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June 26 2013

18:25

Twitter’s planning new ways to “cover” live events

Sarah Perez at TechCrunch reports that Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said the platform was working on “better ways to filter the ‘signal from the noise’ during live events, including something he referred to as a ‘DVR mode.’”

“That ability to track and monitor the moments within an event, either as they happen or to catch up with them, is something we want to enhance,” said Costolo. “We want to make that experience even better, curating the moments within the event, the media from it, and making it that much easier to navigate”…

“We’re not in the business of synthesizing and analyzing,” he said of the data on Twitter. “It’s the journalists and the news organizations in the world who will take all this info and analyze and curate it as they’ve always done,” he explained.

To address the signal from the noise problem, Twitter is experimenting with a new live events tool that aims to keep that “roar of the crowd,” while still highlighting the key moments. Right now, keeping track of live events on Twitter is very basic — you’re essentially just following the tweets in reverse chronological order, the CEO explained.

It’s another instance of the eternal web tension between what’s latest and what’s most interesting. I’m curious to see what they come up with.

June 24 2013

00:11

GroupM’s Norman: Advertisers Must Embrace the “Stream” With Quick Content

CANNES — Advertising group GroupM’s chief digital officer thinks the top challenge for marketers is to insert themselves in new platforms like Twitter and Facebook that are all about chronologically-ordered, stream-based real-time media consumption.

“Every time the distribution channels change – and the stream is a new distribution channel -  typically the manufacturing problem changes as well,” Rob Norman told Beet.TV during this fascinating discussion at the Cannes Lions advertiser conflab

“If the … six-second commercial in Vine is going to be the short-form video … the manufacturing side of the business has to think very carefully about what does creativity look like in a light-touch way, as opposed to the heavier touch of the 60- or 30-second ad.

“There is this absolute tsunami of content about simple arresting quick-to-consume, quick-to-understand visual imagery that is running all over people’s Facebook page posts…

“If you set the bar of ‘What am I going to do that engages people in a second and persuade them to made them an engagement-related reaction to it?’, that’s a terrific creative challenge.”

We interviewed Norman on Friday at the Cannes Lions festival.

June 21 2013

14:27

Pinned: Story trailers, a notable narrative, writers on rejection, writers on Twitter, Michael Hastings’ tips for young journalists

Pinned this week, for your storytelling pleasure:

Inspired: Story trailers. Esquire made not one but two (a 46- and 20-second version) for Chris Jones’ “Animals,” a taut narrative about the Zanesville, Ohio, zoo massacre. And Georgia’s Macon Telegraph just launched one for “Searching for Shorty: The murder of an unknown man,” a narrative coming this Sunday by enterprise reporters Amy Leigh Womack and Joe Kovac Jr.:

Kovac makes these himself. We asked him how he does it, and why, and here’s what he told us yesterday:

This was actually the third “trailer” I’ve done for stories in the past year and a half. They’re all fairly pedestrian, done with half-a-decade-old iMovie software on the Mac in my kitchen. (Not low-budget, but rather no-budget.) “Killing in the Country: The Death of Trevorius Thomas,” for instance, incorporates audio I recorded on my iPhone at the funeral; I used a photo I snapped at the scene as the backdrop. I made “Phantom on Emery Highway“ on a Sunday night. I filmed it through an open sunroof with a point-and-shoot camera. The idea was to follow the same route that police thought the hit-and-run driver took. Which I did. The clip ends at the spot where the man was killed. I had hoped to film it at 3:30 a.m. to capture an accurate depiction of what the traffic might have been like when the man was run over. But I figured late on a Sunday was good enough. I’ve tried to be as careful as I can on these not to go over the top with the effects and bells and whistles that iMovie offers. As a novice on video, I think sometimes there’s an urge to “use all the toys.” I’ve tried to keep the trailers simple. As we might say in a print newsroom, Write it straight.

Joe Kovac Jr.

Joe Kovac Jr.

I’m pretty much a shade-tree mechanic when it comes to video. At best. I can write “grabber” copy well enough and I think that’s why I use it instead of voiceovers. I’ve made most of these in my spare time, off the clock. But I’ve found that distilling a 5,000-word story into a minute or so of video really makes you focus as a writer. On “Killing in the Country,” about a drug deal gone bad, I made the trailer the weekend before I started writing. It was agonizing, tedious, making the text match the sound, learning the iMovie ropes trial and error. So much of it is timing. But bottom line, it forces you to find the heart of the story. But again, low-budget as it may look, it was painstaking. The “Killing in the Country” clip took … well, let’s just say longer than I’d have liked. Hours.

I wouldn’t want to do trailers on everyday features, but on a piece I’ve spent a few weeks or months reporting it can be worth it. The hope, of course, is that the videos will drive readers to our site for the stories. Hard to gauge whether it works. It’s still kind of cool.

Notable narrativesThe Washington Post’s Stephanie McCrummen wrote a remarkable piece recently about a mother, a son and schizophrenia. A passage:

It has been 10 years since he began thinking his classmates were whispering about him, four years since he started feeling angry all the time, and two years since he first told a doctor he was hearing imaginary voices. It has been 20 months since he was told he had a form of schizophrenia, and 15 months since he swallowed three bottles of Benadryl and laid down to die, after which he had gotten better, and worse and, for a while, better again, or so Naomi had thought until an hour ago, when they were in the therapist’s office and Spencer said that his head was feeling “cloudy.” 

“Wait —” she said, interrupting. “You described it as a cloudy feeling?”

Cloudy was the big, flying red flag that she had learned to dread. It might simply be a side effect of one of his five medications. But it could also be the quiet beginning of her firstborn son falling apart again, of hallucinations, or a dive into depression, or some other dimension of his illness that Naomi has yet to fathom.

“Yeah,” Spencer said. “Cloudy. It feels like these winds are blowing inside my head.”

Inspired, Part 2: Twelve famous writers on rejection, which in this fractious writing universe appears applicable across disciplines (“To ward off a feeling of failure, she joked that she could wallpaper her bathroom with rejection slips, which she chose not to see as messages to stop, but rather as tickets to the game.”—Anita Shreve) and Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, a new book about the habits of 161 creative minds. From the website of the author, Mason Currey:

Here are: Anthony Trollope, who demanded of himself 3,000 words each morning (250 words every 15 minutes for three hours) before going off to his job at the postal service, which he kept for 33 years during the writing of more than two dozen books; George Balanchine, who liked to do his own laundry and who did most of his “work” while ironing; George Gershwin, who worked for 12 hours a day, from late morning to midnight, composing at the piano in pajamas, bathrobe, and slippers.

Recommended: At NewYorker.com, Thomas Beller wrote about writers and Twitter:

Writing on Twitter brings the energy of a début to every phrase. You could say it imbues writing with a sense of performance, though writing has always involved performance in the sense of performance anxiety. The question for the writer who is leaving multiple pages crumpled on the floor—literally or figuratively—is for whom is that line, or paragraph, unsatisfactory? Who is the appraiser of one’s own unpublished, or even unwritten, work?

The editor Ted Solotaroff wrote an essay called “A Few Good Voices In My Head,” in which he talked about managing this feeling of having an audience. His prescription is summed up in his title: a couple of trusted voices with whom a writer will engage in a dialogue—sometimes literally, more often not. Twitter is messing with this equation: I have many more voices in my head than I ever had before.

Cartoontorials: It’s not that big a deal but really, people, isn’t it time to stop double-spacing after a period in your first drafts? The typewriter imperative is over.

GearThese notebooks, spotted by former Arizona Republic reporter Jamiee Rose. Not so great for reporting, maybe (we prefer the long narrow classic ones: easily tuckable or back-pocketable), but just fine for sketching out story notes and structures.

In memorium: Let’s just agree that this was one crappy week. Rolling Stone and BuzzFeed reporter Michael Hastings died at 33 in a Los Angeles car crash; the actor James Gandolfini died suddenly at 51, while vacationing in Italy; the Oregonian announced a publishing scale-back plus layoffs and the publisher referred to the newsroom as a “content organization.” (“Kill me,” tweeted Gene Weingarten.) Worth remembering as we shake off a tough one: Hastings’ 10 tips for young journalists, which in the hours after his death circulated widely beyond his year-old reddit AMA. They included:

By the second sentence of a pitch, the entirety of the story should be explained. (In other words, if you can’t come up with a rough headline for your story idea, it’s going to be a challenge to get it published.)

And:

Mainly you really have to love writing and reporting. Like it’s more important to you than anything else in your life–family, friends, social life, whatever. 

Join us on Pinterest for more good stuff, and find the burgeoning “Pinned” archives here.

June 19 2013

11:30

Twitter Is Now The #5 Digital Ad Platform

CANNES – Now that it has turned advertisers on to its marketing tools, Twitter is snapping at the heels of the biggest online ad gorillas, according to industry data.

