Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage


May 29

Economic Crisis Forces Spain’s Newspapers into Digital Migration

Posted: under Digital Migration, new media, newspaper crisis, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Unemployment over 50% – banking system collapse – political instability – newspapers run out of options

When asked what are the enduring lessons of the last five years for newspapers, various pundits have opined “Don’t enter an economic recession massively over-leveraged and dependent on fragile business models.”

One by one, newspapers are falling behind.

In Spain, the problems that we are experiencing in the U.S. are even more severe. The advertising base was even more reliant on crazy real-estate bubble advertising than it was here. Anyone who has flown into, say, Barcelona, and seen 20 MILES of empty housing developments, half-built apartment blocks, and gradually eroding graded hillsides, can quite easily judge what kind of devastation was left behind when that bubble burst.

But now comes the news that digital media has overtaken print in Spain. 

There is some disagreement over just how many digital news outlets have sprung up in the past couple years:

Ahora desde la AEEPP (Asociación Española de Editoriales de Publicaciones Periódicas) reconocen que tienen 763 publicaciones digitales asociadas aunque, Carlos Astiz, secretario general de la Asociación, estima que puede haber 3.000 medios digitales.

…and exactly what constitutes a regular news publication (such as when its edition are funded via crowdfunding:

En medio de la crisis que afecta a los medios tradicionales, han surgido en los últimos meses un gran número de medios digitales con fórmulas diferentes para conseguir la rentabilidad. Desde la existencia de socios que por un módico precio acceden antes a los contenidos como en diario.es o infolibre.es a proyectos financiados por crowdfunding como la revista FronteraD.

But the trend seems to be that digital-only publications have been designed from the ground-up to be profitable on this new platform. The publishers, operating on a shoestring, find an audience, find ways to monetize that audience, and then start to methodically try to scale up.

The opposite is in action with the traditional media. They have their audience – but it is shrinking.

They have their revenue streams – but they are evaporating.

So they are engaged in a massive scale-down. Cutting coverage, cutting staff, and according to the Difusion story, only weeks/months away from re-erecting the infamous paywall around El Pais that was widely credited with destroying the paper’s digital operations before they had even gotten a chance to find their footing. I wrote an entire case study about it (and El Tiempo’s desperate attempts to re-connect with the young audience that they had alienated & lost) for the NAA. 

El Pais Spain front page

Soon to run back behind the paywall. Maybe it will work this time. Then again, with so much new competition in the digital marketplace, and with the brand discredited & distrusted by younger readers … maybe it won’t.

Meanwhile, over in the digital-only world, site owners are waking up to the trend of “native advertising” – i.e. putting posts into the middle of the flow that look a lot LIKE the news stories that readers are there to check out … but that contain sponsored content, written in a way that doesn’t conflict with the rest of the content on the site.

Check out what John Battelle has to say about this evolution of monetization: 

The reason native works is because the advertising is treated as a unit of content on the platform where it lives. That may seem obvious, but it’s an important observation. When a brands’s content competes on equal footing alongside a publisher’s content, everyone wins. Those search ads – they win if they are contextually relevant and add value to the consumer’s search results. Those promoted tweets only get promoted if people respond to them – a signal of relevance and value.  The same is true for all truly “native” ad products. If the native ad content is good, it will get engagement. The industry is evolving toward rewarding advertising that doesn’t interrupt and is relevant and value additive. That’s a good thing.

 

 

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Apr 22

Lesson from Reddit and the Boston Bombing — Don’t Stop Experimenting with Crowdsourcing

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs, Conspiracy Theories.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Is every crowdsourced “let’s catch the Bad Guys” effort inherently doomed to wind up as a witch hunt?

For a while last week, as we were all caught up in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, I was cheered up a bit by the efforts of Reddit and 4chan to try to figure out what they could do to assist in a positive way. It seemed like they were doing all the right things, in a sincere effort to help law enforcement by crowdsourced the efforts to determine who had planted the bombs. Right up front, Reddit said that racism, trolling, idiocy of any kind would not be tolerated. They even had as a “sticky” post up at the top of the page, a notice reminded everyone of the sad story of Richard Jewell.

