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May 22 2013

14:00

Jaron Lanier wants to build a new middle class on micropayments

jaron-lanier-cc

jaron-lanier-who-owns-the-future“We’re used to treating information as ‘free,’” writes Jaron Lanier in his latest book Who Owns the Future?, “but the price we pay for the illusion of ‘free’ is only workable so long as most of the overall economy isn’t about information.”

Lanier argues that a free-culture mindset is dismantling the middle-class economy. In his estimation, the idea “that mankind’s information should be free is idealistic, and understandably popular, but information wouldn’t need to be free it no one were impoverished.”

Who Owns the Future?, like his 2010 book You Are Not a Gadget, is another manifesto attempting to rebuff what he sees as the contemporary ethos of the web. But the followup also refreshingly attempts to pose solutions, one where all participants in this information-based world are paid for what they do and distribute on the web. Throughout, it places particular emphasis on the ways digital technology has unsettled the so-called “creative class” — journalists, musicians, photographers, and the like. As he sees it, the tribulations of those working in such fields may be a premonition for the middle class as a whole. It’s “urgent,” he writes, “to determine if the felling of creative-class careers was an anomaly or an early warning of what is to happen to immeasurably more middle-class jobs later in this century.”

I recently spoke with Lanier and we discussed the ways he sees digital networking disrupting the media, why he thinks advertising can no longer sustain paid journalism, and why he misses the future. Lightly edited and condensed, here’s a transcript of our conversation.

Eric Allen Been: You were one of the early advocates of the notion that “information wants to be free.” An idea most media companies initially embraced when it came to the web, and one that now some seem to regret. Could you talk a little bit about why you changed your mind on this line of thinking?
Jaron Lanier: Sure. It was based on empirical results. The idea sounded wonderful 30 years ago. It sounded wonderful in the way that perfect libertarianism or perfect socialism can. It sounds right, but with all these attempts to make a perfect system, it doesn’t work out so well. Empirically, what I’ve seen is the hollowing out of middle-class opportunities and that there is an absurdity to the way it’s going. I think we’re not getting the benefits that I initially anticipated.
Been: When it came to journalism, what were some of those benefits that you originally expected? I imagine you then thought it would be a largely positive thing.
Lanier: Yeah. To use the terminology of the time, we — that is, me and others who were behind a lot of the ideas behind the Web 2.0 ethos or whatever — wanted to “supplant” or “make obsolete” the existing channels of journalism and the existing types of jobs in journalism. But what would come instead would be better — more open and all of that — and less intermediated. What happened instead was a little bit of what we anticipated. In a sense, the vision came true. Yes, anybody can blog and all that — and I still like that stuff — but the bigger problem is that an incredible inequity developed where the people with big computers who were routing what journalists did were getting all the formal benefits. Mainly the money, the power. And the people who were doing the work were so often just getting informal benefits, like reputation and the ability to promote themselves. That isn’t enough. The thing that we missed was how much power would accrue to the people with the biggest computers. That was the thing we didn’t really think through.
Been: Historically, technological advances have caused disruptions to industries, but they’ve also tended to provide new jobs to replace the wiped-out ones. There seems to be some optimism in a lot of quarters that journalism can get eventually get on the right track, economically speaking, within the digital world. But you don’t think so.
Lanier: The system is slowly destroying itself. I’ll give you an example of how this might work out. Let’s suppose you say in the future, journalists will figure out how to attach themselves to advertising more directly so they’re not left out of the loop. Right now, a lot of journalism is aggregated in various services that create aggregate feeds of one kind or another and those things sell advertising for the final-stop aggregator. And the people doing the real work only get a pittance. A few journalists do well but it’s very few — it’s a winner-take-all world where only a minority does well. Yes, there are a few people, for instance, who have blogs with their own ads and that can bring in some money. You can say, “Well, isn’t that a good model and shouldn’t that be emulated”? The problem is that they’re dependent on the health of the ad servers that place ads. Very few people can handle that directly. And the problem with that is the whole business of using advertising to fund communication on the Internet is inherently self-destructive, because the only stuff that can be advertised on Google or Facebook is stuff that Google hasn’t already forced to be free.

As an example, you might have a company that makes toys and you advertise the toys on Google, and that might show up in journalism about toy safety or something. So journalists can eek some money from people who sell toys. That’s kind of like the traditional model of advertising-supported journalism.