“When you’re talking about the digital landscape, there are four dominant players that everyone knows – Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft,” ZenithOptimedia global CEO Steve King told Beet.TV in this interview during Cannes Lions.

“Those four companies represent about $49 billion out of the $77 billion of ad spend that’s generated. In fifth place would be Twitter, but still some way behind those companies.”

Twitter has spent the last couple of years implementing its ad propositions including Promoted Tweets. Now, with recent big tie-ups announced with WPP and ZenithOptimedia owner Publicis, Cannes Lions 2013 – and ZenithOptimedia’s data – show Twitter emerging as a major vendor in the space.

“It’s rate of growth is much higher than the other companies - they’re a much more nascent player,” King added.

ZenithOptimedia’s latest advertising forecast again credits growth in social media and online video ad spend as the driver of a 20 percent jump in internet display  expenditure. Those two categories are forecast to pull 30 percent more money this year. Press release and executive summary here.

June 18 2013

18:17

The Times of London has built “The retweeter” to get its journalists to push its stories in social media

We posted a piece this morning on one way The Times of London tried, without much success, to get its (hard-paywalled) content noticed by the non-subscribing world. The paper’s Ben Whitelaw just posted about another.

The idea here is that, with the paywall, the newspaper’s journalists have to do extra-heavy duty promoting stories in social media, because the general web audience can’t be counted on to do it on their behalf. So The Times built a simple tool that, when an important story is published, sends an email to Times reporters asking them to please retweet it:

Owning an story can be hard on social media when you operate a subscription model…We thought about how we could change this and realised that our best weapon was our journalists, each with their own network of followers and fans. But we were asking a lot to expect them to keep track of stories breaking on social media (especially when on deadline) so we knew we needed a way of making it easy for them…

[Developer Alex Muller] then created an HTML template to display a single tweet inside an email, and used Twitter’s Web Intents to add links to simplify the process for journalists and others to retweet — one click in the email, and then one confirmation click on twitter.com to complete the action…

The result of using ‘The retweeter’ is that our big stories reach more people. For example, The Sunday Times Insight team had a big story on lobbying in Westminster which was retweeted by 30 people, most of whom were Sunday Times staff. Twitter analytics showed us that this tweet had reach three times greater than our usual tweets.

Bravo for figuring out a tool to simplify the process, although (a) 30 retweets for the lead Page 1 story for The Sunday Times still seems a little underwhelming, and (b) I imagine promotion by your own journalists, while valuable, can only go so far when your story itself is stuck behind a paywall.

Today's front page: Top Tory in new Lobbygate row http://t.co/3gZHhosFXv #WestminsterforSale pic.twitter.com/0wqf5OuiqK

— The Sunday Times (@thesundaytimes) June 9, 2013

11:56

How do you ensure busy journalists see important tweets? Introducing 'The retweeter'

image

 

Owning an story can be hard on social media when you operate a subscription model. Not all of our followers or fans have access to The Times or The Sunday Times and therefore can’t access the full article when you post a link from an account like @thetimes or @thesundaytimes. This means that people often read a rewritten version of our story on another news site. 

We thought about how we could change this and realised that our best weapon was our journalists, each with their own network of followers and fans. But we were asking a lot to expect them to keep track of stories breaking on social media (especially when on deadline) so we knew we needed a way of making it easy for them.

We enlisted the help of Alex Muller, a clever chap who up until recently for News International’s R&D Labs and now works over at gov.uk. We tasked him to come up with an easy way to send HTML email from company Gmail accounts inside the browser.

Alex used a copy of the Google Apps script available here which prompts the user for a recipient, a subject and gives space to input HTML email. The script authenticates against the Google Apps account you’re currently signed in with, and uses that to send the email.

He then created an HTML template to display a single tweet inside an
email, and used Twitter’s Web Intents to add links to simplify the
process for journalists and others to retweet - one click in the email,
and then one confirmation click on twitter.com to complete the action.

It’s a simple solution to the problem, and manages to sidestep some
headaches with authenticating a third-party application to send email from Gmail (which would have significantly increased the time required for the project).

The result of using ‘The retweeter’ is that our big stories reach more people. For example, The Sunday Times Insight team had a big story on lobbying in Westminster which was retweeted by 30 people, most of whom were Sunday Times staff. Twitter analytics showed us that this tweet had reach three times greater than our usual tweets.

image

So if you see a Times or Sunday Times journalist retweet a big story, there’s a good chance we used ‘The retweeter’ to make it easy for them to do so. We’ll continue to use it on our big stories and perhaps look at developing a similar version for other networks where we see an opportunity. 

Thanks for reading.

- @benwhitelaw

June 17 2013

18:34

Whitey Bulger: the Twitter trial narrative, by the Boston Globe’s Kevin Cullen

The Boston Globe’s Kevin Cullen isn’t just live-tweeting the epic Whitey Bulger trial, he’s telling a true Twitter narrative. We’ve Storified his version of today’s proceedings, from the “All rise” until 12:57 p.m., when testimony broke for the day. In case you haven’t been following: On the stand today was prosecution witness John Martorano, an ex-hit man who killed at least 20 people, spent only 12 years in prison and then turned on Bulger, declining a spot in the federal witness protection program. The Globe’s Shelley Murphy, John Ellement and Milton Valencia wrote:

0

Whitey Bulger

(Martorano) called (Bulger and and cohort Stephen ‘The Rifleman’ Flemmi) “my partners in crime, my best friends, my children’s godfathers.’’

Martorano said he decided to testify against Bulger, Flemmi, and corrupt FBI agent John Connolly after learning that Bulger and Flemmi were informants for the FBI, handled by Connolly, during their criminal exploits.

“After I found out they were informants, it sort of broke my heart,’’ Martorano testified. “They broke all trust that we had, all loyalty.’’

Kevin Cullen

Kevin Cullen

Today’s testimony also covered the nervous breakdown of a retired bookie “Dickie” O’Brien’s daughter, Tara, who once had to meet with Bulger and Flemmi about keeping her father’s business running. The Globe’s reporters are all live-blogging the trial, but have a look at how Cullen’s tweets hold up as a standalone Twitter narrative. There’s cumulative arc (onward pushes the story of how the hit man says the crime boss operated), plus dialogue, narrative tension, detail, description — pretty hard to pull off in a 132-character tweet. (The #Bulger and, usually, a space, eat eight.) The tweets are written. They have voice. You know you’re in the hands of a storyteller with:

Followed Indian Al’s Mercedes, pulled alongside and Johnny and Howie opened fire. “We gave him a broadside,” Johnny says.

And:

Nicky Femia got six machine guns for them in New York. Southie and Somerville split the guns. “Whitey and his gang.”

And:

“I walked in and shot him,” Johnny says. “We had to get someone to bury him.” Joe Mac and Jimmy Sims were the men for the job.

Cullen is tweeting from his iPad and emailed us a few minutes ago to say he’s been working mostly from the overflow press courtroom, “which has a camera that shows the witnesses and Whitey alternatively. It’s actually much better for my purposes to be in the overflow room, where I can sit at a table and tweet quicker and see more of the courtroom, and see the faces of the defendant and the witnesses and lawyers.”

Read our full Storify here:

Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 1.24.10 PM

 

Cullen is a Globe Metro columnist and an alum of the Foreign desk and Spotlight team, and worked on the investigative team whose 2003 coverage of the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal won a Pulitzer Prize. He is the author, with Shelley Murphy, of Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt that Brought Him to Justice. He’s a former Nieman Fellow at Harvard. You can follow him at @GlobeCullen.

 

 

 

09:48

Monday Q&A: Designer David Wright, departing NPR for Twitter, has just one favor to ask

David Wright is an award-winning designer who, in his time at NPR, worked on everything from their mobile music platform to NPR’s homepage design. Wright has spent a lot of time sharing his design philosophy with the news world, trying to explain how he built what he built, but also trying to make news managers understand the importance of making design a priority early on.

But now, Wright is leaving the news world behind — sort of. He’ll be moving over to Twitter, to work with what he considers an all-star team of web platform designers. (He joins API whiz Daniel Jacobson, now at Netflix, as NPR talent to move to prominent positions in the technology world — not the most common path.) Though not entirely sure what projects he’ll be working on, Wright says he has a lot of big ideas for simplifying Twitter and making it a bigger part of a variety of websites. And while he won’t be working in a newsroom anymore, Wright predicts he’ll learn a lot about how people are sharing and consuming information that could, down the road, be of great value to publishers.

Days before his final departure, we chatted about building platforms for distribution of audio, narrowcasting, Twitter on steroids, and World War II-era telephone operators.

O’Donovan: So! Obviously, there’s a lot of exciting stuff going on for you. How does it feel to be packing up and heading out of NPR?
Wright: I think that I have not yet realized how hard it will be for me to walk out of this building on Friday afternoon.

There’s a lot of really amazing stuff going on here, and it’s bittersweet because I’ve been really excited about what we’ve done here, and I don’t know if I really realize what it will be like to leave some of this amazing work unfinished.

