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April 01 2011

18:51

SmashingDarling, 20x200 Push Independent Fashion, Art Online

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

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

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

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

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

Making the Niche Mainstream

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

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

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


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

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

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

Getting Out There

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

Screen shot 2011-03-30 at 8.48.33 PM.png

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

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

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

Photo of Jen Bekman courtesy of Paul Costello

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

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

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

March 11 2011

17:30

How French Site OWNI Profits by Giving Away Its Content

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

Most content sites in the U.S. have two ways of making money: charging for subscriptions or running advertising (or both). But a French site, OWNI.fr, has found an unusual business model for a site with no ads and no subscriptions -- that's also profitable. How do they do it? Their main business is doing web development and apps for media companies and institutions.

One big advantage for OWNI is its origins as a pure online business, with an entrepreneurial CEO Nicolas Voisin and a staff of web developers. The site was initially an aggregation of bloggers, with the parent company called 22Mars (March 22nd), set up to fight a controversial French copyright law known as HADOPI. While 22Mars was made up of web developers at launch in April 2009, they eventually revamped the site with more editorial direction and hired journalists in 2010 to work alongside the developers.

The result is a striking website, with an eye-catching design and various examples of data journalism and data visualization. In fact, when they set up an English-language site, OWNI.eu, its motto was "Digital Journalism." The site won an Online Journalism Award at the ONA conference last year, and is a finalist in next week's SXSW Accelerator competition for "news-related technologies." Here's a screen shot from one data visualization showing how many people have died immigrating to Europe from Africa:



fortress europe.jpg

All the American interest in the French site will grow exponentially when the site opens a U.S. subsidiary next month, somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area. I spoke to the future CEO of that U.S. subsidiary, Adriano Farano, an Italian who had helped run Cafe Babel, a pan-European website. Here, he explains what the name OWNI means in French (largely a play on "UFO"):

adriano1.mp3

Farano told me that the parent company, 22Mars, is about a third of the way to closing a Series C round of funding for about 1.5 million Euros, and that they will seek a first round of funding for OWNI.us. In France, the company grew from just 8 people a year ago to 37 today, with 15 full-time journalists. At the same time, Farano says the site traffic also boomed, going from 200,000 monthly unique visitors to 1.5 million uniques today.

I also spoke by phone to OWNI's director of data journalism, Nicolas Kayser-Bril. The following is an edited transcript of our international phone conversation.

Q&A

Why did you start OWNI and what were your aims?

Nicolas Kayser-Bril: It wasn't planned to be a media company at all. It was started in April 2009, where there was a law called HADOPI being passed in the French parliament, that was dangerous for online freedom [and later was the basis for Loppsi 2]. Several bloggers got together to set up a platform [to fight the law]. And the company that was set up to run OWNI is called 22Mars, and we decided to host the platform so we had a blog network hosted on a WordPress platform. Step by step, the platform grew, and Nicolas Voisin, the CEO of 22Mars decided to take the experiment further and put one person full-time on maintaining and engaging the community.

We saw that this worked well so we put more resources and people into OWNI. So we decided to become a real media [outlet], a real website, still with this strong community of bloggers behind it. In the summer of 2010, we realized that OWNI had become a real media [outlet], ran stories, and really had a big impact in the traditional media sphere. We hadn't really planned to become one. This changed the way the company was organized. At first we had been more of a showroom for what we're doing, and today it's more of a lab where journalists are free to innovate and do what they want.

With that experience, we continue to run our service company, selling website development and applications. We specialize in providing apps and social media platforms. Half of our sales today have to do with social media, and the other half has to do with data visualization, crowdsourcing apps, and running innovative journalistic products. We serve all kinds of institutions and NGOs that have a story to tell but don't know how to to do it online. We build the tools for them to do so.

When you say half of your sales is social media does that mean helping them with social media strategy?

