Category Archives: Participatory Media

What is news?

Iranian protestor

An image of an Iranian protestor posted to Flickr this week

This week’s events in Iran remind me, perhaps too much, of the Tiananmen Square protests twenty years ago. People coming together peacefully to rally against oppression, whether in Selma, Johannesburg, or Berlin brings hope. Knowing how Tiananmen, Prague, and Myanmar ended brings dread.

Optimists say the world has changed. While tyrants can restrict the activities of CNN and the New York Times, they can’t block Twitter, SMS, YouTube, and Facebook as easily. The truth will get out. People can be called to action and know they will outnumber their oppressors. I hope they are prescient, but in this case the tyrants will prevail — at least in the short run, and people will continue to be injured and killed.

Ahmadinejad is about the worst the world has to offer. He will cling to power and he will be as ruthless as a cornered rat when confronted. People are already being killed by his and the clerics’ thugs, the basij. These people with their 15th century worldviews don’t understand Twitter, and they certainly don’t fear it. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube might get the word out, but they can’t block the bullets. We will know more about what happens in Tehran in 2009 than we know about what happened in Tiananmen in 1989, but it’s not going to change the outcome.

The Economist summed up the old media v. new media coverage of the events in Tehran quite well. No flowery speech about how the face of politics is forever changed by Web 2.0 techologies. Just the facts.

[The] much-ballyhooed Twitter swiftly degraded into pointlessness. By deluging threads like Iranelection with cries of support for the protesters, Americans and Britons rendered the site almost useless as a source of information—something that Iran’s government had tried and failed to do. Even at its best the site gave a partial, one-sided view of events. Both Twitter and YouTube are hobbled as sources of news by their clumsy search engines.

It’s ironic that the same week China has begun stepping up its censorship efforts. PCs can only be sold in the People’s Republic with government controlled web filters.

The software, which manufacturers must install on all new PCs starting July 1, would allow the government to regularly update computers with an ever-changing list of banned Web sites.
The rules, issued last month, ratchet up Internet restrictions that are already among the most stringent in the world. China regularly blocks Web sites that discuss the Dalai Lama, the 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters, and the Falun Gong, the banned spiritual movement.

And just this week, Google agreed to further restrictions on the information it serves up to the Chinese people.

Google caved. Dell, Lenovo, and company caved. They cannot be blamed. As publicly traded companies they have a fiduciary responsibility to their share holders to maximize profits, not a mandate to make the world a freer place. Our 401Ks contribute to the problem today, but not as much as many liberals complain. In the end places like Iran and China will have to open up and allow the freer exchange of ideas. Otherwise the best and the brightest will continue to bring their innovations to freer countries. Look at how many Silicon Valley start ups are started by immigrants to the US. Look at the wealth they create. Wealth that keeps the US the dominant economic power. If China and Iran want to continue to be economic and technological followerers, they are on the right path. Otherwise they have to open up their miserable political systems.

So what is news? If CNN can’t get there first, but Twitter and YouTube are too clunky to disseminate information quickly and efficiently, what models will emerge? Large news organizations will have to take on the task of organizing the world’s tweets and mobile videos. It will require new business models and new infrastructures. The traditional satellite feed will diminish in importance.

It’s a good time to be a software designer for the media industry. We still have our fiduciary responsibilities, but we can build the tools to help the world become a freer place.

User-generated is so yesterday

Another buzzword bites the dust. Business Week’s Catherine Holahan has a nice piece on the trend away from user-generated to professionally produced web video content. Go figure. Folks would rather watch Jon Stewart than cats on toilets. Put that way it seems like stating the obvious, but there are companies learning the hard way.

One after another, online video sites that have long showcased such fare as skateboarding dogs and beer-drenched parties are scaling back their focus on user-generated clips, often in favor of professionally produced programming. “People would rather watch content that has production value than watch their neighbors in the garage,” says Matt Sanchez, co-founder and chief executive of VideoEgg.

