yeah, you can somewhat mitigate this by being choosy with your ads.  But there’s this thing called “Clickfraud,” see, and it’s one of the dirty little secrets that Google tries to keep a lid on. And that’s not even talking about “distribution fraud” – and if you don’t think that that is a risk in a desperate industry, look to the recent past, where circulation managers are doing stretches in the calaboose for cooking the numbers.  Viz:

So, even a Google executive is aware that this network needs to be cleaned up. Think about that. Even at the top level, Google knows it has a click fraud problem on its hands.

3. Meanwhile, over at Ethan Zuckerman’s blog, he raises some very pertinent questions about newspaper survivability, based on the increased efficiency and accountability that the web brings to advertising.

Here’s my concern. If I’m right and print advertising costs are fundamentally irrational, then it’s possible that the way we’ve built media in the United States can’t survive a transition to a more rational market. That would be bad. Newspapers aren’t just businesses – they serve a critical function in a democratic society, informing citizens so they can make intelligent voting decisions, lobby their elected representatives on issues of their concern and hold political and business powers accountable.

What if the idea that commercial enterprises should carry out the public interest function of journalism is built on a fundamentally broken model? What if advertising worked pretty well as a way of subsidizing public interest journalism only so long as advertisers didn’t understand the effectiveness of their ads? Putting aside all the other reasons why commercial journalism may be flawed – the tendency of newspapers and television channels to seek readers by publishing “edutainment” rather than investigation, the worry that papers will hesitate to publish stories that might embarrass advertisers – what if ad supported journalism is only viable in a world where we radically overvalue the worth of ads?

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Jan 18

Circuit City Bankruptcy – Shopaholic Feeding Frenzy

Posted: under Lemmings.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Optimism or Greed?

For the last couple of months, I’ve been hearing financial experts mutter about “frustrated money sitting on the sidelines, waiting to get back into the game.”   I was not convinced – most of the market behavior since the banks started melting down, has been sheer monkey-screeching panic.

And then, I saw this (click to blow up to full size – it is about 6000 pixels wide, so you’re gonna get the full panoramic effect)

Apparently, these people were under the impression that the store was "giving away" free plasma TVs.

Apparently, these people were under the impression that the store was "giving away" free plasma TVs.

I stitched this together in Photoshop CS3 (thanks for the review copy, Adobe!), which is why there’s a bifurcated car in the middle foreground.  Still, I kinda like the effect.

Now, either the pundits were right, and there is tremendous pent-up consumer buying demand … or the impending inauguration of Barack Obama has made sudden optimists out of the justifiably depressed residents of gritty South La Cienaga …

…or some of these knuckleheads didn’t really read the Saturday LA Times story all that closely.  Look folks, the discounts right now are at – what? – maybe 10%?  You can do better than that shopping online.  The 90% off sales aren’t gonna kick in until March, when they’re pretty much yanking up the carpet pad & selling it.  But you couldn’t tell that to the people anxiously waiting in line, some of whom told me that they were there because they had heard that Circuit City was going out of business and they were having to “give” their merch away.

Nothing like a chance to screw the other guy when he’s down, to bring out the avaricious nature of the average Americano.  I guess the economy can’t be doing that bad … or maybe, as a people, we are still addicted to the greedy, consumerist lifestyle, and the much-vaunted “New Frugality” is a thin, thin veneer on a generation of people still stuck in instant gratification mode.  I wonder if the “Going Out of Business” sale is actually just a really clever marketing trick. It’s been the best driver of foot traffic into the stores that I’ve seen lately.


It seems some of the commenters on the LA Times site have finally clued in.

I was at the CC in Santa Monica today and it was busy but the “discounts” were the same ones that have been there since after Christmas. I spoke to an employee and he told me that the liquidators had not come to their store yet to flag merchandise for further discounts. Wait a little longer, folks…

This is all starting to remind me of the sleazy hi-fi store that polluted the airwaves in my hometown when I was growing up.  Every week for eight years, you’d hear his bleating voice on Z-100 radio: “Lost our lease! Everything has to go! Going out of business!”  And yet … somehow he hung in there, month after month, year after year.  Well, until he got caught shipping weed across country in hollowed-out stereo speakers…

I do find it heartening that many of the commenters are referring to the price-check power offered by the internet.  The more consumers are armed with the power to fact-check advertiser claims, the more they will be able to spurn the scammers.

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Oct 07

Barry Diller on Internet Advertising: “It makes my head hurt.”