Kayser-Bril: We do some social media consulting, but most of the work is building social media websites tailor made [for clients]. For instance, with universities, they have unique problems as to how to communicate between teachers and students and the wider public. So we built the interface using WordPress to solve this problem. So we always build custom solutions with added value.

What was your background and that of the OWNI CEO Nicolas Voisin?

Kayser-Bril: Nicolas, our CEO, was an entrepreneur and got into the media in 2006 before the presidential election in France. He started doing a political show; he realized there was a big gap on how the public was informed about candidates' platforms. So what he decided to do was interview them without time limits and spent hours with them, and then posted them on YouTube. It worked really well, so he thought there was a need to reinvent storytelling online. That's what drove him.

The other core people at the company are mostly developers. I myself have a background in economics. I never studied journalism. Before OWNI, I was living in Berlin and working at a startup. Before that I was doing freelance work. I was doing online work for a presidential campaign in 2009, mostly web-related things. We didn't hire a traditional journalist until February 2010. Now we have many seasoned journalists working for us.

So you are set up as a non-profit or for-profit company?

Kayser-Bril: 22Mars is for-profit, and we did not spin off OWNI as a non-profit organization from an accounting perspective. The website does not have to make a profit in the sense that we don't make money from the website. No subscriptions and no hidden advertisements. The value the website provides is in gaining expertise online that we can then share and sell to clients.

So your model is basically making money by developing websites and custom social media solutions? The site is more of a testing lab?

Kayser-Bril: Exactly. You could compare it to businesses in other industries. We might start selling online objects or other products in the coming months to have more high-margin products.

We will start selling e-books, which is a big driving force of 22Mars -- we don't sell content but we sell products, because everyone knows content is abundant. What's missing is a way to properly browse through it and consume it. So we'll be selling apps. Not apps for the iPhone or in the App Store. We always remain on the HTML side and JavaScript and stay compatible with all platforms. So they would run on the open web as well as on the iPhone and iPad.

augmented cartoon.jpg

We're convinced that the apps you see on the iPhone and iPad and Android in the future will be merged into web apps because it makes more sense economically to develop something once instead of three or four times. We develop for all devices. We recently published what we call an augmented cartoon where you have more depth in text, and can follow links. We made it for the iPad; it was more of an iPad app than it worked on a computer. With HTML 5 you can really design an app and optimize it for the device you want.

Kayser-Bril explains how developers will work for OWNI for less money than at other companies because they have a chance to work on projects about society and politics:

nicolas1.mp3

Does OWNI have a specific political viewpoint?

Kayser-Bril: Not really, we're not really involved in politics. What we do fight for is freedom online and offline, supporting the declaration of human rights. We could lead fights in defense of Internet freedoms (for example, against censorship, for Net neutrality, etc.). We'll fight against all laws that restrict freedom of speech online. We don't have any more political views beyond that. When you see the political views of people at OWNI, it ranges from leftist to libertarian so it would be impossible to have a single political line.

Tell me about the work you've done for WikiLeaks.

Kayser-Bril: WikiLeaks called us to do similar work that we are doing on a daily basis, which is building interfaces and web apps. Their problem is that they had masses of web documents but they were not comprehensible for a normal human being. So we came up with this app to browse through the Afghan War Logs. It illustrates how OWNI works, because when the Afghan War Logs came out, we realized we could build that just like for the Iraq War Logs.

afghan war logs.jpg

It was a non-commercial relationship with WikiLeaks, and it made perfect sense because we learned a lot so we could sell crowdsourcing applications. From a business perspective it made a lot of sense.

Kayser-Bril explains how OWNI helps clients with unique open solutions, and that everyone's become a media outlet now:

nicolas2.mp3

Have you done work for media companies?

Kayser-Bril: Yes, many French ones. Our client list include France24, Radio France Internationale, Groupe Moniteur (professional magazines), Le Monde Diplomatique, Slate.fr, Le Soir (Brussels) and Zeit Online (Berlin). We're in talks with many more, and we've worked as well for NGOs and public institutions (the municipality of Paris and the French presidency).

