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April 02 2013


Dan Gillmor says journalists are uninformed about who controls the platforms they publish on

Dan Gillmor is writing a book (maybe), and he has a lot of questions. The project, which will probably be self published, will probably be called Permission Taken. Gillmor already owns that domain, so why not, he said in a talk at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society last week. (Also, his agent likes the title.)

Gillmor says he’s been thinking about the project for about a year, and he’s come up with a list of questions that he wants academics and practitioners around the country to help him answer. When Gillmor looks at the technologies, services, and platforms most of us use everyday and take for granted, he asks, in slide lingo,


The answers are not always clear.

Gillmor’s goal with the new book is a pedagogical one — he said he considers his students (at Arizona State University) to be his primary audience. He intends for the first few chapters to be a primer for the digitally barely literate on how to protect privacy and shore up digital security in day-to-day life. Some of the later chapters, however, will delve deeper into the nitty gritty.

Some of the ideas that will become a part of the new book Gillmor shared back in October at a symposium on digital ethics hosted by Poynter. Gillmor and other presenters also contributed essays to a book, The New Ethics of Journalism: A Guide for the 21st Century, to be published in July.

Generally, Gillmor doesn’t think anyone is fully aware of how vulnerable they are, technologically speaking. Build a back door into every new technology so the FBI can keep an eye on things, he says, “and I promise you it’s going to be used by criminals. The more you unharden the fences, the more room there is for really bad actors.”

Gillmor is especially concerned about how little he says journalists know about security and the extent to which they retain control over their content once it’s published online. “I ask, why are you pouring your journalism into Facebook where you don’t control it anymore? Why are you putting it on other people’s platforms?” In his slide deck, Gillmor gives the example of a New Yorker cartoon that caused Facebook to temporarily ban the magazine from their site — thereby claiming an unprecedented level of control over what is and isn’t acceptable in publishing.

Facebook is a particular concern of Gillmor’s, and he points to a tweet in his slideshow in which Loic le Meur quotes a friend employed by Facebook as saying “we’re like electricity.” “Is Facebook a utility?” asks Gillmor. “What do we do with utilities? We regulate them. Monopolies need regulation. I’m not a fan of regulation, but we have to think about that.”

Gillmor expressed similar concerns in his October talk about the level of control held by payment processors. Whether because of pressure from the government or an internal decision, Gillmor says, if the processor deems your content unacceptable, “then you won’t get paid.” But what journalists really don’t like, Gillmor told me, is when he asks them why they insist on building iOS apps that cede control of what is and isn’t journalism to Apple. In terms of distribution, they say they have no other option — and even journalists who have considered other options say the risk is worth it.

But some risks are never worth it. “Journalists need to learn more about security right away,” says Gillmor. “They are threatening the lives of their sources if they don’t.” In a recent column about the Harvard cheating scandal, in which the university admitted to scanning portions of employee emails, Gillmor showed exactly what can happen when a news outlet doesn’t know enough about how to protect their sources.

It’s not just employees and others who want to blow whistles who need to be more careful — such as using external accounts, encryption and a lot of other tools to be safer. (Note: I didn’t say “safe”, because absolute safety is exceedingly hard to achieve, if it’s even possible.)

Journalists, too, need better tradecraft when it comes to their dealings with sources. My impression of the typical newsroom’s precautions is that there aren’t many.

For six years as a columnist, Gillmor used a PGP at the bottom of each page — a safe, encrypted method by which sources could contact him. He said in six years, it was used twice — once by someone just checking to see if it worked.

For journalists, Gillmor recommends Tor, “a network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet.” (Committee to Protect Journalists when it comes to educating journalists about the dangers of using certain technologies.

But ultimately, Gillmor says, “It’s a crucial issue — and one that has not gotten enough attention inside the craft.” These issues fall very low on the priority list for an industry that Gillmor described as being in a constant state of desperation. But the dangers are real, Gillmor says, and with his new project, he hopes to find ways of bringing the convenience of private platforms to services that are both free and secure.

For now, though, “increasingly, journalists who really are appropriately paranoid in the right situations are learning not to use technology,” says Gillmor.

If you have a better idea, Gillmor is taking questions — and hopefully, answers.

Photo by f1uffster (Jeanie) used under a Creative Commons license.