O’Donovan: What are some of the bigger projects that are hanging out there, that you’re passing on? How do you and with whom do you hope to see them completed?
Wright: Well, that they will be completed is not really a question. They will be. The big ones that are going on right now are — the most obvious one is we’re in the midst of a fully responsive redesign of NPR.org that we began last fall and are picking away at, section by section. We’ve recently launched the small screen version of a redesigned and rethought homepage, and soon we’ll be releasing that to more viewports and moving on to the rest of the important pages, not just NPR.org. So that’s exciting. And I think in many ways the team is moving at a breakneck pace and I’ll be excited when the whole site kind of is finally launched in this unified rethought visual vocabulary. It’s amazing work, I”m super proud of it and the team that’s in the trench right now.

The other one that’s cool is one we haven’t really launched publicly yet, but we’re thinking a lot about what a reimagined kind of radio experience would feel like — taking some of the best of on-demand pieces that we know and love from services like Rdio and Spotify and Pandora and thinking about how public radio fits into that picture. So a lot of experiments that we’re taking small steps with. It’ll make me sad to not really be as involved with those anymore.

O’Donovan: The last couple years, you’ve spoken a lot about how you think about design and the fact that it’s different from storytelling. Can you talk a little about how — and I know it’s obviously been a dynamic experience — how your philosophy there has changed over time and if there are any big elements of it that have changed since you started?
Wright: I think that obviously the more that I’ve worked with what has become here, over the time that I’ve worked at NPR, the product team has really become a — I thought we were pretty high performing when I got here, but the kind of talent that we’ve been able to add to the team, and the methods and the processes that we use to create digital products has become more and more refined over time. I think that it’s fair to say that any of my thoughts that I’ve shared publicly are certainly the synthesis of my ideas, but they’re so greatly informed by the amazing people that I’ve worked with here.

So I think as we’ve gotten better at making stuff, my thoughts and how we could refine the process has really gotten a bit more sharp. But I think what’s most fascinating, and maybe what I’m most proud of leaving this building, is to be able to look back and see what an important part design has been able to play in the making of products here. I think it’s easy for lots of people to recognize that it is an important ingredient, but sometimes it’s hard to get an organization to understand why that is, and I’m really fortunate to have had a lot of really willing people here at NPR who’ve heard that message and have really embraced it. I think that’s changed a lot as we’ve sort of matured on our own, and our own understanding of what makes good products, we’ve really been able to convince a lot of folks here that design is really at the core of helping us figure out what problems to solve and how to solve them and most importantly how to solve them well.

O’Donovan: One of the questions I had for you was: How do you explain to management or people who are really editorially focused the importance of design? You’ve said that it’s the number one problem journalism is facing. Do you still feel that way? And for people who are struggling to make that clear, how would you advise them?
Wright: I think without calling out any specific products that are out there, I think we can all say that we’ve used and experienced journalism on platforms and in different situations that were less than satisfying, and I think just being pretty unbiased about what we think makes a good experience and what we think makes a great experience and what we think makes a terrible experience. They’re easy cases to show. Do we want to be more like this, or do we want to be like this? Nobody argues with the fact that everybody wants to create a good experience, but I think the most important thing that we as design thinkers can do is help explain how design is not really something that is an option.

If you want to create a good product, it can’t be a condition — it has to be something that is an absolute. You must include it, in order to create efficiencies, in your process, and make things that are fantastic and meaningful to people and beautiful and useful. It’s really about calling out these examples and saying: Here’s a perfect case where work design was involved from the beginning and it made this product better. And whether you’re editorial, or you’re a manager or a coder or a designer, you can look at those and from a pretty unbiased point of view say, Yes, you’re right, that’s better because design was involved.

O’Donovan: So, and you can explain to me the extent to which this is accurate, but assuming that you’re taking a step away from designing for news, as you look farther down the road, for people who are still in it, what are the next major hurdles? If you were still working for NPR, what would be the next areas you wanted to tackle?
Wright: I think NPR is a bit of an interesting animal, only because the kind of content that we deal with is a little bit different given how audio-centric much of what we do is. But I think it’s going to be really interesting for organizations who are wrestling with really getting their content to appear how they want to on many different platforms. I think that’s crucial. If a news organization is really not thinking beyond — I’m stating the obvious here  — if a news organization is not thinking beyond the desktop browser, I think that’s going to become much more problematic in the next coming years.

We’ve been really good at building stories and trying to express what I like to call editorial intention in what viewport size on the desktop. We can go to any one of our home pages, anybody in the news business, you can go to a homepage when it’s a papal conclave story or a Boston marathon or an election night, we know those patterns and we’re good at them. We can reflect them well on the desktop.

I think we have a harder time thinking about how to take what editors can do, what news professionals do, how they express themselves in other places, and separating them from the desktop page. So figuring out ways — news professionals need to express hierarchy and importance of stories and that this one is louder than this one — figuring out ways to make sure that works everywhere, I think is going to be a really big challenge for a lot of organizations, but a very important one to solve.

O’Donovan: You said at one point, I think, that you expected to see NPR rather quickly have a larger audience on mobile than they did for desktop. How close are you to that?
Wright: I think, as far as numbers go, we’re not there yet. But a little bit of that is from the hip and it will be interesting to see if history agrees with my proclamation there. I think there are actually more and more organizations who are being, and I can’t really name any off the top of my head, that have definitely read anecdotally about how mobile traffic is something that is catching up for everyone a lot faster than anyone really would have thought. There’s really no surprise in that. I think that should really be expected. If anyone’s paying any attention to any of our competitors in this space, which they all should be, that’s not a big surprise.

But yeah, I think we’re close — I think that every month we’re really seeing traffic growth across the board and most of our platforms and, on the desktop for sure it’s incremental, but it’s really quite a bit more pronounced on the mobile web for us. And I think it can only continue, given the number of devices and potential people that we can reach.

O’Donovan: You mentioned how NPR has a unique situation because of being predominantly audio focused. But I’ve heard from at least a handful of people that there are people out there who really think that it’s going to become a much more important part of everyone’s strategy, in the same way that we talk about video. But there are definitely people who say that audio will become increasingly important. Do you think that there are in your mind any big design takeaways that people who might be looking to get more into the audio game would want to know about?
Wright: Yeah! I think that. I would certainly not claim that NPR has solved every problem in this space, and in fact, I think if you asked a lot of people here, we still have some pretty major problems to solve in terms of how we distribute audio effectively.

I think that SoundCloud is doing a great job of creating some really interesting innovations in the space. Anybody could look at them and say that seems like a really solid platform for audio distribution. I think, for us, the most important thing is to think about why — the distribution could be anybody’s game and I think that, especially for organizations who aren’t very well resourced, nobody wants to. Just like we don’t all want to rebuild the exact same CMS at great expense and very little gain, I don’t know that everybody just wants to invest in building audio delivery platforms.

But I would say that I think it’s so important ot understand why people gravitate toward audio, the same way they gravitate toward video or photography. What is the recipe, or the formula, that goes into creating compelling audio that matters? I think it has much less to do with design of the experience right now and much more to do with what makes great audio great audio. I think we’ve all been fans of podcasts that are amazing, and there are certainly lots and lots of things not produced by a public radio community that are amazing and that we love. There are lots of things that public radio creates that are amazing and we love. But that has a whole lot more to do with the content than the presentation and delivery. There’s lots of room for innovation there. My best advice to anybody who wanted to get into that game, is to really think a lot about why people love it.

O’Donovan: I was looking over some presentations you’ve given in the past, and one of the things that you emphasize is that, while you haven’t served as a storyteller or journalist at NPR, you have taken away from working around journalists not only the importance but the ease with which it is possible to ask questions and get out there and talk to people about the things you want to know about. So I want to move into talking about your next step at Twitter, and how you see that playing into the rest of your career.
Wright: Anybody who wants to be successful at making products has to be able to draw on all of the places where we are when we’re making things. Often the most important person whose voice is the most important part of your team is the user. We have a lot of really great ethnologists and design thinkers and people who are creating content, but the people who are consuming it are often absent from that conversation. So it’s less about “is this a good idea” or not. I think it’s almost always a good idea at some stage in the process to really incorporate users and listeners into what w’ere making.

Journalists, if they’re not doing it, they should be, because they’re already really good at that. They’re good at talking to people and asking hard questions and figuring out how to get somebody to say something meaningful, even if it’s hard to coax it out of them. It’s a natural fit. So if you’re trying to convince journalists and news organizations that talking to people about what you make is a good idea, it’s easy to tell them by saying, you’ve already done this. You already do this.

As far as the next phase in my career, I’ve fortunately had the great pleasure of working shoulder to shoulder with some really amazing journalists and some really amazing storytellers and some really great reporters, and people who know how to chase stories, and I think I’ll always feel in some way like I’d like to try to harness what I’ve witnessed, a lot of what these talented people do. In my own practice, whether it’s outside of a newsroom or in newsroom, I’d always like to channel that as best I can.