I noticed that you re-post or license content from other sites on OWNI. How much of your content is original vs. reposted?

Kayser-Bril: About half and half. We are trying to reach the 60% mark of original content. If someone is more of an expert than we are, we just republish his or her article. Not just re-posting it, but fact-checking it, adding images -- we really want to add value to cross-posted articles.

You have a Creative Commons license on your stories. So does that mean anyone can run your stories on their site?

Kayser-Bril: Of course. Our whole business model is built on the Creative Commons license. On the content side, the more our articles are republished, the happier we are. We don't have advertising, but we want our articles to be read. Please repost them. On the business side as well, we only use open technologies -- HTML and JavaScript and no Flash. And that makes sense because our added value isn't in the code or software that we build, but how we can answer our clients' needs and provide them open solutions.

Kayser-Bril explains how OWNI's new U.S. site won't consider other media sites as competition but as partners:

nicolas3.mp3

Can you point to any successes you've had in some of your journalism experiments?

Kayser-Bril: The WikiLeaks project didn't turn out as well as it could have. One thing we did was rethink the way surveys are made. We worked with a pollster and realized that when a media [outlet] orders a survey, what you get in the paper is a page with two infographics and a pie chart. That's not enough. We built an app that lets you browse through all the data the pollster gathered to really see in your area what men over 45 thought. What was really successful was we added the possibilitiy for you to take the survey while you were browsing the app.

That's extremely interesting in terms of journalism, because you can see what your audience is like compared to the people who took the survey. It's also interesting in terms of business because one big asset today is having a big database with qualified voters and such an app would be very valuable for many clients.

*****

What do you think about OWNI's site and business model? Do you think they can replicate their success in the U.S.? Why or why not? 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.

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

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

February 03 2011

12:37

Bed, knee and breakfast: designing for the iPad

Bed, knee and breakfast: the Bibliotype template

Craig Mod has written a lengthy and well-informed piece on A List Apart about the problems of designing for the iPad and other “browser”-based interfaces. He makes some particularly important points about the differences between products which have a spine as the “axis of symmetry” (e.g. books, magazines), and digital products where the axis is hard to place:

“If the axis of symmetry for a book is the spine, where is it on an iPad? On one hand, designers can approach tablets as if they were a single sheet of “paper,” letting the physicality of the object define the central axis of symmetry—straight down the middle.

“On the other hand, the physicality of these devices doesn’t represent the full potential of content space. The screen becomes a small portal to an infinite content plane, or “infinite canvas,” as so well illustrated by Scott McCloud.”

The core of his article is a design template for long form tablet reading, for which Mod breaks tablet reading distances into three main categories: Bed, Knee, and Breakfast

  • “Bed (Close to face): Reading a novel on your stomach, lying in bed with the iPad propped up on a pillow.
  • “Knee (Medium distance from face): Sitting on the couch or perhaps the Eurostar on your way to Paris, the iPad on your knee, catching up on Instapaper.
  • “Breakfast (Far from face): The iPad, propped up by the Apple case at a comfortable angle, behind your breakfast coffee and bagel, allowing for handsfree news reading as you wipe cream cheese from the corner of your mouth.”

An image of the template in action is shown above. It’s released under the MIT licence.

Although the article is written with ebooks in mind, the principles can obviously also be applied to magazine and news apps. Worth a read.

January 20 2011

09:37

January 13 2011

21:02

Updates to design, HTML, CSS resources

The latest updates here:

Design Resources: Links for typography, color, Web browser statistics, screen resolution, page layout and usability.

HTML Basics: Essential tags to know, tutorials, HTML5.

CSS Basics: Shortlist of need-to-know items. “Reset” stylesheet. CSS3 information. Tutorials.

14:49

HTML and CSS Resources for Teaching

Every year around this time, I update the resources I use in teaching my advanced online design class. I know there are a million lists like these online. I try to keep mine short, simple and current.

Also, I’m not teaching programmers or graphic design majors. My students are journalists.

