Podcast revolution driven by mobile devices with four wheels

Podcasting has been buzzing over the last year in the US. One reason is smart content, with NPR’s Serial, which was download at least 80 million times.

However, there is a tech aspect at play as well. According to podcast hosting service Libsyn, two-thirds of podcasts were downloaded by mobile devices in 2014, up from 43 percent just two years before. But this is not just about the rise of the smartphone but also of connected cars. 

My car can connect to three apps on my iPad or smartphone – podcast and local service discovery app aha, music streaming app Pandora and podcast app Stitcher. Of course, I can stream anything from my device to my car via bluetooth, but these apps have controls integrated with my car’s infotainment system. I can move easily through the menus using a joystick dial in the centre console of my car. If I find a coffee shop, restaurant or retailer via aha, the address finder is integrated with my cars satnav. 

And all of this means that podcasting is starting to make appealing revenue. For the full piece, head on over to the Media Briefing

Microsoft and Nokia: Death by management

When Steve Ballmer announced that he was retiring, I said on Twitter that the announcement was unsurprising but that Microsoft needed a surprise to replace him. Ever since Microsoftie Stephen Elop took the helm of Nokia, everyone has been predicting that Microsoft would scoop up the fallen mobile giant. The speculation only intensified when Elop decided that the only way to save Nokia’s burning platform was to abandon its own operating system and adopt Microsoft’s minority mobile platform. At a conference in 2011, I asked fellow speaker and media innovator Robert Tercek what he thought of a potential Microsoft-Nokia tie up, and he said, “Tying together two rocks doesn’t make them float.”

Now Ballmer has followed up his rather predictable decision to retire with a rather predictable acquisition, a big chunk of Nokia. I am sure that in Ballmer’s mind he was trying to demonstrate boldness. He has instead shown just how unimaginative he is as a leader. He’s run out of time to launch Microsoft into a new era of growth so instead he’s decided to build a bigger corporate beast.

Microsoft’s Windows empire is besieged by Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS, and Ballmer and his lieutenants knew they needed to boost their mobile efforts. But how does this acquisition help that? While Microsoft feels like it is just past its peak but still has its strengths, Nokia’s position is much more precarious.

In the PowerPoint explaining the acquisition, Microsoft said that this acquisition would accelerate growth. Pray tell how? Nokia has seen its smartphone share collapse in the last three years, from 34.2 percent to 3 percent. Looking at that slide deck, I see a company in denial. They say that success in phones will drive success in tablets and success in tablets will drive success in PCs. To achieve this, Microsoft would need Nokia’s Lumia line to take off like a rocket, and they also need to sort out their own tablet strategy. Writing off $900 m on their Windows RT Surface tablets means they need a tablet strategy. It doesn’t mean they have one.

Microsoft is facing The Innovator’s Dilemma. They have a couple of lucrative business lines that are under pressure – Windows and Office, but both face competition. PC sales are flagging, and many people are finding that tablets are good enough for most of what they do. In terms of Office, Microsoft is under pressure from cloud competitors such as Google.

Now there is a lot of talk of Elop replacing Ballmer at the helm of Microsoft? Really? He has done precious little to right the ship at Nokia, and most of his strategies have yet to show real results.

Microsoft and Nokia both needed a new vision, a coherent strategy to the relentless change in technology, but instead of inspirational leadership and a clear headed view of how the companies need to adapt, they have an uninspired tie up.

The death of Google Reader: Taking the re- out of search

For hardcore RSS users and journalists, a collective cry of anguish went up as Google decided to kill Reader. As New Zealand developer Aldo Cortesi put it, it wasn’t just the death of a single application but a serious blow to the RSS eco-system, an eco-system that he said was already “deeply ill“. The knock-on effects of the death of Google Reader are not trivial:

Cortesi was very direct on the last point:

The truth is this: Google destroyed the RSS feed reader ecosystem with a subsidized product, stifling its competitors and killing innovation. It then neglected Google Reader itself for years, after it had effectively become the only player.