December 18 2011


Google's Android Update Alliance is already dead

PCMag.com :: At the Google I/O conference in May, many Android phone vendors and U.S. wireless carriers made a long-awaited promise: From then on, any new Android phone would receive timely OS updates for at least 18 months following launch, as part of the then newly christened Google Update Alliance.

Looking back today, that never happened.

[Jamie Lendino:] If you own an Android phone, you may have watched with frustration as a new version of the OS hit the market. It's almost never clear if your phone will ever get that upgrade—unlike with iOS or Windows Phones, which always get all upgrades.

Continue to read Jamie Lendino, www.pcmag.com

December 14 2011


December 08 2011


Why Our Startup Decided Not To Target the Newspaper Industry

Are there opportunities for technology startups which target the media business?

Fred Wilson -- a venture capitalist who has made investments in Twitter, Zynga, Tumblr, Etsy, and FourSquare, among others -- apparently thinks not. As reported on MediaShift on November 15, Wilson told an audience of CUNY students with interests in business and journalism that better opportunities could be found in industries that aren't as "picked over" and have problems that aren't being solved.

As the co-founder of a technology startup that once considered the news industry as a source of partnerships and revenue, I agree with Wilson that startups should look elsewhere.

However, the reason they should do so is not because the media industry lacks problems that need to be solved. If anything, the media industry has problems that span every sector of the industry and every segment of the value chain. Rather, the reason why startups should look for other opportunities is many industry problems are so intractable, and the chance for making a successful business is so slim, that it simply doesn't make sense to target it.

The case of Invantory

Right now, we're developing Invantory, a mobile software platform that targets the local classifieds marketplace that is currently dominated by Craigslist. We're going to make the Invantory experience one that is defined by an easy-to-use interface and great-looking photographs that are now possible with most smartphones. Further, we're attacking a problem that has vexed users of Craigslist and newspaper classifieds for years -- the lack of a system to vet who you're dealing with. Our reputation system, which is built on proprietary algorithms and other safeguards, will help users better evaluate the other parties before they make contact.

My partner, Sam Chow, is a former Microsoft engineer and an experienced programmer for Apple's iOS platform. My own background is online news, content and communities. In the 2000s, I was a technology journalist and online editor, and in the 1990s, I worked at a daily newspaper and on a daily television newscast.

My news roots run deep, and I thought there might be some alignment between our platform and the needs of local news publishers, which have seen their own classifieds revenue fall sharply in the last five years. In 2006, classified revenue in four categories (cars, jobs, real estate and "other") totaled $17 billion, according to the Newspaper Association of America. Last year, it totaled just $5.6 billion. Wouldn't it be great if our platform could somehow help the media industry, while building Invantory's user base?


I began seeking out publishers, online news professionals and other experts to better understand the market and the possibilities for our platform to serve online news operations through white-label apps or other solutions. Very quickly I realized there would be a problem selling to publishers. Most people I talked with had reservations about dealing with software vendors, ranging from a reluctance to share revenue to outright mistrust.

"I've dealt with enough vendors to become very cynical," a publisher of a small newspaper told me. "Whether they extrapolate revenue based on bigger markets or outright lie, we have become very suspicious."

This sentiment, which was echoed by others I spoke with, made me realize that the sales cycles would be punishing. For many customers, it would be hard to get our foot in the door, let alone successfully close a deal.

Yet the same publisher was interested in a technology that could help once again make classifieds a draw -- as well as bring in revenue or improve efficiencies. He readily admitted that his own technology was complicated for users. "On Craigslist, it's easy to create an ad, upload a photo, and publish," he said. "We should be able to do that."

The barriers

I spent time studying how classified systems worked at various publishers. I found it very interesting that many smaller publishers still had a classifieds desk that took ads over the phone, often augmented by email with customers. Some larger publishers had online classifieds tools, but they were clunky. Part of the problem related to the fact that most attempted to serve both the print and online classifieds, and did neither job well. Others were poorly configured. The system used by my hometown newspaper didn't even let me post classifieds locally -- but did make it possible to create listings in markets more than 20 miles away. The system also tried to charge expensive rates for relatively small ads -- $15 to $20 was a typical base rate for a small text ad in print. (A simple online classified ad was included for free.) No wonder people were abandoning newspaper classifieds for Craigslist.

Beyond the clunky ad creation systems, one of the biggest technology problems I observed was the nonstandard online publishing platforms used across the industry. This is actually a huge, underappreciated issue for all news publishers, including broadcasters, news agencies, blog-based news and opinion sites. It leads to additional costs, complexities, and talent shortages that companies based on older media platforms -- including print, television and radio -- did not have to deal with.

