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January 21 2011


Teens Turn to Social Coding to Protect Privacy on Social Nets

In certain teen social circles, it's considered a subtle act of arrogance, a signifier of the loner, to use a solo photo of yourself for your Facebook profile. Digital natives may have earned their reputation as the "entitlement generation," but apparently there are some social limits to their unabashed self-regard.

In fact, there's compelling evidence the up-and-coming cohort of young Americans has grown increasingly sophisticated in navigating the public-by-default scene of social networks. Researchers say they are evolving forms of social coding to signal to each other while at the same time keeping their thoughts, activities and personal communications masked from older generations.

For example, profile photos that include friends may have originated as a safety mechanism, according to danah boyd, a researcher that specializes in the intersections between technology and society at Harvard's Center for Internet and Society, but now are a "social signal that you are sociable."

Though social media has expanded well beyond the youth demographic -- 20 percent of Facebook users are aged 45 or older -- the front lines of cultural-technological change are predominately filled by the young. This is, ultimately, their world. The rest of us are just visiting.

Given their numbers -- 82 million Americans were born between 1980 and 2000 -- and their reputation for strong opinions, the buying clout of Gen Y consumers could surpass all previous generations.

The Badge of Brands

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The Gen Y relationship to brands is part of a broader shift in social norms ushered in by digital communications. When young people choose to "like" a brand on Facebook, they're essentially putting on a badge that helps define them among their peers. Online brand fandom can be viewed as a performance, part of a carefully calibrated process to craft and project a personal identity that transcends public and private selves.

"Even when people really lock down their privacy settings on Facebook, one of the things they don't hide is what brands they like," explained Peter Swanson, a college-aged intern at our ad agency, Engauge, whom we regularly interrogate on Gen Y social protocols. "I know it sounds superficial, but if I see a girl likes three or four brands, I pretty much know who she is -- or at least, I can tell if we're going to click, if we've got a chance. If she likes J. Crew, right? Or, like, Old Navy? That says a lot."

Coded Messages

Conscious brand identification can be exercised online by more mature demographics, but the critical difference is that teens appear more naturally attuned to the subtlest of social signals online.

Having been raised in the digital slipstream, they're highly sensitive to its shifting currents. That's both good news and bad news for marketers. On one hand, positive and public brand associations can generate significant value for brands.

But, on the other hand, as the industry moves inexorably toward more sophisticated behavioral marketing, there are signals that teens are adopting practices to remain unknowable and inscrutable.

One of the ways that teenagers have adapted to the open social architecture of online networks is by increasingly coding their public messages in private language -- song lyrics, personal jokes -- that's decipherable only to those friends who are the intended recipients of the message.

This "social coding" can effectively keep nosy parents, college admissions officers and future employers in the dark. This doesn't mean they're scrubbing every detail from their public personas.

"Teens turn to private messages or texting or other forms of communication for intimate interactions, but they don't care enough about certain information to put the effort into locking it down," said boyd, the Harvard researcher, when addressing the international convention on privacy and data protection last October. "But this isn't because they don't care about privacy. This is because they don't think that what they're saying really matters all that much to anyone."

The average teen sends or receives 50 text messages daily, according to Pew Internet. Over 30 percent of teens send more than 100 texts, and 15 percent send more than 200. (The average adult sends 10.)

Interestingly, Twitter is now emerging as a favored channel for private communication among the most popular and tech-sophisticated teens in high-income American communities. In contrast to Facebook, boyd has observed, these teens tend to protect their Twitter accounts, making them accessible only to a subset of friends. This also relieves them from too much traffic on Facebook. "Facebook is like shouting in a crowd, Twitter is like talking in a room," one teen she studied said.

This all seems counter-intuitive to the older Twitter demographic, which is steeped in the traditions of mass media and eager to broadcast messages to the widest possible audience.

As digital natives mature, their public presence and behavior on social networks will evolve, impacting broader social norms. The expansion of these new social codes may require a rewrite of the prevailing narrative of digital natives as self-absorbed narcissists unconcerned about privacy. And wouldn't that be a nice surprise.

Mya Frazier is director of trends and insights at Engauge, one of the nation's largest independent advertising agencies. This article is adapted from the Engauge 2011 Digital Outlook, a comprehensive report on the future of marketing in the digital era.
As the advertising correspondent for MediaShift, she chronicles the impact of digital, mobile and social marketing trends on content, culture and commerce. A former business journalist, she has been a staff writer at Advertising Age, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and American City Business Journals. You can follow her on Twitter.

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January 14 2011


4 Minute Roundup: All Hail the Verizon iPhone!

The iPhone is coming, the iPhone is coming, the iPhone is coming... to Verizon. After an endless string of complaints from users about dropped calls on the AT&T iPhone, Verizon finally is offering relief with its own iPhone, due out next month. The downsides of the new Verizon iPhone include that it's on the CDMA network, and not a new 4G network, and doesn't do global voice roaming. I talked with CNET's Nicole Lee about the pluses and minuses of the new Verizon iPhone.

Check it out!


>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Background music is "The iPhone Blues," an adaptation by Mark Glaser of "Phone Booth" by the Robert Cray Band. Performed by The Temps.

Here are some links to related sites and stories for the podcast:

Consumer Reports offers scathing critique on Verizon iPhone 4 at Consumer Reports

With Verizon's iPhone, a rare example of customers getting what they crave at the Washington Post

Verizon iPhone is 'Ultimate Threat' to Android, Report Says at PC Mag

Is Verizon IPhone Too Late For Apple? at MediaPost

A Few Points to Think About Before You Grab a Verizon iPhone at Huffington Post

Amazon Says No Plans to Carry Verizon iPhone at PC Mag

The Verizon iPhone 4: Promising, but likely to be short-lived at Consumer Reports blog

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about the Verizon iPhone:

What do you think about the iPhone on Verizon?survey software

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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January 10 2011


10 Mobile Trends in 2011: Android Boom, Tablets Multiply

2010 was an important year for mobile, especially in media, where the announcement of the iPad and other tablets, along with new smartphones, made mobile and tablet apps especially intriguing to publishers. This year promises greater growth and new opportunities for content producers. Here are some of the top trends to keep an eye on as 2011 unfolds.

1. Continued Android Adoption

While the iPhone helped create a tipping point for mainstream smartphone adoption, Android activations are up to 300,000 per day, according to Google. Seeing this, some mobile developers, tired of the hassle of Apple's App Store approval process, are focusing their talents on creating apps for Android. If growth continues at this pace, it's possible that devices running Android will eclipse iOS in mobile popularity.

2. Growth of Geo-location

Screen shot 2011-01-07 at 2.28.13 PM.pngServices such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places receive a lot of attention among tech aficionados, but have yet to become mainstream. While many people are now familiar with the concept of a check-in, a study by Forrester Research found that only 4 percent of people in the U.S. have done so, and only 1 percent do so weekly.

Retailers are keen to capitalize on check-ins, offering deals to customers and rewards for loyalty. As more businesses hop on the bandwagon and smartphone apotion continues to grow, the number of people willing to share their location will increase.

3. More Tablets

Apple's iPad popularized the tablet in 2010. It remains the market leader, but competitors such as Motorola and RIM are brewing up their own models, and Samsung's Galaxy is already in the international market.

Motorola's newly announced tablet, the Droid Xoom will run Android's Honeycomb OS and offer connectivity through Verizon. RIM's PlayBook will support Flash and tethering via BlackBerrys with any carrier, two features that iPad critics might appreciate.

4. Increasingly Interactive Touch Screens

On the hardware side, touch screens are getting ready to start touching back. Some Droids and other phones have implemented haptics, or touch feedback, which can respond to a key touch with vibration, for example. Last summer, Apple filed a patent titled "Multi Touch with Multi Haptics" that could make specific parts of the screen provide feedback when touched.

Even more impressive is the TeslaTouch technology being developed by Disney Research. In the near future, the sense of touch will be used to communicate the size of a file being dragged, the texture of a visual graphic, and the moment when an object on the screen snaps neatly onto a grid.

5. Faster Connectivity

Some carriers began deploying 4G networks last year and continue to expand their coverage areas. The speed of 4G will make watching live steaming video on mobile a much more common activity. Video eats up a lot of bandwidth, so expect phone plan pricing structures to continue shifting away from paying for minutes to paying for data usage.

6. More Free WiFi Hotspots

rim-playbook1.jpgThe dream of being able to find free WiFi anywhere is still a ways off, but 2010 marked the first time the U.S. saw more free WiFi hotspots than paid ones. Carriers with heavily burdened cellular networks are diving into WiFi with the hope of easing their mobile data loads. AT&T is expanding its WiFi hotzone program, especially in New York and San Francisco, where its network is under the biggest amount of stress.

7. Serious security threats

Up until now, smartphone users haven't had much to worry about in terms of viruses. Smartphones are mini-computers, however, and malicious hackers are beginning to target them. McAfee put mobile on its forecast as one of this year's top security threats.

Even feature phones could be attacked. Researchers recently demonstrated how a single text message could take down an entire network by utilizing phones' vulnerabilities.

8. Greater Awareness of Privacy Issues

Several popular mobile apps, including Pandora, MySpace and Paper Toss, were caught secretly passing personal information including age, gender and location, to advertisers without users' consent. The Mobile Marketing Association took notice and announced that it will work on a new set of guidelines to protect consumers' privacy. Most people consider their devices to be very personal, and growing awareness of potential privacy breaches could help keep developers and marketers honest. Regulators' efforts in other areas, like the "Do Not Track" database, could be extended to mobile as well.

h2.9. Device-To-Device Communication

Berg Insight calculated that 2 percent of mobile network traffic last year was between machines, including devices like digital picture frames, e-book readers and smart energy meters. Automotive brands including Ford and BMW have launched apps that let you send driving directions to your car from your phone before a trip, and turn your car's radio into a player for your favorite web radio service.

10. M-Commerce Growth

Savvy shoppers are using smartphones to save money. Barcode scanning apps like RedLaser search the web for a product's best price, enabling consumers in a store to buy a product online for less before leaving. At this point most people have yet to make a large purchase via their handset, but as mobile devices become more like -- and are perceived more like -- computers, mobile shopping will be on the rise.

Matylda Czarnecka is a mobile, green tech and tea aficionado in New York City. She is an alumna of NYU's Studio 20 graduate program, which focuses on innovation in digital journalism. She has written about GreenTech for TechCrunch, oversaw mobile and mapping as product manager at the Bakersfield Californian, and helped shape the Durango Herald's online strategy. Matylda is the founder and CEO of "Love Your Layover";http://loveyourlayover.com/, a web- and mobile-based resource for travelers who'd like to escape the airport during lengthy layovers.

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December 23 2010


iPads, Print-on-Demand Slowly Transform Magazines in 2010

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This revolution is going to take its time.

It's been a year of high expectations but little fulfillment for those who thought 2010 might forever change the way we read magazines. We've seen that disappointing uses of new tools, limited audience interest, and small initial financial returns are going to result in a gradual shift, not a sudden transformation.

The iPad certainly hasn't made print magazines extinct, and in fact some of the early iPad efforts may even have discouraged readers a bit. Other developments in the magazine world -- such as the Cooks Source incident and the growing power of social media -- also suggest still more challenges and opportunities in the year to come.