For a while, it seemed like they might actually be able to contribute something. That maybe having tens of thousands of sharp-eyed internet sleuths poring over the mountains of photos, videos, and eyewitness reports might lead to what the pros call “actionable intelligence.”  Noted internet provocateur Jason Calacanis went so far as to say,

“Twitter is where all the smart and important people in the world spend their time, which means  instant coverage of these horrific events unfolds there in real time. Sure, there are spammers and idiots on Twitter, but smart people favor Twitter over any other social network by far.”

(snip)

Yet folks say, ‘Don’t speculate’?!

Ummmm, that’s exactly what we need to do!

Sometimes the rules change. Sometimes dogma needs to be flipped: ‘Shut up and let the cops do their job’ in the case of a terrorist attack is EXACTLY wrong.”

But very quickly, the idiot side of the internet took over, as 4channers started inserting “Where’s Waldo” into the photos and mocking the efforts to sift through the assets to find something of use, while outlets like CBS started wringing their hands over the fact that hordes of people on the web had self-deputized, and were now possibly (because who knows? It’s the unruly internet, after all!) out of control.

CBS news doubts the effectiveness of amateur internet sleuths

CBS news was not a believer.

But the apology today from Reddit makes it clear that whatever clear intentions we started out with, no matter the warnings posted to try to ward off the kind of unthinking, hysterical shaming/assumptions of guilt … at the end of the road, we wound up at the same old familiar virtual lynching tree.

reddit boston bomber thread taken down

Like two vast and trunkless legs in the sand, this is all that remains of the once-great campaign to find the Boston Marathon bombers.

A few years ago, reddit enacted a policy to not allow personal information on the site. This was because “let’s find out who this is” events frequently result in witch hunts, often incorrectly identifying innocent suspects and disrupting or ruining their lives. We hoped that the crowdsourced search for new information would not spark exactly this type of witch hunt. We were wrong. The search for the bombers bore less resemblance to the types of vindictive internet witch hunts our no-personal-information rule was originally written for, but the outcome was no different.

Of course, the traditional media is now pretty much hanging on the rim, whooping it up over the mistakes made on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, etc. And the digital media are firing back at the well-publicized errors at CNN, the NY Post, AP, and Fox News (whose coverage could have had poor Zooey Deschanel wondering if she was about to be sent to Gitmo with a sack on her head).

From 4chan to the front page. Not such a short journey, after all.

So what’s the real takeaway here? Well, the hard fact that I keep coming back to is that there were hundreds of thousands of people spending hours of their lives, obsessively poring over photos and videos. In some cases, this can lead to killers being found, mysteries being solves, and the innocent being set free.

In this case, it did not.

That does not mean that we should slam the door on crowdsourcing and leave everything to “the professionals.”

Look, we’ve got The People Formerly Known As The Audience no longer willing to sit passively and just let “news” wash over them. They want to be involved. They want to react. They want to DO SOMETHING. Send money, travel to New Orleans and man a bass boat with a rescue crew, build tents in Haiti, pepper their congressman with Tweets … whatever.

Philly-reddit apologizes for Boston witchhunt

This generation grew up playing video games. You push the buttons on your digital device, and stuff on the screen in front of your face reacts. This paradigm is powerful. That’s why kids, including me, back in my [*wheeze*] youth loved playing them. They make you feel involved, empowered, in charge, filled with agency. Pick a phrase.

This genie is not going back into the bottle. No matter how much all the scolders tut-tut, the impulse of human beings to get off their asses and do something when they see something that moves them deeply, is going to continue. It will continue not just in the safe and societally acceptable channels of sending money/volunteering (and I think the mountains of teddy bears sent to the parents in Sandy Hook are misguided). This impulse is inevitably going to continue to play out in the digital realm, where we increasingly spend so much of our attentionshare.

Nobody really covered themselves in glory this past week.

Nobody really covered themselves in glory this past week.

The genie is not going back into the bottle. Nor should it.

Our jobs as journalists/media professionals are to figure out how better to make this impulse actually turn into something productive. I give Reddit a lot of credit for actually pitching in and helping.

Apropos of this: over the weekend, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsome was at the Los Angeles Book Fair, plugging his new book “Citizenville,” all about Government 2.0. He answered questions about what he thought the intersection of technology and society can and should do and told a great story about the virtue of trying. Paraphrasing here:

“I own a hotel in Reno that was built back in the 60s. It’s old-school, so it has no air-conditioning. In the summer, to keep it cool, we open the doors to let the breeze flow through. The problem is, the mosquitoes also come in.

