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April 12 2012

14:00

SocMap: Why a Small Map App Can Be Better Than a Big Geo-Social Platform

We experimented with various concepts for SocMap.com for a whole year in an effort to create a map-based social network for connecting and informing people in local neighborhoods.

The conclusion: Even though we can reach commendable levels of new user registration, our users don't create content and so the platform doesn't grow. Experimenting with usability didn't solve this, so we dug deeper.

We came up with the idea of decentralizing SocMap -- creating small and useful map applications instead of a big geo-social platform. Creating applications are cheaper and easier than managing a large website, so we find them to be much more suited for experimenting with, and finding the right concept for, SocMap.com

In February, we launched our very first application, HotBills, which we created in partnership with the Baltic Centre for investigative journalism (Re:Baltica). The idea behind the app is to determine how much people pay for heating in various parts of Latvia, so that the data can later be used in journalists' research into heating prices, transparency and validity, as well as to give people an incentive to talk to their landlords about the prices, ask for explanations, and get adequate answers. We asked users to scan their bills and submit them.

Developing this application took just a couple of weeks -- so we saw it as a minor experiment that wouldn't deter development of SocMap.com even if it failed.

The outcome

The idea was well-received from the start -- we secured partnerships with the largest media outlets in Latvia, including LR1, the national radio broadcaster; TVNET, the second-largest news site; TV3, the largest TV channel; DIENA, the largest newspaper; and DRAUGIEM.LV, the top local social network.

Within a month, the application was used by almost 2 percent of the population, or 37,800 people, almost 2,400 of which uploaded real bills. Analyzing these bills revealed: the cost of heating per square meter differs by up to several times; even neighboring houses can have vastly different costs; people do not know how their bills are calculated; and there's confusion about how the calculations are carried out and what some entries in the bills mean since there are no national guidelines or methodologies for this.

Thanks to data being visible on a map, it was easy for people to understand. Following the launch of the app, the minister of economy promised to look into these and other issues that were raised by journalists at a conference.

Screen+Shot+2012-04-11+at+19.14.37.png

During the first two weeks, we managed to get four out of 100 users to upload a bill. This was unexpectedly high, especially considering the effort required -- even a couple of seconds of attention are worth a fortune, but with this, the users had to find the bill, scan it, and send it over, which can take up to several minutes. Good results notwithstanding, we decided to push them even higher -- we improved the landing page and usability and reached a conversion rate of 6.4 percent!

You're welcome to check out the user experience before:

siltums_socmap-5_1.1ENG.png

... and after:

siltums_socmap-5_1.2ENG.png

Key facts about HotBills (Jan. 9 - Feb. 15)

  • 6.4% users uploaded their bill
  • 37,800 unique visitors - 1,9% of the population of Latvia
  • 2,400 submitted bills (20 of which were sent by snail mail)

Receiving bills from all across Latvia convinced us that an application like this is an indispensable tool for crowdsourcing and displaying location-based data. This prompted us to develop a tool that would allow journalists without technical skills to set up similar studies within minutes. This tool was developed together with Re:Baltica. TVNET, one of the biggest Latvian news portals, has agreed to become our pilot-client!

It seems that SocMap can succeed in a scenario where we focus on creating task-tailored applications -- and we expect to introduce new concepts in the coming months. It seems, after years of searching, SocMap.com has finally found its right path. This summer will show us for sure.

March 25 2011

23:02

Photogene and iPad 2: Great tools for photojournalists

Sitting in a lawn chair outside the Spokane Apple Store last week, I pondered the absurdity of my week-long quest to buy an iPad 2. Arriving at 5 a.m. netted me the sixth spot in line and an eventual 16-gig wifi slate of glass and aluminum.

Did I really need another digital device to supplement all the other Apple products that grace my home and workspace? No, of course not. But using the iPad 2 this past week has made me giddy with excitement as I discover one new feature or application after another. It’s interesting, when I demonstrate to people who have never seen or touched one, how utterly amazed they are. Suffice to say this multimedia device is smokin’ hot. There are enough glowing reviews on the Web that I don’t need to pontificate much more.

A great tool for photojournalists

The one thing I really wanted to do with my iPad 2 was edit and send photos from the field back to the newspaper. I couldn’t find much info from other photojournalists about what applications would help me replace Photo Mechanic and Photoshop on my laptop. Nor could I find anyone who was using the iPad to send their photos via FTP (File Tranfer Protocol) back to their newspapers. I can happily announce that during my first photo assignment today I did just that.

