Recommending the Joy of Stats
, a TV documentary that goes right to the heart of so many of the projects that Metia teams are working on right now (available to view until December 14, UK only).
Whether you're involved in data driven design and programming, or writing about the latest advances in finance, healthcare or just about any other industry you'll find something to inspire you here.
Plus it's presented by Hans Rosling, whose TED appearances
are already the stuff of legend.
If you don't have time to see the full programme, then have a look at the trailer below. Thrilling stuff.
So Google News now has a 'most shared' section
. It's a great example of just how far the sharing model for content distribution has taken over the web. Not long ago we had specialists working on viral campaigns for our clients.
Today, pretty much every piece of content that gets published online has a viral component, in the sense that it can be quickly shared with individuals or communities with the press of a button.
You can find the new section at the bottom right hand side of the Google News page. Top story? New LinkedIn share buttons
(via Mashable). Yes, the social echo chamber is as self-referential as ever, but share is still front page news, for content strategists at least.
Hard to believe, but when the iPhone was first launched it was promoted heavily as um, well, a phone.
That was back in 2007, before the app store exploded and the touch screen experience became the interface aspiration of just about every device manufacturer on the planet.
In other words, even the most beautifully crafted experiences become pervasive in ways that the original designer could only guess at.
I think we're at the same point with X-box Kinect. Today, of course, it's a gaming interface. But that's just the beginning. Give it a couple of years, and motion detection will become the third input paradigm (along with keyboards and touch screens).
Here's a creative Kinect hack that gives an idea of the direction this is heading. Microsoft, by the way, makes no secret that it's happy for people to explore the potential of the Kinect interface
. (That first iPhone ad follows afterwards).
Several content curation tools have hit computers and tablets in the past six months. Broadly speaking they fall into two categories: automatic curation, where an application pulls in content from a Twitter stream, facebook account or RSS feed; and edited curation where end users select the content themselves.
I’ve already written about Flipbook
a tablet app, that turns twitter streams, lists and hashtags into an electronic magazine. It makes for an engaging experience but you don’t really have that much control over what goes in (or what gets left out).
Paper.li presents similar challenges. The ubiquitous Twitter newspaper is a great way of gathering and filtering information from your stream, but it can also throw up surprises, some delightful, some less so.
Where Flipbook and Paper.li do work well is when you put the work in up front to prepare a carefully filtered Twitter list or seek out a consistent, reliable hashtag.
We’ve been running a successful #mhealth
(mobile health) Paper.li for a few months now as part of Ideaworks for Healthcare and our followers really love it. It’s also a useful way of sourcing content for additional coverage on the blog.
Bit.ly bundles, Storify (and to a lesser extent Montage) give you a lot more control. With bit.ly bundles, several articles can be combined under one shortened URL. Click on this link and it takes you to a page where each article appears with a headline, thumbnail and introduction copy.
When you pull these links together you can also add your own text commentary underneath each one. Typically each bundle covers the same theme or topic and gives you the opportunity to express your ideas or your personality in greater depth compared with a fragmented stream of individual tweets.
Storify works based on a similar approach, except this time you get to drag and drop content from multiple sources including Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Flickr. Again, you can also add your own commentary. Storify, as the name suggests, will appeal to journalists. It’s a more versatile than Bit.ly bundles and Montage, but you need to invest the time to search and organise content into a compelling narrative.
Finally, Montage, the most recent content curation-publishing tool from Microsoft Fuse Labs. Imagine building a web page from live twitter streams and news feeds, images and video and you get an idea of how Montage works. It also has a fabulous user interface that helps you to divide a page up into tiles of content.
Here’s mobile health again, this time as a Montage page
. Again, you need to be very careful when including live feeds. Either seek out streams where you have plenty of control, or make the client aware of any risks. In both cases you should run the page unpublished and monitor content carefully before pushing it live.
There’s something else to add here. You don’t need to be a designer or a developer to use these tools. But to make them work properly, you do need to have good editorial skills. As a member of the Metia content team, it’s good see new publishing applications that cater to writers as well as developers and designers.
They also force us to think about simple page design, branding and even ease of use. Telling a great story with words is one thing, being able to reinforce that within the wider user experience becomes a real pleasure thanks to these new applications.
You wouldn’t normally mention an 11th century ruler of England in the same sentence as a 20th century quantum physicist. But Canute and Erwin Schroedinger together illustrate one of main challenges facing content today.
Stick with me on this one.
Let’s start with Canute. Most of us know the story and how the King took his throne to a beach and commanded the advancing tide to recede. Then there’s Schroedinger, famous for illustrating quantam theory with a tale about a cat shut in a box containing a toxic isotope. According to the fable the cat exists simultaneously alive and dead until you open the box and one version of reality reveals itself.
What links both these stories is the importance of context. Canute didn’t really believe he could reverse the laws of nature, but he wanted to prove to his subjects the challenges and limits of regal authority. He was commentating on the nature of kingship, not acting it out. Similarly with Schroedinger and his cat. His fable is less a description of quantum science and more an attempt to articulate the shock of a theory that contradicted every genius from Newton to Einstein.