“Well, we had a night clerk. He was a little … strange. Like you’d pretty much expect from a guy who chooses to work the 2 a.m. shift. So he comes up with an idea to try to solve the mosquito problem. He goes out and gets a whole bunch of catfish and stocks them into the ponds surrounding the hotel, that were the breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

“A day later, I get a call from one of the managers. He’s freaking out – ‘There’s blood everywhere! Blood and meat and torn flesh in the hallways! Something terrible happened here! I gotta go!”

“And then he hangs up. I’m freaking out. Wondering if the Manson Family somehow got loose and went Helter Skelter all over my hotel.

“And then I get the callback. Turns out the catfish really didn’t feast on the mosquitoes the way it was planned.

“But the raccoons? They feasted on the catfish. They went into such a frenzy, they were running through the halls of the hotel, ripping apart and eating the catfish they were easily catching out of these ponds. Looked like a massacre.

“The manager says, ‘So we fire him, right?’

“I said, ‘Hell no! Give that man a raise! At least he tried to solve the problem. He didn’t sit around, waiting for someone else to try to solve things. He saw a need and he jumped in and tried to fix things.’

“Granted. His solution didn’t work. But at least he tried something new and different.

“And that’s how the award for ‘Best Failure’ was born.”

 

That, in a nutshell, is how I feel about not only the attempts by ordinary citizens to help find the Boston Bombers … but the fact that Reddit is trying to work out the acceptable rules for how to run a crowdsourcing project that adds value to the response to a tragedy. If nobody tries anything until we have it all perfect … then nothing will ever get done.

If you want a more formal response to media coverage of the Boston bombings, you can check out the Poynter “4 Takeaways” list.

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Jan 12

NMX – Blogger Tools

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs.
Tags: , , , , , ,

The blogging community is notoriously hard to please. Check out the vitriolic tweets directed at the poor victims who dared to sit onstage at the close of the NMX convention, talking about “Inventing the Future.”

Check out the silvery television-headed robots:

20130112-143237.jpg

Despite the rather ugly tone at the end, there were some creative attempts at serving the pajama-clad tech nerd lynch mob:

First, there were the somewhat shellshocked crew behind the counter at the BlackBerry booth. They were apparently laboring under the misconception that there are actually talented developers in the world that, given a choice, would pour their time and energy into creating an app for their platform.

20130112-141307.jpg

If there is a clearer indication that upper management at BlackBerry is delusional and out of touch, I haven’t seen it.

The signs plaintively exhort the fictional mobile developers to “blog about it!” Not sure if publicly acknowledging that you’ve just wasted your time & effort on a platform that’s got one foot in the gave and the other on a banana peel should be seen as a complicated cry for help, or a confession of bad business judgement.

Next, the folks at Readz, promising “Simply Beautiful Tablet Publishing.” I’ve been grinding my mental gears on the various tablet-publishing solutions for the past two years, most recently with Atavist, iBook Creator, and the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite. What I’ve learned is that these tools promise much, but run headlong into the contradictions inherent in this chaotic new space.

20130112-141617.jpg

For example, there are the crazy quilt screen resolutions, video formats and typographic specs. Ad then there’s the whole horizontal/vertical screen orientation layout problem. IBook Creator is particularly ugly and opaque on this issue — your layout will look fine one way, but flip the iPad the other way, and some elements will show up and others … won’t. No rhyme nor reason to it either.

Meanwhile, the InDesign files churned out contain such spaghetti code that you are directed to open them in Dreamweaver to clean up the CSS3 and HTML 5.

I’ll give Readz a spin, even though they inexplicably have “Wilson” the volleyball from Castaway as part of the booth decor.

20130112-141902.jpg

I did like the quirky spirit displayed by the WordPress “Happiness Bar,” where they touted the fact that the WordPress platform is being used by everyone from giant corporations to “your dad’s book club.” The folks there were talking about vague plans for better ecommerce plugins.