There are alternatives. I’ve used Feedly on and off for a while, and I still use NetNewsWire. I’m excited to hear that Feedly is working to allow people to easily migrate from Google Reader to its other sync services.

However, as the dust has settled since the announcement, I still haven’t found a drop-in replacement for Reader. As a journalist, Google Reader is essential to the work I do. As imperfect as Google Translate is, the ability to translate content easily from feeds in languages I didn’t speak was a god-send. It helped me keep up with developments in the Arabic, Chinese and Turkish markets that I simply wouldn’t have been able to without it. Sure, I can put things manually through Translate, but it’s all about efficiency.

Google Reader combined with Google Alerts (how long will that hang around I wonder) was another stunning way for me to discover new sources of information, especially as Google ripped out the sharing that once was a powerful social way to discover new information.

I’ll readily admit that I’m an edge case. RSS readers have never been a mainstream activity, but as a journalist, RSS was one way that I kept on top of the firehouse of information that I need to sift through as a modern information professional. In my work as not only a journalist but also as a digital media strategist, people ask me how I stay on top of all of the constant changes in the business. Although social and semantic news app Zite is the first thing I look at every morning, RSS and Google Reader have continued to play an essential role, and RSS, Google Reader or no Google Reader, will continue to be essential.

Google has had and then killed a number of extremely useful research tools for journalists, and Reader is just the latest. Search Timeline, which showed the frequency of a search term, was flawed but still extremely useful for research as a journalist. For journalists working with social media, the death of Realtime, Google’s social media search, was a terrible loss. No other tool has come even close to the functionality that Realtime offered. Topsy comes the closest, but it still lacks the incredible features that Realtime offered. Now, some of the death of Realtime was part of another company killing an eco-system, Twitter, but Google could have continued after the deal with Twitter fell apart. Google probably didn’t for the same reason it is killing Reader. The search giant wants to push Google+.

The death of Search Timeline, Realtime and now Reader all seem to be a pattern, loss of tools that were very important for journalistic research at the search company. I’m not saying my needs as a journalist are more important than the vast majority of other users of Google (although Suw notes that, as a consultant, she also relied on these tools and often recommended them to clients). My professional needs are quite particular. However, these tools were incredibly useful for research, and I don’t see any drop-in replacements.

My question to fellow journalists: How do we support the special web services that are valuable to us? How do we help create more resilient digital services that serve our special needs? I have some ideas, but that’s for another blog post.

Emily Cummins – my Ada Lovelace Day Heroine

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, the annual celebration of the achievements of women in science, tech, engineering and maths. As the Tweets flow thick and fast and the new website holds its ground, it’s time for me to think about my own contribution.

This year I have chosen Emily Cummins as my Heroine. At just 24, Emily has already won a number of awards and accolades because of her work on sustainable tech. She was named one of the Top Ten Outstanding Young People in the World 2010, won the the Barclays Woman of the Year Award in 2009, and was Cosmopolitan magazine’s Ultimate Save-the-Planet Pioneer 2008.

One of Emily’s most notable inventions is an evaporative refrigerator that doesn’t need electricity, for use in developing countries for the transport and storage of temperature-sensitive drugs. But it’s not just her inventiveness that makes Emily a great role model – it’s her willingness to tinker, try things out, and invent. And that is something she puts down to having been supported in her tinkering as a child. She said in this interview with Female First:

I had a really inspirational granddad who gave me a hammer when I was four years old! We used to spend hours together in his shed at the bottom of the garden, taking things apart and putting them back together again. By the time I started at high school it meant I already understood the properties of different materials and how certain machinery worked. I’d always had a creative spark and because it was encouraged from an early age I suppose I had the confidence to take it forward and start inventing for myself.

There’s a very valuable lesson there to anyone who has daughters, granddaughters or nieces: Give them hammers, screwdrivers and, when they’re old enough, power tools. Encourage them to spend time in the garden shed or the garage with you, learning not just how to take things apart, but how to put them back together again. It’s through playing with technology – both hi-tech and lo-fi – that we learn how it all works, and once we know how it works, we can invent.