But every type of business that might advertise on Google is gradually being automated and turning into more of an information business. In the case of toys, there’s a 3-D printer where people print out toys. At some point, that will become better and better and more common, and whenever that happens, what happened to music with Napster will happen to toys. It’ll be all about the files and the machines that actually print out the toys. If the files that print out the toys can be made free, the only big business will be the routing of those files, which might be Google or Facebook handling that, and there will be nobody left to advertise on Google.

That’ll happen with everything else — pharmaceuticals, transportation, natural resources — every single area will be subject to more and more automation, which doesn’t have to put people out of work. The only reason automation leads to unemployment is the idea of information being free. It’s a totally artificial problem, but if journalists are counting the Google model to live on, it won’t work. Google is undermining itself, and there will be no one left to buy advertisements.

Been: Speaking of advertising, I’m interested in hearing what you think about a lot of people currently lauding BuzzFeed and its use of native advertising. There’s a lot of talk about it solving “the problems of both journalism and advertising at once”, or it being some sort of guiding light for a “future of paid journalism.”
Lanier: Advertising, in whatever form, just can’t be the only possible business plan for information. It forces everybody to ultimately compete for the same small pool of advertisers. How much of the economy can advertising really be? It can’t be the whole market. Why on earth are Google and Facebook competing for the same customers when they actually do totally different things? It’s a peculiar problem. You’re saying that there’s only one business plan, one customer set, and everybody has to dive after that. It becomes a very narrow game — there’s not enough there for everybody. It could work out locally a little bit, but it’s not an overall solution.
Been: And your solution is what you call a “humanistic information economy.” Could you talk a little bit about how such a system would work?
Lanier: There are some theoretical reasons that lead me to believe that if you monetized a deeply connected open network, the distribution of benefits to people would look like a middle class. In other words, there would be a lot of wealth in a lot of people’s hands that could outspend any elite, which is critical for democracy and a market economy to survive. So one benefit is you could get a consistent middle class even when the economy gets really automated. It becomes a real information economy.

A humanistic economy would create a middle class in a new way, instead of through unions and other ad hoc mechanisms. It would create a middle class by compensating people for their value in terms of references to the network. It would create an expanding economy instead of a static one, which is also important. It’s built around the people instead of the machines. It would be a change in paradigm.

Been: In the book, you write: “If we demand that everyone turn into a freelancer, then we will all eventually pay an untenable price in heartbreak.” But a lot of what you’re proposing strikes me, in some senses, as a freelance economy.
Lanier: That’s right. What I’m proposing is actually a freelance economy, but it’s a freelance economy where freelancing earns you not just income but also wealth. That’s an important distinction to make. What I think should happen is as you start providing information to the network, it then will become a part of other services that grow over time.

So, for instance, let’s suppose you translate between languages, and some of your translations provide example phrase translations that are used in automatic translators. You would keep getting dribbles of royalties from having done that, and you start accumulating a lot of little ways that you’re getting royalties — not in the sense of contractual royalties, just little payments from people that are doing things that benefited from information you provided. If you look at people’s interest in social networking, you see a middle-class distribution of interest. A lot of people would get a lot of little dribs and drabs, and it would accumulate over a lifetime so you’d start to have more and more established information that had been referenced by you that people are using. What should happen is you should start accumulating wealth, some money that shows up because of your past as well as your present moment.

Been: So if I simply shared a link to a New York Times article on Twitter, for instance, would there be a payment exchange? If so, who would it go to?
Lanier: It would be person-to-person payments. Right now, we’re used to a system where you earn money in blocks, like a salary check, and you’re spending on little things like coffee of something. And in this system, you’d be earning lots of little micropayments all the time. But you would be spending less often. That terrifies people, but it’s a macroeconomic thing. I believe the economy would actually grow if information was monetized, and overall your chances will get a lot better than they are now.
Been: You say in the book that this person-to-person payment system is partly inspired by the early work of the sociologist and information technology pioneer, Ted Nelson. Particular, his thoughts about two-way linking over a network. Could you talk a little bit about why you think this is a better way to exchange information?
Lanier: The original concept of digital networking that predated the actual existence of digital networking is Ted Nelson’s work from the 1960s. It was different from the networks we know today in a few key ways. All the links were two-way, for one. You would always know who was linking at your website — there would always be backlinks. If you have universal backlinks, you have a basis for micropayments from somebody’s information that’s useful to somebody else. If the government camera on a corner catches you walking by, and it matches against you, you’d be owed some money because you contributed information. Every backlink would be monetized. Monetizing actually decentralizes power rather than centralizing it. Demonetizing a network actually concentrates power around anyone who has the biggest computer analyzing it.
Been: Let’s talk about that last point. This is an example of what you call in the book a “Siren Server.” That is, computers on a network that gather data without conceding that money is owed to those individuals mined for the information.
Lanier: That’s right. It’s my name for one of the biggest, best, most effective, connected computers on the network. A Siren Server is a big server farm — a remote unmarked building somewhere in the countryside near a river so it can get cooled. It has tons of computers that run as one. It gathers data from the world for free and does more processing of that data that normal computers can do. What it does with the processing is it calculates several moves that the owners can make that put them in an advantage based on a global perspective.