If someone were to come up with an open-source PayPal, that would really rock a lot of worlds. The challenges would be enormous – whenever there’s money involved on the web, you WILL get haxxors. It’s inevitable. Then again, getting out from under a corporate monolith that is vulnerable to pressure (such as in the Wikileaks case) would be a step in the direction of international press freedom.

20130112-142015.jpg

Next up, Raven. I’ve been looking at them for a while – they’ve been struggling for a long time, trying to compete with Radian6, Crimson Hexagon, et al. They seem to be engaged in a re-branding pivot, trying to go to the low-end blogger side of the spectrum, to sell us indie freaks the long-awaited way to monetize our audience(s).

They’re offering a 30-day free trial, and that alone differentiates them from the competition.

20130112-142155.jpg

UStream was one of the big sponsors for the conference, and they (allegedly) worked to fatten the backhaul pipes so that the bloggers in attendance could all either upload live streaming video of themselves, or download everyone else’s livestreams. Which is kind of a strange thought-exercise: an entire conference room full of people all looking at themselves looking at each other on their ubiquitous tablets.

I’ve worked with clients over the past few years to use UStream to give their fanbase and users access to live events. Where it starts getting tricky is when you want to archive the events and make them available to the audience later, or even store them on your own site’s multimedia library.

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May 14

Satellite TV dishes are common on the rooftops of Addis Ababa

Posted: under Digital Migration, television.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I met with the CEO of the Fana Broadcasting network this past week. We talked about the phenomenal growth occurring here in Ethiopia, and what that is going to mean for the traditional media here.

Right now, as in so many other developing countries, the media landscape is still ruled by King Radio; the largely rural population may not have reliable access to electricity, and newsprint distribution is neither economically feasible nor attractive to a population that still lags in literacy rates. But TV?

Ah, there’s the rub.

satellite dishes on the rooftops of humble abodes

Even the most humble abode seems to sport a sophisticated satellite dish, capable of pulling in international TV signals.

“Even here, once people get TV sets, what they want and expect is the same high-quality, clear as a bell HD programs that they see from CNN, the BBC and on the movie channels. The problem we have is that we are simply not set up to deliver that kind of content right now. We don’t have the people with the expertise. So everybody just gets a satellite dish and puts it up on the roof of their house, no matter how humble.”

Well, that’s where I come in.

The push here is to try to develop a homegrown video content-production industry; not just as a point of national pride, but as a way of extending Ethiopia’s cultural (and thus, political) influence in the Horn of Africa. And looking ahead, the major media companies are already seeing the way that mobile media consumption is ramping up, and trying to figure out ways to incorporate web-based content sharing and discovery mechanisms (i.e. the social media aspects) into their planning.

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Apr 17

The Great Digital Migration: A Long, Featureless Trudge Into … What, Exactly?

Posted: under Digital Migration, newspaper crisis, Newspaper Deathwatch.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

27 Print Dollars for $1 Digital; Social News; Papers in Trouble; Kodak v. Fuji

I posted this picture via Twitpic earlier today, and my digital brethren quickly chimed in on how much they felt like this in their daily lives. And I get it. Working in the media industry these days is far, far different from the way it was when the journalists of my generation got into the biz. Looking back at recordings from the early 90s, I am struck by how much free time we all seem to have had back then – these days, you feel like you can’t take your eyes off your Twitter feed for even a second, lest you miss the Next Big Meme and are thus branded as a digital troglodyte who “just doesn’t get it.”

people walk across sand dunes in a vast desert

Strung out and exhausted, journalists are wondering when this migration ends, or even when they might run across a handy signpost telling them which way to go. (click to embiggen)

So yeah, if you feel like you’re lost in the desert and that the only future involves your bones bleaching in the sun next to a steer skull … well, maybe it’s because most newsrooms these days evoke the feeling you get when wandering through any of the weathered ghost towns that dot the arid landscape in Arizona and Nevada, left behind when the seams of gold and silver petered out.

Read More

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Apr 11

eBooks Pricing and Antitrust: Pricing Collusion or Draining a Fetid Swamp?

Posted: under E-ink devices.
Tags: , , ,

Today’s news of the antitrust suit filed by the DOJ against Apple and a consortium of large book publishers raises some interesting questions. First, here’s what the government alleges (h/t Wall St. Journal)

In a civil antitrust lawsuit, the Justice Department alleged that CEOs of the publishing companies met regularly in private dining rooms of upscale Manhattan restaurants to discuss how to respond to steep discounting of their e-books by Amazon.com Inc., a practice they disliked. The executives also called and emailed each other to craft a solution to what one of them called “the wretched $9.99 price point,” the suit said.