The Challenges of Innovation for the iPad

The number of print magazines stayed steady in 2010, with 193 launches and 176 closures -- a great improvement over 2009's remarkable 596 casualties, as reported by Folio. In the meantime, readers began experimenting with digital magazines on the iPad following the device's April release. Zinio, a digital magazine provider, had its app in the App Store on the iPad's release day, meaning the digital replica-style magazines Zinio offered could immediately be read on the iPad.

Multiple magazines soon released their own dedicated apps for the iPad, such as Wired's much-touted app, which in June 2010 sold 105,000 copies, exceeding that month's newsstand sales. However, Wired's app didn't repeat that feat in later months, with sales dropping to 32,000 copies by September. Other magazines, such as People and Men's Health, have only achieved 1 to 2 percent of their newsstand sales with their iPad apps, according to Ad Age.

But how happy have users been with these digital magazines, and how rewarding have they been for publishers? A recent study by the Reynolds Journalism Institute found that users rated their reading experience only "somewhat better or about the same" than their use of print media or computers for reading. The users also said they would be most likely to buy news-related apps if the prices were lower than those for print subscriptions -- not the same or higher, as the prices generally now are for magazine apps.


Users of iPad magazines have also criticized what they see as a lack of creativity and technological savvy in designing usable, intriguing magazine apps for the iPad. Today's magazine apps tend to be dull, clunky replicas of print magazine pages that don't let readers share content via social media or even email. Despite being designed only for the iPad, even Project, the much-anticipated iPad-only magazine from Richard Branson's Virgin Digital Publishing, was disliked by some readers for its awkward interface and its insistence on re-creating the print page experience.

Perhaps some of the reluctance to experiment with new interface designs and multimedia integration comes from a fear of alienating iPad users who might expect a magazine-like experience, including the feel of "turning pages." However, with the iPad still in its early-adopter phase, this seems like the perfect time for experiments that demonstrate to readers that a digital magazine app can offer more than the printed page -- and that the experience can be worth a premium price.

Ads and Subscriptions on the iPad

Advertisers have seemed quite interested in buying space in digital magazines, and publishers are experimenting with new formats for ads. Though window-shopping is usually free, simulating the experience in a new iPad ad included in the forthcoming Cosmopolitan app will cost advertisers $50,000, according to Mediaweek. In the meantime, Apple has launched iAd for the iPad, building upon its use of the advertising tool on the iPhone. It plans to broaden the use of iAd in 2011. The first iAd on the iPad -- for Disney's movie "Tron: Legacy" -- will run in the TV Guide iPad app, among others. More magazine publishers could become involved in the iAd platform as well.

Finally, one of the biggest obstacles to activating and maintaining reader interest in digital magazines is the difficulty of locating an app for a favorite magazine and then somehow getting a subscription to it. So far, Apple charges its standard 30 percent commission on magazine app sales, and requires the use of external subscription management software, according to Folio.

Until Apple develops a more user- and publisher-friendly newsstand, digital magazine app subscriptions will likely be limited. In the meantime, five major publishers -- Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp., and Time -- are taking matters into their own hands and developing their own alternative in the form of Next Issue Media, which promises to provide "open standards for a new digital storefront" that will sell magazines and newspapers for a variety of e-reading tools, not just the iPad.

In addition to existing competition from the Kindle, Nook, and Android devices, those e-reading tools might include new tablet devices that run Windows 7. If Apple wants to maintain the loyalty of its early adopters, including many avid e-readers, offering easy access to high-quality magazine content will be important in the coming year.

Magazine Credibility Under Fire

The iPad is obviously the biggest story of the year in the magazine world, but other issues are playing out on the web and behind the scenes. Magazines are reshaping their content and strategies for the digital world, and this is causing a reconsideration of ethical issues that underly the production of content.

The Cooks Source incident this fall underscored the difficulty of maintaining authors' rights to their work in the digital age. The small magazine "for food lovers of Western New England" took a writer's piece on apple pie and reprinted it without her permission. When the blogger complained, the editor claimed that "the web is considered public domain and you should be happy we just didn't 'lift' your whole article and put someone else's name on it."


Soon after this incident, another small magazine, Dairy Goat Journal, was exposed for using a blogger's photo without permission or payment, or even her name. The bad publicity resulting from these ethical failures creates doubt among the public and even among fellow journalists about the credibility of journalistic content when everything in digital form seems -- but most definitely isn't -- free for the taking.

Likewise, new advertising techniques in both digital form and in print have raised concerns about ethics. Forbes' use of paid blogs from advertisers as part of its online redesign (described here on MediaShift) is just one of many efforts to develop sponsored content for magazines' digital formats. As financial pressures increase, and deals for advertorial and sponsored content online and in print become more appealing, magazines will have to be vigilant to maintain a clear line between editorial and advertising content.

Redefining Magazines

As these experiments continue -- on the iPad, other e-readers, the web, and in print -- magazines new and old continue to challenge the traditional definition of their medium. Juan Senor of Innovation Media Consulting, interviewed earlier this year here at MediaShift, described magazines today as "content propositions": Concepts that lead to collections of multimedia content, rather than strictly to the creation of bundles of paper. Even the Magazine Publishers of America, first established in 1919, acknowledged the changing industry by renaming itself this year to "MPA - The Association of Magazine Media."

Some exciting variations on "magazine media" that we've seen this year include the socially curated, customizable digital magazine and the rise of print-on-demand and web-based options for one-off and independently published magazines.

Flipboard, the iPad app that draws together customized content from a user's social streams and from various major providers, now also includes a few traditional print magazines through its new Flipboard Pages. Unlike most dedicated magazine iPad apps, Flipboard presents articles alongside relevant social media commentary and allows easy social sharing of content, making the content more engaging and participatory. The Flipboard Pages streams are presented first like any other Flipboard article, but then can be opened in a more magazine-like layout, including full-page ads.

Flipboard's combination of the social experience with the magazine experience is compelling, as demonstrated by its early struggles to keep its servers functional to meet demand. Its design suggests a possible path for the development of other magazine-related apps. Clearly, this approach exemplifies the "content proposition" model of magazine publishing.

In the coming year, we'll probably also see more experimentation with tools that are making magazine publishing more accessible to the public, such as print-on-demand and web-based digital magazines. The success of the crowdsourced, print-on-demand magazines 48 HR (now renamed Longshot) and Stranded, as well as the availability of HTML5 web distribution platforms like NoLayout, targeted to indie magazines and accessible on mobile devices, show that with ingenuity and the right tech, crafting and distributing a new magazine is entirely possible, even with limited time and money.

Although 2010 might not have yet delivered on the revolution in magazines that some hoped for and was disappointing in some ways, it certainly demonstrated that publishers big and small are creating innovations that -- slowly but surely -- will remake the industry.

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at California State University, Fresno. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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November 29 2010


Why We Gave Our Students Droid Smartphones to Capture News

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

On a cold fall night about 20 years ago I was standing in a phone booth alongside the Welland Canal. The deck of the lake freighter I was writing about was slowly sinking down as the lock level lowered. In front of me was a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 computer with a faint 8-line LCD display. It was acoustically coupled to the grimy pay phone's handset and was sputtering my copy at 300 characters per second back to my newsroom. It spurted the last period of my story in time for me to leap down to the descending, ice-rimmed deck and continue my journey.

Now, two decades later, I want my students to have the same experience. I want them to witness and then file from the scene. But, I want them to use smartphones connected to a high speed, 3G network. And I want those phones to be capable of capturing video, stills and text and sharing.

Okay, I don't want them to back a pig-slow file transfer in a race against a departing lake freighter. But, the idea remains the same.

Droids for All

This semester at Ryerson University in Toronto, thanks to help from Motorola and Telus, a major Canadian cell phone provider, my fellow third-year online journalism instructor Vinita Srivastava and I have been able to provide all our two dozen students with Android-powered Droid smartphones.

While some of the students already have feature phones and Blackberries (and a few iPhones), it's great to have them all at the same level and give them equal and free access to a technology that can get pretty pricey when you factor in a monthly data plan, especially in Canada.

Our intention is to have the students, where possible and appropriate, do as many aspects of their reporting on the phones. That includes research, using social media, recording audio, capturing video, taking still photos, writing and editing stories and filing online to Flickr, YouTube, our class blog and the Toronto-based hyper-local news site, OpenFile. (Disclosure: MediaShift managing editor Craig Silverman is the digital journalism director of OpenFile.)

We are working with OpenFile because they have created a very interesting model for hyper-local news. They fully engage communities in their own coverage and encourage non-journalists to open files on the site on issues or events that interest them or that they are curious about. Site editors then assign freelance journalists to follow up on the leads and produce stories for the site. And, those stories can be followed up by anyone and leave an online comet trail of evidence and additions in their wake.

While the recent municipal election was going on in Toronto, the students used their smartphones to bring citywide election issues down to the neighborhood level. They also live-tweeted candidate meetings and, on election night, results and reactions. They've already used them to capture and share video interviews with candidates, share photo essays of wards, write their stories in coffee shops and even catch breaking news in the form of a dramatic fire in a Wellsley Avenue apartment that led to the evacuation of hundreds of residents. Some of those residents were interviewed by video using a smartphone.

Other students roamed the streets, looking for local stories. Here's a video interview that student Claire Penhorwood conducted with the owner of a local business:

Device of the Future

All well and good, but why is using smartphones important?

First, because mobile devices like smartphones are not only perfect little tools for journalism; but, equally as important, more and more people are using these devices to consume content and also to create and distribute photos, gossip, events and the other little flakes of experience that are taken for news by those that care deeply about them. So, if we want to tell and share our stories, we should learn to use and master the devices more and more people are using to consume and create it.

ryerson.pngSecond, if you want to explore community-level hyper-local journalism, smartphones are a natural tool for a diffuse, mobile news team.

Third, smartphones are powerful multimedia tools capable of capturing high quality audio and video, but they are also light, unobtrusive and non-threatening for folks not used to media attention.

Fourth, these devices are built for social networks, online sharing and diffuse content creation. If you want to teach the journalistic application of these things, they're an ideal ally.

Finally, they help us model the future. These devices will only get faster, smarter and more capable (and probably thinner). Networks will get faster and ubiquitous. Devices like tablets and smartphones will be our go-to devices for consuming news. We should help our students get used to it.

There's one other aspect of this experiment I should mention. The students post final stories to OpenFile, but also collectively contribute notes on their progress and process to our shared blog, Rye Here, Rye Now, which is built on the Posterous microblogging platform. Students contribute text, video, photos or photo slideshows from their phones just by emailing them to Posterous.

That combination gives students an on-the-ground tool for news capture and a near-instant place to post it. We want to make mobile news coverage gestural. We'll let you know how that turns out.

Wayne MacPhail began in the industry as a magazine photographer, feature writer and editor. In 1983, he moved to the Hamilton Spectator where was a health, science and social services columnist, feature writer and editor. In 1991, he founded Southam InfoLab, a research and development lab looking into future information products for this Canadian national newspaper chain. After leaving Southam, he developed online content for most Canadian online networks. He now heads up w8nc inc., helping non-profit organizations, colleges and universities, charitable organizations and associations develop and implement technology-based, marketing driven communications strategies. He also teaches online journalism at the University of Western Ontario and Ryerson University.

news21 small.jpg

Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.