You know, What would David Gilkey do in this scenario? He wouldn’t be shy about approaching this curmudgeonly user? No, he wouldn’t.

O’Donovan: How do you approach the curmudgeonly user? How do you go about getting that opinion?
Wright: At NPR — there’s a million ways that organizations do it, but at NPR we use a mix of what I might really consider three major kinds of audience feedback.

The first one is really kind of faceless and it’s field surveys. We do this the most infrequently, but basically we’ll say we really need to get a handle right now on how we think people are consuming digital news of this sort. We’ll put together a fairly lengthy survey and field it with the understanding that by the time we process the results, they’ll already be a little bit dated. But it gives us a really good snapshot of the time of how many people really listen to NPR, how many people are looking at news sites, how many people are reading newspapers, how many people are watching TV news — getting demographic information about that. We do that pretty infrequently, but it gives us pretty low resolution blocks of people we need to be thinking about and it helps us figure out where opportunities are.

The second kind of testing or conversation that we have really has to do with our ability to have long-term conversations with people about stuff that we make. So existing users of products — we have opportunities that are much more regular than large surveys — opportunities to reach out to people that are on our listener panel, or other people that we can intercept or make callouts in social media and say, “Take five minutes and tell us what you think of this particular feature.” We can ask questions that way. It certainly puts more of a face on things and we can get very specific about product features.

And then the most specific thing we try to do is actually bring real life users into our world and sit down with them and lead them through testing that says, “Hey, we made this thing, it’s kind of half baked, and we want you to use it and tell us what you think about it.” Pretty standard user testing.

O’Donovan: I do want to talk about what’s coming up for you. How much do you know about what you’re doing there, what are you really excited about, what do you hope to see come out of it?
Wright: I wish that I had a lot more information — well, no, I’m fine having a vague sense of what’s going on, but, you know, we know what Twitter is and what Twitter does and it was really exciting for me to be able to visit with that team and learn about the kinds of things that they’re tackling and the things they’ve built and some of the plans they have for the future.

To the extent that I can be specific about what I’ll be working on, what I do know is that I’ll be focused at first on a platform team. I’ll be working with the Twitter for websites team, figuring out interesting ways to make Twitter appear in more places than it does today. The thing that I think I’m most excited about is that I feel like I work with a very talented team at NPR and I know it will be true about the team I’ll be working with at Twitter — just a lot of really smart people that, as a designer, I’ve just really respected and followed a lot in my design career.

To have so many of those people — like Doug Bowman and Mike Davidson, founder of Newsvine — just really smart, smart thinkers who, like I said, are respected web design heroes of mine. I’m really excited to be able to go and solve problems with them, to get up in the morning and go to work and try to figure out how to make Twitter better, which is great. I think that the other part that is a huge selling point for me is, there’s lots of reasons that my family wanted to get to California and be there and be a part of the amazing community that’s happening, and the amazing design community that is part and parcel of the Bay Area.

But for me to leave news is hard. It’s really hard. But what’s interesting is that while I feel like I’ll be leaving journalism, going to work at Twitter, I don’t have to squint very hard to see how involved I still will be in news. I think it’s a really fascinating platform for me to be able, as a user and an observer and a guy who spent a lot of time in newsrooms, who watch what I think this platform could do.

O’Donovan: In the future, how do you see people, specifically journalists but also more broadly, using Twitter differently than they do now? What would you like to build for, for what kind of usage?
Wright: That’s something I’m really looking forward to learning more about as a person on the inside, because I think that even though I’ve spent a considerable amount of time talking with folks there about what they’re trying to build and what they need help building, I still don’t think I have a full enough picture to really know what is even in the realm of possibility. I have lots of sort of fantastic dreams about what could happen, what sort of the Twitter-on-steroids might look like — and maybe even a simpler version of Twitter. I think there are many things. It’s probably too much for me to speculate right now.
O’Donovan: Well, give us one fantasy. What’s the craziest Twitter-on-steroids fantasy?
Wright: Wow.

I think that there’s something fascinating to me about the range of information that you can get from Twitter. We often talk a lot at NPR about making sure that people get their vegetables and also get really delicious pieces of candy that we can distribute through the radio. What I love about Twitter is that, in a combined stream, I can see this heartbreaking story or updates from people who are literally fighting for their lives in Egypt as they are in the midst of the revolution, and then, you know, followed by an update from somebody who’s, you know, explaining how hungover they are because they were at their favorite bar. I think that, as a medium, like, what else does that? That is never part of the presentation that happens on our broadcast news.

This is certainly not a Twitter-on-steroids idea, but, in terms of being able to harness the ability for people be able to narrowcast to them in really specific ways, I think has such a reach potential. That my mom can find value in that, in a way that manifests itself very differently from the way that I would, but we can find the same value out of it with very different content. I think that the challenge of kind of wrestling with: How do you create an experience that will be as useful for my mom as it will be for me, using the same basic parts and concepts but obviously delivering very different content? That’s a fascinating problem to solve, and I’m excited to roll my sleeves up and give it a go.

O’Donovan: Was it you who was tweeting about explaining Twitter to your grandmother recently?
Wright: It was. Absolutely it was. I believe the thing I said after that was if she gets sudden onset dementia, I’m going to feel partially responsible.

Yeah, the thing that’s cool though, is, her story is great. She was a telephone operator back in the day, where, we’ve all seen the photos of people plugging all the lines into one of the boards. One of my favorite stories that she told me was she was manning a board the night that it was V-E Day, and as soon as the word got to the United States via the phones, that victory in Europe had happened, she said the board lit up!

So I was trying to tell her: This is what we do now. We don’t use phones anymore — this is what we do. The fact that Twitter would blow up with this information is how we know it. She said, “I think I understand.” I said, “All right, well, it’s the same thing.”

O’Donovan: I guess it’s not altogether entirely undigestible.
Wright: Yeah, there was part of it she thought was pretty cool.
O’Donovan: We talked a little bit at the beginning about designing for audio, and I’d be curious to know if you think those skills will come into play.
Wright: We haven’t talked specifically about audio, but we had a lot of really great conversations about the experiences that I’ve had designing for news organizations and bringing with me information about how publishers specifically are using lots of different tools, Twitter included.

I’ve built really — I wouldn’t call them large muscles, I’d call them interesting muscles over the last 12 years, thinking a lot about these problems. I think it would be really hard for me to not apply some of those skills. It’s become such a part of my DNA that I’m interested in seeing, How do those skills fit and work? How are those patterns applied out of a newsroom?

O’Donovan: I would imagine you also bring some insight about what publishers want or what they think they want from ads. I don’t know if you have thoughts about Twitter’s different advertising strategies lately, but you’ve said in the past that you think publishers need to be thinking really differently about advertising.
Wright: What I said in my conversations with people at Twitter was, if you’re looking for a client services manager to go to newsrooms and write down the requirements of what would make Twitter great on news websites — I’ve been pretty vocal about some of the things news organizations aren’t doing as well as I wish they were, or things I wish they were doing differently — but I was pretty clear that I might not be the best guy to come in and take those kinds of requirements down.

So I’ve been critical about some of the things publishers have done and ads are chief among them. I think display advertising as we know it is in many cases a race to the bottom and is in many ways unsustainable. What I’m excited to learn more about is advertising models that are so native to the platform — and Twitter is a good example of that, I think the best is obviously Google’s AdWords, AdSense — and just feel like part of the experience. I won’t have a ton of good things to bring along with me from the point of view of what I think digital news design is doing in general. I think it will be more of the other way around, where I eventually might be able to bring some of the information and things I’ve learned working with a company like Twitter to help publishers figure out how to think differently about how they’re doing things. I expect it might go the other way.

O’Donovan: So, let’s say you’re leaving NPR and the whole news world throws you a party. And they say, What’s the one thing we can do for you while you’re gone? What would you want them to do?
Wright: Oh! This is easy. My one wish is for every news org, to really understand the importance of having — it doesn’t have to be a visual designer, but to have design thinkers have a seat at the table. It’s not about deciding what work gets done or how it gets done but it’s really about making design as important an ingredient in what we make as editorial, as reporters, writers, photographers, and technologists. Designers bring such a unique value to the table and can just help solve so many interesting problems in really thoughtful ways. The best presents the news community could give me is to say, Everybody, designers are always at the table.

Photo by Casey Capachi via the ONA.

May 29 2013

17:57

Twitter’s Dick Costolo: We’re a complement to news orgs, not a replacement

Also at D11, Twitter’s Dick Costolo talked about the state of the company and platform. That included a bit about the news business. This is from All Things D’s Mike Isaac’s live paraphrasing of Costolo’s on-stage conversation with Kara Swisher:

Kara: Let’s talk about the boston marathon and events like this. Do you have a responsibility here? Are you the new news org?