The five publishers and Apple hatched an arrangement that lifted the price of many best-selling e-books to $12.99 or $14.99, according to the suit. The publishers then banded together to impose that model on Amazon, the government alleged.

the amazon kindle bookstore as seen on an iPad3

Note the diversity in prices for the books on this page; contrast that with the uniformity of pricing for songs on iTunes (i.e. 99 cents, no matter what).

Now, this can be read two ways:

1. The book publishers and Apple got together to put the vise on Amazon to fix the prices of books at a level that benefitted the publishers (and Apple) by allowing them to jack up the prices of ebooks to be more in line with the print versions (thus protecting what the publishers see as still their core business, dead-tree editions).

Problem: Apple is being a total hypocrite here. One of the biggest gripes that the music industry has had about Apple over the years has been the 99 cent price point for songs. Labels fought to adjust that pricing – to make great hit songs cost more, while cutting the price of up-and-coming bands to give them a chance to get traction in the market. Apple relented enough to go for .69, .99, and $1.29 … which was rather too late to really do much good. 

2. Amazon successfully lobbied to be allowed to reinstitute its price-cutting schemes that allow Amazon to consistently have lower prices on the stuff they sell.

Problem: They can do this for the same reason that Wal-Mart has lower pricesAmazon is pretty much the only game in town. And if you don’t like it, tough. Go find somewhere else to peddle your stuff (good luck with that one, pally).

What does this mean for indie authors, and larger startup publishers, such as small-to-midsize newspapers that want to bundle up special editions and monetize their content by selling it via as an eBook (as enthusiastically proposed by the estimable Robert Niles)? Nothing good, I’m afraid.

Here’s what author Jim Hines found out when Amazon started cutting the prices on his books: 

A certain champion of self-publishing recently decried all of the “whiny bitches” complaining about Amazon, and argued how Amazon treats authors so much better than commercial publishers.

While there are certainly advantages to Amazon’s program, anyone who thinks Amazon is in this to help authors is a fool. Amazon, like pretty much any other business, is in this to make money. As for how they treat authors, let me share what I’ve experienced over the past week and a half.

Amazon can and will adjust your price as they see fit.

(snip)

So what’s the big deal? Don’t retailers put things on sale all the time? Well, sure … which leads me to my second lesson.

Amazon can calculate royalties based on the sale price, not your list price.

With my DAW books, if a bookstore offers a sale, I still get my royalties based on the cover price. Amazon is selling Libriomancer for pre-order at almost half-off, but I’ll get paid my full amount for every copy sold. Not so with self-published titles. Looking at my reports for last week, my royalties were slashed by 2/3 for every copy sold, because Amazon paid me 70% of the $.99 sale price, not my list price.

The lesson here is that when you’re looking to get paid for the creative work that you do, and when the opportunities for you to sell said work are increasingly running through only two channels (Amazon or Apple), then you are going to get paid what they feel like paying you. And they are going to take just as big a cut out of your earnings as they feel like taking.

Yeah, sure, they built up the stores. But those stores would have nothing to sell without the efforts of millions of creative people. Amazon and Apple are benefiting from being classic middlemen. They are the bottleneck between the consumers and the content that audience wants to consume. And they are starting to throw some very, very sharp elbows.

Read more detailed analysis about this dirty deal at The Verge:  

  • The DOJ says Apple “knowingly served as a critical conspiracy participant” by promising all the publishers the exact same deal and keeping everyone informed about the status of negotiations. When Penguin explicitly said that it wouldn’t sign unless at least three other companies signed, Apple “supplied the needed assurances.”
  • To persuade other publishers, Steve Jobs himself had to get involved. He wrote an email to one publishing CEO saying that the only existing choices were to “keep going with Amazon at $9.99” or “hold back your books.” He then offered a third choice: “Throw in with Apple and see if we can all make a go of this to create a real mainstream ebooks market at $12.99 and $14.99.”