This article was originally published on J-Source. J-Source and MediaShift have a content-sharing arrangement to broaden the audience of both sites.

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August 04 2010


Customer Support Face-Off: Nexus One Hell vs. Apple Heaven

When I finally purchased my first smartphone, Google's Nexus One, last March, I quickly declared myself a satisfied customer. I was easy to impress. Anything was a step up from a five-year-old Samsung with a pull-up antenna.

Like many, I dreamt of an iPhone, but was turned off by what I heard about AT&T's service. I waited in vain for the iPhone to be offered on a different network, and finally realized that day would not come anytime soon.

After reading the buzz about Android phones, particularly the Nexus One, I rationalized that holding out -- not joining the "Apple cult," as some call it -- was a smart move. I liked that Google and Nexus One attempted to change the system by offering an unlocked phone that enabled me to switch out SIM cards when traveling overseas with no annoying fees or wait times.

The one factor I neglected to put into the equation was customer service. Not until a few months later during a hit-and-run car accident would I realize its value.

Nexus One Envy

When friends with the iPhone 3GS watched my Nexus One snap beautiful photos with a flash, multi-task and miraculously take dictated texts and emails from the sound of my voice, they whined that they had "Nexus One envy." When I told them about T-Mobile's lower prices and good coverage, they cursed that they were locked into a network they despised. I felt like the wise, slow turtle that beat the hare by waiting for the right phone, the right philosophy and the right network.

Fast-forward four months. As I tweeted away while watching the World Cup final, my Nexus One's on/off button stopped working. I had dropped it before its failure, so it was probably my fault. Since I didn't purchase the phone at a store, I couldn't simply march in and have it repaired. I patiently navigated to HTC's Nexus One site and called the company from a friend's phone to ask how to proceed.

The HTC worker told me to send in the phone. They would look at it and email me to tell me how much the repair would cost. The whole process would take five to seven business days. They emailed a shipping label, and I was off.

I thought it would be an adjustment, yet a worthwhile social experiment, to be phone-less for a week. Maybe it would help me get back to basics, increase productivity and finally finish the book I'd been reading.

A few days later while driving, a drunk driver crashed into me in a hit-and-run. The social experiment was no longer fun. I found myself in the awkward position of not being able to give out my phone number to police, insurance companies or witnesses.

As if a technological curse had been cast on me, my brand-new 16-day-old MacBook Pro began acting funny, turning off for no reason. I brought it to the Apple Genius Bar, where they ran a diagnostic on it. They didn't find anything wrong with the computer.

"What do you want me to do?" asked the Apple employee I told him I would feel better if they exchanged it for a new one. With no further questions, that's exactly what he did, happily and promptly. He said, "We want to make you happy."

I couldn't believe it.

Apple vs. HTC Service: No Contest

My laptop problem was solved in a day, but my phone issue was still simmering. Over 12 days, I hotly pursued HTC for an update on my phone. After multiple phone calls with an average 30 minute wait time, they gave me conflicting reports. One representative said they mailed it back to me already; another told me they were moving locations so things were backed up. A call center supervisor tried to make me feel better: "The good news is that your phone has been scanned as received by the repair center."

Four times, they let me know that my case had been "escalated," meaning that within 24 hours, they would call me back and tell me what was going on. They never did. I saw myself getting worked up and angry, utterly frustrated.

Meanwhile, the Phoenix police department located the drunk driver who crashed into me in a fraction of the time it took HTC to find my phone. After five consecutive days of calling HTC (nearly two weeks after it left my possession), HTC sent my phone back to me, minus the back cover and with the on/off button still physically broken. At least it works now, even if it's cracked.

I can't imagine Apple mailing back a phone in such condition, leaving their customer to hold their product together with tape, as I now do with my HTC phone. And now that the Nexus One has been discontinued, I am sure HTC's customer service will get worse -- if that's even possible. I'm already in the market for a new phone. Full circle, I'm back to waiting for the iPhone to be offered on a different network.

Nexus One was a great idea in theory, but if you have no one reliable place to go to when it breaks, you are stuck with an expensive paperweight.

After these experiences, I realize that customer care is nearly as important as the device itself. As my friends who have updated to the new iPhone belly-up to the Genius Bar to get their free "bumpers," I'm the one with phone envy now. Call it a cult if it makes you feel better, but sign me up.

Michelle May is a San Francisco-based travel writer. She blogs here.

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July 28 2010


Gaming + Mobile + Social = 'Conspiracy for Good' from Tim Kring

Tim Kring, a long-time television writer and producer, is best known as the creator of the NBC show "Heroes." But he's rapidly expanding his media universe -- last week at Comic-Con he launched a new book project, "Shift," which will debut in August from Crown Books.

He has also created a new transmedia project called "Conspiracy For Good" (CFG), which describes itself as "a movie where YOU can be the hero and impact the outcome of the story for the better." Participants travel through a blurred narrative that mixes media, interactive storytelling and a learn-as-we-go collective approach to fight a greedy corporation and benefit good organizations.

CFG is being partially supported by Nokia and its Ovi mobile platform. Plus, the fictional story includes chances for players to do real good in the world. For instance, there is a collaboration with the Pearson Foundation and Room to Read, where each time an online visitor reads a book to a child, the corresponding book will be donated to five libraries set up in Zambia. Nokia and Room to Read will also fund a year of education for 50 girls in Zambia.

The first live meeting of participants in "Conspiracy For Good" occurred on July 17 in London. I connected with Kring to explore this new genre he calls "social benefit storytelling," and what its implications are for entertainment and social good.


What is "Conspiracy For Good" (CFG) and how can people participate or experience it?

Tim Kring: The "Conspiracy For Good" is a global movement for change driven by a story, which the audience becomes a part of and every participant has the ability to impact the outcome of this story. The story will be played out on websites, mobile devices, at live meet-up events in London, and ultimately in a village in eastern Zambia where CFG will be responsible for building a library, stocking it with books and providing 50 scholarships for school girls.

This U.K.-based project of "Conspiracy For Good" is the pilot for game-changing entertainment -- narrative mythology that blurs the lines between fiction and reality, compelling the audience to become a part of the story with real world outcomes.

To get into the "Conspiracy For Good" and join in the story, simply go to the web page and watch the featured video. A recap will point you to the current activities and detail how you can get involved. And if you're in the London area, register online at the site and join us on the streets.

Anyone can follow along -- comment, contribute, share, decipher, solve, connect and collaborate at the website. The site is the global hub for all things CFG: Watch videos, follow progress and events on the blog, and make an impact and interact with the characters of the story through the main websites.

"Conspiracy For Good" is called "a social benefit experience." What does this mean and how can an entertaining story generate social benefits?

Kring: The "Conspiracy For Good" creates a new genre of entertainment which combines rich narrative, philanthropy and commerce. We call this genre "social benefit storytelling." The "Conspiracy For Good" aims to become a movement. Individuals are now being "tapped on the shoulder" and asked to join this movement to continue to make the work of the "Conspiracy For Good" a reality with global impact. By participating, members of CFG have the opportunity to affect real word change from the environment to education to the economy by applying their unique abilities, talents, networks and passion as an active part of the story.

The entire gameplay centers around causes, and direct action...on the streets in London, where participants will be involved in book drives, toy drives, cleaning the Thames, etc. By creating a secret society for good, and providing a forum for people to connect with one another, the hope is that there will be a tremendous amount of user-generated interest in new and worthy causes.

"Conspiracy For Good" says it integrates "interactive theater, mobile and alternate reality gaming (ARG), music and physical participation." Is there one component that excites you most? And will this multi-screen experience include movie theaters or television?

Kring: I am very intrigued by the mobile aspect. It has just exploded over the last few years as smartphones are reaching a wider demographic. I love the idea that a mobile phone can be both a content consumption device and a content creation device. In other words, an audience can use their mobile phone to receive story and create video and text and geo-tagging themselves. For a storyteller, this really piques my interest.

Tim Kring Headshot_300dpi June 2010.jpg

"Heroes" was a fictional story about people trying to save the world. "Conspiracy For Good" seems to be a real-life extension of this narrative. What elements and lessons from "Heroes" were applied to the development of "Conspiracy For Good"?

Kring: You are right that I came up with this idea when I saw how connected and committed the "Heroes" audience was to the underlying core message behind "Heroes" -- interconnectivity and global consciousness. So, I thought, wouldn't it be great to not just talk about "saving the world" in fiction, but to attempt to do it in the real world. In many ways this is the logical extension of what was known as the "360 Platform" that NBC.com and "Heroes" built around the show. The attempt there was to build a broad, connected universe around the show that created multiple extensions of the story that could cross all platforms.

We learned a tremendous amount doing this. One of the key things was just how motivated the audience can be to create content on its own. So in many ways, CFG takes that idea and makes it the ultimate goal -- to create a self-sustaining movement for good that ends up having real-world implications and direct action.

You just announced that Room to Read and the Pearson Foundation will be beneficiaries of the "Conspiracy For Good" experience. Will there be additional organizations and how can participants support them?

Kring: Other organizations are invited to include their missions in the "Conspiracy For Good," and participants are welcome to join those missions, too. The meeting place for missions and people is conspiracyforgood.com.

The experience includes live meet-ups in London. How will participants meeting other participants evolve the story? Will there be meet-ups in other cities?

Kring: London is the first of what we hope will be many cities around the world. When participants come together they will follow a clue trail of video drops that move the story forward. They will have to work together in teams to solve various clues in order to advance the story. They will find key props and sets and locations for the story, interacting with these and using their collective efforts to confront our bad guys and have justice prevail for our protagonist. Along the way they will interact with actors in character, creating a sense of a truly pervasive experience.

Here's a video giving the back story on "Conspiracy for Good":

Blackwell Briggs is a fictional greedy corporation in the energy industry that distributes false information. Is it inspired by any real-life company or event?

Kring: We've all become very familiar with corporate greed of all stripes. Blackwell Briggs is an attempt to draw from that sense of familiarity without necessarily conjuring up any one corporation in particular. The corporation seems to be involved in almost everything controversial. So, in many ways, they are a "catch all" for corporate greed. By showcasing a fictional, evil corporation, we also celebrate, by contrast, the admirable, real world companies that really do exist in the marketplace today.

What does success look like for "Conspiracy For Good"?

Kring: Teams in five different countries have worked together to bring an idea to life, to do something that has never been done before. Designed as a proof of concept pilot that integrates narrative, cross-platform participation and philanthropy, the measure of success is that it has been built and deployed and proves viable on a story level, a participation and community level, providing a foundation for greater expansion.


Do you plan to join the Conspiracy For Good and contribute to the movement? Share your thoughts about this transmedia project in the comments below.

Nick Mendoza is the director of digital communications at Zeno Group. He advises consumer, entertainment and web companies on digital and social media engagement. He dreamstreams and is the film correspondent for MediaShift. Follow him on Twitter @NickMendoza.

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July 16 2010


Media Consortium Pushes Collaboration to Increase Innovation

Once a week, representatives from liberal publications such as AlterNet, Yes! Magazine, the American Independent News Network, the UpTake, and Ms. Magazine convene to discuss mobile strategies. The call, organized by the Media Consortium, is part of an Incubation and Innovation Lab designed to help members collectively tackle the new realities of journalism -- a landscape where traditional revenue sources are disappearing, new technologies are emerging, and media organizations must innovate to survive.

media consortium logo.jpg

The Media Consortium created the Incubation and Innovation Lab in response to The Big Thaw, a study they commissioned and published in late 2009 on the changing business and editorial structures of journalism. Collaboration, experimentation and engaging communities were key themes in the study.