Among newspaper websites, it's not hard to find home-grown hacks or heavily customized content management systems. Even at publishers which use the same CMS across their properties, variations are common -- a typical example might involve different versions of Drupal and Drupal modules, owing to staggered technology upgrades, different needs for various brands, and complications involving legacy applications and data. Throw different registration and online payment systems into the mix, and you can start to understand the problem new software platforms targeting this industry are faced with.

Related to the CMS mess was a lack of developers and other technical staff at media organizations. This is a problem that afflicts many industries, not just the news business. But it exacerbated the problem with nonstandard publishing systems. Not only would heavy programming work be required to get Invantory to work with a new customer's site, but integration would largely fall back on us. Systems integration is technology consulting that requires lots of time and specialized development staff. It was not a business that we wanted to get into.

The Final Nails in the Coffin

The final nails in the coffin came at the New England Newspaper & Press Association's fall conference in October. There, I heard more details about the pain being experienced by publishers, and received advice that helped us make our decision to abandon our original plan to target the media industry.

One of the speakers, Amy Mitchell of the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, laid out the grim financial outlook. She stated that while most newspapers are still managing a profit, they're surviving by managing costs. Mitchell was unable to identify any solution to the revenue crisis. "We are not recommending anything other than experimentation," she told the audience, adding that this was going to be tough at many publications whose corporate cultures are resistant to change and innovation. This signaled that publishers were not only less likely to invest in innovative technologies, they were also unable to afford more expensive third-party software.

News industry analyst, author and blogger Ken Doctor was even more skeptical of a turnaround. "It is impossible for anyone to keep up with the disruption," he stated. Doctor went on to predict that broadcasters would soon begin to feel the same pain as newspapers and magazines, as business models based on traditional advertising eroded further.

However, Doctor also saw opportunity in tablet platforms. "If you read, you're going to have a tablet," he said, adding that the price of Kindles and other devices will soon drop to $50. "Why wouldn't you buy one?" he asked the audience.

The final presentation of the afternoon was from Alan Mutter, a former newspaper editor turned Silicon Valley CEO. As a consultant, speaker and author of the Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, he has become a well-known pundit on the travails of the news industry. During his NENPA talk, he predicted more top-line pain for publishers, owing to a number of trends:

  • "The audience trend is you don't have audiences under the age of 40."
  • "The most important thing happening is brands are going directly to consumers."
  • "High-priced reach advertising is not defensible."
  • "Coca-Cola has 34 million friends on Facebook ... This is the future for marketing and advertising."

Later in the day, I spoke with Mutter, and described our vision for Invantory as a mobile classifieds platform that could potentially sell white-labelled apps and platform technology to the news industry. He was pessimistic, not only because of the problems I cited earlier, but also because of the climate for raising capital in this space. "VCs with any experience won't invest in you," he warned.

Nevertheless, Mutter seemed hopeful about the idea of doing something different with classifieds. "Think about a real way to reinvent the classifieds market," Mutter told me. "Because there isn't one now."

Moving on

That evening, I met my partner and told him that the idea of selling to the news industry wouldn't work. Doing so would require huge investments of time and staff expertise, for skeptical customers who generally couldn't afford expensive technology systems. Raising capital would be more difficult when investors heard who we were targeting. We are still going ahead with our plan to create a mobile classifieds platform, but will instead go direct to consumer based on a freemium business model.

We've already built out the cloud infrastructure and now have a demo application. Work has already started on our intellectual property -- the proprietary technologies that will drive our reputation system. Soon we will begin user testing. (If you're interested in signing up for product updates, or seeing an alternative to Craigslist in your town or city, please use the sign-up form on the front page of the Invantory website.)

We understand that we'll face a new set of challenges, especially in terms of developing a solid go-to-market strategy and revenue plan. But we believe the time is ripe for innovation in this space.

Ian Lamont is the former managing editor of The Industry Standard and a web media veteran with years of experience developing online news, community and content. He eventually left the news media to return to grad school, earning an MBA as an MIT Sloan Fellow. His startup, Invantory, is a mobile software platform for local classifieds. Follow him on Twitter at @invantory or @ilamont or email him at ian.lamont@invantory.com.

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October 04 2011


Not 5 not now - Apple's new iPhone 4S including Siri ... Who is Siri?