Posted: under advertising, Digital Migration, new media.
Tags: , , , , ,

I know how you feel, Barry.

This quote from an excellent Wall St. Journal interview with one of the smarter (and more ruthless) guys in the media biz. He’s coming forward to explain why he busted up IAC.

“You really want to get a headache? Try to understand Internet advertising. Social-networking advertising is being discounted because there is so much inventory [of available ad spots], and because methods have not yet been found to make it very effective. Will that get figured out? I absolutely believe it will. What form will it take? Absolutely unknown.”

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Sep 11

Yahoo’s Blueprint, PointRoll Dances on the iPhone, and Millennial Media Targets Everyone

Posted: under advertising, Design, Digital Migration, google, new media, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers, Online Video.
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Packing up for the trip back down to LA, but couldn’t let these little tidbits from the CTIA pass without at least acknowledging them.

1.  Yahoo is trying to drum up some support for its Blueprint mobile platform.  They claim that it’s going to allow users to achieve the Holy Grail of mobile/web content – tying together all our virtual identities with its oneConnect application. It’s been said, over and over (AND OVER) again that the first company to figure out how to provide the one-stop platform for social media interactivity over cellphones, is going to be the next Google (if Google itself doesn’t snarf up that space as well).  The dream is that oneConnect (or whatever) becomes the way to keep up with what your friends on Facebook, Flickr, Bebo, MySpace, YouTube, etc. etc. are doing, and a way to post constant updates on where/what/why/with whom/teh awesum!1!/go away now/overload to all the places where you share your life’s experiences with the world.

Leaving aside for the moment the sneaking suspicion that aggregating all our identities through one company’s pipe may not turn out to be such a bright idea, the software is apparently generating the skepticism already.

Yahoo has been trying to hype this app since, oh, Barcelone in February, and to my knowledge, they really haven’t gotten that much traction with it, despite the best efforts of their developers.

I’d like to see Yahoo manage to pull this off; like many others, I’m starting to get more & more uneasy about Google’s unchallenged dominance, and I’d just as soon they not have complete control over what I do, see, say & hear, as well as knowing who I’m doing said communicating with/near/for/against.

Moving on.

2. Pointroll is wowing the attendees at the CTIA, offering easy(ier?) ways of taking rich media ads and porting them over to the mobile platform.  Their demo of interactive ads on the iPhone, done through and with USA Today, has publishers and advertisers pondering if the time has actually come to start migrating the TV ad spending over to the phones that the 14-24s are actually using, paying attention to, and carrying with them everywhere.

The bad news for Yahoo is that PointRoll is hyping that using their platform will allow ads to run across the entire Google content network. Viz:

The Google content network encompasses hundreds of thousands of
websites, including premium publishers and long-tail niche sites.
Google and PointRoll worked together to ensure that the ads served to
the Google content network meet Google’s policies and specifications.
After completing Google’s certification process, PointRoll’s
sophisticated targeting technologies can now optimize the breadth of
Google’s sites and categories, matching advertisers’ messages to the
users who find them most relevant.

Again, nice hype.  But in light of the struggles that Google has had with Android, I remain skeptical that they have managed to so quickly solve all the problems with serving mobile ads in anything like a timely manner.  I just think that there’s still too much market fragmentation to be able to claim that this One Size Fits All app will reach a mass audience.

To backup my point, allow me to quote a piece in the paper today: one of the problems many sites are running into is that about 25% of web users are still limping along with Internet Explorer 6.0.

(Pause to allow veteran web developers to spit, vomit, scream, make the two-fingered “sign of the devil’s horns” to ward off evil.)

IE 6.0 is widely recognized as the shittiest web browser ever inflicted on the public. It was launched in 2001.  Since then, Microsoft has bugged users to upgrade, remove, kill, quash, forget, shred, this browser.  The fact that a quarter of users in the U.S. still view the web through its Funhouse Mirror interface shows that 1) A large proportion of the public continues to employ legacy technology no matter how Christawful it is, 2) these folks ignore new technology, no matter how much better it is, for fear that upgrading will somehow cause them a problem, and 3) any tech solution based on the assumption that people will be running the latest&greatest hardware and software is doomed to die like like a possum wandering onto the Indy 500 speedway.

3.  Millennial Media is competing with PointRoll to serve multimedia ads to the mobile market.  And we’re going to have to stop here, because it’s time to load up the Conestoga wagon and head back to LA.

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