The details read like some kind of overheated Mafia book by a cut-rate author – secret meetings at restaurants, high-level collusion, contemptuous disregard for the customers, and finally – yes – DOJ wiretaps on the guilty parties. Christ. It’s like they were dealing with garbage-hauling contracts in New Jersey.

It’s hard to know who to root for in this situation. Both sides seem to have rapaciously eyed the book-buying consumers the way velociraptors eyed up the poor heifer being lowered into their pen.

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Mar 20

We Need Social Media Janitors

Posted: under Digital Migration, Video.
Tags: , , , , , ,

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m as guilty of assigning myself a made-up title as anyone.

But c’mon – “Digital Alchemist” is pretty cool. And it’s a nice shorthand for what I do – which is to research, study, broadcast via social media, write case studies, write blog posts, take still photos, work on mobile web designs, shoot video, compose music tracks, publish to the web, craft a monetization strategy … and then travel the world teaching other people to do as I do. And at least the basic idea is there in the two words: Digital. Alchemist. I take existing media forms and I transfer them to the web medium, and in the process transmute the experience to something that is (in theory, at least) greater than the sum of the parts.

It was distressingly tough to be a mop whore

Yeah, there are times that I feel a little like the “natural scientists” in Gulliver’s Travels, attempting to squeeze sunlight out of cucumbers (because if sunlight went into them to make them grow, then there must be a way to wring that sunlight back outta them). But I’ve had enough success by this time to feel fairly OK with calling myself something more than an tongue-tangling multihyphenate journalist-videographer-designer-web consultant-blogger-editor-photographer-whatever.

But it’s time to move past the days of “Social Media Ninjas” and/or “Social Media Gurus” and get down to what we really need.

Social Media Janitors.

Why janitors? Why not Social Media Engineers? Or Social Media Architects? Or even Social Media Mad Scientists?

Because two years after Facebook blew up and became pretty much the standard background noise of modern life, social media has arrived at the point where it’s time that we all stopped gawking at the infographics with all the pretty lines going all hockey stick on us, and actually get down to putting a wrench on this thing and making it Do Something Useful.

So again. Why janitors?

  • Janitors are the guys who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. School janitors are the longsuffering guys who come in with their gray, tattered mops and buckets of cloying sawdust to clean up in the lunchroom after some poor kid yarfs up the spoiled Mystery Meatloaf. Social Media Janitors are the guys who patiently answer the n00b questions while keep the message threads clear of trolls, and soothing hurt feelings after flame wars.
  • Janitors are willing to put in long, hard days at work. The school janitors are there in the mornings, chipping away at the ice on the sidewalk, and there at the end of the day, checking the mousetraps in the crawlspaces. Social Media Janitors are always on, either with their butts at their workstations, creating content, or setting alerts to go to their cellphones 24/7, just to make certain nothing is blowing up on the message boards.
  • Janitors always have lots of keys. The school janitor has one of those shiny metal belt ziplines that holds enough metal to make a Studebaker engine block. He can be trusted to always open the doors that need opening, get you into your locker when you forget the com, and move quietly and unobtrusively around the building, going about his business. Social Media Janitors are the ones opening the doors to new users, making sure they are directed to the content they need, and who keep all the passwords secure for you.
  • Janitors don’t grandstand; they just quietly go about the task of spiffing the school up a bit before they leave, making sure that the doors and windows are cleaned and closed, and that nobody left a fire burning in a garbage can. Social Media Janitors keep all the various social media presences on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, etc., up to date, without making it all about them.

A good Social Media Janitor understands that it’s not about her. It’s about the audience, the users. Maybe there’s some time for fun here and there – goofing with the users, enjoying the give and take of a good conversation.

So here we see Matt Meeks, one of the smarter users of social media in the LA area, at the Los Angeles Web Professionals Group meeting, talking about how to pick which platform to use to put out your social media messaging … or just to have some fun.

More Matt Meeks to come…

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Feb 21

HTML5 Video: “Cap’n! The CPUs Won’t Take Much More O’ This!”

Posted: under new media, Online Video.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dep’t of Vaporware: New Super-Duper HTML5 Video Players Will Solve All Your Problems

I’m starting to get more than a little annoyed at the incessant blithe assurances that keep coming up around the (now) universally agreed-upon proposition that Flash Is Bad, All Right-Thinking Humans Must Avoid It.