AllThingsD :: While many of the new features in the iPhone 4S had to do with hardware tweaks, the main feature of the phone could well be Siri, which Apple bought last year, allows users to get a range of information just by asking their phone a question. On stage, Apple iOS head Scott Forstall demonstrated the app doing everything from finding directions to getting stock quotes and currency conversions today.

Continue to read Ina Fried, allthingsd.com

August 03 2011


Developers expect iOS and Android to dominate consumer market and enterprise

AllThingsD :: While there’s no question that the iPhone and Android are killing it on the consumer side, a new survey finds that mobile developers also expect those two operating systems to dominate the enterprise. Developers were evenly split over whether Apple or Google had the upper hand, with about 44 percent of developers picking iOS and the same number predicting Android.

Continue to read Ina Fried, allthingsd.com

July 27 2011


Android will outpace Apple’s sales ... but also sometimes in return rate (30-40pc vs. 1.7pc)

TechCrunch :: It’s generally accepted that, on the aggregate, Android device sales will far outpace Apple's iOS sales year after year. However, there’s a dirty little secret about Android devices that most manufacturers are facing: the return rate on SOME Android devices is between 30% and 40%, in comparison to the iPhone 4′s 1.7% return rate as of Antennagate in 2010.

Via emedia vitals

Continue to read John Biggs, techcrunch.com

July 20 2011


JK Rowling's Pottermore and Google team up: Harry Potter ebook push to Google Books libraries

Inside Google Books :: JK Rowling’s new website Pottermore and Google are teaming up to integrate Pottermore with a number of Google products and APIs. So when the series of Harry Potter ebooks launches on Pottermore.com in early October, these bestsellers will be available in the U.S. via the open Google eBooks platform.

When you buy a Harry Potter ebook from Pottermore, you will be able to choose to keep it in your Google Books library in-the-cloud, as well as on other e-reading platforms. Google eBooks can be read on most devices with a modern browser, through the Google Books apps for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, and on more than 80 e-readers.

Continue to read Larissa Fontaine, booksearch.blogspot.com

July 11 2011


How much Apple is making on the app store

Business Insider :: Last week Apple announced that its 200 million iOS users have downloaded 15 billion applications. How much money money is Apple making from those 15 billion downloads? Apple wasn't so forthcoming about providing such information, so Jay Yarow and Kamelia Angelova had to rely on an estimate from Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster. His calculation is based on the average selling price of an app in the App Store without credit card fees and storage/delivery costs.

Her findings & chart - continue to read Jay Yarow | Kamelia Angelova, www.businessinsider.com

July 10 2011


Patent lawsuits: Google vs Apple, Microsoft and Research in Motion - a legal bonanza

Washington Post ::  For years tech companies did not go after one another in patent lawsuits. But that has changed recently as the battle to dominate the mobile phone space has grown fiercer. Google’s Android operating system has rocketed to the top slot as the most popular in the world, just ahead of Apple’s iPhone and RIM’s BlackBerry.

The battle to beat Android has already turned into a legal bonanza. Apple is suing HTC, Samsung and Motorola, all makers of phones with the Android platform. Oracle is seeking up to $6.1 billion in a patent lawsuit against Google, claiming Android infringes upon Oracle’s Java patents. And Microsoft is suing Motorola over its Android line.

Continue to read Jia Lynn Yang, www.washingtonpost.com

July 07 2011


German IT agency warns of critical Apple iOS security hole

The Globe And Mail :: The software running Apple's iPhones, iPads and the iPod Touch has “critical weaknesses” that could be used by criminals to gain access to confidential data on the devices, Germany's IT security agency warned Wednesday. Clicking on an infected PDF file would be sufficient. The problem may occur on all devices — iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad, iPad 2 and the iPod Touch — with software versions including iOS 4.3.3, and it “cannot be excluded” that other iOS versions have the same weakness, it said.

Published Wednesday, Jul. 06, 2011 2:23PM EDT

Continue to read www.theglobeandmail.com

May 30 2011


BBC and TED use Catch APIs. Now it enables different mobile apps to talk to each other

ReadWriteWeb :: Catch is often thought of as an Evernote competitor, thanks to the company's simple, note-taking applications for iOS and Android. But more recently, the company's APIs, used by BBC and TED, were found integrated into a high-profile mobile application: Google's official app for its I/O developer conference. In the Google I/O app, Catch was used to help attendees create and manage conference notes using the Catch service. And now Catch can enable different mobile apps to talk to each other.