Dick: About Boston — when events like these happen, my perspective.

In the moment, the horror is very personal. I turned to Twitter to see if friends [like Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley] are safe.

But it’s always been the case that folks are trying to sift through what’s out there and verify what’s true.

The beauty of Twitter today is that when those sorts of rumors surface, the crowd is doing a very good job of sorting out what’s real and what’s rumor very quickly.

We think of ourselves as very complementary to news orgs.

We’re the platform for global information distribution for the people, by the people.

The news orgs are the curators, the editors, the analysts. They do that important work.

Kara: Will you become more of a news org?

Dick: No, I see us partnering more with news orgs to distribute this real-time feed of info, probably working with companies that can help organize that information and dole it out to news org readers.

16:51

What’s New in Digital Scholarship: Teen sharing on Facebook, how Al Jazeera uses metrics, and the tie between better cellphone coverage and violence

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Editor’s note: There’s a lot of interesting academic research going on in digital media — but who has time to sift through all those journals and papers?

Our friends at Journalist’s Resource, that’s who. JR is a project of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and they spend their time examining the new academic literature in media, social science, and other fields, summarizing the high points and giving you a point of entry. Roughly once a month, JR managing editor John Wihbey will sum up for us what’s new and fresh.

This month’s edition of What’s New In Digital Scholarship is an abbreviated installment — we’re just posting our curated list of interesting new papers and their abstracts. We’ll provide a fuller analysis at the half-year mark, in our June edition. Until then, happy geeking out!

“Mapping the global Twitter heartbeat: The geography of Twitter.” Study from the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, published in First Monday. By Kalev Leetaru, Shaowen Wang, Guofeng Cao, Anand Padmanabhan, and Eric Shook.

Summary: “In just under seven years, Twitter has grown to count nearly three percent of the entire global population among its active users who have sent more than 170 billion 140-character messages. Today the service plays such a significant role in American culture that the Library of Congress has assembled a permanent archive of the site back to its first tweet, updated daily. With its open API, Twitter has become one of the most popular data sources for social research, yet the majority of the literature has focused on it as a text or network graph source, with only limited efforts to date focusing exclusively on the geography of Twitter, assessing the various sources of geographic information on the service and their accuracy. More than three percent of all tweets are found to have native location information available, while a naive geocoder based on a simple major cities gazetteer and relying on the user — provided Location and Profile fields is able to geolocate more than a third of all tweets with high accuracy when measured against the GPS-based baseline. Geographic proximity is found to play a minimal role both in who users communicate with and what they communicate about, providing evidence that social media is shifting the communicative landscape.

“Predicting Dissemination of News Content in Social Media: A Focus on Reception, Friending, and Partisanship.” Study from Ohio State, published in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. By Brian E. Weeks and R. Lance Holbert.

Summary: “Social media are an emerging news source, but questions remain regarding how citizens engage news content in this environment. This study focuses on social media news reception and friending a journalist/news organization as predictors of social media news dissemination. Secondary analysis of 2010 Pew data (N = 1,264) reveals reception and friending to be positive predictors of dissemination, and a reception-by-friending interaction is also evident. Partisanship moderates these relationships such that reception is a stronger predictor of dissemination among partisans, while the friending-dissemination link is evident for nonpartisans only. These results provide novel insights into citizens’ social media news experiences.”

“Al Jazeera English Online: Understanding Web metrics and news production when a quantified audience is not a commodified audience.” Study from George Washington University, published in Digital Journalism. By Nikki Usher.

Summary: “Al Jazeera English is the Arab world’s largest purveyor of English language news to an international audience. This article provides an in-depth examination of how its website employs Web metrics for tracking and understanding audience behavior. The Al Jazeera Network remains sheltered from the general economic concerns around the news industry, providing a unique setting in which to understand how these tools influence newsroom production and knowledge creation. Through interviews and observations, findings reveal that the news organization’s institutional culture plays a tremendous role in shaping how journalists use and understand metrics. The findings are interpreted through an analysis of news norms studies of the social construction of technology.”

“Teens, Social Media and Privacy.” Report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project and Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. By Mary Madden, Amanda Lenhart, Sandra Cortesi, Urs Gasser, Maeve Duggan, and Aaron Smith.

Summary: “Teens are sharing more information about themselves on social media sites than they have in the past, but they are also taking a variety of technical and non-technical steps to manage the privacy of that information. Despite taking these privacy-protective actions, teen social media users do not express a high level of concern about third-parties (such as businesses or advertisers) accessing their data; just 9% say they are ‘very’ concerned. Key findings include: Teens are sharing more information about themselves on their social media profiles than they did when we last surveyed in 2006: 91% post a photo of themselves, up from 79% in 2006; 71% post their school name, up from 49%; 71% post the city or town where they live, up from 61%; 53% post their email address, up from 29%; 20% post their cell phone number, up from 2%. 60% of teen Facebook users set their Facebook profiles to private (friends only), and most report high levels of confidence in their ability to manage their settings: 56% of teen Facebook users say it’s ‘not difficult at all’ to manage the privacy controls on their Facebook profile; 33% Facebook-using teens say it’s ‘not too difficult’; 8% of teen Facebook users say that managing their privacy controls is ‘somewhat difficult,’ while less than 1% describe the process as ‘very difficult.’”

“Historicizing New Media: A Content Analysis of Twitter.” Study from Cornell, Stoneybrook University, and AT&T Labs Research, published in the Journal of Communication. By Lee Humphreys, Phillipa Gill, Balachander Krishnamurthy, and Elizabeth Newbury.

Summary: “This paper seeks to historicize Twitter within a longer historical framework of diaries to better understand Twitter and broader communication practices and patterns. Based on a review of historical literature regarding 18th and 19th century diaries, we created a content analysis coding scheme to analyze a random sample of publicly available Twitter messages according to themes in the diaries. Findings suggest commentary and accounting styles are the most popular narrative styles on Twitter. Despite important differences between the historical diaries and Twitter, this analysis reveals long-standing social needs to account, reflect, communicate, and share with others using media of the times.” (See also.)

“Page flipping vs. clicking: The impact of naturally mapped interaction technique on user learning and attitudes.” Study from Penn State and Ohio State, published in Computers in Human Behavior. By Jeeyun Oh, Harold R. Robinson, and Ji Young Lee.

Summary: “Newer interaction techniques enable users to explore interfaces in a more natural and intuitive way. However, we do not yet have a scientific understanding of their contribution to user experience and theoretical mechanisms underlying the impact. This study examines how a naturally mapped interface, page-flipping interface, can influence user learning and attitudes. An online experiment with two conditions (page flipping vs. clicking) tests the impact of this naturally mapped interaction technique on user learning and attitudes. The result shows that the page-flipping feature creates more positive evaluations of the website in terms of usability and engagement, as well as greater behavioral intention towards the website by evoking greater perception of natural mapping and greater feeling of presence. In terms of learning outcomes, however, participants who flip through the online magazine show less recall and recognition memory, unless they perceive page flipping as more natural and intuitive to interact with. Participants perceive the same content as more credible when they flip through the content, but only if they appreciate the coolness of the medium. Theoretical and practical implications will be discussed.”

“Influence of Social Media Use on Discussion Network Heterogeneity and Civic Engagement: The Moderating Role of Personality Traits.” Study from the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, and the University of Texas at Austin, published in the Journal of Communication. By Yonghwan Kim, Shih-Hsien Hsu, and Homero Gil de Zuniga.

Summary: “Using original national survey data, we examine how social media use affects individuals’ discussion network heterogeneity and their level of civic engagement. We also investigate the moderating role of personality traits (i.e., extraversion and openness to experiences) in this association. Results support the notion that use of social media contributes to heterogeneity of discussion networks and activities in civic life. More importantly, personality traits such as extraversion and openness to experiences were found to moderate the influence of social media on discussion network heterogeneity and civic participation, indicating that the contributing role of social media in increasing network heterogeneity and civic engagement is greater for introverted and less open individuals.”

“Virtual research assistants: Replacing human interviewers by automated avatars in virtual worlds.” Study from Sammy Ofer School of Communications, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (Israel), published in Computers in Human Behavior. By Béatrice S. Hasler, Peleg Tuchman, and Doron Friedman.

Summary: “We conducted an experiment to evaluate the use of embodied survey bots (i.e., software-controlled avatars) as a novel method for automated data collection in 3D virtual worlds. A bot and a human-controlled avatar carried out a survey interview within the virtual world, Second Life, asking participants about their religion. In addition to interviewer agency (bot vs. human), we tested participants’ virtual age, that is, the time passed since the person behind the avatar joined Second Life, as a predictor for response rate and quality. The human interviewer achieved a higher response rate than the bot. Participants with younger avatars were more willing to disclose information about their real life than those with older avatars. Surprisingly, the human interviewer received more negative responses than the bot. Affective reactions of older avatars were also more negative than those of younger avatars. The findings provide support for the utility of bots as virtual research assistants but raise ethical questions that need to be considered carefully.”