My first stop last week was to the Apple iPad App Store where I found this amazing little program called Photogene. It allows me to crop, tone, caption and send my photos all from a three dollar application. The best part is that it has a built in FTP, so I can send my photos directly into our Merlin archive system.

Here was my workflow today:

  • Shot a photo of a woman in a job-training program working in the kitchen of a restaurant.
  • Ordered lunch, sat down at a table and plugged in the Apple camera connection cable between the iPad and the USB port on my Nikon D3s. It immediately displayed all the. jpg’s in the iPad’s photo browser. By touching a photo, it marks it so you don’t have to bring in every image on your card. I hit “Import Selected” and the files were quickly downloaded from the camera.
  • I open Photogene and select the photo I want to edit. The workflow now is super simple. I crop my photo, and then toned the image. Toning is done using sliders for exposure, color temperature, saturation etc. There are a ton of other adjustments from noise reduction to selective color channels. It even has a digital noise filter and curves adjustment tool.
  • On to the metadata tab, I clicked “ITPC” and added caption info and filled out the other metadata fields that are needed to archive the photo for later.
  • Finally, I hit the export button and chose “FTP” from the menu (You can also send directly to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or email.) I already have all the info such as IP address and password stored, so I just add the file name (make sure there are no spaces) and upload the photo using my ATT MiFi . A minute later it was ready for an editor to move to the desk.

Some observations

Will the iPad 2 replace a laptop? Probably not. I think the iPad is perfect if you need to move a couple of photos from your car during a breaking news event. It’s not be ideal for slogging 300 photos from a high school basketball game.

You need to buy the Camera Connection Kit from Apple ($30.00), which includes an SD card reader and a Apple connector to mini USB cord. I wish there was a CF card reader, but the cable works as advertised.

Typing a caption is easy, but it is all on one line that gets obscured as you type past the field boundary. A bigger caption field for photojournalists is a must have.

Get the PhotoSync application ($1.99). It lets you transfer photos to and from your iPhone, computer and iPad wirelessly. It also lets you bypass the iTunes software, which is not really intended for photos.

I also bought the pro upgrade for eight dollars. It adds a few more things that professionals need such as applying star ratings, adding personal watermarks to exported images, saving your FTP settings, adjusting RGB curves individually, and controlling JPEG export settings.

If any other photojournalists are using an iPad to edit photos please share your experiences in comments below!


August 18 2010

09:39

Paparazzi agencies delay People iPad app launch

Celebrity magazine publishers could have problems getting their products onto the iPad device, according to the Hollywood Reporter, as photo agencies are reportedly “banding together” to try and reach an agreement with one title – People magazine – to seek extra compensation for use of their images.

This has been linked to the postponed launch date of the publication’s new app, although this is denied by a spokesperson for the magazine in the report.

While the standoff centers on one publication for now, just about any other brand that makes photos of the rich and famous their stock in trade is watching nervously from the sidelines. Whatever deal they strike could set the terms of trade for the industry going forward.

See their full report here…Similar Posts:



August 13 2010

15:05

Business Insider: NY Times app platform for publishers could charge $50,000

According to Business Insider, the New York Times latest money-making venture Press Engine could be charging clients up to $50,000 for its services.

Press Engine was launched earlier this month and will charge a one-off licensing fee and monthly maintenance charge to clients, who will use the system to develop iPhone and iPad applications using technology and templates developed by the Times.

Full story on Business Insider at this link…Similar Posts:



July 30 2010

10:12

News Corp nearing a decision on ‘tablet-centric’ unit

According to a report in the Financial Times, News Corporation is “nearing a decision” on plans to start a news organisation which could provide content specifically for tablet device applications.

The plans, which could still be dropped, would mean the creation of a “tablet-centric” subscription product, for devices such as the iPad, with dedicated content produced for that platform.

The ambitious undertaking under consideration would be another test of consumers’ appetite to pay for news. The momentum behind developing a tablet-centric product is driven by a belief that readers are willing to pay for portability. News Corp’s early progress in selling subscriptions on the iPad has inspired the company to consider the new business.

The report adds that if the project goes ahead, it would mean job opportunities for new staff who would have to produce new content on news, entertainment, sports and politics.

See the full report at this link… (note: registration required)Similar Posts:



July 16 2010

14:16

‘Apptop publishing’ technology targets bloggers and independents

London-based Publisha has launched a new product and coined a new digital media term in one fell swoop – the company is targeting bloggers and independent digital publishers with its ‘apptop’ publishing device, designed for distributing content across a range of mobile devices and social networks.