Continue to read Sarah Perez, www.readwriteweb.com

May 26 2011


Web apps: Aside - will publishers choose the open web over Apple's iTunes store?

Poynter :: A pair of Berlin-based designers has released a prototype of what they call the world’s first HTML5 magazine for tablets. The project, called Aside Magazine, a web app, is an impressive demonstration of the design, interactivity and app-like experience that can be created using new advances in the language that powers the Web: HTML. These advances of HTML5 are important for news publishers seeking independence and a universal development strategy. Publishers now can avoid to develop different apps for iOS, Android, Windows or RIM.

[Nico Engelhardt, Aside:] Don’t get us wrong, we love the App Store. But in our world, magazines are press content, not softwarel. And we don’t want a big company to decide whether our content is allowed to be published or not.

Continue to read Jeff Sonderman, www.poynter.org

Visit the site Aside Magazine, www.asidemag.com

February 16 2011


Take that, Cupertino! Google undercuts Apple’s subscription plan with a cheaper one of its own

Back in 2009, we broke word that Google was working on an e-payment solution for publishers that would be based on its Google Checkout platform. Google’s proposal (pdf) to the Newspaper Association of America said that the company’s “vision of a premium content ecosystem includes”:

• Single sign-on capability for users to access content and manage subscriptions

• Ability for publishers to combine subscriptions from different titles together for one price

• Ability for publishers to create multiple payment options and easily include/exclude content behind a paywall

• Multiple tiers of access to search including 1) snippets only with “subscription” label, 2) access to preview pages and 3) “first click free” access

• Advertising systems that offer highly relevant ads for users, such as interest-based advertising

Google’s got plenty of targeted advertising options (#5), and First Click Free is old hat by now (#4). But Google took a big step toward fulfilling the rest of that vision (#1, #2, and #3) today with the announcement of Google One Pass, “a payment system that enables publishers to charge consumers for articles and other content.” And coming on the heels of Apple’s less-than-publisher-friendly subscription announcement yesterday, Google’s alternative may seem like a breath of fresh air.

First, Google is selling flexibility. No requirement to offer the same deal through a Google One Pass payment system as through other means — which means bundling with print subscriptions is a whole lot simpler than with Apple. Print customers can enter a coupon code to get free access to a website. Want to try a metered model, or experiment with putting more, less, or different content behind a paywall? No problem. It’s device-agnostic — so if you want to sell an all-access, all-platform subscription, no problem there either. (It’s also a micropayment platform, for the few still living who believe in per-article micropayments as a viable model.)

Second, as Lee Shirani writes in the announcing blog post: “With Google One Pass, publishers can maintain direct relationships with their customers and give readers access to digital content across websites and mobile apps.” That sentence isn’t detailed any further in the initial announcement or docs online, but it sure sounds like a nice way of saying, “We’ll let you keep all the customer data Apple isn’t letting you have.”

And, most key of all, Google isn’t demanding the 30 percent cut Apple does. The announcement doesn’t share cost details, but the FT is reporting Google will take 10 percent of any subscription revenue. So selling a $15/month subscription via Apple would net $10.50 versus $13.50 via Google.

The announcement’s a lot to digest, but three quick thoughts:

— With the timing, it’s easy to see One Pass primarily as a competitor to Apple’s subscription plans. But note that the focus is primarily on web access, not app access. (Note that the word “Android” — Google’s mobile platform — is mentioned nowhere.) While mobile apps get a shoutout in the announcement, Google notes that it’ll work only “in instances where the mobile OS terms permit transactions to take place outside of the app market,” which likely means it’ll only work in Android apps, which are still a secondary priority for most news orgs, for better or worse, and where getting users to pay anything for apps has been a challenge. At least for the moment, One Pass is more of a direct competitor to Journalism Online’s Press+ than it is to Apple. It’s an infrastructure play.

— Frankly, I’m a little surprised Google’s even taking 10 percent. The transaction costs themselves shouldn’t be any higher than what Google Checkout regularly charges, which is 2.9 percent plus 30 cents a transaction (plus volume discounts). Sure, building and maintaining the record-keeping system for subscribers and the tools for distinguishing free/paid content will cost something. But Google’s consistent model has been to undercut paid competitors by making good free offerings, and I’d have thought just keeping the Checkout fees would have been the play, to soak up as much of the market as possible.