If you’re Amazon, it means you keep track of everybody else’s prices in the world, including little local independent stores, so you can never be outsold. If a store wants to give a book away, Amazon will also do that, so nobody gets a local advantage. If you’re Google, it gives advertisers a way to use a behavioral model of the world to predict which options in front of you are most likely to steer you. If you’re a finance company, it’s a way of bundling derivatives in such a way that somebody else is holding the risk. It’s almost a cryptographic effort. If you’re an insurance company, it’s a way of calculating how to divide populations so you insure the people who least need to be insured. In all these cases, a giant computer calculates an advantage for yourself and you get a global perspective that overwhelms the local advantage that participants in the market might have had before.

Been: In the book, you call Craigslist a Siren Server, one that “created a service that has greatly increased convenience for ordinary people, while causing a crisis in local journalism that once relied on paid classified adds.” You write that it “has a tragic quality, since it is as modest and ethical as it can be, eschewing available spying opportunities, and yet it still functions as a Siren Server despite that.” So a Siren Server, in your mind, isn’t necessarily always a malevolent construction.
Lanier: That’s true. I don’t think there’s much in the way of evil or competitive intent. It’s the power of having one of the biggest computers. When you suddenly get power by surprise, it’s a seduction. You don’t realize that other people are being hurt. But if it wasn’t Craigslist, it would have been something else. Some computer gets a global perspective on everything and the local advantage goes away. Craigslist calculated away the local advantage that newspapers used to have.
Been: So far, the reviews of Who Owns the Future? have been largely positive. But in The Washington Post, Evgeny Morozov criticized it by saying “Lanier’s proposal raises two questions that he never fully confronts.” One being whether a nanopayment system would actually help the middle class once automation hits its tipping point. He cites cab drivers being replaced by self-driving cars and says: “Unless cabdrivers have directly contributed to the making of maps used by self-driving cars, it’s hard to see how a royalty-like system can be justified.”
Lanier: This has to do with the value of information. In the book I ask this very question — in the future, in the case of self-driving cars, it’s certainly true that once you’ve been through the streets once, why do it again? The reason is that they’re changing. There might be potholes, or there might be changes to local traffic laws and traffic patterns. The world is dynamic. So over time, maps of streets that need cars to drive on them will need to be updated. The way self-driving cars work is big data. It’s not some brilliant artificial brain that knows how to drive a car. It’s that the streets are digitized in great detail.

So where does the data come from? To a degree, from automated cameras. But no matter where it comes from, at the bottom of the chain there will be someone operating it. It’s not really automated. Whoever that is — maybe somebody wearing Google Glass on their head that sees a new pothole, or somebody on their bike that sees it — only a few people will pick up that data. At that point, when the data becomes rarified, the value should go up. The updating of the input that is needed is more valuable, per bit, than we imagine it would be today. Cabbies themselves, that’s irrelevant. There won’t be cabbies. They’ll have to be doing other things.

Been: His other question is “how many [online] services would survive his proposed reforms?” Morozov brings up Wikipedia and says the “introduction of monetary incentives would probably affect authors’ motivation. Wikipedia the nonprofit attracts far more of them than would Wikipedia the startup.”
Lanier: But in what I’m proposing, Wikipedia would not pay you — it would be a person-to-person thing. I’m proposing that there’s no shop and people are paying each other when they create things like Wikipedia. Which is very different. If it’s going through a central hub, it creates a very narrow range of winners. If it’s not, it’s a whole different story.

The online services that would survive would be the ones that can add value to the data that people are providing anyway. Instagram could perhaps charge to do cool effects on your pictures, but the mere connections between you and other people would not be billable, it would just be normal. People would pay each other for that. The services would have to do more now than they are. A lot of services are just gatekeepers and would not survive and they shouldn’t. It would force people to up their game.