If you’ve found any resources, websites or handouts useful in teaching online design, please let me know.

14:49

HTML and CSS Resources for Teaching

Every year around this time, I update the resources I use in teaching my advanced online design class. I know there are a million lists like these online. I try to keep mine short, simple and current.

Also, I’m not teaching programmers or graphic design majors. My students are journalists.

If you’ve found any resources, websites or handouts useful in teaching online design, please let me know.

January 11 2011

15:30

Teaching HTML and CSS to journalism students

I’ve been looking at the open-source course materials for Web Design 1, from the WaSP InterACT curriculum project. I think these materials can easily be adapted for use in a journalism curriculum.

The idea is to acquaint our students with the building blocks of the Web they use every day. For students who want to work in presentation (that is, design), there’s more to be learned after this little taste. But for the average journalism student, this course covers what they should be familiar with so that they can work comfortably in a CMS that needs the occasional tweak or fix (as all CMSs do).

The assignments in the WaSP course are quite reasonable and practical. Detailed grading rubrics are provided.

Really, I wish this were a standard course in all U.S. high schools. It concerns me that our students spend hours every day using a medium that is open and easy for producing original work — but they use it merely as consumers.

15:30

Teaching HTML and CSS to journalism students

I’ve been looking at the open-source course materials for Web Design 1, from the WaSP InterACT curriculum project. I think these materials can easily be adapted for use in a journalism curriculum.

The idea is to acquaint our students with the building blocks of the Web they use every day. For students who want to work in presentation (that is, design), there’s more to be learned after this little taste. But for the average journalism student, this course covers what they should be familiar with so that they can work comfortably in a CMS that needs the occasional tweak or fix (as all CMSs do).

The assignments in the WaSP course are quite reasonable and practical. Detailed grading rubrics are provided.

Really, I wish this were a standard course in all U.S. high schools. It concerns me that our students spend hours every day using a medium that is open and easy for producing original work — but they use it merely as consumers.

January 09 2011

17:09

THE NEW NO-NAME STARBUCKS LOGO

The founder of Starbucks (7500 self-operated and 5500 licensed stores in 39 countries) explains the change of the logo, quite better than The New York Time’s laid back design critic Steven Heller.

Designed first by Terry Heckler, the iconic mermaid that beckons coffee drinkers was based of a classic 15th century Norse woodcut

By removing the words “Starbucks” and “coffee” from its green logo, Starbucks joints Apple or Nike with a no-name logo.

As The Guardian says: “this could help as the chain expands into countries that not only have a different language but a different alphabet.”

Only brands with such a great personality can do it.

Well done and really well explained.

December 29 2010

07:30

A BIG TWITTER BILLBOARD

The history Of King’s Cross and St Pancras on one brilliant billboard.

Just with words.

Typography and great design to explain a history of changes and reforms.

Looks like a big twitter!

(Via Londonlist)

December 23 2010

17:47

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

birds 2010 small.jpg

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.

project_ipad.jpg

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."

cooks_source_newFBpage.jpg

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 30 2010

20:35

Content or design? Using analytics to identify your problem

editorial analytics

As an industry, online publishing has gone through a series of obsessions. From ‘Content is King’ to information architecture (IA), SEO (search engine optimisation) to SMO (social media optimisation).

Most people’s view of online publishing is skewed towards one of these areas. For journalists, it’s likely to be SEO; for designers or developers, it’s probably user experience (UX). As a result, we’re highly influenced by fashion when things aren’t going smoothly, and we tend to ignore potential solutions outside of our area.

Content agency Contentini are blogging about the way they use analytics to look at websites and identify which of the various elements above might be worth focusing on. It’s a wonderful summary of problems around sites and an equally wonderful prompt for jolting yourself out of falling into the wrong ways to solve them.

