links for 2010-07-31

  • Kevin: Google has opened up its Places API (which differs from its Latitude API). Some of the first developers to get access to these services will be developers creating check-in services ala Foursquare and Gowalla. As TechCrunch points out, this doesn't mean that Foursquare and Gowalla will have new competition (they are beating up on each other quite well). However, the pure check-in space is going to get quite a bit noisier. This also supports my view that location is much more of a platform than a specific service. Foursquare really is built around using game play to get people to check in, and using that information to provide access to businesses wishing to market to those people. However, location has many other applications and business models, and as Forrester recently found, Foursquare is still a relatively minority sport. (4% in the US)
  • Kevin: My friend and former colleague Roy Greenslade says in the wake of the Wikileaks Afghan War Logs story: "Confidential sources have therefore come to be seen as the lifeblood of modern journalism, as I have said so often down the years to my journalism students. But I now concede that I have overstated the point and downplayed the important, and often crucial, business of discovering, reading and analyzing raw data." Roy is really beating the drum for journalists analysing raw data. Computer-assisted reporting has been an important boutique skill in the US, and it is now good to see the recognition of its importance in the UK.

links for 2010-07-30

KPMG: UK readers far less willing to pay for digital content

Normally, I’d just add this link to Delicious, but the data is worth highlighting. KPMG has found that 81% of UK “would go elsewhere for content if a previously free site we use frequently began charging”. Only 19% would be willing to pay in the UK, while globally (the same research looked at consumer behaviour in a range of countries) 43% of consumers are willing to pay for digital content.

However, there are possibilities for publishers to pay for content that “almost three quarters of  UK consumers are willing to receive online ads in exchange lower content costs”. They are also more willing to have data collected if it would result in lower content costs. “48 percent of UK consumers would be willing to accept profile tracking, up from 35 percent in the 2008 survey.” Publishers and marketers need to take care though as 90% of consumers also expressed concern about their privacy and security online. That is high, although a slight reduction in the figures from 18 months ago.

A key finding from the report shows how consumers would like to balance privacy and targeted advertising. Tudor Aw, Head of Technology, KPMG Europe LLP, said:

(UK consumers) do see the value in allowing service providers to have access to the information necessary for more tailored services, but they are only prepared to do this if the risks are controlled and, crucially, if there is some value in it for them.

The research is well worth a look, especially for those whose revenue strategies are tied to advertising, but also for any business looking to deliver better targeted services to their customers through better use of data.

