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September 03 2010

16:00

An open and shut case: At the new TimesOpen, different models for attracting developers to a platform

One phone rings, then another, then four more, now a dozen. The 15th-floor conference room is suddenly abuzz with an eclectic mix of song snippets and audio bits, an intimate peak at their owners before each is picked up or silenced. Having impressed the audience with the telephony technology behind the product, the presenter moves on to the next demo.

The intersection of mobile and geolocation is still an unknown world, waiting to be invented by hackers like the ones at round 2.0 of TimesOpen, The New York Times’ outreach to developers, which launched Thursday night. We wrote about the first TimesOpen event last year: It’s an attempt to open the doors of the The Times to developers, technologists, designers, and entrepreneurs, who can use Times tools to help answer some of the field’s big questions. This iteration of TimesOpen is a five-event series this fall, each focusing on a different topic: mobile/geolocation, open government, the real-time web, “big data,” and finally a hack day in early December.

On the docket Thursday were Matt Kelly of Facebook, John Britton of Twilio, Manu Marks of Google, and John Keefe of WNYC. Kelly presented Facebook Places; Britton gave one of his now New York-famous live demos of the Twilio API; Marks dove deep into the various flavors of the Google Maps API; Keefe — the only non-programmer of the bunch — discussed lessons learned from a community engagement project with The Takeaway.

Building community around an API

An API, or application programming interface, allow applications to easily communicate with one another. For example, any iPhone or Android application that pulls information from a web-based database is most likely it through an API. If you search local restaurants through Yelp, your location and query are passed to Yelp and results given in return. For any company with an API, like the three at TimesOpen, the challenge is to convince developers they should spend their time innovating on top of your platform. Strategically, when there’s an entire ecosystem living on top of your platform, your platform then becomes indispensable and valuable.

What’s most fascinating to me, however, are the approaches each company is taking to build a community around its API. The community is the most important key to the success of an API, a major source of innovation. One of the keys to Twitter’s explosive growth has been its API; rather than depending on its own developers for all new innovation, Twitter inadvertently created an entire ecosystem of value on top of their platform.

Let’s contrast Facebook and Twilio, for example. Facebook hopes Places, launched in mid August, will become the definitive platform for all location data. Interoperability can happen, but it should happen over Facebook’s infrastructure. Facebook envisions a future where, in addition to showing you where your friends are in real time, Places will also offer historical social context to location. Remember the trip through South America your friend was telling you about? Now you don’t have to, all of the relevant information is accessible through Places.

At the moment, though, Facebook’s only public location API is read-only. It can give a developer a single check-in, all check-ins for a given user, or check-in data for a given location. They have a closed beta for the write API with no definitive timeline for opening it publicly. Expanded access to the API is done through partnerships reserved for the select few.

Twilio’s demo power

Twilio, on the other hand, is a cloud-based telephony company which offers voice and SMS functionality as a service, and whose business depends wholly on extensive use of its API. Developer evangelist John Britton made a splash at the NY Tech Meetup when, in front of hundreds, he wrote a program and did a live demo that elegantly communicated the full scope of what their product offers. On Thursday, he impressed again: Using the Twilio API, he procured a phone number, and had everyone in the audience dial into it. When connected, callers were added to one of three conference rooms. Dialing into the party line also meant your phone number was logged, and the application could then follow up by calling you back. All of this was done with close to a dozen lines of code.

At TimesOpen, Britton stressed API providers need to keep a keen ear to their community. Community members often have ideas for how you can improve your service to solve the intermediate problems they have. For instance, up until a week ago, Twilio didn’t have the functionality to block phone numbers from repeatedly dialing in. For one company using the platform, the absence of this feature became a significant financial liability. Once rolled out, the feature made Twilio much more valuable of a service because the company could more closely tailor it to their needs. To make experimentation even easier, Twilio also has an open source product called OpenVBX and brings together its community with regular meetups.

Facebook already has the scale and the social graph to make any new API it produces a player. But for wooing the hackers — at least when you’re a small and growing platform — open and inclusive seems to win out over closed and exclusive.

August 27 2010

09:37

AOP: Mirror digital director Matt Kelly and the 800lb gorilla in the room

Whether you agree with Matt Kelly’s well-documented views on Google and search engines vs. publishers, there’s no doubting the Mirror Group digital director’s way with words.