Here's the problem: Playing video in a browser using the (still nonexistent) HTML5 standard is far more resource-hungry than you realize.

The problem is that the people making these statements haven’t really gotten their hands dirty with the actual workflows that the (non-existent) HTML5 video standard has inflicted on us poor A/V dorks trying to keep up with the chaos in the online/mobile video space. What’s getting my goat, you ask?

Check out the strain on system resources that playing video using the HTML5 tag puts on a Mac Pro with 8 cores, running at 3 gHz, with 9 GB of RAM and a upgraded ATI Radeo 4870 video card. Note the system temp. The fan was blowing hard enough to power a C130 cargo plane.

By means of comparison, this is what I got for usage stats when playing a Flash video in a web browser. Note the system temp. Also, the little blue graphs to the right of CPU are not pinned to the max for all eight cores, the way they are in the HTML5 playback example, above. Each one of those little graphs is a representation of the amount of strain being put on a core from the dual quad-cores.

Well. I keep seeing & hearing about these new players that will supposedly make it possible to custom-design a video player into a web page that will then adapt & play that video on any device, on any platform. The latest: thePlatform. Viz:

thePlatform is pushing cross-platform compatibility with a new offering that will let its customers create one video player that can be delivered to any device or browser that is trying to access it. That capability is being rolled out due to increased demand for HTML5 video, despite a lack of real standards across browsers for the display and rendering of video players.

(from GigaOm)

OK, fine.  What’s the big deal, right?

I shot the video below at the Social Media Club-LA meeting in January – it shows Tim Street, one of the early adopters of mobile video monetization, talking about the challenges of trying to deal with video across the profusion of platforms we’re now having to deal with.

My test of an HTML5 player, taking this video, putting it into a sandbox page in Dreamweaver, and playing it in a web browser returned the kind of usage stats seen in the screen captures above.

Flash had a lot of faults. I still think that it’s responsible for some of the heinous memory leakages that cause Firefox to take up to 1.6 Gigs of memory space if I leave it open for more than a day in the background as I do work. But fer crissake, at least it’s not melting down my CPUs when I’m just trying to play one video. If the average user starts seeing this kind of load on their systems just for playing a video, that means that there is going to be serious hits on the battery life of laptops/tablets, and some pretty bad lag times when trying to multitask – or even fast-forward, pause or (shudder) rewind.

Let me know if you get any of the same warning signs on your machine when playing back this video, eh?

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Nov 20

Wrongheaded Solutions: eBooks (… on a little plastic card to be inserted in the e-reader)

Posted: under Digital Migration.
Tags: , ,

Norwegian company Norli Libris  introduces nonsensical “eBook” publishing model

Quick Hit: Saw this on BoingBoing, followed it over to Applied Abstractions, and just couldn’t resist commenting on it, for 1) the benefit of my international students, who might wonder WTF is up with this and 2) to keep me from yanking out my own hair by the fistful. The idea is that consumers will have to buy digital books not as downloadable files, but on cards called Digi Short, which will be inserted into the back of customized (i.e. DRM’d to death) Kibano Digi Readers.

Apparently, the one advantage would be that said “books” would thus be exempt from VAT in Norway, although the list price will be the same as a download.

Nut graf:

The Norwegian publishing and bookselling industry, an astonishingly
backward group of companies when it comes to anything digital, yesterday
introduced a new concept for e-books that, even for them, is rather
harebrained. They want to sell e-book tablets where you can buy books
not as downloads (well, you can do that, too) but as files loaded on
small plastic memory cards, to be inserted into the reader [article in Norwegian].
This preserves their business model (though they can probably stop
using trucks and start using bicycles for distribution). According to
their not very convincing market analysis, this is aimed at the segment
of the book buying market who do not want to download books from the net
(but, for some reason, seem to want to read books electronically.)

This is such an awful, awful, CueCat-level thinking approach to digital distribution. The whole point of having a mobile device like the iPad or Kindle or Nook is so that you can do instant purchases & consumption of content. You walk past a poster advertising the new blockbuster action movie, now available as a Blu-Ray or for download – you know you’re going to have an hour to kill on the commuter train on the way home, and you missed the movie in theaters, to you decide to splurge. Out comes the tablet, button is pushed, movie is set to download in the background as you continue walking to the train station/subway/hovercraft depot.