links for 2010-07-29

  • Kevin: Adam Tinworth pushes back at the idea that you can't buy subscriptions for content on the iPad, contrary to a piece in the Wall Street Journal's All Things D saying that Time Inc was struggling because it could not come to an agreement with Apple on how to handle subs. Adam says that there are routes for selling subs, but he also says that Apple could be clearer on what those routes are.
  • Kevin: A good, critical but not overly negative look at Demand Media, Associated Content and Suite101 by Emma Heald. She concludes: "The majority of content farms' content is not news-related, and those searching for news topics are unlikely to come across it. Everybody in the media industry is aware of the differences between hard news stories and the content farms' how-to pieces, making it doubtful that the latter will devalue the former. A critical eye on such developments is justified and indeed necessary, but how much of the concern is actually rational?" It's a good look at these companie and what they do and don't do. It's one of the more balanced pieces on these companies, often called "content farms", that I've seen.
  • Kevin: Chris Brogan has a though provoking short post on loading up on RSS feeds. "But for most of us, staying current on several dozen (or several hundred) news feeds isn’t our job. It’s a way to feel current, but it doesn’t always positively impact our decisions and plans." The bottom line: Does consuming all that information help you make better decisions and be more successful in your business?
  • Kevin: A good look not only at a leaderboard of social games in China but also the businesses that are creating them and their market goals for the near term. Chinese social games developers are finding monetisiation difficult and are looking to enter the Japanese market where average revenue per user is 12 times higher. They are also looking to Korea and Russia as possible markets. However, they will face competition from other companies such as Zynga and Playfish as they try to expand outside of their home market.
  • Kevin: Matthew Buckland looks at Google's Newspass content payment system and compares it to the system that Rupert Murdoch has instituted at The Times. He compares Newspass to a cable television subscription in which a consumer makes a one off, predictable payment to receive a package of content each month. Of course, this makes much more sense than a lot of payments to different providers or micro-payments for individual pieces of content. The big question as Matthew highlights it is whether a significant number of publishers will choose to join Newspass or create their own payment system (could they considering anti-competition laws). Knowing publishers, I would expect them to lobby for a relaxation of anti-competition laws in their own countries to make such a system possible rather than partner with Google, which they have as Matthew rightly points out, a love-hate relationship with.
  • Kevin: Sarah Perez at ReadWriteWeb asks off of the back of a Forrester research report that location based social networks such as Foursquare, Brightkite and Gowalla are dominated by a small group of young men. Only about 4% of US online adults have ever used these services, and only 1% of people use these services more than once a week. The market is fragmented. However, there are still opportunities there, Sarah argues even if Forrester concluded that "the potential doesn't match the hype yet".
  • Kevin: Forrester researcher Melissa Parrish looks at location-based social networks such as FourSquare and Brightkite (an early network that as of July 2010 still has more users than FourSquare). The market is quite nascent but can connect marketers with "right-time, right-place marketing by connecting people and nearby points of sale with geotargeted media", she writes. The early adopters are very skewed to males in the 18-25 demographic, and it is a highly competitive emerging market with no established player.
  • Kevin: Adina Levin has an excellent post looking at the narrow appeal of FourSquare and other location-based services based on games. A Forrester research study found that 80% of its users are male and 70% are aged 19-35. (I also wonder if it skews heavily male because of issues of privacy and personal safety. As a male, I'm not fussed about revealing my location. However, I know many female friends who have questioned revealing this, especially if a former partner is involved.) Adina says: "When adding game dynamics to software, it’s important to consider the varying motivations of potential users." She says that location will probably evolve to take into account a wide variety of motivations. For companies looking to explore location, they should take into account these motivations and see if they map well for their customer base, she says.
  • Kevin: An excellent article at MIT's Technology Review by Erica Naone looks at new location based services and networks. Hameed Khan, the CEO and lead developer of face2face, says, "Location is more a platform than it is a particular service." As the author of the article says: "In other words, simply sharing location information isn't enough–it also needs to be incorporated into a useful application." This is key. Many of the current generation of location games add competition and appeal to narrow demographic as shown by recent Forrester Research. This article looks at an excellent range of new services that have broader appeal and deliver more value to users.
  • Kevin: A deep look at non-profit journalism start-up Texas Tribune. Like other non-profit news groups, they have a number of different sources of revenue, from foundation and large donor support to events. They have also had a lot of success with publishing data. One thing the article talks about in great length is the risk taking culture at the Tribune. Multimedia editor Elise Hu said: “Instead of being in a place where I feel like I don’t have a lot of control over the hierarchies and bureaucracies that are in place,” she says, “here we can say, ‘Let’s try this. Let’s just go ahead and do it, and if it doesn’t work, let’s fix it.’?”
  • Kevin: Michele McLellan writing at the Knight Digital Media Center corrects a Time piece she was quoted in and calls out "replaceniks" who try to judge the value of new local media start-ups as replacements for local newspapers. She criticises studies that try to compare the new class of outlets to existing outlets. "I think such studies fail to assess other sources of news and information, and I think these all complement, rather than rival, traditional news media. Also, a traditional newsroom of any size is going to produce consistently better journalism than a lone blogger but I think overlooks the idea that it only takes one determined digger to uncover an important story that a larger outlet might miss." And she says that she never told time that 1 in 10 hyperlocal outlets were producing "good" content.
  • Kevin: A look at updates to the BBC's CPS content management system. I used to use it when I was the Washington correspondent for BBC News Online. It has definitely progressed in the three and a half years since I left the BBC. The interface is much cleaner. They have now moved away from table-based layout to CSS in part because it will help them add more meta-data to the layout.

Will publishers rally to Google’s Newspass?

Matthew Buckland has a great guest post on Silicon Valley Watcher looking at Google’s Newspass payment system for publishers. (It’s cross-posted from  Buckland compares the value proposition for users with Google’s system and the system that Rupert Murdoch has instituted at The Times. He likens Newspass to a cable television subscription in which a consumer makes a one off, predictable payment to receive a package of content each month. He says:

Take the analogy of satellite TV. You pay once and you get a bouquet of hundreds of channels. The transaction is simple and easy. You know you’re getting good value for money too because there is an economy-of-scale effect at work. Now imagine another scenario: What if you have to pay individually for each TV channel and go through the effort, time and extra cost to do so. It’s a no brainer really.