Like the early days of desktop publishing, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Craft still matters. Just follow the money. Does American Express really want its ad seen next to this?

Professional content grabs significantly more [advertising] money. Blinkx’s Chandratillake says advertisers will pay $60-plus per 1,000 views to incorporate their ads alongside professional video content. They’ll pay around $7 to associate with user-generated videos, depending on the piece. And some brands have shunned user-generated video outright for fear of being unwittingly associated with videos that make their brands look bad.

It won’t be long until the social networking craze is debunked. You know things have gotten out of hand when Pepperidge Farm gets into the social networking scene. Someone, apparently with a straight face sold the company on the “Connecting Through Cookies” concept. From today’s NY Times article:

The campaign, with a budget of $2 million to $3 million, includes a public relations initiative, a survey of American women on the topic of friendship and print advertising.

The campaign is indicative of the efforts being made by mainstream marketers to take advantage of the growing ardor among consumers for online social networking.

Now I realize that $3 million in pocket change to Cambell’s Soup, but you really have to wonder who’s minding the store in the marketing department. Pepperidge Farm engaged the services of Sally Horchow, co-author of “The Art of Friendship.”

To curry favor with consumers, “brands are realizing they have to do a lot more than making something that tastes good,” [Horchow] added. “Connecting on a personal level with people makes your life better.”

Read it again. Aside from the fact that brands don’t realize anything, this has got to be crazier than anything anyone said with a straight face during the dot-com years. No, folks… Pepperidge Farm makes cookies. All they have to do is taste good. No one yearns for a social experience from their Mint Milanos.

Facebook, MySpace, and Art of the Cookie… take cover, the social networking bubble is overdue to burst.

iPhone plans announced

Apple and AT&T announced available service plans for the iPhone. No big surprises, but a few small ones.

ATLANTA and CUPERTINO, California—June 26, 2007—AT&T Inc. and Apple® today announced three simple, affordable service plans for iPhone™ which start at just $59.99 per month. All three plans include unlimited data, Visual Voicemail, 200 SMS text messages, roll-over minutes and unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling. With everything else already included, iPhone customers can easily choose the plan that’s right for them based on the amount of voice minutes they plan to use each month. In addition, iPhone customers can choose from any of AT&T’s standard service plans.

  • Unlimited data services. Nice, on anything other than an EDGE network. Seriously, this will encourage browsing and opportunities for upselling. This could be a nice shot in the arm for mobile video. Currently existing mobile plans’ pricing models discourage usage.
  • Only can be activated through iTunes. Very nice. You get to avoid Skippy in the AT&T store. (Skippy was solely responsible for my current Verizon contract.)
  • In order to use the iPhone as a music and video player, it has to be activated as a phone. Sounds like it will be pretty difficult to hack a method for using the phone with other carriers.

iPhone map - Frank’s PizzaThe first iPod seemed insanely expensive for a music player, but it caught on by being the first MP3 player to get it right. The problem here is that there are already a lot of phones and music players with satisfied owners. There were no switching costs involved with iPod adoption. I’ll be out $150 if I opt out of my VZ contract for AT&T.

Keep a close eye on the early adopters. These are the people who will be defining the mobile video space going forward. Of the most interest, will the YouTube connection combined with unlimited bandwidth spawn a new trend in participatory media? What will be the role of the citizen journalist? Will there be Final Cut Phone?

The business models can evolve. Since the iPhone is true Internet device, it’s not subject to the carriers’ walled garden approaches to online commerce. Content can be purchased via the iPhone as it is via the PC browser.

Rumor mill

An ArsTechnica entry asserts iPhone will work with Microsoft Exchange.

Busting some myths

Recently I’ve been party to numerous conversations and pontifications about the future of the media industry. As James Boyle pointed out in his keynote at Beyond Broadcast some months ago: Human beings are really bad at predicting the future. I avoid these discussions except to warn folks not to take anecdotal evidence too seriously.