“Technology and Collective Action: The Effect of Cell Phone Coverage on Political Violence in Africa.” Study from Duke and German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), published in the American Political Science Review. By Jan H. Pierskalla and Florian M. Hollenbach.

Summary: “The spread of cell phone technology across Africa has transforming effects on the economic and political sphere of the continent. In this paper, we investigate the impact of cell phone technology on violent collective action. We contend that the availability of cell phones as a communication technology allows political groups to overcome collective action problems more easily and improve in-group cooperation, and coordination. Utilizing novel, spatially disaggregated data on cell phone coverage and the location of organized violent events in Africa, we are able to show that the availability of cell phone coverage significantly and substantially increases the probability of violent conflict. Our findings hold across numerous different model specifications and robustness checks, including cross-sectional models, instrumental variable techniques, and panel data methods.”

Photo by Anna Creech used under a Creative Commons license.

May 21 2013

18:08

Twitter builds internal guidelines for handling legal battles over patents

Twitter officially patented its “pull-to-refresh” technology for streaming on its mobile app today, The Verge reports. But Twitter also has an original, internal approach to patent applications.

All Twitter’s patents include a contract in which the company agrees to engage in patent litigation only if they are sued first. The contract is meant to deal with the concerns of the engineers whose work is being patented, and who feel the definition of defensive litigation can be fuzzy.

“[Engineers] were going around saying we’re worried about what patents mean,” said Twitter IP attorney Ben Lee, who drafted the IPA and guided it through the revision process. “The IPA is an expression of the values of the company.”

Lee’s work on the IPA began during his initial job interview with Twitter general counsel Alex Macgillivray in November of 2010. “The notion of trying to come up with new ways of handling patents was a major reason for me coming to Twitter in the first place,” he said. “I don’t think it was that long after that we were already having significant conversations with the engineers and senior management about some things we could do.”

Unfortunately, work on the IPA was put on hold not long after Lee joined Twitter — a patent troll had sued the company over a junk patent on “virtual communities,” and Lee spent serious time living in a Virginia hotel room as the case went to trial. “We’ve seen the negative impact” of patent abuse, he says. “And we’re a young company.”

14:00

At The Miami Herald, tweeting’s about breaking news in the a.m. and conversation in the p.m.

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Have you ever tried tweeting at a major news organization? How often have they responded or retweeted? Probably not often — and that corresponds to the findings offered by a GW/Pew study of 13 major news organizations which found “limited use of the institution’s public Twitter identity, one that generally takes less advantage of the interactive and reportorial nature of the Twitter.”

So when I went to The Miami Herald as part of a much larger project looking at newsrooms and news buildings, I was pleasantly surprised to find it, like some other newspapers, has actual people manning Twitter — breaking news “by hand,” interacting with readers, and having a genuine public conversation over the main @miamiherald Twitter account, with its 98,000 followers. (Aside from Twitter, The Miami Herald is making ample use of its Facebook account, posting new stories once an hour and relying on feedback from the 46,000-plus audience for stories and tips — and as an extension of the Public Insight Network pioneered by American Public Radio.)

In Miami, Twitter takes on two distinct modes during the day — in the morning as headline service and in the afternoon as conversation. “In the morning, we try to get the audience between 6 and 8 a.m. on Twitter and on the website,” says continuous news editor/day editor Jeff Kleinman, who says he wakes up at 4:30 to begin monitoring the news.

Kleinman uses Twitter to break news — whether or not it’s on the paper’s website. “We want to be first,” he noted, as he quickly dashed off a tweet about a boat fire in front of me. More often then not, though, there will be a link to a short two-paragraph story begun on the website. But not always.

Miami still remains a vibrant and competitive news marketplace with three local TV stations chasing breaking news, the Sun Sentinel, and even blogs getting in on niche action. So in the breaking-news morning environment, “If something happens, I’ll put it up on Twitter, I’ll write or have the reporter write two quick grafs on the homepage with italics that say ‘More to come,’” he said. “We’re constantly updating over Twitter and on the website as news comes in.”

There’s less time for conversation, but Kleinman is especially careful to do one thing: retweet what his reporters are offering from the field to the wider audience. “We’re not there, but they are, and Twitter is often the fastest way to say what’s going on,” he noted. So while the reporters have their own followings, their work gets amplified to a larger audience.

Take this example of breaking news:

BREAKING: RT @waltermichot: Neighbors gather at scene of one shot and transported 5644 NW 4th Ave. twitter.com/WalterMichot/s…

— The Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) May 2, 2013

Walter Michot, a former photographer who prowls the city with an iPhone (another story), has frequently broken news on his Twitter account, which has then been retweeted by @miamiherald. The mantra in the newsroom is to tweet, write, tweet, write, perhaps blog, and then write a takeout for the web and perhaps the paper.

Later on in the afternoon, Twitter and Facebook take on a more conversational tone. Luisa Yanez runs the @miamiherald account then. She focuses on three key things: curating incoming reporters’ work and retweeting it — adding additional substance if necessary; offering updates from the website; and responding to readers. The Miami Herald also offers updates about traffic and weather “as a public service and because people want to know,” Kleinman said, so followers might see something like this.

#Weather alert: Severe thunderstorm warning issued for the #Keys until 1:30 p.m.

— The Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) May 2, 2013

And then Yanez will retweet a reader who happens to chime in with a photo, in this case, Marven The Martian (@DaReelMJ), who offers a twitpic of the nasty weather brewing.

@miamiherald Even from the balcony it doesn’t get any better as it has started to rain in Sunny Isles. #Weather twitter.com/DaReelMJ/statu…

— Marven The Martian (@DaReelMJ) May 2, 2013

The Herald also uses Twitter as a direct way to ask its readers to pitch in for story help:

The Herald is writing about ruling that would allow teens to obtain the “morning after” pill. Please contact aburch@MiamiHerald.com.

— The Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) May 2, 2013

The main Twitter feed doesn’t shy away from letting reporters show off their spunk. For instance, on Evan Benn’s first story for the paper (yes, they hired someone):

MT @evanbenn: My first @miamiherald story. Can’t beat ‘em? Eat ‘em. Smoked python at invasive-species meal hrld.us/11EXFcO

— The Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) May 2, 2013

That, of course, is what they call in the newsroom an only-in-Miami story. And it prompted some only-in-Miami community conversation:

@miamiherald @evanbenn I would think it would taste like smoked eel but maybe more like gator? Either way, great idea hrld.us/11EXFcO

— Jackie Blue (@JackieBlue4u) May 2, 2013

@jackieblue4u Closer to gator, and smoking it really did make it taste like bacon, or prosciutto.

— Evan Benn (@EvanBenn) May 2, 2013

Kleinman and others acknowledge that the tweet-to-web traffic conversion isn’t what they’d like it to be. But for them, Twitter is a way to build an audience, establish their continued brand prominence, and carry on a conversation. And while The Miami Herald newsroom might be losing the best view in journalism for a new home by the airport, location might not matter as much as it once did, because their conversation with their audience is virtual.

Those who doubt that a newsroom that is struggling with staff and budget problems can handle putting the time and energy into social media should look at Miami and see a case of what’s going well. And those who think that community conversation is too hard to handle should also pause and consider the possibilities that do exist when a newsroom engages with its community. Especially if it’s about eating python.

Photo of outgoing Miami Herald building by Phillip Pessar used under a Creative Commons license.

May 15 2013

00:39

The Weather Company Launches Twitter Video Program for Home Depot

BOSTON -  The Weather Company has launched the first Twitter video program for an advertiser,  the Home Depot, says Mike Finnerty, VP, Web Products, in this interview with Beet.TV.  The program with Twitter, which drives views of “how to videos,” was announced last month at the Weather Company’s NewFront event.  The Twitter effort went live this past weekend.

In this wide-ranging interview,  Finnerty talks about the power of data in delivering targeted advertising and content.  He explains the appetite for video on Weather.com and the growth of video content from the company’s  cable networks along with an increasing number of Web originals and third-party lifestyle videos via the AOL On network.

We spoke with him Monday at the BrightcovePLAY conference.

 

May 09 2013

17:24

Diaries, the original social media: How our obsession with documenting (and sharing) our own lives is nothing new

If you’ve ever kept a diary, chances are you probably considered that document private. As in,

MOM I’VE TOLD YOU A MILLION TIMES MY DIARY IS PRIVATE SO DON’T FUCKING READ IT AGAIN PS THANKS FOR CLEANING MY ROOM IT LOOKS NICE

— Luke (@StereotypeLuke) March 24, 2013

But that wasn’t always the case when it came to personal journals. At least, not according to Lee Humphreys, a communications and media researcher at Cornell.

Humphreys led a conversation this week with Microsoft Research’s Social Media Collective on historicizing social media practices. Humphreys argues that, through journals and diaries, people have been recounting their daily activities and reflecting on them for much longer than Twitter and other social media platforms have been around.