Of course from the consumer’s point of view, it makes a lot more sense to pay once for a bundle of content rather than paying subs to several different providers or micro-payments for individual pieces of content. However, if newspaper groups had the rationality to think about creating value propositions for their readers, they might have spared themselves the mess that they are in.

The big question, as Matthew highlights, is whether a significant number of publishers will choose to join Newspass or create their own payment system. I’m not sure that such a payment system would be possible in all jurisdictions based on competition/anti-trust law. That notwithstanding, knowing publishers, I would expect them to lobby for a relaxation of anti-competition laws in their own countries to make such a system possible rather than partner with Google, which they have as Matthew rightly points out, a love-hate relationship with. I’d say that it’s bordering on hate-hate these days, but that’s a matter of interpretation.

Matthew sees Google as a “dispassionate third party”, but with the egos in publishing and the ‘not invented here bias’, I’m not sure that publishers see Google as dispassionate or without skin in the game. Murdoch and his lieutenants, though possible an extreme example, refer to Google as a “parasite”. For them to be pushed into partnering with the likes of Google, they would have to be pressured into seeing past their almost self-destructively hyper-competitive natures and see that some loss of advantage was worth new revenue streams. In fact, I would see them being more open to partnering with another company just in an attempt to screw Google. Despite the existential threat facing some newspapers and newspaper groups, I’m not sure that they have seen the light, by which I mean the light some reportedly see with near-death experiences.

Will Apple’s obstinacy become self-defeating?

Apple’s attitude towards app approval for iTunes has been strange, to say the least. Stories abound of ?seemingly innocent applications being rejected for obscure reasons or, indeed, no real reason at all.

The latest example of their arbitrariness is the rejection of Time’s subscription-based magazine app for Sports Illustrated, “where consumers would download the magazines via Apple’s iTunes, but would pay Time Inc. directly”. As All Things Digital says, this could turn out to be a big problem for publishers, who not only want the predictability of subscribers, but also want the data.

Just a few days ago, the US Copyright Office ruled that jailbreaking your iPhone or iPad “?will no longer violate federal copyright law”. It may still void your Apple warranty, but it’s not going to land you in any more trouble than that.

In April, Apple released iPhone OS4 and with it came the news that developers would not be allowed to programme apps in anything other than C, C++, or Objective-C.

Let’s put three and three together, shall we? Apple is rejecting apps without much logic or clarity to their decisions. The publishing industry have been drooling over the iPad as a possible industry saver (which is likely bullshit, but let’s just run with it for a second) and have poured a fair amount of effort and money into their iPad strategy. Developers are getting frustrated that they can’t develop whatever they want for the iPad, using whichever language they want.

How long is it going to be before we see an app store for jailbroken devices which will bypass iTunes altogether? The publishers have an interest in such a move. So do developers. And as an end user, would you like to be able to decide what you install on your phone and what you don’t?

Personally, I’d like to have a better browser than Safari, which hardly plugs in to any other services (Twitter, Instapaper, Delicious, etc.) at all, but I can’t because Apple doesn’t allow apps that reproduce functionality provided by their own software. I’d also like to have any magazine subscriptions I take out be a relationship between me and the publisher, without Apple holding on to my data like an information-obsessed middleman. (As a bonus, I’d also like a more sensible music management application: iTunes is the worst music organiser and player I’ve ever had the misfortune to be forced to use.)

Me, I give it a year before we see a jailbroken app store and a whole new ecosystem growing up.