Teenagers are clamoring for the small screen/third screen experience

The studios totally missed the boat on this. Phones are a communication device — a 2-way communication device. No one, even the laziest of teenagers, has any desire to sit, mouth agape, staring at his phone for 30 minutes. iPods are an audio experience. Teens (and everyone else) can do something else while listening to an iPod. There’s not much you can do while watching an iPod. There are a lot of context-specific applications for iPod video. The Andy Griffiths Show is not one of them.

A recent LA Times’ article (registration required) shed more light on this misconception, but the crux of the piece was summed up rather nicely.

About half of young adults and 4 in 10 teenagers said they were uninterested in watching television shows or movies on computers, cellphones or hand-held devices such as video iPods, the poll found.While more than 2 out of 5 teens and young adults indicated they were open to viewing this kind of content online, only 14% of teenagers said they wanted to watch television on a cellphone, and 17% said they would view programs on an iPod.

The findings suggest that networks are rushing to package content for these new platforms before even tech-savvy young consumers are hankering for the “third screen” experience.

Mobile phones will be video sharing devices. User generated content will rule the space. It won’t be easy to commercialize it, but it’s what consumers will want. Cameras have been an unmitigated success on phones, so will video cameras. (The effect on journalism will be profound as well.)

Users want to re-edit your content

No, they don’t. They might want to grab a piece of it to add to their content, but they don’t want to edit. I worked for a decade as a professional editor. It’s hard work. Who do you know editing for fun? It’s a satisfying career, but a frustrating hobby. And if content producers think they can build an audience simply by making their video available for mashups and providing space for uploads of those mashups… too late. Users can already get anything they want off the net. If it’s not already available, there’s no interest in it. Move on.

I’m high on YouTube and JumpCut‘s “bring your own and share it” approach – especially JumpCut’s because it supplies the tools too. Expecting users to download content, edit it, add stuff to it, and then upload it when there are services like JumpCut makes no sense. Any traction such offerings gain will be lost after JumpCut’s next trailer contest.

Jon Stewart’s become a primary source of news

For whom? I never met that person, yet people will tell you that’s where young people are getting their news. The same LA Times article mentioned above found differently.

For their part, a large share of young adults appear to be turning to broadcast television for their news. According to the poll, 38% said they got their best information about current events from local newscasts and 19% said it came from broadcast network news.Despite the widespread belief that a sizable number of young people get their news from satirical programs such as Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” just 3% of teenagers and 6% of young adults surveyed said that’s how they found out about current events.

Those darn facts just keep getting in the way of a good yarn.

Fact is it’s beginning to look a lot like 1999 (except for the market’s performance). A bunch of kids in t-shirts and narrow glasses are telling everyone over 30 that they just don’t get it and blather on about massive paradigm shifts. And a lot of media execs with pockets deeper than their imaginations are nodding along like bobble heads. That may be – there may be a paradigm shift – but the pace is more like plate tectonics. Movable type, the catalyst of the Enlightenment had virtually no effect on the culture at large during Gutenberg’s lifetime. Does anyone really think cell phone video and mashups will be more profound more quickly?

Pros and YouTube

As you might have already heard YouTube has amended its user agreement. Though not quite as onerous as many of the animation agreements I’ve signed with huge media conglomerates giving up rights in this and heretofore undiscovered universes, it’s darn close. You post it. They can do what they want with it.

Cringley’s done the homework for what this means for media pros. In summary, don’t you post anything of yours on YouTube, but don’t fret too much if others post your stuff. They can’t give up rights they don’t have. Understood. Thanks Bob.

This controversy is good news for upstarts like Phanfare. Not sure if their business model will succeed in the long run, but it’s good enough to get itself bought and devoured by one of a number of big media companies.

So what’s YouTube up to? A bunch of teenagers are going to grant YouTube the rights to redistribute material the teenagers never had the rights to grant. YouTube’s desperately searching for a business model, and this latest move is likely to lead to more litigation than revenues. How will YouTube police this? How will YouTube know if the proper appearance releases have been granted?

Another disruptive technology without a valid business model. Napster all over again.