The post is worth reading in full, and probably pinning to a wall. But here are the bullet points:

  • If you have a high bounce rate and people spend little time on your site, it might be an information architecture problem.
  • If people start things but don’t finish them on your site, it’s probably a UX problem.
  • If people aren’t sharing your content, it may be a content issue. (Image above. This part of their framework could do with fleshing out)
  • If you’re getting less than a third of your traffic from search engines, you need to look at SEO

Solutions in the post itself. Anything you’d add to them?

November 04 2010

14:10

A Six-Step Process for Managing Web Projects

After years of intensive work in the IT industry, I've put together a practical guide to project development that my company uses for 99 percent of our projects. So far we've done amazingly well with this approach. Once you know it, it feels so simple and natural that you don't even know you know it. In the interest of helping other folks with their development projects -- and to encourage you to offer your tips and suggestions in the comments -- I offer our process.

Step One: Consultations

This is where you start brainstorming about the core idea, as well as any potential solutions and technologies. Capture all of the the ideas, solutions, and any relevant prices etc. You can only proceed with the next step when you feel ready to talk about specific functionality, prices and timelines.

Step Two: Planning

Make a list of all the features and functions you can imagine for this project. Then start estimating how much money and time it requires for each. Now go through your list and prioritize the functions to determine which need to be launched right away, and which are less important and can wait for a future update. Now you can begin to see how much time and money you need to build architecture, interface, design and do the bug-fixing and configuration. Move to the next step once you've established the development timeline and resolved that with the available budget.

Step Three: Wireframe

Take a blank piece of blank paper and sketch the basic structure of a website or application, and the relationships between its pages or sections. Draw your menus and the main elements. Go into as much detail as you consider important, but know that you don't have to plan through each and every element or establish every detail about how things will work and look.

Step Four: Interface

Using your wireframe as a guide, draw everything that has to appear in the final product, including everything that needs to be there. Figure out all the links, all the menus and interface methods, such as pop-up, drop-down, slider etc. You can still do this on a blank piece of paper, but I suggest to using software such as yED, which is a free download. Take your time with this stage. When you have it perfect, set it aside for at least one day and then examine it with fresh eyes. Try to find at least two places where you can save a click, make a more intuitive menu, or make something else better. Then print it out and you're ready to go with the next step.

Step Five: Design

If you haven't already begun working with him/her, begin meeting with your designer(s). Present wireframe sketches and the interface. Explain the tricky spots, explain why things are there as they are, and how your ideas have evolved. Now it's time to let them get to work.

Step Six: Programming

You should provide three things to your development team: the list of functionality, the interface outline, and the design. Now they work to make it all real.

Obviously, a lot more happens in the development and testing stage, and in future posts I'll share more advice and lessons about that and more. For now, share your thoughts and process int the comments.

14:10

A Six-Step Process for Managing and Developing Web/IT Projects

After years of intensive work in the IT industry, I've put together a practical guide to project development that my company uses for 99 percent of our projects. So far we've done amazingly well with this approach. Once you know it, it feels so simple and natural that you don't even know you know it. In the interest of helping other folks with their development projects -- and to encourage you to offer your tips and suggestions in the comments -- I offer our process.

Step One: Consultations

This is where you start brainstorming about the core idea, as well as any potential solutions and technologies. Capture all of the the ideas, solutions, and any relevant prices etc. You can only proceed with the next step when you feel ready to talk about specific functionality, prices and timelines.

Step Two: Planning

Make a list of all the features and functions you can imagine for this project. Then start estimating how much money and time it requires for each. Now go through your list and prioritize the functions to determine which need to be launched right away, and which are less important and can wait for a future update. Now you can begin to see how much time and money you need to build architecture, interface, design and do the bug-fixing and configuration. Move to the next step once you've established the development timeline and resolved that with the available budget.

Step Three: Wireframe

Take a blank piece of blank paper and sketch the basic structure of a website or application, and the relationships between its pages or sections. Draw your menus and the main elements. Go into as much detail as you consider important, but know that you don't have to plan through each and every element or establish every detail about how things will work and look.