Take this soundbite from the Association of Online Publishers’ (AOP) interview when asked what is holding journalists and news organisations back from digital?

Apart from the big 800lb gorilla of the fact that there’s no money there (…) if you accept philosophically that digital has to be a part of your business going forward if you’re going to survive and you accept that at some point there will be a reconnection with the investment and reward that is necessary to pay for all this content, then the next question is are you creative enough? Sure. Have you got enough guts to innovate and to develop create compelling propositions online? Of course we have. I don’t think there’s anything holding us back. It would be nice to bring the revenues forward a bit, but I think we will certainly get there.


Video on the AOP website at this link…Similar Posts:



July 27 2010

13:45

Facebook launches a “Facebook + Media” page

Last night, Facebook unveiled a project that it’s had in the works for a while: a media page devoted to journalists, developers, and other “media partners.” Facebook + Media is dedicated, it says, to “helping news, TV, video, sports, and music partners use Facebook” — in particular, by helping them “learn about best practices and tools to help…drive referral traffic, increase engagement, and deepen user insights.”

The page offers data, for example, into how users engage with news content shared on Facebook — think of it as the social sister to Google Analytics. For example, per a note we received from a Facebook spokesperson, and based on a study of the 100 top media sites integrated with the network’s social plugins:

- Stories published in the early morning or late evening showed higher engagement

- Websites experienced 3-5x greater click-through rates on the Like button when they included thumbnail photos of a user’s friends, enabled users to add comments (which 70% of top performing sites did), and placed the Like button at the top and bottom of articles and near visually exciting content like videos and graphics Sites that place Facebook social plugins above the fold and on multiple webpages receive more engagement. For example, sites that placed the Activity Feed plugin on the front and content pages received 2-10x more clicks per user than sites with the plugins on the front page alone.

- Sites have used the Live Stream box to boost engagement with live video content. During the World Cup, there were over 1.5 million status updates through the Live Stream box on media websites such as Univision, TF1, ESPN, Cuatro, RTVE, and Telecinco.

Whatever your current engagement with Facebook, and whether your particular news organization is staffed by 1,000 employees or one, the findings are worth attention. Here’s some more information on the data and how it was assembled.

As far as Facebook itself is concerned, the new page seems devoted not just to data on traffic and interactivity and the like, but also to avoiding the trap that Google has found itself in and is now trying to rectify: an uncomfortable kind of awkward often oppositional relationship with news organizations. News outlets and social news platforms — or, more clinically, content providers and content distributors — used to be an us-and-them proposition. Now, though, we’re coming to a point where “social news” is not only common, but a redundancy. How could the news, we increasingly assume, be anything but social in nature?

It may have PR overtones; still, Facebook + Media is an indication of the collapse of the wall that used to divide content and delivery platform. As Facebook Development team lead Justin Osofsky — who oversees the company’s media partnerships, and who (with fellow Facebooker Matt Kelly) was on hand at a San Francisco Hacks/Hackers event last night — put it: Facebook is trying to enter into dialogue with journalism organizations. And the media page is “the first cut to start the discussion.”

May 20 2010

13:50

#wmf: The general news business is dead; RIP, says Mirror’s digital director

Digital content director for the Mirror Group Matt Kelly is well-known for his provocative speeches – see his talk to the World Association of Newspapers’ annual congress in December in which he said online newspapers had prostituted themselves online and treated SEO as “the be-all and end-all of online publishing”, devaluing readers in the process.

We’ll be reporting his remarks in full shortly from today’s Westminster Media Forum event ‘The Future of News Media’ (as well as Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow’s optimistic note for journalists), including what he told Journalism.co.uk about Mirror.co.uk’s plans for more niches building on its Mirror Football and 3am.

But for starters:

  • “The general news business is dead. If all you have to peddle is general news, then rest in peace.”
  • “Newspapers aren’t in the sharp news game; we haven’t been for some time. We are in the audience business.”
  • “Thirty million customers [online] and no profit isn’t what I’d call a business.”
  • “Publishers need to re-establish in our online businesses that sense of value, brand and uniqueness that we have taken so much trouble to do in print.”
  • “The newspaper industry is far from blameless in this situation [free content online]“

More to follow…

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