I don’t have a daughter but I do have a niece, and I love buying her the science and technology kits and toys that no one else thinks to get for her. I know she loves her chemistry set and her electric circuitry set, and she knows that she’ll get more fun things to play with from me that she can’t yet even guess at. I hope that that, as she gets older, she’ll remember how much fun she finds them and will carry on thinking of herself as someone who can do science and tech, and won’t give in to boring gender stereotypes.

Emily makes a great role model for girls like my niece, and young women, but also for those of us who are a little older, who deep down, just want to get out into the garden shed and start tinkering. Emily shows us just what women can achieve, given the room to experiment and invent. And we all ought to remember that it’s not too late to get ourselves a hammer and start making stuff.

In memory of the vision of Steve Jobs

I woke up this morning where I wake most mornings these days, in a hotel room, and flipped on CNBC, one of the few English language TV stations I can get on the hotels 1500 channel satellite system. They were playing what I thought was an Apple retrospective, but I had missed the beginning. I was looking at my email and saw a message from the editor of FirstPost.com, a site that Suw and I helped launch. Suw is now the contributing technology editor for the site, and I have the grandiose title of writer-at-large, apt for the roving reporter that I am. The email just said get in touch when you’re up. Before the piece on CNBC was finished and I had read another email, I realised that Steve Jobs had died.

I never met Steve Jobs, although I did get close at MacWorld in 2000, which I covered as Washington correspondent for the BBC News website. It was MacWorld New York when he introduced the ill-fated Cube, one of the few flops of his storied second coming. I wrote this of my brush with Steve Jobs:

I was trying to make my way through the crowd of people swarming around the new sleek offerings from Apple at MacWorld when suddenly the crowd split.

It was as if Moses had parted the sea of people.

There he stood in signature black shirt and jeans, the man who made and later saved Apple: Steve Jobs.

For a man I never really met, I was caught off guard by how much Steve Jobs’ death affected me. Working on the piece for FirstPost, I found myself tearing up on several occasions, especially after watching the Think Different advertisement that he narrated, one that was never shown. It felt as if he was narrating his own eulogy.

In all the tributes and reminiscences rolled by today, a 1985 Playboy interview with Steve Jobs (might not want to click on that link at work – Steve’s clothed but the women in the ads aren’t) was making the rounds, and as I read it, I was struck several times why he deserves to be called a visionary. On the information revolution, he said:

We’re living in the wake of the petrochemical revolution of 100 years ago. The petrochemical revolution gave us free energy–free mechanical energy, in this case. It changed the texture of society in most ways. This revolution, the information revolution, is a revolution of free energy as well, but of another kind: free intellectual energy. It’s very crude today, yet our Macintosh computer takes less power than a 100-watt light bulb to run and it can save you hours a day. What will it be able to do ten or 20 years from now, or 50 years from now? This revolution will dwarf the petrochemical revolution.We’re on the forefront.

What was really interesting in the article, written in 1985 is that it’s quite clear, at least from the point of view of the interviewer, that the case for having a personal computer hadn’t been made yet. Jobs gave him a reason from his insight into the not so distant, and he really hit the nail on the head.

The most compelling reason for most people to buy a computer for the home will be to link it into a nationwide communications network. We’re just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people–as remarkable as the telephone.

We still are moving through the early days of this revolution, but Steve Jobs saw it coming more than a quarter of a century ago, when he was only 29-years-old. He didn’t make it to see another 29 years. The world lost a visionary, but his inspiration lives on.

CNN and Zite: What other tech companies have been bought by Big Media?

With the news that CNN has bought iPad news app Zite, I started thinking about what tech companies have been bought by media organisations. I could think of a couple off the top of my head including Newsvine and Everyblock by MSNBC, Reddit by Condé Nast and Blogrunner by the New York Times. If you think of any others, feel free to pop them in the form below. I’ll publish the list as soon as we get it into some shape.

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.