"We no longer want to talk about the death of journalism. It's thriving," said Tracy Van Slyke, project director of the Media Consortium. "We want to talk about what the future of journalism looks like."

At the same time, the Media Consortium realizes that news outlets are struggling to find the time and resources to invest in the future.


"For our members and other media organizations, the ability to do this rapid low cost prototyping is challenging," said Van Slyke. "They don't have the space and time to organize it on their own. We want to provide that by pulling organizations together to look at specific topics and research, and work together to implement and experiment."

In order to do that, the Media Consortium is providing organizations with a space to learn, experiment and create. For a nominal fee, members were invited to join one of three Labs. "Moving into Mobile" is the first, and will soon be followed by a Lab on community engagement, and one on revenue generation in the fall.

Jason Barnett, executive director of the UpTake, didn't hesitate to sign up for Moving into Mobile. His organization wants to use mobile to build audience and increase user engagement. He hopes that by participating, he will come away with a better understanding of the trends and requirements for developing mobile applications.

"It is a totally new field, and it is really difficult to learn this information on your own while trying to run a small business," Barnett said. "Having the Media Consortium coordinate and facilitate discussions and the information around this topic has been a real time saver."

Media Groups and Hackers Collaborate

While discussing case studies and best practices is crucial, so too is the implementation of that knowledge to innovate and create. To that end, the Media Consortium will provide $5,000 to $12,000 in seed money for each of the three Labs to develop a shared application.

To jump-start the rapid prototyping phase, the Media Consortium is raising funds to host a hack-a-thon in October. They've already begun outreach to the technology community, including Hacks/Hackers, to generate interest and participation.

"We're mostly looking at a hack-a-thon to benefit our members, but we're open to other media organizations joining in," said Van Slyke. "For hackers it's a great way to work with organizations that can potentially use the apps you're building. Hackers have realized the need to help journalists evolve. They bring a lot of creativity and knowledge to the table."


In addition to seed money, the Media Consortium is fundraising to further develop the winning prototypes. The resulting applications will be made available to all members.

"We're hoping for projects that are easily skinnable," said Erin Polgreen, senior program associate at the Media Consortium. "Ones that can be used by multiple organizations and for multiple audiences."

Facilitating Collaboration

Before the prototyping phase begins, the group will undertake months of collaborative research and planning. Developing a strategy between five media organizations, with participants across the country, is no small feat. Communication is paramount to success and the Media Consortium ensures that there's plenty of it.

In addition to the Lab's weekly call, participants are in constant contact through Google Wave. Organizations contribute relevant articles, links and resources to the Wave. They also learn from each other's experiences.

"We have organizations with all different levels of technical fluency," said Polgreen. "This increases sharing between organizations: high-tech orgs help lower tech orgs."

In addition to the technical experience that each organization contributes, the Lab benefits from having participants with different job functions. Each organization has two to three people on the call with an expertise in technology, editorial or community engagement. The perspective that each brings could help the Lab create a more nuanced approach to the development of its application, as well as one that has built-in buy-in across departments and organizations.

"We are learning from the other participants," said Barnett. "The dynamics seem very healthy. Tough questions are asked, we all laugh and get along, and we are trying really hard to focus to find the core needs all the organizations share."

While the cost to participate may be low, participation does require dedicated time. Van Slyke estimates that on average participants spend a couple of hours per week on the project.

"When we laid out the criteria for participation, we were very clear that it was a time commitment," said Van Slyke. "People had to agree to that in the contract."

Barnett finds that it is time well spent for the UpTake and its future in mobile.

"Many collaborations I've been involved with are content-based and on a short time frame," said Barnett. "This one has goals of developing core knowledge that can help a diverse group of media organizations for the long term."

While it's tempting to project what that long term might look like, Van Slyke hesitates to speculate.

"We're not putting the answer in front of people before they start talking," she said. "This is an experiment and we'll see what comes of it."

A public relations and social media consultant, Katie Kemple works with public media clients to build community, develop strategic partnerships, and create integrated public relations campaigns. Over the past ten years, she has held positions at WGBH, WETA, Capital News Connection, and Public Media's EconomyStory. You can find her every Monday at 8 p.m. ET on Twitter, as a co-host and organizer for #pubmedia chat.

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June 11 2010


4 Minute Roundup: iPhone 4 vs. Android Phones

In this week's 4MR podcast I consider the new iPhone 4 announced by Apple, with a sleeker design, longer battery life, "retina display" and a front-facing camera for video calls. How will the iPhone stack up against popular Android phones such as the new 4G HTC Evo and the Motorola Droid? I talked with CNET associate editor Nicole Lee to discuss the pros and cons of the new iPhone.

Check it out:


>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Listen to my entire interview with CNET's Nicole Lee:

nicole lee final.mp3

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

iPhone 4 vs. HTC Evo vs. Droid Incredible at Mashable

Sprint CFO - HTC EVO can take on iPhone 4 at News.com

Dialed In - iPhone 4 versus HTC Evo 4G at News.com

4 carriers and 4 super smartphones - which is your favorite? at ZDNet

HTC EVO 4G for Sprint Review at MobileCrunch

iPhone 4's 'Retina' Display Claims Are False Marketing at Wired News

iPhone 4 multitasking will disappoint at Computerworld

Apple previews iPhone OS 4, adds multitasking at Computerworld

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about choosing iPhone or Android:

iPhone or Android?survey software

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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May 07 2010


DoApp Wants to Dominate Mobile Apps for Local Media

The buzz surrounding mobile and tablet apps is deafening. Media companies of all sizes are considering how mobile apps might help a hurting bottom line, leading them to consider mobile ads or paid apps. The We Media folks even threw a one-day Tablet Throwdown so media companies could show off their iPad apps and talk about possible business models.

But what's a local media outlet to do? Apps are costly to create, and you need to make them for iPhones, iPads, Android, Blackberry and more.

Into that void step the folks at DoApp, a self-funded startup in Minneapolis that has transformed itself from a utility and game app maker into a partner with local TV and newspaper outlets who want news apps. In fact, DoApp says it has 120-plus local media apps built and a total of 185 signed on.

What makes the startup so successful in getting local media outlets to use their services? DoApp CEO Wade Beavers told me it's the low cost charged for apps that run on multiple platforms. He said DoApp typically charges media companies $750 to $1,000 per month, with a split of ad revenues, and says some outlets are already turning a profit based on that arrangement.

wade beavers.jpg

"We build them an Android, iPhone, and even a Blackberry WAP [site]," Beavers said. "It's very affordable. We've heard a lot about media companies in financial trouble so we said, 'Let's make this a no-brainer.' They pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for content management systems. We're a mobile content management system and they're paying a fifth or even a tenth of the price."

While DoApp made a name for itself with utility apps like MyLighter (turning your iPhone into a lighter), the startup has made local media a focus with its Mobile Local News platform ("The Best Mobile App You Never Had to Build"), and a budding local mobile ad network, AdaGoGo. But DoApp faces serious competition from Apple's own iAds network, as well as various app developers such as Verve Wireless, which has worked with Hearst, Cox, Belo and the AP.

I recently talked with DoApp CEO Wade Beavers, who previously worked at IBM in user experience, and founder Joe Sriver, who worked as the first user interface designer at Google, to hear more about how their service works, what they are offering publishers, and their view on geo-targeted local mobile advertising. The following is an edited transcript of our phone conversation.


Tell me about how your company got into creating mobile apps for news organizations?

Joe Sriver: The company's roots are back in '07 [when] I started a company called PagePal. It was a website widget development company ... We shifted our focus from widget development to mobile development. And that's just when the iPhone SDK came out, and at first we were trying to get our feet wet so developed some games and utility apps.

We created MyLite and MyLighter, which creates a virtual lighter, and they were two of the top downloaded apps in the App Store for '08. We did some work with Sony BMG for their artist David Cook who had won "American Idol," so we did an app for them. At first we were seen as an iPhone gaming company, but we knew it was just to [build experience] on the platform, and we would do something bigger. We had contacts at WCCO, the local CBS affiliate here in Minneapolis, and they wanted to get their content delivered on mobile. So that got us into mobile local news, and we teamed up with another group to deliver journalism content from TV stations or newspapers on mobile devices. Our Mobile Local News product has had about a year of development on it, and we've been able to achieve most popular status for the number of apps we have for local TV stations and newspapers around the U.S. We have the most apps out there among our competitors.

So how many local outlets are using your services?

Wade Beavers: We have about 120-something in the store and about 185 signed, so another 50 or so coming out to market. I can tell you that on a daily basis I'm getting three to four calls from companies who want this service. About a year ago, when we talked about local mobile, a lot of them were intrigued by it, but now they're scurrying; they're feeling like mobile is definitely an important point for distribution. A year ago, we had to do a whole lot more convincing. Now we're getting calls from smaller local properties. I have one down in Mississippi, where the town's entire population is 10,000. I was surprised.

When we started the Mobile Local News product, we saw the handwriting on the wall. I'm 40 and Joe is in his mid-30s, and we have employees in their mid-20s, and I see the lack of them using print regularly, and the way they consume information is asynchronous -- 'when I want it.' It's hard to get people to sit down and watch the 6 o'clock or 10 o'clock news, and it's hard to get people to take the paper. You capture everything in nuggets of information, and that's when we said mobile makes sense because the phone is such an appendage to people, it's not even funny. You take it away for a day and people go through withdrawal.

Sriver: There's a lot of news aggregation sites like Google News, but for me, I still want to know local news, and the local TV and newspapers have a trusted brand that they've been developing for 50 years or more. There's still a need for truly local news.

How does the business model work? If a news property wants you to develop an app for them, how do you charge them?

doapp ad.jpg

Beavers: We have two models we work with: One is a subscription model with an ad revenue share; or a straight revenue share with limited monthly costs to help them get going. But the reason for that is we built an ad network called Adagogo, with geo-targeted ads we can serve. When people see it working, their jaws just drop open, because we draw a circle on a map and say that when your app is open in that area, your ad will be served. When you have that kind of detailed functionality it's pretty impressive, and we have digital coupons that can be shared on Facebook and Twitter with one click. So they get it.

Adagogo is something we want to grow; that's our business model. What we got tired of was people built ad networks like AdMob, and then they let developers build apps, but there's a true disconnect, because ad networks don't understand how to make apps. And app developers don't understand how to integrate an ad. We know how to do that. So when [Apple CEO] Steve Jobs says that mobile ads suck, we say that we've been doing this for a year creating a great experience.

So is it a plug-and-play platform so publishers can decide what to put into the app? Where to put sports, weather, etc.?