Essentially it provides one content management system to create a basic website, Facebook ‘articles’ tab on your fan page, an iPad and smartphone application and is developing analytics, Twitter integration and an ad-serving platform.

“Publisha offers a new way of bringing content to readers. Unlike PDF readers, we’re not trying to replicate print magazines, but rather focus on offering a service to bloggers, writers and publishers who don’t want the constraints of a traditional magazine layout. Publisha allows even small teams to easily publish across multiple digital platforms, gain readers effectively and monetise their work in a complete ecosystem,” says Publisha’s CEO Ian Howlett in a release.

But the company is particularly interested in Facebook applications – it sees these as a way for specialist and more niche publishers to find readers with common interests and open up a network. Creating news feeds to Facebook fan pages is at present rather unintuitive and clunky – tools like Publisha could offer an easier way around this, though more customisation would be a plus. See it in action on the Facebook page for US bridal magazine Bodas USA:

Similar Posts:



February 03 2010

22:57

Augmenting reality through journalism

It should come as no surprise that “augmented reality” – the technology that overlays virtual layers of data upon the real world – could be useful for journalism. If Yelp’s augmented reality application downloaded to your smartphone can generate a digital screen with ratings and reviews of a restaurant even as you enter it,  it’s not hard to envision a time in the future when your handheld could offer real-time news from your surroundings, almost as it unfolds.

Not surprisingly, news organizations are jumping on the bandwagon. In the past couple of months, Esquire magazine in the US and Wallpaper in Europe unveiled fancy “augmented reality” editions. Robert Downey Jr. came to life on the cover of Esquire, and videos and animation augmented text through the pages of Wallpaper. Last summer, Popular Science used a GE-powered augmented-reality feature with 3-dimensional wind turbines on its cover.

While all of this is “cool,” allowing publications to improve reader experience and perhaps, revenue, by providing interactivity and entertainment, none of them specifically utilized the potential of augmented reality to enhance delivery of serious content, as the Guardian’s Mercedes Bunz eloquently pointed out. While these publications have provided a good prelude to how the technology can be utilized, news organizations should segue into actually doing journalism with augmented reality instead of merely offering it as dessert.

Event reporting

One of the obvious uses of the technology would be in the reporting of live events. This has particular relevance in planned or staged events, which can range anywhere from international climate summits to polling booth stats to reporting from live games, and by extension, perhaps, award shows and concerts. Similar to the superimposed first-down line on NFL football fields, which has often been used to describe how augmented reality can overlay virtual information on real objects, stats about the distance of a quarterback’s pass, the speed of a tennis player’s serve, exit poll results on election days, or data released at international summits can be virtually generated so people can view them on their smartphones even as the event transpires.

Mixed media
Another way to utilize the technology more relevantly for journalism is a method employed by the company Moving Brands for its paper, Living Identity. Holding up the print edition of a story in front of a webcam in this case generates a live feed of the latest news and updates about the content in question. Such an integration of various forms of media might indeed be one of the biggest benefits of the technology – allowing users to engage and interact online through special tags and markers in the print product would enable news organizations to not necessarily charge for online content, but offer additional features accessible only through the print version. This might be an avenue to generate profit for an otherwise dying print product.

Localizing content
Augmented reality thrives on hyperlocal content, as seen by applications like Yelp’s Monocle and Mobilizy’s Wikitude, which can offer a user facts on a restaurant or site of interest, based on his location. Such applications utilize a smartphone’s GPS coordinates in conjunction with localized data garnered from the Web in order to provide information. If you can wave a smartphone in front of the Niagara Falls to get stats about the popular destination, why not point it in the general direction of a location of interest and generate a digital screen of the latest news from the region in question? It would be nice to see publications invest in providing local, breaking news through applications downloaded on smartphones, for instance. This would also allow national publications to “localize” themselves. Some radio stations already do this by providing news and traffic updates based on the location of a user’s handheld device.

User-generated content
Another important point to note is that many augmented reality apps are based on social sites, so much of the content for data points is user-generated; Wikitude even allows users to integrate to their Facebook and Twitter accounts, thus making the application socially aware. This concept brings up a whole host of possibilities for news organizations to not only provide more local information to readers, but also to seek user-contributed content. The New York Times, rightly taking a leaf out of the books of these companies, plans to implement augmented reality for its movie and restaurant reviews. While it’s at it, what the Times might also consider is reader input. It would be cool to whip out a mobile phone and see what Sam Sifton has to say about a restaurant, but in keeping with the ways of social media and technology, it would be somewhat wanting if users aren’t allowed to offer their own views and ratings.