And that’s why context matters. Without this information both our protagonists come off badly: Canute is an arrogant buffoon; Schroedinger a deranged scientist with feline cruelty issues. Hardly fair, but sadly inevitable given our propensity to gossip and share.
Of course this dilemma has been around for years but in the age of retweets, like buttons and do it yourself rent-a-rage community pages, it’s increasingly poignant. Keeping control over context is getting harder and harder, but in the next blog I’ll be looking at some of the latest publishing tools that can help.
Brussels has been home for about six months now. We live to the south of city, near a large park called the Bois de la Cambre. If you’re a Londoner, think Richmond, if you’re in New York it’s like Central - a bit more rolling but with the same mix of woodland, green space and mazy paths.
Bois de la Cambre is also home to the tree that tweets. The messages come from an ancient beech tree that has been fitted with a series of instruments that measure air quality, sunlight, wind speed and rainfall. Depending on the data, the account sends regular updates to its 2,700 followers based on one of several thousand pre-recorded messages. It also has its facebook page as you’d expect, with almost 5,000 friends.
There’s a serious side to this of course. Apart from the eco-friendly message (the tree is sponsored by Dutch science magazine Eos), it’s a timely reminder of the rise of the internet of things: networks that connect millions of objects, each capturing and sending data in real time for measurement and analysis.
Meteorology and the environment and activities that already benefit from this approach. But as cost of hardware and bandwidth plummets, these networks are reaching out to other sectors including agriculture. Here’s an article from the iSoft Ideaworks news page about U.S. farmers using sensors to measure the quality of cotton bales. By identifying common factors that connect healthy bales, they can apply these conditions to future harvests, potentially increasing yields and revenues.
There’s an important urban angle here too. You’ve probably heard of smart cities: urban areas where near real-time data about everything from energy consumption to public transport can be analysed or even used to automatically trigger a system response. Take a look at the video below to find out more.
Quick follow up to yesterday's post about paywalls. This time a good article about politico.com
Here's the key quote: "Find the right niche – say one that everyone who makes a living out of
US government has to be aware of – and you have an audience worth
Politico, which specialises in detailed coverage of the US political scene now has three million unique visitors each month and, according to the article, is on the verge of charging for some areas of its website.
Back to the app/tablet discussion and it's interesting to see that the Financial Times has 180,000 online subscribers but more than 400,000 have downloaded the app for the iPad. That sounds like a lot of people with the app, but no subscription.
This looks, on the face of it, as if Pearson have put the cart before the horse - charging for content, but not for the experience. Bearing in mind how good the tablet experience is, you wonder how long this situation will persist.
Again, where content is ubiquitous and largely free, you need to up the experience. Give your audience a choice, remembering that the market and households will be saturated with tablets in 12 months time.
The whole paywall argument has resurfaced again, this time on the back of strong figures from the Financial Times online and far from transparent numbers from News International about the London Times subscription experiment.
I can see why people are looking evidence of success or failure, but I’m still not convinced that you can measure the value of content when most people are still consuming text, photos and video within today’s largely homogenous browser experience.
For that reason, don’t expect huge subscriptions to existing web sites. The Mirror Group, News International and others are trying to understand paywall models as best they can, but it won’t be possible to make a fair analysis of subscriptions and revenues much before the end of 2011.
The Guardian is taking a more interesting route. The latest version of its iPhone app, to be launched in the next couple of months will cost £2.99 for six months and £3.99 for year.
It’s a paywall by any other name, but what’s significant here is that for the time being you can still get content free on the web site and the mobile-optimised version.
In other words, the Guardian is betting that existing and new iPhone users will be happy to pay for a better experience that combines device innovation with smart presentation and curation.
Understanding the difference between content and experience is fundamental to the successful growth of subscription based news services. The equation is simple: mobile device + app + great content = paywall.
In the next year or two you’ll see hundreds of newspapers delivered via apps running on a mind-boggling range of devices that will be scraping the £150 price point. Things get even more interesting somewhere towards 2013, when we start to see subscription models based on subsidised hardware and bundled subscription channels. All this will be accelerated (or exacerbated depending on your point of view) as telcos, software and publishers grapple for ownership of the user experience.
I also think it’s foolish to discount the role of browsers (disclosure: Microsoft is a client) and that Internet Explorer and other browsers will offer a far richer media experience. No surprise that the launch literature positioned IE9 as a delivery channel for application like web-experiences.
So although the road to revenue is still long, the business models are starting to take shape. It’s going to be a long journey, but the publishers who understand the value of content and experience are the ones who will get there first.
Here's great analysis of the future of digital in specialist and non-specialist agencies from www.adweek.com
The main thrust of the article argues that traditional agencies are muscling in on digital campaigns focusing on content, especially viral video. Thanks to social media, the biggest challenge for brands is often
less about creating the kind of technically sophisticated
"immersive experiences" that digital shops have specialized in and
more about crafting engaging content that people are likely to
share with each other.