Step Four: Interface

Using your wireframe as a guide, draw everything that has to appear in the final product, including everything that needs to be there. Figure out all the links, all the menus and interface methods, such as pop-up, drop-down, slider etc. You can still do this on a blank piece of paper, but I suggest to using software such as yED, which is a free download. Take your time with this stage. When you have it perfect, set it aside for at least one day and then examine it with fresh eyes. Try to find at least two places where you can save a click, make a more intuitive menu, or make something else better. Then print it out and you're ready to go with the next step.

Step Five: Design

If you haven't already begun working with him/her, begin meeting with your designer(s). Present wireframe sketches and the interface. Explain the tricky spots, explain why things are there as they are, and how your ideas have evolved. Now it's time to let them get to work.

Step Six: Programming

You should provide three things to your development team: the list of functionality, the interface outline, and the design. Now they work to make it all real.

Obviously, a lot more happens in the development and testing stage, and in future posts I'll share more advice and lessons about that and more. For now, share your thoughts and process int the comments.

October 29 2010

16:00

Center for Public Integrity’s HTML5 product aims to make long-form journalism readable on any device

Is it possible to enjoy long-form investigative journalism in a digital age without a fancy tablet? A 5,000-word piece can be tough to get through on an ad-supported website. And while the experience on iPad apps is promising, an app is a costly investment — or investments, in a world with multiple incompatible platforms — for a news organization to make.

The nonprofit news organization Center for Public Integrity is announcing an alternative today at the annual Online News Association conference. The Center wants to make reading its work more enjoyable for the user, and a smarter investment for an organization rethinking its online and mobile strategies. The Center has a new HTML5 product that gives users an app-like experience in a web browser. The project is part of a new digital initiative at the Center, funded by $1.5 million in grants from the Knight Foundation.

“We think we’ve created a better way to consume investigative reporting,” John Solomon, the chief digital officer told me, and at a much lower cost than developing apps for different devices.

Solomon gave me a demo yesterday, and I have to say, I was impressed. You can flip through stories from right to left the way you can on an iPad or an iPhone. Text and images resize easily for whatever screen you’re on, whether phone or desktop. It loads fast and smooth and has a clean, easy-on-the-eyes design. The impulse is to keep flipping through, from page to page or story to story.

The product was created with Treesaver, a platform specifically designed to make digital reading easier. It’s a project of, among others, the noted graphic designer Roger Black, whose famous three-color dictum — “the first color is white; the second is black; the third is red: the three together are the best” — is in evidence at Treesaver’s website (and the Lab’s). Treesaver is also working with Nomad, a startup that plans to put out paid electronic magazines.

I spoke with Filipe Fortes, the developer of Treesaver, about what his product means for long-form journalism. “The idea is to be reader friendly,” he said. As an example, he pulled up a website of a large regional newspaper and had me click on a story. (No need to name names — the experience would have been similar across most newspaper sites.) “It’s really kind of hostile to the reader, I feel,” he said, pointing out all the ads and social media boxes that distract from the text of the story. “I think that’s why people are loving the apps,” he said. “It’s just a chance to finally read again. There’s a lot of cool things happening on apps, but people on desktops are missing out.”

Those distractions Treesaver is trying to spare us from are also what monetize the content — but Fortes says he’s not against advertising, just how we display it with the content now. By lowering the bar to the content (as he puts it), by letting users easily flip along, fewer, cleaner ads can be monetized more effectively. He showed me a mockup of a Nomad magazine that runs full page ads between pages, similar to an iPad app. “If you can get people coming in from a blog or Google and you get them to read three stories [by flipping along],” he said, “Congratulations, you just tripled your revenue on that user.”

Fortes is presenting Treesaver at the ONA conference this afternoon. He says he’s eager to work with more news organizations, and is in talks with several.