But through her research, Humphreys found that it’s only been in the last hundred years that journalling has come to be considered a private practice. In the late 19th century, she says visiting friends and relatives would gather together and read each others diaries as a way of keeping up to date and sharing their lives. Journals were also kept in early American towns to mark and record important events: weddings, births, deaths and other events of community-wide importance.

“You don’t get a real sense of personal, individual self until the end of the 19th century,” Humphreys told the Cornell Chronicle in 2010, “so it makes perfect sense that diaries or journals prior to that time were much more social in nature.”

At Humphreys’ talk on Tuesday, some suggested that the advent of Freudian psychology — or perhaps the mass popularization of the novel — had contributed to this inward turn by America’s diarists. As the profession of journalism began to rise at the beginning of the 20th century, the independent writer was becoming increasingly self-reflective, creating the expectation of privacy that we were familiar with prior to the arrival of the Internet. But Humphrey is arguing that before we had a mass media, there was a system of personal writing that looked like a slower, more loosely networked version of Twitter.

people want to make twitter their diary but isn’t a diary suppose to be private?

— #slick (@rickstayslick) May 7, 2013

The similarities between Twitter and historic trends in diary keeping don’t stop there, according to Humphreys. She points to a surge in the popularity of pocket diaries, which, like Twitter, restricted the number of words you could write due to their small size, but also made them mobile. With 60 percent of tweets now being written on mobile devices, according to Humphreys, as compared to around 14 percent when she conducted the study in 2008, trends in Twitter behavior are in fact reflecting historical trends in self-reporting. So even the practice of making notes about your daily activities as they are happening isn’t a new behavior.

A second study Humphreys conducted revealed even more lessons about our drive to create personal records. Using the diary entires of a soldier in the Civil War, which he dutifully copied and turned into letters home, and the personal blog of an Iraq War soldier, Humphreys explored the reasons people feel compelled to record the events of their lives.

Primarily, she says, people journal as a way of strengthening “kin and friend” relationships. The soldier in Iraq, referred to as DadManly, originally began his blog as a way of keeping in touch with all of his family members at once. Charlie Mac, the Civil War soldier, exhibits a similar desire for communication and relationship maintenance by sending home a faithfully transcribed (we assume) copy of his diary. Both men, Humphreys says, described experiencing profound frustration and anxiety when the medium through which they communicated was disrupted, whether by an Internet blackout or a rainstorm that dissolved parchment and delayed the post.

The writings of Charlie Mac and DadManly shared another important similarity: Although both were writing for ostensibly private audiences, there was an implicit understanding that their words might someday reach a wider audience. When DadManly saw web traffic from strangers, he began to increasingly write about his political views on the war, providing what he believed to be a unique perspective of support at a time when very few journalists in the traditional media felt the same way.

Charlie Mac also had reason to believe his diary letters were being shared with an audience larger than the one he was directly addressing. In fact, he sometimes included parenthetical addresses to specific individuals, should they happen to come across the documents. But there was also a real possibility that his war correspondence would be picked up and reprinted by newspapers. (Or, as it happened, compiled, archived, and read by researchers hundreds of years later.) After the war, he ended up becoming a journalist at The Boston Globe. What more apt analogue to the media of today than a world in which one’s personal commentary on current events is so appreciated that they can be transformed into a lifelong career?

During the course of Charlie Mac’s budding career, he would have observed the budding of what we consider the traditional media hierarchy. Information would increasingly begin to flow from the top down, rather than be gathered voraciously from amateurs in the field. He would see news brands begin to shape and control narratives, and come to exist in an information system with less and less emphasis on personal interactions.

Of course, what we’ve seen in the decades since the dawn of the digital age is just the opposite. Humphreys said one of the early conclusions from her research is the possibility that the mass media of the 20th century was in fact a blip, a historical aberration, and that, through platforms like Twitter, we are gradually returning to a communication network that indulges, without guilt, the individual’s desire to record his existence.

Personal diarists are not only comforted by recording and sharing their experience, Humphreys says, but they are empowered by claiming their own narrative. She suspects it was for this reason that so many 19th-century women kept journals — in the hopes that they and their families would be remembered. Her point takes on contemporary significance when she points out that Twitter is more popular among African-American and Hispanic youths than among whites.

The most powerful argument for Twitter as a force of erosion of the public media is not, as we hear so often lately, that it feeds the fires of rumor and speculation. The argument that Twitter is facile is much more potent — that Twitter users are self-obsessed, that a minute spent tweeting is a minute wasted, that Twitter is the digital embodiment of the general degradation of intellectual society — many of the same arguments made a decade ago about blogging.

This is what I ate for breakfast… Greek potatoes, orzo, Greek salad, dolmades, and OJ. #Hmm yfrog.com/nxfktoej

— Miss Illinois (@StaciJoee) March 28, 2012

I’m going to be a total blogger today. This is what I ate for breakfast. LOL http://yfrog.com/h2tovdrj

— Holly Becker (@decor8) February 20, 2011

What Humphreys has found, instead, is that if we are all navel-gazers, it’s not Twitter that made us that way. And further, that we are tighter-networked, faster-responding, further-reaching navel-gazers, with a richer media experience, than ever before.

Image by Barnaby Dorfman used under a Creative Commons license.

April 16 2013

01:21

Social Media Offers Vital Updates, Support After Boston Marathon Bombings

Two blasts near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon Monday left the city in shock and frenzy. Soon after, disheartening on-the-ground tweets, photos and videos were shared throughout the social web. In the early hours, these updates served to inform the entire world of the horror and tragedy transpiring through the streets of Boston. In the later hours, online and social media tools such as Google Docs and Twitter connected Boston locals to the out-of-town runners and visitors who could really use their help. The way social media is manifesting in immediate relief for victims is perhaps one uplifting moment in a truly heartbreaking day. WARNING: Some graphic images are in the roundup below.

>>> RELATED: The View from MIT on the Boston Marathon Explosions at Idea Lab <<<

[View the story "Social Media Provides Relief After Boston Marathon Explosions" on Storify]

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

01:21

Social Media Offers Help After Boston Marathon Explosions

Two blasts near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon Monday left the city in shock and frenzy. Soon after, disheartening on-the-ground tweets, photos and videos were shared throughout the social web. In the early hours, these updates served to inform the entire world the horror and tragedy transpiring through the streets of Boston. In the later hours, online and social media tools like Google Docs and Twitter connected Boston locals to the out-of-town runners and visitors who could really use their help. The way social media is manifesting in immediate relief for victims is perhaps one uplifting moment in a truly heartbreaking day.

[View the story "Social Media Provides Relief After Boston Marathon Explosions" on Storify]

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

April 09 2013

12:25

April 03 2013

11:54

April 02 2013

14:58

Tuesday Q&A: Storify’s Burt Herman on entrepreneurial journalism, advertising, and finding the right business model

burthermanWhen you run a startup that leans on journalism, the hunt for a stable business model is top of mind. Burt Herman, cofounder of Storify, said he feels an urgency to find ways to monetize the service, which helps individuals and publishers collect and curates social media into stories. That’s in part because Storify is now three years old, but also because Herman has more than a decade of experience as a journalist working for the Associated Press — meaning he’s seen the disruption of the media business up close.

Last week, his company took its first step towards a business model: Storify announced the creation of Storify VIP, a new paid version of the service that offers a new tier of features and customization for users. The VIP program is designed with big publishers — who have an army of journalists and money to spend — in mind. The BBC has already signed up.

I spoke with Herman about the decision to create a premium version of Storify, how the company might explore advertising, and where he sees entrepreneurial journalism going this year. Here’s a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Justin Ellis: When you were looking at ways to monetize, were there other models or options you looked at before deciding on the premium tier?
Burt Herman: We are looking at all potential business models. There basically are two models we see as ones we could use. There’s some kind of subscription or a freemium/pro/VIP plan where we ask some of our users what they would like and offer these premium features. We’re quite fortunate in that we have users who are large publishers and brands and PR agencies, political organizations, NGOs, and all kinds of people like that. They’re interested in these features and have come to us asking for some of these things. That’s a clear way we can now give them something better that they want, and also make sure this is something sustainable.

On the other side, there’s definitely an advertising model we’ve talked about. And it’s still something we kind of have out there for the future. The idea there is to come up with a native form of ad that goes in a Storify story — that is a social ad, like other things in Storify stories. It could be a promoted quote, or a promoted video, or a promoted photo from a brand that is trying to get a certain message out there.

That’s still something we’re talking about. But that requires a larger scale, and being able to sell a specific new form of advertising. But if we do that, we’d also want to do it in a way that works together with our users, and share revenue back with the people creating the stories. That’s really the most valuable thing, and we’re really lucky we’ve gathered this community of amazing people who, everyday, find the best of what’s out there.

