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June 02 2011

19:42

UberMedia announces $5.6 Million investment from Burda Digital

Business Wire :: UberMedia the largest independent provider of applications for reading and posting to Twitter and other social media platforms, announced today that Burda Digital through DLD Ventures has invested $5.6 million into the company in a new round of financing. Burda Digital is one of the leading European Internet companies with investments in over 50 digital media companies in Germany, Europe and overseas with revenues of over $900 million, including Tomorrow FOCUS AG, Xing AG, Etsy and Glam Inc. DLD Ventures is the international investment arm of Burda Digital. The investment will be used to further the growth of UberMedia’s user base both in the U.S. and internationally.

Continue to read www.businesswire.com

April 01 2011

18:51

SmashingDarling, 20x200 Push Independent Fashion, Art Online

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Business content on MediaShift is sponsored by the weekend MA in Public Communication at American University. Designed for working professionals, the program is suited to career changers and public relations or social marketing professionals seeking career advancement. Learn more here.

Trish Ginter is an independent fashion designer who believes in the beauty of handmade garments. In 1994, she co-founded a small boutique, Frock, in Chester, Conn. Like other artists and designers who shun modern technologies in the production of their work, Ginter thought she had little use for the online world. She considered the Internet a "nuisance," and didn't even own a cell phone until a few years ago.

Ginter did buy an iPod, however. One day, while downloading music, she had an epiphany. She thought, "If I can create a marketplace for independent fashion designers like Apple has done for musicians, that could be pretty useful." Shortly thereafter, in February of 2007, she launched SmashingDarling.com to do just that.

Today, SmashingDarling features the garments of more than 750 independent fashion designers, who upload their designs themselves. It's like Etsy if Etsy was dedicated only to independent fashion designers. Ginter and her business partner at Frock manage the site and get an 18 percent commission on all sales. And, of course, they sell their own inventory.

"I've come a long way," she said. "I now have developers on the West Coast and content providers and I've even learned a little HTML coding myself."

Making the Niche Mainstream

Much has been made about how the Internet, by allowing users to customize both the production and consumption of content, has a tendency to create niches. Chris Anderson's well known Long Tail theory posits that the unique traits of e-commerce -- fewer distribution challenges, endless catalogue space, etc. -- are shifting the economy away from a relatively small number of mainstream products and markets to more niche products.

jenbekmanheadshot.jpgWhile this is certainly occurring in the art and design world (and SmashingDarling is an example), a less discussed phenomenon is how e-commerce sites in this market may have the effect of transforming otherwise niche offerings into mainstream purchases. At least that's the hope of Jen Bekman, who started 20×200.com, a site that sells signed, limited edition original artwork by both emerging and established artists.

Bekman knows that the majority of Americans aren't currently in the market for fine art.


"The real world experience of buying art right now is pretty abysmal and appeals to a very small part of the population," said Bekman, who owns a gallery in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City. "When you walk into a gallery, the ability to educate yourself is very limited ... Something is $2,000 because the dealer says it's two thousand dollars. It's a very high-risk purchase ... People have misgivings and ambivalence to art buying."

Bekman attempts to mitigate this online by explaining the story of the artist, offering descriptions of the work, and offering prints at a reasonable price point. She calls the many $20 prints on her site the "gateway drug to the art world."

While the online model may not necessarily make art-buying addicts of us all, it certainly removes the obstacles -- psychological as well as financial and geographical -- that otherwise prevent fine art from being a mainstream purchase.

Getting Out There

Ginter shares this mission, and hopes to use the web to create more of a mass market for independent fashion design. When I asked her about her goals for her site, she said, "We want independent designers to be out there everywhere. All of us need to be out there increasing the size of the market. For me, when I get purchases online, they're always from a different place -- California or Texas or Colorado."

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For her business expansion, Ginter credits the web's ability to introduce her brand to -- and allow dialogues with -- customers she's never met. She increasingly gets customers from people Googling "indy fashion" or "independent fashion," which she said suggests that SmashingDarling is serving a growing demand. Ginter hopes to fan the flames of that market growth on the supply side.

So, will the Internet, which has supplanted mainstream journalistic and commercial activity with more niche products and processes, have the effect of elevating niche products in the arts and design marketplace to mainstream standing? Only time will tell.

For now, neither Ginter nor Beckman say these new platforms will make in-person transactions obsolete, or disrupt their boutique or gallery. As opposed to books or CDs, where the big box stores that upended smaller retailers were themselves upended by online retailers (think of Amazon hurting Borders) or iTunes replacing Tower Records), Ginter and Beckman insist people will continue to purchase artwork or fashion designs at physical stores.

Photo of Jen Bekman courtesy of Paul Costello

Mark Hannah is the director of academic communications at Parsons The New School for Design. Coming out of the public relations world, he has conducted sensitive public affairs campaigns for well-known multinational corporations, major industry organizations and influential non-profits. Mark worked for the Kerry-Edwards presidential campaign as a member of the national advance staff. He's more recently worked as an advance associate for the Obama-Biden campaign and Presidential Inaugural Committee. He serves on the board of directors of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, is a member of the Public Relations Society of America and was a 2008 research fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. He holds a BA from the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania and an master's degree from Columbia University. He can be reached at markphannah[at]gmail.com

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Business content on MediaShift is sponsored by the weekend MA in Public Communication at American University. Designed for working professionals, the program is suited to career changers and public relations or social marketing professionals seeking career advancement. Learn more here.

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December 10 2010

21:03

More TimesOpen Hacks

Earlier this week, we promised you more details about the hacks submitted at our TimesOpen Hack Day. Here they are to help kick off your weekend.