— What Apple is selling publishers is not just an easy payment system — they’re selling the 160 million user accounts with active credit cards attached. That’s about 70 million more than PayPal. How many of you have a credit card on file with Google Checkout, which has struggled to gain relevance and market share?

February 03 2011


iPhone or Android? Key Tips for Publishers Considering Apps

2011 is already seeing Android and Apple battle it out for ascendancy in sales of smartphones and tablets and, more interestingly, in the world of apps and app makers. Media organizations navigating this terrain have a lot of factors to weigh before taking the plunge and creating a serious presence on these increasingly important platforms.

Thanks to some hard-won experience from PRX's own successful iOS and Android adventures, I'm going to tackle common questions and concepts related to media apps. (This post is Part 1 of a two-part story.) For a deeper technical dive I recommend visiting labs.prx.org, where our developers hold forth.

Why go 'Native'? Won't the mobile web win out?

These questions are part of an active debate that is constantly revisited as the landscape shifts, and answers also depend on who is asking. Game developers, e-commerce sites, photo services and media publishers have different needs.

Native apps use code written specifically for a device and operating system, and are able to take advantage of built-in features like multi-touch screens and GPS. Good native apps are more usable overall, make best use of the included functionality (which in Apple's case includes in-app payments, other than donations), are more discoverable through app stores, and offer more distinct branding and identity than a bookmarked web page.

The downside is that good native apps require a significant investment to develop and maintain, and you have to build different ones for each platform. Android has the additional challenge of fragmentation across devices and carriers, meaning in some cases you have to worry about optimizing an app for particularly problematic combinations. Check out Wikipedia's rundown of the proliferating universe of Android devices.

While there are a variety of emerging low-cost templatized services for app development -- Josh Benton built his own for the Nieman Lab for $624, and RedFoundry has some smart stuff in the works -- genuine specific custom app development is a costly and time-consuming affair. Developers are in high demand and a freelance contract could run you $125 per hour, with a solid app costing anywhere from $10,000 on the simple side to upwards of $100,000 for more complex projects, plus ongoing maintenance, support, improvements. (I'll talk about ways to recoup these costs in Part 2 of this story).

Meantime, HTML5 and the mobile web are advancing, and at a minimum offer a compelling way to optimize your web presence for mobile. No one knows if or when HTML5 might suffice and custom apps are rendered unnecessary, but my guess is there will remain a critical gap for years to come.

Ultimately, if you want a distinct offering on iOS and Android, but also want something accessible for the hundreds of other mobile platforms now web-enabled, you'll need to take on all of the above.

iOS or Android? Do I have to do both?

Market share alone would argue for addressing both, and depending on your target audience there's RIM, Windows, Symbian, etc. (Check your current analytics to see which platforms are already hitting your site.) Media organizations with existing online audiences will quickly learn that launching on iOS only will provoke an impatient if not hostile reaction from growing legions of Android users. (Be prepared -- the pitched battle of tech giants Apple and Google is somehow subconsciously absorbed into their users' feelings about how they are treated by app developers.)

Unfortunately for the native path, there's really no such thing as "porting" an app from iOS to Android. These are different beasts -- from deep code, to UI conventions, to user habits, to app store navigation and discovery.

In PRX's experience, our partners tend to want to start with an iPhone app, followed by Android, followed by an iPad app that does more than just offer a bigger version of the first.

That's all for Part 1. In Part 2, I'll talk more about app strategy, monetization, impact, and hopes for the future.

December 08 2010


3 Reasons Every Local Blogger on Drupal Should Get Drupad

Last June, my company, NowSpots, won Knight News Challenge funding to build better local online advertising products for newspapers, alt-weeklies, and community newspapers. We've been building our product and working in closed beta with pilot publishers these last months.   We're seeing great results and are about to open up to new publishers. If your publication is interested in getting in early on a new flavor of online ad, one that local businesses, colleges, and political campaigns actually want to buy, drop us a line. In the meantime, we want to use these pieces on Idea Lab to focus some attention on topics of interest and use to community news publishers. You can follow NowSpots on Twitter here or follow me here.

A new Drupal module and iPhone app makes it easier for community news publishers to juggle the demands of managing and building an audience online and getting outside to cover the community. 

