Saturday, April 10, 2010

J-lab/New Voices: Peering into the future

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked at a state press association meeting to peer into the future and try to give the assembled publishers and editors a sense of where things might be going.

I talked about HTML5, which will be multimedia oriented (here's the summary from Wikipedia and the gory details from W3C, if you really want to wonk out). I also talked about augmented reality through apps such as Layar, geocoding and the idea of a Web without Web sites. (Think about it - the last time you whipped out the smartphone and punched the button on that app, did you go to a Web site? Chances not, yet you certainly had an online experience.)

I also stressed that every news operation, even the smallest community one that hasn't been hit that hard by the recession, needs a mobile strategy. Why? Because even in the backroads and hamlets, that thing people are carrying around in their purses and on their belts ain't a newspaper, Bubba. Cell phone/smartphone technology is following Moore's law of doubling in power, etc., about every 18 months.

But Amy Webb of Webb Media Group can do it a lot better than I can, and she was at the J-lab confab today, so I'm just going to run out the notes I took and let you follow whatever links your hearts desire.

But you've got to sit through the 10-second commercial first: What contact I've had with Webb and through those I know in the industry, she's been about as accurate as anyone about all this. Do yourself a favor; visit Knowledgewebb, her company's training site, and sign up for her free newsletter. You might find something else you like (that costs extra, however).

Now the show:

Tools that can work for you:

What's important and what can wait? How nimble must you be? Do consumers really want everything out there.

Ask yourself:
- Who are you really developing for?
- Will it stick?
- Is it comprehensive enough?
- Will it generate engagement that is habit forming?
- Do you need all the features?

Six spheres, social media is a part of all of them that ties it together:
Traditional media
Web ("just stuff you get going online")
Tablets (iPad gets all the publicity, but her firm is tracking 18 from 18 manufacturers, some yet to be released)
Connected TV (plug your TV into the Internet/ AT&T's FIOS fiber-to-house broadband vastly expanding options).

Computers in cars: "Pretty soon you're going to be driving a computer down the road."

Do not assume that people are only engaging in traditional or web spheres because of social or economic status. (Doug's comment: Mobile, for instance, is becoming so cheap that for many people it is leapfrogging the traditional computer and is the way they are accessing online.)

Trend 1: User engagement 2.0
It's being offered in unusual places, it's not just tweeting the latest thing, new media organizations have found a "sweet spot" of producing content and getting content contributed. You have to be part of the community to really understand.

Social media being incorporated in unexpected places. Land's End, Netflix, for example, have incorporated social networks.

Ask yourself:
- Who is the audience?
- Are they where you think they are?
- What are the expectations of the audience (tell others? contribute? you listen?)?
- Are you willing to participate?

Keep the sharing options on your site to a minimum - the ones your audience is using.
She does not like AddThis or Shareomatic and similar services. Says they produce too confusing a list, most of which people seldom use. Points, for instance, to Mashable, which has just Twitter, Facebook, Digg, RSS and e-mail. But for this to work you have to know where your audience is sharing. (See Quarkbase below.)

Quarkbase – get site metrics, most popular social media referrals
Facebook Connect –Problem is that with Facebook you can lose lots of data.
Disqus – aggregate comments (My note: I've had mixed results on various sites that have it installed; sometimes it seems to get into weird loops.)
KnowEm – plug in your username and it will go through all the social networks and see who has your name already.

In discussing content management systems, Webb's one recommendation was to get off Expression Engine (the CMS Media General is using for Hartsville Today, the local site I am involved with). She sees it as less extensible and flexible than most of the others.

Trend 2: Geolocal engagement
Why the hyperlocal model does not work. Things like LoudonExtra (the Washington Post's defunct site) and Everyblock just can't be hyperlocal enough or don't deliver the information the way people want it. Webb says Everyblock, for instance, gets fewer than 200,000 visits/month and that AOL-Patch metrics are "awful."

Consumers want to know what is happening, but they want more sophistication. Content has to be niche. Otherwise there is too much competition, too many platforms. She used this example of a smart phone app, Offender Locator, that takes data like Everyblock's but lets the user query it wherever he or she is -- it is location aware -- and pull down a list of sex offenders nearby.

For the consumer local is where I am right now, not necessarily physical; just as likely topical. Less about ZIP code and more about what I am doing right now. Real-time! Not just about maps and citizen-journalism. Action must be associated with content and conversation – context must be social.

Twitter, for instance, now has location info and the accompanying privacy concerns.
She calls this the check-in culture accompanied by a rapid change in user expectations.
- Your consumers want hyperlocal, but the way they define it.
- Tied to local.
- Socially interactive.
- Wrapped in opportunity (points, games)
- Not repurposed or stale.

Some other tools:
- Micello – maps for the inside of buildings. She showed some shopping malls. Someone raised the idea, however, that this will last "until homeland security shuts it down."
- Foursquare – "Twitter with location" as you "check in" to places. However, there also is a gaming aspect – get badges based on how many check-ins.
- Gowalla – she doesn't like it as much as Foursquare, but it's an alternative.
- Miso ( – connect with others while watching movies, videos, etc.
- Apple's iGroup allows you to set up a local social network where you are.
- Create your own iPhone check-in app through Double Dutch, $499 setup fee and $40 a month.
- Fourwhere: See what Foursquare users who have checked in from a location say about it.

Trend 3: Augmented reality
Two aspects to this: Show a coded marker to a webcam and cause an action to happen (think Esquire's recent augmented reality edition) or use the camera on your mobile phone, linked to geocoding or image recognition.

Some examples:
- Wikitude: An app available for all phones – install it, point your phone camera at something, like a monument, and get information about it.
- Post office: Hold item you want to ship up to camera and virtual box simulator will tell you size box, etc.
- Rayban: Virtual mirror allows you to "try on" glasses.
- Acrossair: Among other things, makes apps that allow you to hold up yout iPhone and see nearest subway stations in the direction you are holding it.
- Toozla: Voice activated augmented reality
- Layar: Maybe the most widely known, out of Holland, put the app in your phone and you can look at several "layers" of information such as shopping, real estate, etc. Or you can create your own.
- StreetSpark: Augmented reality dating application. Use your phone to see if any fellow sparkers are near you; strike up a conversation (or … whatever).
- RecognizrPoint a phone at a person's face and find out what social networks they are on (not public, but available business to business).
- Tool being used by Google's Picasa photo site. From the Picasa site: Picasa scans all the photos in your collection, identifies the ones with faces, and groups photos with similar faces together. It's easy to add name tags to dozens of photos at once by clicking "Add a name" below a photo and typing the person's name. Once you've tagged some pictures, you can make a face collage with one click, easily find all your pictures with the same two people in them, or upload your name tags to Picasa Web Albums.
- Google Goggles: Scan logos, books, text, etc., and get info returned.

Bottom line:
- People are uploading content
- They are tagging content
- They are geocaching that content
- It's creating wide databases of info that can link people to locations and history of actions
- Consumers are starting to search and discover via social networks and mobile instead of the traditional search engine.

(Follow up: Webb's remarks Monday at ASNE.)

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At 12/22/15, 11:39 AM, Anonymous J.R. said...

It's pretty amazing to go back to this article five years later. Interesting to see which apps are now defunct and which ones are thriving. Also, nice work on the SMART TV prediction. Good work!


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