Unsurprisingly, so-called traditional agencies are bullish about social because it taps into time-honoured communications skills rather than technology.
"Digital used to be this thing that was a little more computer and
Internet based. You had to know coding, Flash and HTML," said
Edward Boches, chief creative officer at Mullen. "Now, what you
have to understand is how consumers behave in relationship to
content, community, technology and media."
Being responsible for content in a digital agency, I'm inclined to see both sides of the story. Along with a team of 10 others, I try to hot desk with developers as much as possible to ensure that we achieve the right blend of software/design/content skills at the very start of the campaign.
The goal here is to create a sustained experience that ripples through communities and triggers conversations that flow across campaign platform sites, established social media channels and real world events.
Impact is everything, but the key word here is 'sustain'. Seeding the conversation with compelling content as part of a structured campaign remains at the heart of what we do. Making a splash is all well and good, but for sustained campaigns that maximise audience engagement, you need to cast more than one pebble into the pond.
And that's where you still need the technical expertise. Selecting the right content management system matters deeply if you want a team of community and content managers to feed the campaign with articles, blogs and video. Simple, but effective integration with Twitter, Facebook and other established channels also helps.
Detailed campaign analysis is also critical. Again, some platforms are better integrated with analytics tools than others. Most importantly of all, you need social media and analytics experts to measure the depth of audience engagement and feed these results back to the content team so that they can refine content and themes in response to audience interest.
The adweek article
has more good discussion on these points. Strongly recommend you give it a read, and if it stirs up new ideas about the future mix of technology, social and content, drop me a note below.
There's plenty to read on Flipboard today. Especially if you want to know if it's legal
, how the technology works, and whether or not servers are crashing
under the weight of demand.
But I think this misses the bigger picture.
Flipboard, as you probably know by now, sources content from Twitter, Facebook and others and presents it in an elegant format that looks more like an e-magazine than any of the original publishers.
It's a perfect example of how tablets (or devices) can drive innovation in publishing and not the other way round. It was only when flat screen, wide format TVs started selling in large volumes that 'publishers' upped their game. Remember the first time that you watched CSI on a widescreen with Dolby Surround in 2003? This was TV with cinema production values. Pretty much the norm now for production houses and video game developers, but remarkable then.
The same will happen with tablets. Essentially e-readers (let's not dodge the issue) for consuming content, they're going to shake up publishing and social media like never before. Yesterday, when everyone was raving about Flipboard, Toshiba
launched a dual 7 inch touch screen tablet running Microsoft Windows 7 (Remember Microsoft Courier
anyone?). It also put the cat among the pigeons with a super-low footprint Android solid state netbook.
Meanwhile HP have the recently acquired Palm OS up their sleeve, and Cisco have launched the Cius
, an Android device that's tightly integrated with its suite of collaboration and unified comms tools. All devices that will severely challenge Apple's tablet lead far more quickly than the battle in the smartphone market.
Finally, I think this puts a big question mark over the future of traditional e-magazines. With Flipboard, you have the beginnings of an alternative content aggregation and curation model that just about anyone can use. And once you have an elegant UX to connect with friends and subscribe to channel bundles, the model is complete.
As I said at the start I'm no expert on the legal issues that govern RSS feeds versus raw URLs. And maybe Flipboard will be sacrificed to the lawyers
. But when it comes to the user experience, it's nothing less than revolutionary.
Here's a gorgeous piece of online content and design from Uniqlo
, the people who brought you polo shirts in 200 pastel shades. Like any great user experience, it doesn't need much explanation, although I was impressed by the tilt-shift time lapse photography (the effect that makes the real world sequences look like Lilliput TV). Like all good campaigns these days, you can embed the calendar into your social media platform of choice. And, of course, your blog. (Hat tip to Laurence Krzyzanek for this).
cannot possibly have understood it."
This infographic from the New York Times
(snapshot below), gives you a good feel for the complexities involved. Whether or not it helps you get more control over your Facebook privacy settings is another matter. My own theory is that's its a cunning piece of design satire illustrating absurd number of permutations available to the average user.
How do your clients and customers make up their minds? There's a growing list of reader-friendly titles that explain how economics, game theory and neuroscience combine to influence the hundreds of decisions that we make every day.Freakanomics
probably started the movement in 2005, and since then we've had The Undercover Economist
and series of titles that have evolved into countless analyses of the crash. John Lanchester's I.O.U.:
Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay
is a good example, which tackles the complex and ultimately absurd decisions that led to financial catastrophe.
Othe titles look at human evolution, specifically the brain, to try and understand how we evaluate information in a fraction of a second before making up our minds. The
Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams,
by David J Linden is a good place to start.
My own favourite is 59 Seconds: Think a little, change a lot
, by Professor Richard Wiseman, a series of short essays that explain, amongst others, why punching a pillow increases anger rather than relieving it, and why spending money on experiences brings more happiness than buying things. Oh, and if you want to make sure your wallet is returned if you lose it, make sure you leave a photo of a baby tucked away, but easy to find. Simple really.