Hint: You want to ENCOURAGE your customers to make impulse buys of your content, rather than make it tougher for them & thus allow time for second thoughts to creep in.

Making the public buy, collect, sort & carry with them little plastic cards with books on them? Good God. It displays the desperate attempt to keep the content all within the walled garden; if we can’t sell dead-tree editions or shiny little discs (goes the thinking), well, maybe if we just shrink it all down to credit-card size, we can keep people having to pay us for physical objects. And as long as the Big Publishing controls distribution, pricing & availability of a physical object, well then, all the old rules still apply.

Only they don’t.

The old rules haven’t applied for some time now.

People will not carry around little cards with books as data on them, slotting them in and out of a tablet reader. And even if (via some alien mind-control ray that bathes the Earth in Luddite Stupidity) they do, a thriving business will soon spring up, dealing in the blank pieces of plastic that can then be filled with the data.

The media business is no longer, and never will again be about, the control of big belching factories that churn out physical copies of stuff that gets trucked from A to B and then put on shelves. It’s about paying attention to every other step that used to lead up to that point. You know, all the stuff that newspapers and TV stations and movie studios and record companies ignored, and is the reason so many of them are in trouble.

That is, concentrating on creating something wonderful. Useful. Delightful.

Cool.

It makes me sad to see that so many companies are still thinking in terms of how to defeat the digital revolutions, rather than on how we can use the web to do so many totally new, amazing art forms.

UPDATE: The initial reports (see the fact that this was a “Quick Hit”) seemed to indicate that it was Digi.no that was doing this. It turns out that it is a company named Norli Libris, whose attempt at rolling the clock back has elicited comment from other bloggers, as well as the mighty EnGadget. I thus fixed the attribution & links at the top of this post, and added a graf explaining more about Norli Libris.  Thanks to @sigvald for pointing this out via Twitter (and to Google Translate for helping me decipher the Norwegian story on this.)

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Jul 01

Sweet Mother of FSM, Google+ Is Smart!

Posted: under Design, Digital Migration, google.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In less than five minutes, I responded to an invitation (that is probably still in pretty high demand) and signed up for Google+.

Being able to add people to the circles is an absolutely frickin’ brilliant move! The little animations are absolutely killer. I have been wanting this and talking about this and boring the living shit out of my tech-dw33b friends about how the one big problem STILL with social media is that it’s damn near and all-or-nothing game.

No longer. Someone at Google “got it,” and this is a killer feature that Facebook DOES NOT HAVE.

Also: Google+ aggregates my information from all manner of sources, so I don’t have to go through that goddam tiresome “OK, let’s fill in all the blanks on this profile page yet again … wait, what? … it timed out? (long cursing session)”

Check out the screen cap below – this is after only a few minutes of cursory work:

dave lafontaine profile on google plus
All this got added to my profile automatically. It borders on the creepy … except for the fact that I wrote and posted all this info about myself in the first place, and I approve of it and can tell instantly where it came from. Also note on the right-hand side: all the various places where I have established a social profile, all aggregated in the same place.

I kinda disagree with this post on AllFacebook, where they focus in on how Google has made it “compulsory” to be part of Google+, and that the key to all this is “time on site.”

While tech pundits are widely praising Google’s new Plus product, I’ve found the one feature that could take away from Facebook where it’s most dominant: Time on the site.

Facebook users are known for staying on the site for over half an hour a day, something no other site could compete with… until now.

To be honest, my gut reaction after using Google Plus was initially, “Why on earth would anybody switch to this from Facebook?”

However, when I loaded up Google Finance as I do every morning, I suddenly realized that I was asking the wrong question. The reality is that users won’t have the option of not using Google Plus.

However, later on, they kinda stumble into something interesting, that’s also come up recently in the kerfuffle over the “Open Letters to RIM” — that is, that tech companies are starting to realize that what will really make them successful, is making it easy for developers & propellorhead-types like, well, us … to come and play in their sandbox.

Add to that this very insightful dissection of what was at the core of MySpace imploding – the same thing at work, i.e. pissing on indie developers — and you start to see something fascinating emerging in corporate thinking … for those intelligent enough to read the tea leaves (or Cheeto crumbs, if you will).

 

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