September 15 2010

17:00

Twitter as broadcast: What #newtwitter might mean for networked journalism

So Twitter.com’s updated interface — #newtwitter, as the Twittery hashtag goes — is upon us. (Well, upon some of us.)

The most obvious, and noteworthy, changes involved in #newtwitter are (a) the two-panel interface, which — like Tweetdeck and Seesmic and other third-party apps — emphasizes the interactive aspects of Twitter; and (b) the embeddable media elements: YouTube videos, Flickr photos (and entire streams!), Twitpics, etc. And the most obvious implications of those changes are (a) the nice little stage for advertising that the interface builds up; and (b) the threat that #newtwitter represents to third-party apps.

Taken together, those point to a broader implication: Twitter.com as an increasingly centralized space for information. And even, for our more specific purposes, news. Twitter itself, as Ev Williams put it during the company’s announcement of @anywhere, is “an information network that helps people understand what’s going on in the world that they care about.” And #newtwitter, likely, will help further that understanding. From the point of view of consumption, contextual tweets — with images! and videos! — will certainly create a richer experience for users, from both a future-of-context perspective and a more pragmatic usability-oriented one. But what about from the point of view of production — the people and organizations who feed Twitter?

The benefits of restriction

We commonly call Twitter a “platform,” the better to emphasize its emptiness, its openness, its agnosticism. More properly, though, Twitter is a medium, with all the McLuhanesque implications that term suggests. The architecture of Twitter as an interface necessarily affects the content its users produce and distribute.

And one of the key benefits of Twitter has been the fact of its constraint — which has also been the fact of its restraint. The medium’s character limitation has meant that everyone, from the user with two friends following her to the million-follower-strong media organizations, has had the same space, the same tools, to work with. Twitter has democratized narrative even more than blogs have, you could argue, because its interface — your 140 characters next to my 140 characters next to Justin Bieber’s 140 characters, all sharing the space of the screen — has been not only universal, but universally restricted. The sameness of tweets’ structures, and the resulting leveling of narrative authority, has played a big part in Twitter’s evolution into the medium we know today: throngs of users, relatively unconcerned with presentation, relatively un-self-conscious, reporting and sharing and producing the buzzing, evolving resource we call “news.” Freed of the need to present information “journalistically,” they have instead presented it organically. Liberation by way of limitation.

So what will happen when Twitter, the organism, grows in complexity? What will take place when Twitter becomes a bit more like Tumblr, with a bit of its productive limitation — text, link, publish — taken away?

The changes Twitter’s rolling out are not just cosmetic; embedded images and videos, in particular, are far more than mere adornment. A link is fundamentally, architecturally, different than an image or a video. Links are bridges: structures unto themselves, sure, but more significantly routes to other places — they’re both conversation and content, endings and beginnings at once. An image or a video, on the other hand, from a purely architectural perspective, is an end point, nothing more. It leads to nowhere but itself.

For a Twitter interface newly focused on image-based content, that distinction matters. Up until now, the only contextual components of a tweet — aside from the peripheral metadata like “time sent,” retweeted by,” etc. — have been the text and the link. The link may have led to more text or images or videos; but it also would have led to a different platform. Now, though, within Twitter itself, we’re seeing a shift from text-and-link toward text-and-image — which is to say, away from conversation and toward pure information. Which is also to say, away from communication…and toward something more traditionally journalistic. Tweets have always been little nuggets of narrative; with #newtwitter, though, individual tweets get closer to news articles.

We’ve established already that Twitter is, effectively if not officially, a news platform unto itself. #Newtwitter solidifies that fact, and then doubles down on it: It moves the news proposition away from a text-based framework…and toward an image-based one. If #twitterclassic established itself as a news platform, in other words, #newtwitter suggests that the news in question may increasingly be of the broadcast variety.

“What are you doing?” to “What’s happening?”

“Twttr” began as a pure communications platform: text messages, web-ified. The idea was simply to take the ephemeral interactions of SMS and send them to — capture them in — the cloud. The point was simplicity, casualness. (Even its name celebrated that idea: “The definition [of Twitter] was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information,’ and ‘chirps from birds,’” Jack Dorsey told the Los Angeles Times. “And that’s exactly what the product was.”)

The interface that rolled out last night — and that will continue rolling out over the next couple of weeks to users around the world — bears little resemblance to that initial vision of Twitter as captured inconsequence. Since its launch (okay, okay: its hatch), Twitter has undergone a gradual, but steady, evolution — from ephemeral conversations to more consequential information. (Recall the change in the web interface’s prompt late last year, from “What are you doing?” to “What’s happening?” That little semantic shift — from an individual frame to a universal one — marked a major shift in how Twitter shapes its users’ conception, and therefore use, of the platform. In its way, that move foreshadowed today’s new interface.) Infrastructural innovations like Lists have heightened people’s awareness of their status not simply as communicators, but as broadcasters. The frenzy of breaking-news events — from natural disasters like Haiti’s earthquake to political events like last summer’s Iranian “revolution” — have highlighted Twitter’s value as a platform for information dissemination that transcends divisions of state. They’ve also enforced users’ conception of their own tweets: visible to your followers, but visible, also, to the world. It’s always been the case, but its’ one that’s increasingly apparent: Each tweet is its own little piece of broadcast journalism.

What all that will mean for tweets’ production, and consumption, remains to be seen; Twitterers, end-user innovation-style, have a way of deciding for themselves how the medium’s interface will, and will not, be put to practice. And Twitter is still, you know, Twitter; it’s still, finally and fundamentally, about communication. But the smallness, the spareness, the convivial conversation that used to define it against other media platforms is giving way — perhaps — to the more comprehensive sensibility of the networked news organization. The Twitter.com of today, as compared to the Twitter.com of yesterday, is much more about information that’s meaningful and contextual and impactful. Which is to say, it’s much more about journalism.

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