Been: Speaking of upping one’s game, you get a strong sense throughout the book that you think society is no longer future-minded. Towards the end, you write that you “miss the future.” What do you mean by that statement?
Lanier: It seems that there’s a loss of ambition or a lowering of standards for what we should expect from the future. We hyped up things like being able to network — and we understood it was a step on a path — but these days I call the open-source idea the MSG of journalism.

An example would be this: Take some story that would be totally boring, like garbage bags are being left on the street. But if you say, “open-source software is being used to track garbage bags on the street,” there’s something about it that it makes it seem interesting. And that makes it a low bar for what seems interesting. A very unambitious idea of what innovation can be.

Photo of Jaron Lanier by Dan Farber used under a Creative Commons license.

August 20 2012

17:39

Stanford tool unlocks patterns in email dumps

Thanks to a chance encounter, the researcher behind an email archive analysis tool developed at Stanford's computer science department is finding ways to help investigative journalists dive into massive public record dumps. Read More »

July 06 2011

21:26

Hulu closing in on 1 million paying customers

Business Insider :: Hulu Plus now has 875,000 paying subscribers according to CEO Jason Kilar. It pales in comparison to Netflix's 23 million subscribers, but considering Hulu is primarily a free ad-supported video site it's not too bad.

Hulu is an online video service that offers hit TV shows, movies and clips in the U.S.

Continue to read Jay Yarow, www.businessinsider.com

March 05 2011

12:36

5 predictions for journalism in 25 years

The following is cross-posted from XCity Magazine, the student magazine for City University, where I teach online journalism. They asked me to look ahead 25 years. I barely think you can look five years ahead at the moment, but I agreed anyway. This is, of course, not meant to be taken seriously…

If you’d asked someone in 1986 to predict what journalism would be like now, you would have ended up with Michael J Fox playing a techno-draped future hack. In a flying car. And lots of fluorescent pink.

We have a tendency to cast the future as an exaggerated present. We give too much power to technology, and not enough to people. Any prediction I can come up with for 25 years’ time will, of course, say more about 2011 than 2036.

But there’s nothing like a challenge…

Prediction 1: People will still be predicting the death of newspapers

People have predicted the death of newspapers for as long as newspapers have faced competition from other media. But newspapers survive – not because they are a profitable business (although many have enjoyed enormous margins in the past), but because they offer benefits beyond the revenue from advertising and cover price.

Influence and status are hard to buy. As long as newspapers offer either, there will be proprietors willing to make a loss on the balance sheet, for benefits elsewhere.

Prediction 2: Prices will head in opposite directions

The launch of ShortList in 2007 will increasingly be seen as a turning point in the publishing industry. The magazine and its sister titles – along with the rise of free content online – have helped pioneer a change in the attitudes of advertisers to free titles. The Evening Standard has helped cement that. Free no longer means poor quality, or low engagement.

But there will be no such thing as a free lunch: ‘free’ content will actually be paid for with the customer’s information – the swipe of a loyalty card (or your mere presence) will confirm that. There will be a major role for an organisation like Amazon, Facebook or Tesco in these transactions – or equally likely, a new entrant. It could also involve Apple – but only after Steve Jobs leaves. Some of these companies may even buy publishers as a way to get more customer data.

Meanwhile, publishers will continue to push prices in the other direction – converting the newspaper from tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapping to a luxury product, where you are buying access to an exclusive club as much as the content itself.

Prediction 3: Journalism will be more like a musician’s career than a job-for-life

The casualisation of employment generally is a trend that pre-dates the internet, and there’s nothing to suggest that will not continue – especially as it can be facilitated by internet technologies.

The idea that once upon a time people did not publish any journalism until they were hired by a news organisation will seem incredible by 2036. By then, the industry may well resemble the music industry of a decade ago, where you were expected to build a fan-base through regular gigging.

So here’s a fantastical picture of a newspaper’s recruitment team in 25 years’ time: a veritable A&R department, scouring social media to see if they can pluck the next rising star before their competitors do.

But that won’t be the end of the story: as news becomes increasingly tied to the reputations and networks of those who produce it, an increasing number of journalists will use the move to a major publisher as a stepping stone to their own independent niche news operations.

Prediction 4: There will be no single media industry

Talk about journalism in 2011 suffers from a tendency to classify the profession too narrowly. While traditional publishers scale back operations, new startups are hiring. In magazines we’ve seen incredible growth in customer magazines and in-house publishing, and in broadcast there has been an explosion of channels serving a similar need.

By 2036 all of those operations will have matured considerably – and expanded. The transport industry will employ more journalists – directly or indirectly – than The Liverpool Echo. Possibly.