Explaining concepts and background
Augmented reality also allows an interactive, engaging way for publications to explain background and concepts for issues they report on. Mainstream media entities like the Times and the BBC, and independent online startups like Flyp media have effectively used multimedia to elaborate on complex principles – from climate issues to African history.  Augmented reality could add a new dimension, quite literally, to this format of content delivery, without a reader having to navigate hyperlinks or popup windows.

In addition, it can enhance charts and graphical representations of information and localize them to make them more pertinent to a reader. Layar, the first-ever augmented reality browser, has developed an application that can help users track bailout money that was given to US banks by the Obama administration, for instance. News organizations would do well to augment their reporting in similar fashion; reading about a big bank miles away from where readers live can be informative, but knowing that a local company received federal money is often more relevant to people.

Apart from content, however, augmented reality’s more important potential might be in the area of revenue generation. Despite being a brainchild of technology, one essential factor in case of both the Esquire and Wallpaper augmented-reality issues is, of course, that readers need to have a print edition of the magazine to be able to experience the features. In addition, the features are interactive and engaging, and regardless of whether they offer exclusive information, they have the potential to keep readers riveted.

Advertising and revenue generation
Much has been said about the success of rich media ads in driving purchase intent; augmented reality can and is providing more effective strategies for advertising. In addition to making advertisements fun and engaging, publications could also use the technology to provide targeted advertising, which would be less rather than more disruptive for the user.  In a simple case, only users interested in purchasing that BMW would hold up the print ad in front of their computer screens to generate a virtual car that shows off all its features, for instance (though who in their right mind wouldn’t want a digitally-generated Z4 to zip in front of their very eyes?). The great potential of this technology for advertising is already being seen, as more and more brands jump on the augmented reality bandwagon. In fact, companies have perhaps implemented it most innovatively and effectively in order to help consumers get a real sense of the values and functions of their products.

With the growing number of paid smart phone apps, news organizations are beginning to understand that the audience is more likely to pay for technology than for content. Augmented reality (and mobile phones) have a long way to go before the technology can become mainstream, but it certainly has the potential to be one of several revenue streams that the media can begin to employ.

What augmented reality can do above and beyond everything else is make information relevant and tangible to a reader or viewer. For years, media puritans have worried about the Internet causing fragmented communities, and taking citizens away from their local communities. Smartphones enabled with augmented reality might be the answer to bridge that divide, as they provide a necessary interface between the real and virtual realms, offering as they do virtual information in a very real world. Geotags and location-aware digital maps not only unleash Web 2.0 information in front of the user, but also keep him or her firmly rooted to the ground he’s standing on.

January 07 2010

15:53

GOOD NEWS FOR MEDIA COMPANIES: THE APPLE TABLET NEEDS CONTENT, CONTENT, CONTENT

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Do you remember the story of JVC’s VHS versus Sony’s BETAMAX?

Yes, Sony’s format was better with more reproduction quality, but…

JVC’s  had more movies available and at the end of the day, content prevailed over technology.

Well, now you can understand why Brian Marshall says that “for Apple, content is the focus of the tablet.”

Look at the Google Phone, the Super Phone, the “iPhone Killer”…

The Nexus One could be better as a product (it’s not) but the iPhone has these 100.000 applications, so the game is over.

The same is going to happen with the new upcoming tablets.

The key for the success of the Apple one  will be not the hardware but the software.

And just channeling these 100.000 applications to the new tablet will be enough to win the war.

The Apple tablet will have, I am sure, brilliant hardware.

Superb design.

Great usability.

Magnificent navigation tools…

But, again, it’s the software, stupid!

It’s the wine, not the bottle.

Or as the British used to say when the first computers were presented as “the” solution to have better education in the scholols:

“Garbage IN, Garbage Out”

So, good news for media companies and other content-driven providers.

The Apple tablet loves your content.

Apple wants your content.

Apple needs your content.

Music content made the difference for the iTunes and iPod.

So Multimedia content will make the difference for the Apple iTablet.

Are you ready?

Well, if your newspaper still dosen’t have an iPhone application, I don’t believe you.

You are NOT ready.

And shame to you and to your IT people!

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