October 27 2010

18:07

DocumentCloud Users Make Ballot Design An Election Issue

When we make lists of the kinds of source documents users can upload to DocumentCloud, they can get pretty long. DocumentCloud is court filings, hearing transcripts, testimony, legislation, lab reports, memos, meeting minutes, correspondence. I can say with absolute confidence that in all of our planning, "ballots" never once came up as the sort of document a news organization might want to annotate for readers. Our relentlessly creative users have shown us otherwise.

This summer, the Memphis Commercial Appeal rounded out its guide to August's primary elections with a sample ballot. Their digital content editor told us that many readers who'd missed the sample ballot in the print edition turned to the version online as primary day approached. Earlier this month, they added the general election ballot to that guide.

New York Ballots

WNYC, New York City's NPR affiliate, also published a few ballots this summer. In an effort to comply with a 2002 federal law that mandates significant updates to voting systems in each state, New York City introduced paper ballots for the 2010 primary election, replacing the city's famously arcane voting machines. One look at the new design and everyone was up in arms, proclaiming its absurdity, but WNYC actually invited a group of ballot design experts to review the city's new ballots. Their findings: the ballot was confusing

Design for Democracy works to increase civic participation, in part through a ballot design project that aims to make voting easier and more accurate. WNYC used Design for Democracy's feedback to annotate a sample ballot on their blog, offering readers vital voting advice.

When the city released sample ballots for November's general election, a local think tank pointed out that the instructions erroneously advise voters to mark the oval above their candidate's name. In fact, the relevant ovals appear below candidate's names. WNYC highlighted the issue by embedding a sample ballot on their blog. Apparently the "oval above" language was mandated by state law. Don't believe me? See for yourself -- WNYC posted the legislation, with the relevant passage highlighted.

From now on, my laundry list of things DocumentCloud catalogs will most definitely include ballots.

October 13 2010

14:14

SECOND SECTIONS NEVER WERE GOOD, AND THE T2 IS AN EXAMPLE

The Times editor writes today:

Dear Reader,

As you will have noticed from this morning’s paper, Times2 is back. It returns, bigger and better.

When we introduced our new daily sections earlier this year, many readers wrote to say how much they loved the greater coverage of food, fashion, health and the arts. Many others were thrilled at the introduction of Mind Games, offering more brain-aching Su Doku and more infuriating puzzles than ever before.

But many of you wrote to say how sorely you missed the second section. Letters came in saying how much you loved The Times’s distinctive run of features. It was clear how deeply you shared Times2’s passions, its sense of humour, its cares, its intelligence, its campaigning spirit.   And, even though Times2 had simply moved to a new home, many of you felt a loss. It was obvious how much you relied on a separate section for the TV and radio listings, as well as a smart guide to film, music, theatre, dance and the arts. And, most of all, you missed having a paper that you could share: The Times, in two parts – or, as one person put it, two papers for the price of one.

Well, he is wrong.

The problem with the T2 section is the content and the design.

Both are really bad.

Content and design are trashy.

That’s the problem, my dear!

“Readers want” is another excuse to change in order to avoid real changes

T2 compared with the trendy and crispy G2 of The Guardian looks like a second class section.

So instead, give me less pages, and a more and better edited newspaper.

A Compact and compelling newspaper.

Work  harder for me (reader and subscriber of The Times) and don’t be bother about focus group “instant miracle solutions”.

Many of these new separate section were created because, we were told, advertisers want it.

Well, the T2 is almost empty of paid ads.

Why?

Because advertisers know better: it’s a poor product.

Integrated or standing alone.

This doesn’t matter.

Good content and brilliant design is what really matters.

October 01 2010

11:01

September 22 2010

20:21

THE FRONT PAGE OF THE NEW WALL STREERT JOURNAL WEEKEND EDITION

WSJA1weekendfrontpage

Why two logos?

I am sure that the designers suggested the bold WSJ… and the old guard wanted the full name.

And what about the online URL.

Well just in the right corner very small.

A new re-re-re-redesign or how change to don’t change anything.

They want tobe like The New York Times.

So they follow, don’t lead.

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