Ellis: One of the questions with advertising would be who controls what ads are served — if companies or brands go through Storify, or if they go through publishers directly.
Herman: Yeah, and we could do it both ways. The thing we look at is YouTube — how they have embeds all over the web, and sometimes have advertising in those as well. We would want to work, obviously, with our users on that, who are their advertisers, does it conflict with other ads on the page, and other issues.

We do think there is room for this new form of advertising. We’ve talked about different ways of doing this: It could be more like we promote content to the user creating a story, and whether they want to put that in the story is their own decision. But it’s very clear that’s promoted in some way — that someone is paying to get in front of the eyes of our valuable user base. That is something we have experimented with a little bit, and it is quite an interesting model to look at — not advertising to the masses but advertising to this more elite user base.

Ellis: You’ve said you have more than 600,000 people using Storify now. How did you think about what types of features you would bring up to the premium level? Ideally, you want to create added value in the service but not take away from the things other non-paying users want.
Herman: Well, a lot of these things are things people have asked for, like customization. We’ve offered some things and see what people do with it, and had some people use it for different events, including The New York Times, Yahoo, the BBC. They’re already doing these things, so we’re responding to what they say.

We didn’t intend to be a live-blogging platform, but people have been using us in that way, which is great. So we want to serve that need too. That’s something that can be quite expensive, to service live updates on embeds that are being viewed hundreds of thousands or billions of times around the web. That’s a pretty technically intensive thing, so just to make it sustainable to us, that’s why we’re putting that in the premium tier of features.

Ellis: What’s been most surprising to you about the ways people have found to use Storify? That idea of using Storify for live-blogging seems like a MacGyvering in a way.
Herman: We did think about live stories, in a way, from the start. I worked at the AP for 12 years and that’s what I did all the time — take stories, update them whenever news comes in, move things around, take out quotes, add new quotes. That’s always what we’ve done.

But it’s the story in place that gets changed, which I still would be interested in seeing people thinking about more. Newspapers do that, but they just don’t show you that they’re doing it. Or the next day, they’ll just post a new story, because they’re still in this daily cycle. But what if the story itself was just in one place and kept changing over time as developments occur? I think that’s the idea we had originally.

I thought, initially, journalists will use this and see, “Oh, the Supreme Court is hearing the gay marriage case,” and just see what people are saying in general and mine the best — look for who’s reacting, and kind of pull things in. The thing I did not expect to see, which people have used Storify for, is to say, “Hey, we’re just starting this story, send us what you think about it and use this hashtag on Instagram, on Twitter, respond to us on Facebook, we’ll take the best thing you do and put them in a story and publish it.” It’s much more of an engaging way of creating a story — where it’s not just gathering reaction, but tell us what we should put in the story, we’re going to include what our audience is doing.

The New York Times has done some really interesting things with Instagram — like during storms, the big winter storm in February, or Fashion Week in New York, asking their readers, “Hey, send photos on Instagram, tag them #NYTfashionweek and we’ll put the best ones on The New York Times.” I think it’s really cool to see journalists getting this idea that yes, this is not just a one-way thing anymore — we don’t just decide what we write and call the people we want and put it out there. Now it’s really working collaboratively with the audience to create something bigger.

Ellis: As a journalist, what’s it been like for you to watch news organizations embrace new ways to create stories?

Herman: When I talk about this, I say it’s really like what journalists have always done. We’ve always taken bits of information, whether it’s a press release, or a federal budget, or your notes, or your audio, and pieced it together to tell a story. Now we just have so many more sources potentially to mine for our stories. So many more voices of people that you can include, that you might not have otherwise heard from. I think this is something more news organizations are realizing, and I think it’s a great way to be relevant with your audience again — “Hey, we hear you, we are listening to what you say.”

How can you not want to do this? As a journalist, I was always wanting to know what are people talking about, what are the stories that I’m missing that are out there. Now you can see what people are talking about, at least a segment of people, using social media. That’s a large group of people, and growing all the time. I just think: How could you not embrace that and look at that if you’re a journalist who wants to get the stories that are out there?

Ellis: Storify also gives tweets and other social media a little more permanence. If I’m following a hashtag on the vice presidential debate, I could theoretically go back and read through it, but it’s happening so fast. You guys capture that.
Herman: We picked the name Storify because it was this word used at the AP when editors would tell you to write a story about something, to “storify” it. It really is a word that means “to make a story.” But also, sometimes people see it more here in Silicon Valley and they think “Storify, oh, you’re like a storage company.” Which, in some ways that is true too. That is a lot of what people actually use Storify for in a way we didn’t foresee: simply being able to stop time and save some stuff from this never-ending deluge of tweets and photos and videos from all these social networks. Just being able to pause, take those out, and organize them in one place is kind of valuable.

There’s not a simple way to do that and just make it look nice, or to keep it for yourself or a smaller group. That’s another reason why we’re planning to launch things now like this private story feature. We noticed people simply saving stuff without adding any text in a story, or just saving drafts and never publishing stories because they wanted to keep it somewhere and refer to something, or show it to somebody.

We’re just inundated by all this media now. Everybody has the power to create things and publish easily, instantly, all around the world. It’s great, but it’s getting harder and harder to figure out where the valuable stuff is in all of that.

Ellis: What trends do you see in Storify usage? In terms of people gearing up for big events or big stories?
Herman: We are very aligned with what you would think of as peaks on Twitter or social media, of people talking about things. Definitely the election, the Supreme Court hearing the same sex marriage cases. Certain topics are very resonant on social media and obviously for us too, those are peak things, and that seems to be when people think to use us.

We hope that people also think to use us in other cases when it isn’t just mining what’s out there when it’s a huge event — a smaller, local scale, or asking the audience to help find stories. We’re seeing more of that. That’s also why we wanted to move in this direction we’re launching, to work more closely with people and be more embedded in their organizations too, so it’s not just the social media editor who says, “Hey, there’s this Supreme Court thing — can you get a reaction thing on the blog?”

Ellis: The premium service represents a focus on establishing a business model. For some startups, finding a business model is a “further down the road” idea. How pressing has it been for you to monetize Storify?

Herman: I think there’s been a shift out here in Silicon Valley in terms of thinking about startups and business models. They just had the recent class of Y Combinator, and The Wall Street Journal wrote a post saying none of the companies are doing social media, they’re businesses, which have a built-in business model where you pay somebody for something.

I think it’s definitely kind of shifted here, people are wanting to see the business model in what you’re doing. Unless you have massive, massive scale, you have to have a business model. We are lucky the users we have, more than 600,000 people, are amazing, high-level users. That’s why, as we look at that, we say, “Okay, let’s figure out how we can make this more sustainable and work with them and hopefully help give them some of the things they want. But also make sure we can survive into the future. “

People seem to understand that now. People have grown a little skeptical of companies that don’t seem to have a business model and you wonder when they’re going to do something. So far, the reaction has been hugely positive — I think people understand why we’re doing this.

Ellis: Do you think there needs to be more support for startups that are in this kind of journalism or journalism-adjacent area like Storify? I’m thinking about something like Matter, which is sort of a combination of the Knight News Challenge and Y Combinator.
Herman: I was just at Matter earlier this week talking to the companies there. They’re doing it in a smart way. They are saying yes, it should be related to media, but you can do something that has broader relevance. It can be for-profit, it doesn’t have to be nonprofit just because it’s sort of connected with public radio. I think if you make it too narrow — just for journalism — then you might have a problem in terms of thinking really big. When you’re doing a startup, you should be thinking as big as possible. I guess it would be difficult to limit things — it’s better not to impose that on startups from the start.

We do need things related to media, but I think people will go there. It is still a huge business — billions of dollars are spent on advertising on the web, and even in print still. Startups will go there. I think there are a lot of incubators, Matter and other people, who are focusing on that.

I guess I’m worried that when you support things and force them to be nonprofit or open source, which some of the Knight News Challenge grants did earlier, that it limits the potential of some of these organizations. I love Spot.us, and Dave Cohn is a great guy, and I always think of it as he had the idea for Kickstarter before it existed. But it was limited because it had to be open source and nonprofit and only in a local area. There were all these constrictions on how he was supposed to operate. He had some success, but what could have been if he wasn’t limited in that way? I just think any of these new things should not limit people and Matter is definitely not doing that.

Ellis: Now that you’ve reached this point with Storify, is there something you know now you wish you knew when you were launching?
Herman: I guess I would say it’s different than being a journalist. Things take much longer than you would think, even though people say startups are very fast-paced — often times technology is slow and has debugging issues. Getting a process for people to work together is not an easy thing because you’re not really sure how to do things, because you’re inventing them for the first time. Be patient and realize that this is a longer journey and not a sprint. You get fooled sometimes reading these supposed overnight success stories. But when you look into them, often times it’s somebody who’s been going back for years trying to work their way through different products and pivots, and finally figuring out something that people notice. Really, if it was an overnight success, it was built over years.
12:06
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