links for 2010-07-28

  • Kevin: A look at updates to the BBC's CPS content management system. I used to use it when I was the Washington correspondent for BBC News Online. It has definitely progressed in the three and a half years since I left the BBC. The interface is much cleaner. They have now moved away from table-based layout to CSS in part because it will help them add more meta-data to the layout.
  • Kevin: Wolfram Alpha now has widgets that allow you to embed math-based apps using their computation engine easily on your site.
  • Kevin: Jeff Jarvis argues at Business Insider that content companies like Condé Nast know that they need diversify their revenue streams. They cannot rely on advertising to the extent that they used to. The abundance of content and also advertising online means that the margins will never be what they once were. Jeff suggests that content companies need to move into retail (or possibly even affiliate sales such as through Amazon) to help offset the decline in advertising.
  • Kevin: A visualisation toolkit from Stanford. They have a number of examples of how to use the toolkit. The site explains: "Protovis is free and open-source, provided under the BSD License. It uses JavaScript and SVG for web-native visualizations; no plugin required (though you will need a modern web browser)! Although programming experience is helpful, Protovis is mostly declarative and designed to be learned by example."
  • Kevin: A good interview with Clay Shirky. I like how he is moving the discussion about the impact of the internet away from the binary banality of internet good/bad that we seem to have. The internet is complex, just like humanity and life in general. There are good and bad aspects. For instance Clay says: "We'll never get to a world where the high-minded civic stuff is the majority of the medium, anymore than books are like that. But we need things like PickUpPal and PatientsLikeMe, services that are saying we could actually harness this medium not just for self-amusement, but to change the world for the better."
  • Kevin: A good look by Christian Arno at Six Revisions at how to design your site for a global audience from using UTF-8 for text encoding to how symbols and colours might mean different things depending on the country and culture. It's a good reminder that globalisation doesn't mean homogeneity.
  • Kevin: John Stauffer of Ogilvy looks at the rise of Facebook in Asia. In the past, local social networks have dominated, but that is changing. Apart from Cyworld in South Korea and Mixi in japan (Orkut is the leading social network in India but it is not local and Facebook is expected to surpass it later in 2010), Facebook is the dominate social network in most Asia-Pacific countries. The growth has been stunning in the past year especially in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.

The value of data for readers and the newsroom

When I was at the BBC, a very smart producer, Gill Parker, approached me about pulling together a massive amount of data and information she was collecting with Frank Gardner trying to unravel the events that lead to the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US. Not only had Gill worked on the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme Newsnight and on ABC’s Nightline in the US, she also had worked in the technology industry. They were interviewing law enforcement and security sources all around the world and collecting masses of information which they all had in Microsoft Word files. She knew that they needed something else to help them connect the dots, and speaking with me in Washington where I was working as’s Washington correspondent at the time, she asked if help her get some database help.

I thought it was a great idea. My view was that by helping her organise all of the information that they were collecting, the News website could use the resulting database to develop info-graphics and other interactives that would help our audience better understand the complex story. We could help show relationships between all of the main actors in al Qaeda as well as walk people through an interactive timeline of events. I had a vision of displaying the information on a globe. People could move through time and see various events with key actors in the story. This was a bit beyond the technology of the time. Google Earth was still a few years away, and it would have required significant development for some of the visualisations. However, on a story like this, I thought we could justify the effort, and frankly, we didn’t need to go that far. Bottom line: Organising the data would have huge benefits for BBC journalists and also for our audiences.

?Unfortunately, it was the beginning of several years of cuts at the BBC, and the News website was coming under pressure. It was beyond the scope of what I had time to do or could do in my position, and we didn’t have database developers at the website who could be spared, I was told.

A few years later as Google Earth developed, Declan Butler at Nature used data of the spread of the H5N1virus globally to achieve something like the vision I had in terms of showing events over time and distance.

It is great to see my friend and former Guardian colleague Simon Rogers move forward with this thinking of data as a resource both internally to help journalists and also externally to help explain a complex story in his work on the Wikileaks War Logs story. Simon wrote about it on the Guardian Datablog:

we needed to make the data easier to use for our team of investigative reporters: David Leigh, Nick Davies, Declan Walsh, Simon Tisdall, Richard Norton-Taylor. We also wanted to make it simpler to access key information for you, out there in the real world – as clear and open as we could make it.

As the digital research editor at The Guardian, data was key to many of my ideas (before I left this March to pursue my own projects). I even thought that data could become a source of revenue for The Guardian. Data and analysis is something that people are willing to pay for. Ben Ayers, the Head of social media and community at, (speaking for himself not ITV) said to me on Twitter:

Brilliant. I’d pay for that stuff. Surely the kind of value that could be, er, charged for. Just sayin’ … just an example of where, if people expect great interpretation of data as part of the package, the Guardian could charge subs

As I replied to Ben, I wouldn’t advocate charging for data for the War Logs, but I would suggest that charging for data about media, business and sports. That could become an important source of income to help subsidise the cost of investigations like the War Logs. Data wrangling can be time intensive. I know from my experience in developing the media job cuts series that I wrote at the end of 2009 for The Guardian. However, the data can be a great resource for journalists writing stories as well as developing interactive graphics like the media job cuts map or the IED attack map for the War Logs story. Data drives traffic, as the Texas Tribune in the US has found, and I believe that certain datasets could be developed into new commercial products for news organisations.

links for 2010-07-27