Either way, many organisations and industries will have long ago moved beyond communicating directly with customers, and have begun using content as a way to attract them in the first place. That is, after all, how some newspapers evolved. We can only hope that the next generation of media offers a place for independent journalism, with competition driving quality up.

Prediction 5: Online journalism will become more specialised – and more predictable

The commercial drive in media in 2011 is towards more and more specialist niches (or bigger and bigger networks of those niches). In addition, the skills required to deal with information are becoming more and more varied. From a time when you either typed articles, recorded audio or edited video we are entering a period where you need to be able to do all three and dozens of other things besides.

This is difficult for journalists because the rules of production are not well established, and media literacy is equally immature. But in 25 years, institutions will have explored many different ways of organising their newsrooms and the journalists within them – and settled on better ways of working. This may involve junior reporters who will be expected to work across multiple platforms – but there will also be more senior journalists who are experts in video, data, or the communities they serve.

At the same time, the tools of production will have become much simpler – and the genre more established. It is only in the second decade of online journalism that we are seeing forms native to the medium: audio slideshows, maps, clickable interactives, databases. Those forms will mature and conventions will develop which by 2036 will seem normal – even formulaic.

Set a reminder for 25/02/36

So as I jump in my hover-car to fly off to my next big story (wearing fluorescent pink, of course), I leave my crystal ball behind. Call me back in 25 years when I look forward to laughing my socks off at just how hilariously wrong I’m going to be.

January 18 2011

19:21

6 Predictions For the Music Industry in 2011

The music industry had a wild ride in 2010. Companies came and went, layoffs hit every sector, rapid growth delivered opportunity, and Spotify still didn't launch in the U.S. This year, 2011, should be no different.

Here are some predictions and thoughts about what 2011 may hold for the music industry.

1. A Major Label Shakeup

Screen shot 2011-01-17 at 10.33.20 AM.pngDespite all the talk about the major label system collapsing at any moment, it doesn't seem likely. However, 2011 may finally see a restructuring of assets and brands. EMI has no shortage of financial issues, and the current discussion points to Terra Firma handing them over to Citigroup in the near future. The big assumption is that EMI will be broken up and sold in pieces to the other three majors (Universal, Sony and Warner Bros). Of particular value is EMI's publishing division, and if the piecemeal sale does happen, there may be a fight for this asset. Of course, the other three majors aren't having the smoothest time with cash-flow either, so it remains unclear exactly who can buy what. At minimum, EMI will not look the same at the end of 2011 as it does now.

2. Indie Label Opportunity Grows

All music companies will be focused on streamlining their efforts in 2011. This involves smarter processes, innovative policies, and keeping overhead low. Independent labels typically have had to function with these elements in place from day one; their ability to stay nimble will allow for continued growth opportunity. As business partnerships continue to solidify between content owners and brands, smaller labels will be able to adapt quickly and profit at lower revenue thresholds. This creates a strategic advantage that, if managed properly, will see upward trends on indie label balance sheets.

3. Streaming Services Reach Critical Mass

spotifylogo.pngIn 2011, someone will become the Apple of streaming -- perhaps Apple itself. Consumers are getting closer and closer to accepting renting over owning content. Companies such as MOG, Rdio, Spotify, and Rhapsody are poised to capitalize on this. With good timing, savvy marketing, and clear messaging that succinctly communicates the benefits, a streaming music provider can easily take the leading role in this race. The safe money seems to be on Apple (in part thanks to the Lala acquisition), but the other contenders are quite serious and finding the level of funding necessary to compete. This sector is also making major moves into mobile and car audio; these additional distribution avenues only strengthen the push toward widespread adoption.

4. Free Continues Moving Upwards

"Free" has been a highly debated concept. One side states that the awareness and data capture free provides can be converted to sales over time. The opposition feels that free devalues content and sets the wrong precedent. The truth may lie somewhere in the middle, but it is clear that with the volume of free content (legal and otherwise) one has to be giving something away simply to stay competitive. This line of thinking is nothing new, but it has finally permeated the companies and artists at the top. The majors and superstars have relaxed their policies on free (especially when paired with data capture) and that trend will continue. This will happen in parallel with efforts to find techniques to convert free to paying -- a critical element to make this model work.