1actions.pngDrupad (currenty $4.99 in the iPhone app store), is an iPhone app that lets anyone running a Drupal 6 site read and moderate the latest comments, content, and user sign-ups from their iPhone.  The app, from French developer breek.fr, requires that you install a companion Drupal module on your site. I found it while browsing new contributed modules on Drupal.org, installed it a few days before Thanksgiving, and now use it multiple times a day to check up on the latest happenings on WindyCitizen.com, a Chicago-centric social news site I publish.

While Drupad is in not aimed specifically at community news publishers, I believe any publisher running a Drupal 6 site who installs it will immediately find it indispensable. If you're using Drupal and own an iPhone, get Drupad. It does three things incredibly well for community news publishers.

Two Places At Once

  1. Drupad solves the "two places at once" problem

As a community news publisher or local blogger, one of your biggest problems is what I call the "two places at once" problem. Someone needs to be "out there" attending events, snapping photos, interviewing people, and generally reporting on stuff. Meanwhile, someone needs to moderate comments on your site, post stuff on Twitter and Facebook, block spammers, and update stories on the front page. If you've read any of the interviews with AOL's Patch editors where they talk about their daily job, you get the picture. You've got be outside and inside at once.  It's tricky. The first iteration of Windy Citizen was a more traditional news magazine site that required me to be out reporting and inside running the site. It was a nightmare.

With Drupad, local bloggers running Drupal sites can check up on how things are going while on the bus, waiting at a meeting, or in between interviews from their phone. It puts a simple administration interface in your hand so you can stay on top of what's new on your site and moderate comments on the fly. Since I set up Drupad last week, I no longer need to worry about staying near a computer at all times to check up on Windy Citizen. With Drupad, local bloggers will be able to spend more time out in the field and less time strapped to their desk keeping watch over their sites. This is a big win.

Block Spammers


2. Drupad makes it easier to block spammers

If your community news site or local blog has decent traffic or any semblance of a commenting community, you probably have issues with spammers posting nasty comments and content on your site. With Drupal's default admin UI, you usually wind up:

  1. Spotting the comment
  2. Clicking the "delete" link on the comment.
  3. Clicking "yes" on the next page to confirm you want to delete it.
  4. Going to your user list page in the admin interface.
  5. Clicking the checkbox next to the user who posted the offensive comment.
  6. Indicating that you want to block that user.
  7. Clicking the button to put the change in motion.

That's seven clicks to delete a spam comment and block a user. That sucks. If the user has posted comments all over your site or you have multiple spammers to deal with, it can be a real pain in the butt.

One of the things I've come to enjoy about having Drupad on my iPhone is that the iOS-ified UI it uses makes blocking users a much smoother experience. With Drupad, I can go to my user list, click on their profile, and just click a button. There's no waiting around for pages to load. It's a more pleasant experience all around. Anything that makes it easier or even more fun to fight spammers on your site is a win in my book.

It Works!

3. Drupad won't crash your site and actually works

The final reason every local blogger and community news publisher should install Drupad is because the thing actually works. Those of you who run Drupal sites are nodding your head at this point. Those of you who never have are scratching yours. Those of you who develop and release Drupal modules (thank you!) are clenching your fists and gritting your teeth. The truth about Drupal is that it's an incredibly powerful CMS that can be modified through community-created modules (similar to WordPress' plug-ins) to function as a PHP framework. So you can do a lot of things with a Drupal site. That's one of Drupal's biggest strengths.  

On the other hand, the community modules themselves can be a real grab bag. Some are great and mainstays that every Drupal site needs to survive (see Steve Yelvington's recent piece to read about some of them); but many of them are very much works in progress that promise a lot but will break your site and cost you a great deal of time unless you're a trained developer or have one on your team to supervise. Drupal's great, but it's for developers, not lay people.

I'm happy to say that Drupad is not one of these modules. I downloaded it and installed it on Windy Citizen. It did not crash our site or give us Drupal's dreaded "white screen of death." Then I bought the iPhone app and filled in the admin credentials for Windy Citizen. The app was able to connect immediately to our site and start showing me comments, content, and the latest users.  Drupad just works, and that's a huge selling point for any Drupal module.

You can download the Drupad module for Drupal 6 here and buy it from the iTunes app store here.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. I'd love to hear what other people make of it. It's clear from the roadmap posted on the developer's site that he wants to roll out more features. Even in its current simple state, I think it's worth the $5 for any and every local blogger who's ventured out into Drupal land.

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