Beavers: Exactly. They can create it and move things around and decide what is a priority and not. We also let them change the navigation color. It's scalable so they can add categories on the fly without having to re-submit to the App Store. We realized that news and information changes so much that we had to build this scalable. Before we built ours, we weren't the first in market, but we did our homework and said, 'How do these news outlets work?' We found out that they're not technical people, they're writers, they have different jobs, so we knew this had to be easy. If it wasn't, then you're going to run into all kinds of problems. We even created a 'feed cleaner' where we could take a feed with a photo image that would be too large and compress it on the fly so it could go through the data network faster.

joe sriver.jpg

There were things we learned along the way to improve that experience. We definitely didn't want to do -- what many competitors have done -- which is throw a WAP [Wireless Access Protocol mobile website] inside of an app. We didn't want that. I commend Apple for putting the kibosh on that because you're not even using the phone the way you're supposed to. Why don't you just make a WAP, why are you making an app? We have geo-targeted weather and traffic for cars. We built things that were useful for having on your phone.

Sriver: The main point for newspapers is that it would integrate into what they already have. So they have RSS feeds on their website, and they can simply add those RSS feeds into our back end and they don't have to do any extra footwork. We use what they already have, and it's easy to get up and running. We can usually get their app into the store in 30 days or less -- and usually it's less than 15 days.

Beavers: We also added user-generated content so people can take a photo or a video right within the app and submit it within the app. And no one was doing that besides CNN. We do it on a scale of 100-plus properties. And we do it on Android too. When we did that, we should have promoted it more. The stations love it. Most of what they get is weather and local sporting events. They'll get their traditional inappropriate things [laughs].

Does it cost different amounts for each platform, or does one subscription fee pay for all of them?

Beavers: It's one cost for all the platforms. We decided that as we add more functionality, we're not going to itemize that. User-generated content or geo-targeted traffic -- we added those in one of our updates and everyone can use it. They can just turn it on, and we don't charge extra. We think of it as an ongoing thing and we'll keep improving the product. We did nine updates in the app in the last 12 months, and they were all major updates, not just bug fixes.

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Everyone talks about Pandora. That's single-handedly created a competitor to local radio. News properties need to figure that out, too, because the New York Times announced it would go into local markets, and CNN is trying to do that as well as ESPN going into cities and having ESPN Dallas and ESPN Chicago. So local news outlets need to start thinking about ways of using new technology or they're going to be challenged. Their one advantage is local and they better start providing that or others like CNN will.

Do the outlets set a price for the apps if they want to charge?

Sriver: In all the ones we've done, we say that we recommend you make them free, and ad revenues is where they'll make their money. Paid walls are a big issue, and a lot of them want to charge. I think charging for the app is fine, but what I've seen is that when people put up paid walls your number drops immensely. Could you make that up by giving it away for free and getting ad revenues? Yeah, you would tend to make more that way. Unless you have really unique content.

Beavers talks about who DoApp considers to be competitors in developing apps for media companies:

When these local news outlets first went online, they used providers like WorldNow and IBS to help them develop their websites. A lot of the sites looked similar. Is that the same problem with these apps, that they look cookie-cutter in design?

Beavers: I would say that's true, and with our design, the navigation is the same. But they can definitely brand it differently, they can change the color, but it does have the same feel when you open the app. But you know what's funny? If you look at all the other news apps, they're all the same because they're using Apple's SDK. They have five buttons on the bottom -- four are categories and then you have a 'More' button. We wanted to do something different, and everyone says they love our navigation design.

Sriver: The other point is that the percentage is very low of people who download the app from the Daily Herald as well as WCCO and someplace out in California. For an individual user, they probably don't know that a sister station in New York has the same interface and they wouldn't care.

Beavers: If someone wants uniqueness, we can do that for them if they pay for it. But I always tell them there's a cost for that. There's more we can do for a fee. But you know what's funny? The content is king. What they provide is the key. There are some apps that are good and some that are bad based on the fact that some don't provide good content and others do a great job.

People have complained that some apps don't allow comments on stories or don't have outside links to the web. Is that something you leave to the publisher to decide to include?

Beavers: There's about 40 or 50 different commenting technologies out on the web. Every time we talk to a group, they ask whether we can include those. But who's going to monitor and manage the acceptable terms and what people put in there like expletives? Otherwise we have to tie into all those technologies. We can for a fee, and most of them say they don't want it.

Sriver: The other thing is the form factor of a mobile device being so small and it's difficult to type on. So that might thwart someone from commenting because it takes people so long to type. With the iPad, that might be a feature we want to integrate because the keyboard is much bigger. So we might circle back on user comments or interactive elements. Outside links work, and publishers can put those in there. We launched a light version of the browser within the app, and technically they could do commenting the same way if they wanted to. A link could bring up a browser session to do that, but no publisher has asked for that yet -- but they could.

Beavers talks about how he thinks there isn't a problem distinguishing between advertising and editorial on mobile apps:

What kind of ads do you offer? Interstitials, roadblocks, rich media?

Beavers: We do, and we're adding more. One of the things we're working on is a splash interstitial. We have billboards, we've got banners and we integrated ads into RSS feeds on the fly, which is patented technology that we have. Video pre-roll ads are the next one we'll be rolling out. It's one of those things that a lot of people think they want, but so far with the video numbers on mobile across news it's not as high as viral video where people watch the kid in the back seat who came back from the dentist's office.

Sriver: The other thing about ads is that they can get annoying for the user if a lot of these ads from AdMob are national ads. If I'm reading a local article about a sewer system, and there's an ad to download [a game] that's not relevant for me. But if I see a local ad about cleaning your sewer or it's a time-based ad at lunchtime with a local restaurant ad that comes up with a two-for-one deal ... I would feel better showing relevant ads, which would ease people's hesitation to put ads in the app.

Do you have people buying ads through your network, or are outlets selling ads into their apps? How does that work?

Beavers: We end up doing both. We provide the path for outlets to sell locally, and we also have an opportunity as we are negotiating some national ads for people. But we also have a self-serve component, so any advertiser could choose what app they want to be in depending on geo-location.

Sriver: Right now, if you download our apps, you'll probably say that the ads aren't relevant. But it's a gradual process where we're building up the Adagogo network on our side. In the next six to nine months I think we'll gain more traction for local ads. The Denver station and the station up in Seattle are selling local ads, but once we release the self-serve ad service, local mom and pop shops can come in and advertise their stores and the local aspect will...

Beavers: The other part is that because they can sell geo-targeted, you may get the [Minneapolis CBS TV affiliate] WCCO app. You're in San Francisco and if you open the WCCO app, you'll get national ads or geo-targeted ads for that area because WCCO will have local businesses, but businesses will be able to choose where ads can run geo-targeted. Research has shown that 50 percent of your transactions are done within a five-mile radius of where you live and where you work. So why wouldn't an advertiser want to serve ads based on geo-location? It makes sense.

Sriver talks about the difficulty in finding out market penetration for apps in each locale:


What do you think about DoApp's local media apps? Do you use them, or have you contracted with them to develop apps for you? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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April 16 2010


What Do You Think of Ads on Your Mobile Phone?

There are two converging trends: 1) people are tired of seeing advertising everywhere, and 2) cell phones are becoming an entry place to the mobile web, meaning more ads are coming. Yet, even as our smartphones give us more features, we'd prefer to have no ads and not have to pay for apps. At some point, we might have to make the trade-off of seeing more ads on our mobile phones in exchange for free features and add-ons. And now that Apple announced its new iAds initiative to serve ads into apps on iPhones and iPads, we know the bombardment of ads is coming. So what do you think? Are mobile ads a necessary evil or something we can live without or something that's welcome when relevant? Answer the poll below or give us a more detailed answer in comments.

What do you think about ads on your mobile phone?online surveys

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April 14 2010


Will 'Telecentros' Transform Cuba's Internet Access?

It wasn't your typical keynote address.

Earlier this month, at an event held on the campus of Cornell University, a room of people gazed at a blank screen in rapt attention, listening to a woman speak over a weak cell phone connection originating in Cuba.

The speaker was Cuba's 32-year-old star blogger, Yoani Sanchez. The event was the seventh annual meeting of Roots of Hope, an organization founded by Cuban-American students that aims to promote cultural exchanges with the island. Its April meeting was specifically focused on new media. (I was invited as a panelist.) Attendees had been told that the keynote speaker would be a surprise. After a nail-biting series of dropped calls, the attendees were thrilled to hear Sanchez finally come on the line.

yoani.jpgSanchez told her U.S. audience how she had assembled her personal computer by foraging for discarded components, and devised an online publishing strategy that relied on scarce computers, cell phones, and flash drives. Last year, her blog posts and tweets earned her a spot on Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Sanchez epitomizes the Cuban online community's ingenious response to the dual restrictions of government censorship and the U.S. trade embargo. Some call it the "hacker mindset." In the same fashion that Cubans manage to keep the chassis of 50 year-old old Chevys on the road, a small but growing Cuban tech community has learned how to go online against the odds.

Thanks to cooperation from other countries in Latin America, a new attitude in Washington, and the work of NGOs, Cuba may be poised to make big online strides.

The Cuban Paradox

When Fidel Castro took power in Cuba 51 years ago, he launched a revolution that has been fueling controversy ever since. Supporters lauded Cuban advances in health care and education, while detractors condemned the government's heavy-handed measures against everything from private enterprise to gay rights.

The Cuban paradox extends to the media. Although Cuba has achieved one of the highest literacy rates in the hemisphere, it also has earned the most dismal record on freedom of expression. The government controls all news media, and takes harsh measures against any domestic or foreign journalist who steps out of line.

It's not surprising that digital media have been slow to get off the ground in Cuba. They have been woefully hampered by Cuban government censorship, but another major factor has been the decades-old U.S. embargo, which has starved the island of the technologies necessary for modernization.

Something of a double standard has been at work: At the same time Communist countries such as China have been transformed by economic investment and educational exchanges with the U.S., Cuba has been left as an isolated backwater. Only 3 percent of Cuba's 11 million citizens have cell phones, giving it the lowest cell phone penetration in Latin America. It also has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates. The government's restrictions on cell phone ownership and Internet access have further limited communications, often making them a privilege for the party faithful.

Fiber Optic Cable in Cuba

Today a new wave of online media is promising to challenge the Cuban status quo -- and surprisingly, some of the changes are the result of government initiatives. The first one is a fiber optic cable currently being laid between Cuba and Venezuela. It's expected to be completed within a year.

Another new development is arriving by way of Brazil's "Telecentro" program. Telecentros are public computer labs that use open source software and provide free Internet access. They are designed for poor and under-served communities and have been a wild success in Brazil. Ten thousand of them are scheduled to be in service in that country by the end of the year. Brazil is now exporting the model to Ecuador, Venezuela, and Cuba, aiming for a total of 52,000. The Cuban Telecentros are mainly designed to support primary education, but they are available after hours to other community members.

nxs-logo2.jpgOpen source software is playing a key role in the Telecentros. Ryan Bagueros, the owner and founder of NorthxSouth, a software development company that describes itself as a "network of open source developers from all over the Americas," said Brazil and other Latin American governments are unenthusiastic about the high cost and security leaks of U.S.-made proprietary software. (Bagueros joined me on a panel at the annual meeting of Roots of Hope.) He noted that these Latin American countries are investing heavily in developing open source alternatives, and expanded via email about the value of open source software:

Marcos Mazoni (the head of Brazil's federal committee to migrate to open source), conducted a survey last year and, from the free software migration that has already been completed, Brazil is saving $209 million USD each year. When the migration is complete, Brazil should be saving around $500 million USD each year. Brazil, as a whole, spends about $1 billion USD on software licensing each year.