5. The Essential Toolkit Solidifies

Screen shot 2011-01-17 at 10.35.31 AM.pngDigital marketers have an almost endless supply of new technology and techniques to try. However, over the past 18 months, many have faded away or a best-of-breed front-runner has emerged. In 2011 we will see this continue as it becomes more clear which technologies and techniques provide real value. In 2010, it became easy (and essential) to track true performance metrics; marketers now have multiple tools to evaluate effectiveness based on conversion, data capture, sentiment, and engagement. This analysis is helping define where to focus efforts -- and that is helping digital music marketing become a more precise practice.

Companies with momentum in the digital marketing toolkit space include Topspin, Bandcamp, Nimbit, Rockdex, NextBigSound, Rootmusic, SoundCloud, Buzzdeck, Artistdata, Mozes, and the ever-essential Google Analytics. Let's also not forget the mainstays -- Twitter, Facebook, and email-marketing platforms such as ExactTarget, Mailchimp and Constant Contact.

6. The Net Neutrality Debate Continues

The positions and arguments haven't changed much, but the Net neutrality discussion (particularly at the government level) has accelerated. In late December, the FCC approved rules that enable mobile carriers to regulate application use. Many members of Congress have already stated they will fight this by creating a new law. This debate is still far from over; expect heated discussion all year long.

In many ways 2011 won't look much different than 2010. The music industry is still suffering from steep declines and is still building strategies and systems to counteract this. The key words moving forward are innovation and experimentation; most people have accepted the fact that we cannot force consumers to behave as they did in the past. Instead, we must seek to better understand our audience, foster stronger communication, and be willing to take leaps of faith on a regular basis.

*****

What predictions do you have for the music industry in 2011? Please share them in the comments.

Jason Feinberg is vice president, direct to consumer marketing for Concord Music Group. He is responsible for digital and physical direct-to-fan solutions for CMG's frontline and catalog including the Rounder, Fantasy and Stax labels. Recent campaigns include Paul Simon, Allison Krauss, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Carole King/James Taylor, and Crowded House. Follow Jason on Twitter @otmg

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December 10 2010

18:22

Teleprompters…

Courtesy Creative Commons

Somehow I’ve always taken teleprompters for granted. Never had to deal with them myself ’cause I always worked wild and free in the field and rarely inside the confines of the station. But they are there and used daily, by anchors on news sets and by glassy eyed wanna-bes elsewhere. Heck, even the President uses it daily. And with today’s complex stories and the need to get facts straight, they are becoming part of the VJ’s toolkit.

What exactly IS a teleprompter? Well, first let’s break the word down into its roots. Tele means distant or far. Prompter refers to a person who is offstage reading a play from a book, providing the actors (talent) with their lines. Thus a teleprompter is something that provides lines or information from a distance.

However in these highly technological times we really don’t want someone offstage passing along forgotten lines in a harsh stage whisper. So we resort to a printed script projected where the speaker can see and read it at his or her own pace.

There are usually two parts to this distance prompter. Hardware and software. Below I’ll review some inexpensive or free options for both, as well as link to some pro gear sites.

Now the easiest way to prompt from a distance is with plain old paper and markers. Get a big sheet of paper (or a white board) and write down your script. Then, when ready, hold up the paper out of sight of the audience so the speaker can read along. Problem with that is the speaker must look over towards the script…and if the “teleprompter” is hidden from the audience, then he will be looking away from them. Makes it kinda obvious. And if you’re taping, from the camera’s perspective, she will be looking off screen – and THAT will make the speaker look shifty-eyed.

Next best is a desktop or laptop with software loaded…either sitting near the camera or even on the desk in front of the talent. A bit better, but there is still the problem of talent not looking directly at the camera lens. Actually the laptop on the desk is workable because an audience watching would realize and accept that the talent is checking either a script or facts.

So the next level is a combination of hardware and software that allows the image to be projected onto a surface that only the speaker can see. I’m going to skip how it is done for public speakers (think Presidential), but the concept is pretty much the same, although without a camera.

So – hardware first. We’ll assume you already have the necessary gear – a camera, mike, lights and talent. Your hardware will cost you anything from a few dollars to as much as you care to spend.

My choice is always to check out low end first.

Here’s an example: PromptDog’s do it yourself teleprompter plan. For this you’ll need a cardboard box, flatscreen monitor (your laptop lcd should do fine), glass or acrylic, black fabric, and a few other items. PromptDog suggests you feed from your computer to a flatscreen in the box so you can control the pacing of the words…but you could also position your laptop in there and use a remote. No estimated cost give, but since the main cost is the glass, maybe under $25.00. For some reason the diagram on the main page shows half-silvered glass but that is specified in the actual plan. You want one-way glass so the camera can see through it while the talent reads from the other side. Oh – and you also get a discount coupon for PromptDog’s software with the plans.

And <a href="

“>here’s a video for another plan. It’s kind of bulky and only good for in-house use.

For other plans just Google “teleprompter plans.” One of the results that came up was Top Twenty site that gave even more options, one of which is Teleprompter Mirrors. On this site you can get prompters, plans, and even free software.

You can also buy the prompters, again costing from around one hundred dollars and up. One of the low end prompters I’m tempted to try is the QuickPrompt from telepromptermirrors.com. The price is right and it seems simple to set up and use.

And here’s just a list of sites I found that look interesting enough to research:

Bodelin
prompterpeople
teleprompters.com

Once you get past the hardware, you’ll need software. Many of the hardware site have links to free or for-pay software. Below are some that I’ve used.

VideoCue Pro, Prompt 7 Lite, MirrorScript Pro

There are dozens more out there…from freeware to shareware to full scale full cost applications. Here’s one suggested by 10,000words.

How to choose? You want a few basics, which include

1. Ability to type lengthy scripts (some of the shareware or freeware may have limited abilities here)
2. Choice of white on black or black on white. Color does NOT matter here. Oh – and with BIG clear font choices. You want your talent to be able to see the type from a distance of anywhere from four or five feet to maybe up to ten or fifteen feet.
3. Ability to control speed of your content. Either you or (preferably) your talent needs to be able to control the speed of the type as it scrolls up the page so that they can read at a natural pace.

And finally…once you have it all together…PRACTICE. That glassy-eyed look you see with some inexperienced on-air folks doesn’t mean they are stoned or their minds are wandering. It means that, despite the hardware and software that are meant to make them look like pros, they HAVE NOT PRACTICED. And they are reading word for word directly off the prompter and not looking beyond the prompter into the lens and at their audience. The teleprompter is exactly that – a distance aid to help on-air, on-camera folks who have already familiarized themselves with the script, present their lines accurately.

BTW: if you have favorites or suggestions, add them to the comments below. I know I’ve just barely skimmed the surface here.


November 24 2010

00:33

Feather: Aviary’s HTML5 Photo Editor

Here’s something fun and educational: Feather, an embeddable, lightweight HTML5 photo editor by Aviary. For user instructions, see the Goodle doc.

Want your own? Get the APIkey and auto-generated code from Aviary.com

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October 18 2010

18:15

Newspapers Must Consider More Free, Citizen Media Content

Newspapers can be saved and they can get back to delivering a consistent return on capital to investors, but this can't be achieved using old methods. At CRG Partners, our experience working with newspaper companies in the U.S. and U.K. has shown us that publishers and their executive management seem to believe that traditional cost-cutting methods of layoffs, smaller and thinner papers and lower salaries represent all of the savings that they can generate out of their operations. That's not the case.

One of the myriad problems facing publishers and editors is that, while their resources have been halved or more and they have drastically cut staff and operations, they still face the need to create valuable, compelling and most importantly, local news and features.

One publisher told our firm, "In order to survive we have to be able to generate non-commodity hyper-local content that is relevant and at a cost that allows us to remain competitive and profitable."

Content costs represent between 35 and 45 percent of the cost of producing a newspaper, so the question becomes: How can we cut costs in content and still deliver quality? In order to approach the question correctly, publishers need better information about how they source content -- which content comes from what sources, how it is used, and how much it costs. Content sourcing is one of the area where newspaper publishers and other content-driven organizations can realize real cost savings and prepare their organizations for the new world of publishing.

Maintaining Quality Amid Economic Realities

In reality, publishers and CEOs have little understanding about what their editors are doing. Publishers don't know the relevance of the cost of staff-produced content, paid content from syndicates, wire services and shared or free contributed content and associated editing costs. If they can get a handle on this, they can do a better job figuring out the cost/quality equation for print, online and beyond.

Without change, the opportunity to reduce costs without impacting quality is probably limited. How to build a better model? When you are working towards more efficient content sourcing, you have to ask the right questions:

  1. Is there an alternative content gathering model or a more efficient model that will help to reduce costs without negatively impacting quality?
  2. Can we improve our content gathering model without any need for change?
  3. How good are we at sharing content?
  4. How much copy is rewritten?
  5. Can we increase pro bono content and is there a strategy in place to facilitate this?