The emphasis on open source is helping to stimulate a Latin tech boom, with the Brazilian tech industry poised to reap substantial advantages. It's too early to predict the impact, but the initial signs are intriguing. Not only have the Latin governments saved millions of dollars on software, but the open-source Telecentros are creating new generations of pre-teen software developers in the favelas.

During our session, Bagueros predicted that this phenomenon could be particularly interesting in Cuba. He reported that embargo restrictions have created a generation of "engineers who are good at 'reverse engineering' software for donated medical equipment" and other devices. The combination of hacker ingenuity, loosened government control, and dramatically increased bandwidth and access could lead to big things, fast, in Cuba.

New Winds from the North

In the past, tensions between Cuba and the United States have complicated every development in communications. The Bush Administration has been criticized for politicizing media development by supporting groups seeking to overthrow the government. One private contractor, dispatched to secretly hand out cell phones and laptops in Cuba, was arrested for espionage last December

The Obama administration is experimenting with a different approach. In March, the Treasury Department modified trade sanctions to allow the export of social media and related technologies to Cuba, Iran, and the Sudan. In combination with the upcoming technological advances, this move could energize online Cuban freedom of expression, and provide the first real alternative to Cuba's geriatric official news media. (Though it's important to note that the administration recenlty took something of a harder line with Cuba.)

At the same time, new initiatives are appearing in the Cuban-American community. One of the initiatives supported by Roots of Hope is an ongoing cell phone drive called Cells4Cuba.

"[Politically,] I'm to the right myself," said Miguel Cruz, a Cells4Cuba activist from the University of Texas. "But these cell phones are for any youth in Cuba, no matter what their politics."

Roots of Hope has enlisted the support of Cuban-Americans ranging from Gloria Estefan to Perez Hilton, and its membership represents a variety of political perspectives. Its stated goal is to open a dialogue between youth in Cuba and the U.S., and the organization sees social media as a perfect conduit.

Social media won't change the contentious nature of the Cuba debate, and the new developments raise as many questions as they answer. Will the Cubans and Venezuela's mercurial Hugo Chavez attempt to control the data stream on their fiber optic cable? Will Cuban officials try to emulate China's army of Internet censors to control content, trace dissidents, or conduct online espionage? Will Latin American tech initiatives find new ways to harness digital media for social goals? What role will Latin America's open source initiatives play in shifting political alignments?

However these issues play out, it's clear that so far, Cubans have energetically taken advantage of every new online opportunity that's come along -- and that's not likely to change.

Image of Yoani Snachez by blogpocket via Flickr

Anne Nelson teaches new media and development communications at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. She consults for a number of foundations on media issues, and serves as senior consultant for the Salzburg Global Seminar initiative, Strengthening Independent Media. She was a 2005 Guggenheim fellow for her recent book, "Red Orchestra: the Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of
Friends Who Resisted Hitler."

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April 08 2010


Glaser & Son Review the iPad

The conundrum with the iPad is that it's exciting to consider a sleek new form factor for getting news, movies, TV shows, games and web browsing -- but it's less exciting to be first in line to pay the most for the least. We all know the first version of a technology product costs the most and is missing the most features. So I considered myself lucky to get to play with an iPad on loan before delivering it to someone in Europe (where the iPad isn't available yet). I get to test drive it, but don't have to pay.

So I brought in my junior device expert (and 7-year-old son) Julian Glaser to help me compare the new iPad to the Kindle 2 and the iPhone. Julian helped me test out the Kindle 2 in a Glaser & Son review on MediaShift last year. While I was interested in how web surfing, typing and news apps looked on the iPad, he was more keen on gaming and reading books.

We braved the masses mid-week at the Stonestown Galleria Apple Store in San Francisco, where the 16GB models quickly sold out. We settled for the 32GB model for $599 along with a $40 case. The store was filled with high school kids hanging out after school who wanted to test drive iPads, but not buy them. The Apple Store was starting to look like the bowling alley arcades from my childhood.

Julian had not experienced the iPad hype, and had no idea what it was all about.

"So it's like a big iPhone but it lets you read books?" he asked.

"No, you can actually read books on an iPhone too. There is a Kindle app on the iPhone," I told him.

"Oh yeah, I've seen that," he said. "But what kind of games are on the iPad?"

Julian had already spent hours on my iPhone playing games and downloading his favorite free ones (and earning money with chores to buy paid apps). So we gave the iPad a spin, downloading some games, news apps, and books -- paying for some, and getting others for free. Below is our first take on what we liked and didn't like with the iPad, and how it stacked up against the Kindle 2 and iPhone.


There is no instruction manual for the iPad because you don't need one. If you've used an iPhone or iPod Touch, you know exactly what does what on the iPad. There's the volume switch, the main (or "home") button on the bottom front, and the place to plug it in or connect it to your computer. One new switch lets you lock the portrait/landscape flip that happens when you rotate it. Otherwise, it's all simple and neat. Similarly, the iPhone operating system is familiar and easy to navigate.

When I pushed the front button mistakenly in trying to turn it on, Julian grabbed it and pushed the Power switch and laughed at my mistake. About the only design flaw we found was the weight of the iPad, which feels heavy after a lot of reading. Perhaps future iPads will have lighter batteries. And the virtual keyboard takes time to master, being bigger than the iPhone virtual keyboard and smaller than a regular keyboard. However, I got over my initial frustration with the iPhone keyboard, and figure the same would be true with the iPad's -- practice over time would make it easier.


julian labyrinth.jpg

Julian's major concern was the games. Would they have what he wanted, and would he have to pay for them (with my money)? He quickly navigated the App Store to find the category of his choice (free games), and downloaded Labyrinth Lite HD, Fast & Furious Lite, iPlay Bowling, Air Hockey and his iPhone fave, Rat on the Run. The quick downloads and big screen were a great combination, meaning he'd get to gaming faster.

The Labyrinth game was an inventive take on the old Wooden Labyrinth tilt maze where you try to keep the metal ball from rolling into holes in the top. This game included magnets, cannons shooting at you, and buttons that opened gates. We were both hooked on it. Julian's favorite iPhone game, Rat on the Run, gave him a lot of enjoyment, even though it was basically ported over and didn't have anything new on the iPad. Even without iPad-specific features, the games wowed us just by offering more screen space and vibrant colors.

Here's Julian's take on games while playing Air Hockey:

News Apps and Browsing

I was curious about the various news apps for the iPad, so I downloaded apps from the New York Times, ABC, NPR, BBC, USA Today and Reuters. The only magazine app I saw was the Time magazine app for $4.99 per issue. I liked that the N.Y. Times and USA Today apps used the bigger screen real estate to mimic the look of a print newspaper, with stories laid out on what looked like a front page. By clicking on the first couple paragraphs of a story, you could see the whole story. That alone was a bonus in reading on the iPad vs. the iPhone, where you'd need about 10 finger swipes to get to the bottom of a story. On the iPad, in many cases, the whole story filled the page.

What I didn't get to experience was a news app that really used the iPad in an innovative way, combining text, video, audio and photos in an integrated manner. Sure, Reuters did have video alongside stories, but they seemed more web-like than app-like. I did enjoy USA Today's "Day in Pictures" feature, as those photos really popped on the iPad. What was more surprising was how good it looked to just fire up Safari and browse news sites like NYTimes.com, where the videos played without a hitch. Being able to double-touch to make text bigger or smaller worked easily. I did notice that videos didn't load correctly on the CBSNews.com home page.


kindle vs ipad small.jpg

Is the iPad really a Kindle-killer, as we'd heard? There's no doubt that when we put the iPad side-by-side next to our Kindle 2, it made the Amazon device look like an old TV set from the '50s. The black-and-white Kindle looked gray and old next to the color iPad with its massive screen. While we didn't read long enough on the iPad to know if the backlit screen would cause our eyes to hurt, we did know from experience reading on the iPhone that it wasn't too bad for a few hours.

On the positive side, reading books was easy and pages turned with ease. Picture books for kids looked much better in color on the iPad, and images were laid out within the text. On the Kindle 2, many picture books had strange formatting that broke up images from the text. On the not-so-good side, Julian couldn't find most of the books he wanted in the iBooks app, and ended up settling for a Berenstain Bears book about Sunday School. Search after search came up blank for him in the iBookstore. But both of us liked all the free books that were available because their copyright had expired.

Hear Julian talk about why he liked reading books on the iPad more than on the Kindle:


The big screen on the iPad is simply gorgeous, and makes it easily the device of choice when it comes to movies, games, photo-viewing and even web browsing. It's tough for the iPhone to compete with the iPad when it comes to all that multimedia entertainment. It seems like a natural for viewing shows or movies on the road for kids, but the bummer is that there's no way for it to play DVDs. I noticed that it does get fingerprinted up pretty badly after a serious Julian gaming session, but I don't really see the fingerprints so much when the iPad is on. Having a case that lets you stand the iPad up on a table could make a difference in reading newspaper or magazine content at breakfast, or watching a movie on the go.


There are two ways to look at the pricing of the iPad: 1) It's too expensive for what it can and can't do. Other devices can do all the things an iPad does. 2) It's cheaper than most laptops and can do most of the things a laptop can do, while taking up less space. So perhaps the iPad fits in the category of "netbook" as a compact laptop, but it has no physical keyboard. There's a better chance people will opt for an iPad when they have more disposable income, the features improve, the prices drop, and their other devices become outmoded.

Bottom Line

The iPad is a simple-to-use, elegant device that takes the tablet computing genre and does it better than anyone else. The battery life is long and impressive, and the speed at startup and while using apps is better than any laptop around. It is missing some key elements such as a camera, USB port, expandable memory and swappable battery, but it's possible those features will come in time.

The iPad is a bundle of possibilities and potential. While the first apps out of the gate were decent, it's the apps that will make the iPad a must-have for a broader group of people. While news apps look great, especially with integrated photos and video, there's still a wide range of "what ifs" to come that could get people to pay more for traditional journalism. The biggest one being: What if the news experience on the iPad was really built for multimedia, really built for interactivity and really worth paying for?

And the bottom line for Julian was what came out of his mouth when I asked him if he wanted to use the iPad before he went to school yesterday morning: "iPad! iPad! iPad!" He was hooked.

Hear Julian sing his iPad song:

More Reading

Apple iPad Review - Laptop Killer? Pretty Close at AllThingsD

Apple iPad WiFi review at PC Magazine

iPad Reviews - The Good, Bad, and Ecstatic at PC World

Review - iPad Apps Cool, but How Many Will You Buy? by AP

Looking at the iPad From Two Angles at NY Times

Verdict is in on Apple iPad - It's a winner at USA Today

What do you think about the iPad, if you've had a chance to review it? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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April 07 2010


How Much Would You Pay for iPad News Apps?

So you've plopped down $499 (or more) for a shiny new iPad from Apple. You've connected iTunes to the device and now you've visited the App Store. But now comes the question: How much more will you pay for news apps? Some of them are free, like the USA Today app, while some offer limited selection like the New York Times app, eventually charging you for the app or for regular content updates (e.g. the Time magazine app). So how much would you shell out for news apps? You can answer the poll below or give a more detailed answer in comments. And if you are sick of reading about the iPad, let us know that too!