Metro dailies spend large sums on Associated Press and wire content while also maintaining significant local staffing levels. Based on our experience working with these types of publishers, the problem is that the expenditures often don't match the way content is used. Additionally, the way content is used varies wildly by title. A content sourcing analysis can reveal sometimes startling mismatches between editorial expenditure and the way content is used.

Some content is national or international in nature and, in our view, don't need to be staff-produced. Those cases include national and international reports, movie reviews, celebrity news, travel and many lifestyle features. Staff photography can be moved to the first few pages of a section and wire service or contributed photos used further inside. Layers of copyediting can be reduced.

Free or contributed content is a small but growing source of the newspaper offering. Metro dailies have so far rejected the large amount of free content that is available due to concerns about quality, editorial independence and ethics. In this day and age, however, it is wrong to believe that the quality of content you can get from free or archived material or bloggers is unusable.

I'm not advocating that companies move to relying upon citizen journalism as a solution to the metro daily content sourcing puzzle. But certain areas -- high school sports, local government and education, for example -- can rely upon content produced by unpaid contributors who work within specified editorial policies. They can fit into the overall editorial sourcing solution. The best-producing, most popular journalists still have roles in the new model by producing relevant, non-commodity local news that differentiates the metro daily. They are needed now more than ever. New media still stands on the shoulders of old media.

Content Sourcing Data

Over the past year, our firm analyzed four newspaper chains representing 300 titles.
The below graphic illustrates what we found when we looked at how a group of U.K. newspapers were sourcing content (I share some U.S. data below it). Each letter on the left hand side represents a newspaper in the U.K. that has experienced downturns in circulation and revenue. The percentages illustrate how papers within the same chain use content in very different ways:

CRG_media_graphic3-1.jpg

At a different newspaper company, we found that 125 papers published an average of 37 percent staff-written articles and 29 percent wire service material. What we called "reworked content," or content that had to be rewritten or heavily edited, accounted for 14 percent of what was published. Shared content from sister publications was just 8 percent, while free, or contributed content, represented 5 percent of published content.

These papers had already undergone extensive staff reductions. In the conventional sense, all the costs had been wrung out. But newspapers have to change the way they think in order to survive. If you've wrung out all the costs you can from the existing content creation model, then it's time to change the model itself. One paper printed 8 percent of its material from free content. If that number moved up to 20 percent, the savings can be measured and monetized. In the case of this client, a reduction of the use of 16 percent of staff-produced material led to a savings of 28 percent in staffing costs.

Although the program has been implemented for 2010-2011, actual results aren't in yet. At this point, the editorial changes have been accepted and circulation is holding steady. If all goes according to plan, a total of $4.3 million more in savings will be realized. None of that could be accomplished by an editorial system that doesn't understand what it costs to produce a newspaper. It's high time for a content sourcing change in this industry.

As part of New York-based CRG Partners, Neil Heyside (neil.heyside@crgpartners.com) has more than 20 years of experience in process improvement, change management and operational reengineering in the U.K., U.S., Europe and South Africa. CRG Partners received the 2010 Turnaround Management Association's (TMA's) Mega Company Turnaround Award and was named Turnaround Consulting Firm of the Year by M&A Advisor. He can be reached at 212.370.5550.

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August 27 2010

23:36

4 Minute Roundup: Google Offers Free Calls via Gmail

news21 small.jpg

4MR 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.

In this week's 4MR podcast I look at the recently launched free phone service from Google through Gmail. Undercutting Skype and other VoIP services (not to mention landlines), Google is letting people call from their computer to anywhere in the U.S. or Canada for free, and charging low international rates. What's in it for Google? I spoke to tech pundit and Computerworld contributor Mitch Wagner to learn more.

Check it out:

bareaudio82710.mp3

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Listen to my entire interview with Mitch Wagner:

wagner full.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:

Call Phones from Gmail at Google

Six Things Google's Free Phone Service Can't Do at NY Times

Gmail call feature a ringing success, a million times over at Christian Science Monitor

How to make calls using Gmail at CNET

Google reportedly adding voice calling to Gmail at Computerworld

Gmail Voice Is About Future Search, Not Free Calls at Gizmodo

Gmail's now in the phone biz. Trouble for carriers down the road? at Sprint Connection blog

Google continues the assault on the price of a phone call at Washington Post

Google adds free phone calls to Gmail, wow at Seattle Times

Google Voice phone booths Dr. Who might love at News.com

Google introduces Gmail-linked phone service at SF Chronicle

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about what you think the future of the landline will be:




What's the future of the landline telephone?Market Research

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.

news21 small.jpg

4MR 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.

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