How much would you pay for iPad news apps?polling

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April 02 2010


4-Minute Roundup: All Hail the iPad (Except Curmudgeons)

Here's the latest 4MR audio report from MediaShift. In this week's special edition, I look at the impending launch of the Apple iPad tablet. So far, reviews have been mainly positive, though there are some caveats about the missing features (Flash support, camera, USB, etc.). Media companies are falling over themselves to create apps, including paid apps, but no one knows how many will be downloaded and paid for over the next few months. Plus, I ask Just One Question to PC Magazine reviewer Tim Gideon about his biggest surprise while using the iPad.

Check it out:


>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Listen to my entire interview with Tim Gideon:

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

Apple iPad Review - Laptop Killer? Pretty Close at AllThingsD

Apple iPad review in PC Magazine

Apple iPad hands-on review at CNET

Being the biggest beast on the planet of the apps is what will bring success at Times Online

Why The iPad Is A Hit at MediaShift

We Have Seen The Amazing Future Of Apple's iPad And This Is It at Silicon Alley Insider

Hold the iPad opinions 'til you've used one, please at Computerworld

The Best iPad Apps at Launch at TechCrunch

Doing the iPad Math - Utility + Price + Desire at NY Times

New York Times prominent among media iPad apps at CNET

More new Apple iPad apps - BBC, Dragon Dictation, Pandora at USA Today

Apple iPad's iBooks vs Amazon's Kindle at PC World

Check out some of the write-in answers of our recent poll asking people to fill in the blank in this sentence: "The iPad will ___ the media industry."

survey ipad grab.jpg

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about what you would pay for iPad apps:

How much would you pay for iPad news apps?answers

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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Why The iPad Is A Hit (And Why I Won't Buy One Yet)

Even before any consumers had received Apple's iPad, it was being proclaimed a hit. I didn't find that surprising, because from the beginning there were signs this day was coming. Here are a few:

  1. There was a business and tech press feeding frenzy since before the initial announcement of the impending device. The announcement had the same kind of shoulder-to-shoulder gaggles, breathless blog posts, videos shot by reporters from their handheld cameras and tweets that I saw for Kindle announcements running up to unveilings by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, a couple of which I attended.
  2. The knowing skepticism and whining was similar to what greeted the iPhone, pointing out faults (the lack of a camera, a phone, some kinds of connectivity and the ability to view objects produced in Flash) but missing the larger points that make people love Apple devices: the sleekness, the game-changing nature of the way they bring an "experience" into one's hands, that it's one step closer to the Holy Grail of that one thing you can easily carry that does it all (sound, pictures, books, editing, connectivity) with the form factor, shape and colors that Apple seems to get so right. (Here's a love poem from USA Today's tech reviewer, if you need convincing.)
  3. Apple's typical buzz-creating genius in the staging of the rollout. There were rumors that may or may not have been leaked that some sort of whiz-bang thing was coming, shifting rumors about dates and times, word spread to reporters to save a date for an announcement, negotiations with publishers (some of whom talk to the press), the big unveiling with CEO Steve Jobs at the center.
  4. There were rumblings of book and magazine publishers and other media companies scrambling to learn about the platform and build new apps for it.
  5. It was seen as a challenge to the Kindle -- something I feel is sorely needed -- and that Apple is the one that can do it.
  6. Apple these days doesn't so much invent truly new things as bring a clarity that makes their version of them vastly more pleasing than any that have come before. The iPhone wasn't the first smartphone, any more than the iPod was the first music- or hand-held video player. They were just the ones that combined great technical acumen with design beauty. The iPad fits the pattern.
  7. They created low- to high-priced versions of the machine. You can have it at the lower price, but you really want the one that costs more.
  8. They overcame the need to buy a two-year contract, by allowing people to subscribe to 3G connection plans on an as-needed monthly basis (though it is with AT&T).

The Drawbacks

Still, I won't be buying an iPad right now, even though I won a bet with my friend and colleague Brian Reich that the iPad would be a hit.

For one thing, the iPad will be missing important features incorporated into later versions. There have been complaints over the device's lack of openness and the fact that people will have to buy new versions of software they already own for their computers to make certain documents work.

There will be more tittering about the lack of a camera, and other things the device is missing -- so far, we know it has no USB port, the battery is not replaceable, and the other deficiencies noted above. Apple will, predictably, do a lot to make the next version(s) better and address at least some of the most loudly expressed concerns. It will also, no doubt, anger others who have bought the early version of the iPad and be told that they'll have to pay again to get a newer one with more features. (A Kindle spokesperson once shrugged and told me that, well, I could just sell my old one on Amazon, and apply that money toward a new Kindle.)

Meanwhile, there's speculation that Apple is manipulating their production run in order to create the appearance that demand outstrips supply. It's been reported, too, that some stores are being sent limited quantities which means, no doubt, lines and a few scrums, all causing more predictably breathless coverage and further spurring demand.

Whatever the device's shortcomings or Apple's market manipulations, though, you can believe that anyone seen gliding their fingers across the screen of their iPad will garner longing glances from those around them.

And I knew I'd won the bet when Brian decided to help our friends at We Media with their event that will explore how the iPad is going to change the media world as we know it.

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about how the iPad will change the media industry:

Fill in the blank: The iPad will ______ the media industry.poll

Dorian Benkoil is consulting sales manager, and has devised marketing strategy for MediaShift. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on helping digital media content identify and meet business objectives. He has devised strategies, business models and training programs for websites, social media, blog networks, events companies, startups, publications and TV shows. He Tweets at @dbenk.

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March 12 2010


4-Minute Roundup: The Rising Buzz of Location Services at SXSW

This episode of 4MR is brought to you by the Knight Digital Media Center, providing a spectrum of training for the 21st century journalist. Find out more at KDMC's website. It's also underwritten by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

Here's the latest 4MR audio report from MediaShift. In this week's edition, I look at the growing interest in geo-location services such as Foursquare and Gowalla, especially as the South by Southwest conference begins in Austin, Texas. Now, Twitter and Facebook are both preparing to add geo-location to their services as well, and Google already has Latitude and Buzz that can show your location. But will this become a mainstream phenomenon or just a pastime for the tech-savvy in-crowd? I talk to analyst Greg Sterling to find out more.

Check it out:


>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

Facebook's Coming Location Service - Feature for Users, Platform for Apps at Inside Facebook

Just In Time For The Location Wars, Twitter Turns On Geolocation On Its Website at TechCrunch

Facebook Will Allow Users to Share Location at NY Times Bits blog

Vicarious.ly - SimpleGeo's One Location-Based Stream To Visualize Them All at TechCrunch

Facebook, Twitter Ready Location-Based Features at PC World

Facebook Isn't For Real Life Friends Anymore, Says Foursquare's Dennis Crowley at Business Insider

Foursquare, Gowalla and the future of geo-location at the Telegraph

In geolocation wars, SXSWi is mere skirmish at CNET

6 Thoughts About Location Madness at ReadWriteWeb

What Are the Legal Implications of PleaseRobMe? at MediaShift

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about what you think geo-location services:

What do you think of geo-location services like Foursquare?surveys

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

This episode of 4MR is brought to you by the Knight Digital Media Center, providing a spectrum of training for the 21st century journalist. Find out more at KDMC's website. It's also underwritten by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

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March 08 2010


What Are the Legal Implications of PleaseRobMe?

They know where you sleep, and now they know where you get coffee.

That was the message driven home by the recently created website PleaseRobMe.com. The site aggregates Twitter posts sent when a person uses Foursquare to check in at a location -- meaning they're basically telling the world that they're not at home at the moment.

According to the folks at PleaseRobMe, if a would-be burglar knows you're out with friends, that "leaves one place you're definitely not...home."

The site is a commentary on the downside of overusing location-based services like Foursquare and Loopt. These services allow users to "check-in" at different locations around the globe using smartphones or laptops. Once checked-in, a user can choose to publicly share where they happen to be by using services like Twitter.

"The site allows people to meet and is a way to find out what is going on in your area,"
said Dennis Crowley, CEO and co-founder of Foursquare. Recently, Crowley checked-in at an airport and was surprised to discover a friend he hadn't seen in months was just two terminals away. "That's the benefit," Crowley said.

While one of PleaseRobMe's founders insists the site is not really an attempt to aid cat burglars, it could be just one step away from walking outside the First Amendment's protection of free speech.

Is PleaseRobMe Aiding Burglars?

While the First Amendment's guarantee that "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech" seems absolute, not every form of speech is guarded by the Constitution. Rather, the Supreme Court has held that some forms of speech are not entitled to full protection.

According to several lower courts, speech that aids and abets illegal acts are not shielded by the First Amendment. So, if a website were to aid in the commission of a crime and was sued for its part in the offense, the First Amendment would not offer the publisher any protection.


In an influential Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals case, Rice v. Paladin Enterprises, Paladin published a book titled, "Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors." The book provided "detailed instructions about how to...execute and cover up a murder." In 1993, a man named James Perry followed the author's instructions, killing three people. Subsequently, relatives of the deceased successfully sued Paladin for aiding Perry in the murders.

The Fourth Circuit stated that in order to charge a publisher with aiding and abetting a crime, the publisher must intend for people to use the article to commit an illegal act. In coming to its decision, the court noted that Paladin's book was "so comprehensive and detailed that it is as if the [author] were literally present with the would-be murderer" during the crime.

The founders of PleaseRobMe have consistently stated that they do not want people to use the site to rob a house. Instead, the site is a commentary on the amount of personal information people are making publicly available. In fact, a burglar would have a difficult time using PleaseRobMe to commit a crime, since the site does not provide anyone's home address unless it too has been posted to Twitter.

Section 230 Defense

Be that as it may, PleaseRobMe begs a particularly important question. What if someone designed a site that was intended, and could be used, to aid burglars using publicly available information? Could they be sued after someone's house was robbed?

While such a site may lack constitutional protection since its intended use would be to aid the commission of a crime, it could be protected by Congress. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act gives immunity to any "interactive computer service," such as a website, against civil lawsuits (but not criminal sanctions) that arise from third party publications.

Section 230 was passed in 1996, just as the Internet was just beginning to make headway with the American public. As many courts have stated, the history behind Section 230 made it clear that Congress did not want websites to be liable for the statements of others. The legislature felt that imposing such a burden would hamper the Internet's development.

Normally, Section 230 is invoked when a website is sued for publishing a defamatory statement that was written by a guest poster or independent commenter. In these cases, "Section 230 is often considered to be a very strong protection against defamation suits," said Robert Richards, co-founder of the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment.

The question currently facing courts is how far to "define the bounds of Section 230 immunity," Richards said.

Although Section 230 is often applied to defamation lawsuits, it has also been employed in invasion of privacy, negligence and misappropriation claims. As a result of this expansion, it is not unthinkable that a court would extend Section 230 to protect a website against civil claims of aiding and abetting a burglary.

Of course, there is a question of whether such a website could be understood as merely facilitating third party publications. Nonetheless, in the wake of the PleaseRobMe controversy, the legal question posed here seems relevant, and is far from answered.

Do Location-Based Services Invade Privacy?

As location-based networks become more popular, the risk of sharing sensitive information increases as well. Though many lament the fact that so much personal information is available online, Foursquare's Crowley said his service isn't invasive.


"We've been working on the project since 2001 and have checked in almost every day for the last 10 years, and the only bad thing that's happened is an ex-girlfriend will sometimes show up where I am," Crowley said.

He emphatically noted that "Foursquare is not tracking you. You have to check in and voluntarily choose to make your location publicly available."

"At the end of the day, you have to be aware of what you're doing online and the consequences of your acts," said Kurt Opsahl, senior attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "It's a matter of expectations. People want to tell their friends where they are,but, as PleaseRobMe points out, other actors may see personal information as well."

Although Foursquare users must volunteer to divulge their whereabouts with the general public, the site's editors may share some information with local businesses when offering various promotions, according to Foursquare's privacy policy.

This has caught the attention of Congress, which is set to hold a hearing titled, "The Collection and Use of Location Information for Commercial Purposes." The hearing will discuss the privacy concerns that have arisen due to location-based services.

"The key issue with these types of sites is disclosure. If people are agreeing that information can be shared in this manner, then that's a service that a company can provide," said Opsahl.

While the notion of sharing personal information with businesses may make some people uneasy, there are potential benefits. For instance, Foursquare's "mayor" promotion offers free products to the user who checks in at a location the most often.

"In Texas, there is a restaurant that will give away a free steak dinner to the person who checks in the most," Crowley said.

Rob Arcamona is a second-year law student at the George Washington University Law School. Prior to attending law school, Rob worked at the Student Press Law Center and also helped establish ComRadio, the Pennsylvania State University's student-run Internet-based radio station. He writes the Protecting the Source blog.

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March 04 2010


5Across: Smartphone Etiquette, and Our Lack of Civility

This episode of 5Across is brought to you by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

Back in 2006 on MediaShift, I asked an innocent question to readers: In what social situations should you NOT use a cell phone? The response was overwhelming, with dozens of people saying how upset they were by the lack of etiquette shown by people talking on cell phones in restaurants, theaters and even in public restrooms. We eventually came up with a definitive guide for cell phone no-no's.

Now, thanks in large part to the increasing popularity of smartphones, the problem has gotten worse. People text while walking across the street, check scores while out on a date, or use GPS when they could simply ask someone nearby. What's the story with smartphone etiquette? For this episode of 5Across, we convened a group of people to discuss various situations where smartphone use tricky -- in restaurants, with friends, in the car -- and considered an opposing view: When a phone call is more important than the people around us. The result is a fascinating discussion about the transitional time we're in while we figure out (quite clumsily) when it's OK to chat on a smartphone, and when it's not.

5Across: Smartphone Etiquette

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Guest Biographies

W. Kamau Bell is a comedian that told the very first joke about Barack Obama on Comedy Central's Premium Blend waaaaaaaay back in 2005. Unfortunately, the joke predicted that Barack would never be President. (Oops!) Comedy Central also invited Kamau to perform his critically acclaimed solo show, "The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour," at their theater in Hollywood. "The Curve" enjoyed a long run in San Francisco, had continued success in Oakland and Berkeley, and played to full houses in 2009 at the New York International Fringe Festival. His new CD, Face Full of Flour is now available on iTunes.

Fernando Castrillon earned a masters in sociology from the University of California and a doctorate in clinical psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). He currently serves as core faculty in the Community Mental Health Department at CIIS and is the director of CIIS's "Clinic without Walls." His clinical, teaching, and research interests include, among other things, the impact of hypervelocity technological change on human psychology and intersubjectivity. Currently, he is working on a book based on his dissertation research, in which he examines the cultural, psychological and intersubjective consequences of the hyper-digitization of contemporary Western culture.

Nicole Lee is an associate editor for CNET.com. She reviews all manner of mobile devices, from cell phones to Bluetooth headsets. She is a co-host on Dialed In, CNET's cell phone podcast, and she also writes a bi-weekly Q&A column on CNET about cell phones called The 411. She previously worked for Gizmodo, Wired Magazine, and TechTV (a now-defunct cable network about technology).

Daniel Scherotter is executive chef and owner of Palio d'Asti, an Italian restaurant in downtown San Francisco. Scherotter brought with him not only an appreciation for the lavish table of Emilia Romagna, where he worked for two years, but also an affinity for the exotic fusion of Sicily, where in 2003 he married his wife, Nina. Now that he's married, he's started working on his first book, "The Bachelor's Guide to Cooking," and serves on the board of directors of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

Syndi Seid is an authority on business protocol and etiquette and has appeared on "Good Morning America," CBS' "Eye on America," Fox's "Trading Spouses," HGTV's "Party At Home," and Discovery Channel's "Picture This." Major companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Sprint, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, and the Miss Universe Pageant trust her to train employees to avoid social faux pas that could lead to major business and political blunders. She founded Advanced Etiquette to help executives and employees overcome their fears and insecurities, and to find poise, confidence, and authority in any social situation. Her book, "Etiquette In Minutes" is available at EtiquetteInMinutes.com.

If you'd prefer to watch sections of the show rather than the entire show, below I've broken them down by topic.

Restaurant Etiquette

Losing Our Humanity?

An Opposing View

The Worst Offenders

Evolution of Etiquette

Etiquette Tips


Mark Glaser, executive producer and host
Darcy Cohan, producer

Charlotte Buchen, camera

Julie Caine, audio

Location: Vega Project & Kennerly Architecture office space in San Francisco

Special thanks to: PBS, The Knight Foundation & GoDaddy

Music by AJ the DJ


vega project card.jpg

What do you think? What kind of etiquette do you think we should have around our smartphone use? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

This episode of 5Across is brought to you by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

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February 25 2010


How Mobile Apps Are Revolutionizing Elections, Transparency

The importance of social media in politics was made clear by Barack Obama's 2008 presidential run. But there is a new frontier of Web 2.0 technologies that politicians and political groups are slowly starting to embrace: the smartphone app. These apps have the potential to reshape how politicians communicate, raise money and get out the vote.

The biggest player on the smartphone app stage is Apple's iPhone. But the BlackBerry, Android, Palm Pre and other smartphones are likely to play a growing role as well.

The age of political apps began in October 2008 when the Obama campaign released its free Obama08 app. It organized a person's iPhone contacts to enable supporters to call any friends located in important electoral districts. The Obama app also had a donation interface, news feeds, local campaign events, and a list of Obama's positions on major issues.

The impact of the Obama App on the campaign is hard to say. But, as we approach the 2010 midterm elections, other politicians and political groups have developed apps to advance their issues. Below are some app highlights.

Apps for Politicians


A few politicians are already ahead of the app curve. The biggest name on the national stage with an app is Sen. Sam Brownback, who is running for governor of Kansas. The SamForGov app, like Obama08, was developed to engage voters and provide real-time information about the candidate. The same is true for John Kasich's Kasich for Ohio app, which is supporting his Ohio gubernatorial run, and Felton Newell's Newell for Congress app, which was developed to support Newell's campaign for California's 33rd District.

"I've received lots of feedback from people who I run into and I show them the app...that it does really communicate who I am as a person and what my campaign is about," Newell said in a phone interview.

Apps for Keeping up with Congress, White House

Aside from candidate apps, there is a category of apps designed to provide political enthusiasts with a significant amount of Web 2.0 capabilities. At the top of this list is the free Congress app (also available in Congress+ and Congress Pro upgrades).

Developed by Cohen Research Group, the Congress app is loaded with information on members of the House and the Senate, including photos, office addresses, contact numbers, website links, campaign news, and other details that put users in direct contract with the U.S. Congress.

Real-Time-Congress-App.gifAnother big hitter in this category is the Real Time Congress app, which was developed by Sunlight Labs. Real Time Congress provides users with a number of information feeds related to House and Senate floor debates; a documents feature that provides immediate access to Congressional Budget Office, Congressional Research Service, and Office of Management and Budget documents as they are posted; real-time notices from the Democrat and Republician whips; and hearing schedules, among other features.

Finally, there is the White House app. Released in January by the Obama administration's technology team, it offers users access to information about the White House, from blog updates, video and photos, to news and a live feature with real-time data.

While the app hardly pushes the limits of what advanced smartphones are capable of, the White House app offers something more important in terms of the the "culture of no," which is how Peter Corbett describes the bureaucratic impediments to technological progress in Washington.

Peter-Corbett.gifCorbett, CEO of the interactive strategy, experiential marketing and content creation solutions company iStrategyLabs, said the White House app is an example for other government agencies to emulate.

"If the White House is using YouTube and building iPhone applications and is using idea sourcing platforms for letting citizens vote on stuff, that's giving all the other agencies permission and an example to follow for when they try and do new things for their constituents," Corbett said.

Apps for Democracy

Corbett and iStrategyLabs are engaged in an emerging category of apps that support open government initiatives. In 2008, Vivek Kundra, former chief technology officer of Washington, DC, and current chief information officer of the U.S. federal government, approached Corbett with a question about how to make the new open government data sets usable for the average citizen.

Corbett responded with the Apps for Democracy contest that offered technologists the potential to win as much as $30,000 in prize money for the development of apps that use the data catalog, and help government function better for citizens. When the contest ended, 47 iPhone, Facebook and web applications had been submitted. iStrategyLabs estimated they are worth more than $2.6 million to Washington.

That contest inspired Sunlight Labs' Apps for America contest and others in Germany, Belgium, Australia and elsewhere. More importantly, Apps for Democracy demonstrated that the technology development crowd has significant interest in participating in these kinds of initiatives.

"We see that there is a passionate local base of technologists that finally see a way to really apply their skills to the process of democracy and government," Corbett said. "Typically they [technologists] were never engaged. They are generally focused on what's going on on TechCrunch and Twitter and not really focused on what's happening on Huffington Post and C-SPAN. Now what we are seeing is because there is this way of tapping into citizen technologists, they are becoming much more engaged in democracy and America itself."

Walking Edge, Ballot Signing App

Technologists are already creating apps that can make an impact in elections and ballot initiatives. The recent election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts was aided by an app developed by Republican Web Development. The firm created an app for GOP candidates called Walking Edge. The Atlantic's Chris Good wrote that the app offered canvassers a database of where undecided voters and candidate-supporters live. The app used geo-location tools and Google Maps, and after canvassers made contact with a person they could update the database in real-time.

Verafirma-app.gifAnother app being developed by the California-based company Verafirma enables users to sign a ballot initiative using an iPhone. It is currently being used by the Citizen Power Campaign to gather signatures for an initiative aimed at prohibiting public employee unions from using member dues for political activities. The app itself is the first time anyone has used a touch-screen phone for gathering signatures.

"The problem with the system today is that if you have a good idea to change California or improve the future of our state, the first question you are asked is do you have $2 million to hire paid signature gatherers to collect signatures to get your initiative on the ballot," Verafirma co-founder Jude Barry said. "We think technology changes that question."

App development has the potential to significantly influence democracy. During the 2008 presidential race, Obama's campaign had a clear edge using technology. Peter Corbett suggests the technology gap for the GOP has now been closed.

"It's an arms race for who can use the most technology the best to either raise funds or to reach constituents," Corbett said.

Steven Davy is a freelance journalist, and freelance radio reporter/producer. He regularly covers the defense industry and security related issues for UPI. Additionally he hosts a current affairs newsmagazine radio show called the Nonchalant Café Hour which broadcasts live in Kalamazoo, Mich. Steven recently created Exploring Conversations as a multimedia website examining the language of music for his graduate thesis project at Michigan State University.

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