Annenberg-Oxford Summer Institute: Continuing the Conversation

A couple of years ago, I spoke at the Oxford Internet Institute, and after my talk, the conversation carried on via Strange Attractor and the blogs written by some of the students there. I went back to Oxford today to talk about social media, journalism and broader media trends with the very international group of “scholars and regulators? at the Annenberg-Oxford Summer Institute.

As I did from my talk a few years ago at the OII, I’ll follow up some questions that came after my talk and some questions that came in via Twitter.

Does participatory media make public service media obsolete?

I met Shawn Powers at the Al Jazeera Forum in Doha in May, and he invited me to give a talk at the institute. After my talk, he highlighted what he thought was a contradiction in my presentation, which he thought could be interpreted as supporting James Murdoch’s attack on the BBC. Not to over-simplify his point, but with all of the examples I gave of people creating their own media, Shawn wondered if I was making the point that British society no longer needed a public broadcaster like the BBC.

It never really occurred to me that my presentation could be interpreted like this because four years after I left the BBC, I value public service media even more than when I was working there. Most of the examples I talk about in my presentation (a version is here on SlideShare) are collaborations between professional journalists and members of the public not examples of the public supplanting or replacing journalists.

When I came to London in 2005 to research how BBC News could use blogging, I actually saw the possibility of a public service broadcaster like the BBC deepening its public role by developing stronger relationships with people formerly known as the audience.

James Murdoch’s argument delivered in Edinburgh last year:

We seem to have decided to let independence and plurality wither. To let the BBC throttle the news market, and get bigger to compensate

I see commercial media and public service media combined with emerging participatory media as creating greater plurality, not throttling it. Murdoch’s argument is a rather unsophisticated and transparent attack on the BBC because he knows that most surveys show that when consumers are asked to pay for news online, most of them (74%) would switch to free options, such as the BBC. Only about 5% in the paidcontent.co.uk and Harris survey would pay to continue to use the service. (For a good critique of the Murdochs’ hard paywall that they just erected around The Times and The Sunday Times, see Steve Outing’s look at different commercial strategies.)

Returning to the strategic white paper I wrote for the BBC, I also thought by encouraging media creation by a wider part of the population that it actually would expand civic participation in new ways and possibly reverse trends in the decline in traditional forms of democratic participation such as voting. (Andy Carvin at NPR is demonstrating how social media is public service media can be a powerful combination.)

Maybe in the future, I should start with a statement of principles or values. I assume that my career choices say a lot about my journalistic values. I have worked for two very unique journalism organisations, the publicly-funded BBC and the trust-supported Guardian. It was an honour to work at two places that value journalism as much as the BBC and The Guardian.  I don’t see social media as an argument for ending subsidies to public media in favour of a “pure” market-based media eco-system. Rather, I see my interest in social media as a perfectly logical extension of my passion for the social mission of journalism, a mission to inform and engage people and to empower them as citizens in democratic societies.

Choosing the right tool for the job

Another person at the institute raised the issue of whether I was focusing on the tools rather than the editorial goals. Was I seeing social media as the hammer and every story as a nail?

In reality, I’ve long argued against using a tool for the sake of using a tool. In my original presentation at the BBC, one of my slides was a herd of cattle with a little Photoshopped brand on one of the bulls labelled MSM (mainstream media), complete with the song Rawhide playing in the background. I said that the media was engaging in a lot of herd-like behaviour, rushing off to blog without any clear reason as to why. I used to play a clip of Jon Stewart of the Daily Show sarcastically congratulating MSNBC and their blogging efforts as “giving a voice to the already voiced”. I questioned why the media needed blogs when we already had publishing platforms.

To justify blogging, we had to have clear editorial goals and not just blog because it was the new media flavour of the month. I did see benefits in blogging and using social media. We could engage our audiences directly and take our journalism to where they were instead of relying on them to come our site. We could enhance our journalism by expanding our sources, adding new voices and highlighting expertise in our audience.

Often people saw blogging not as a conversational, engagement focused media but as a means to secure their own column. They didn’t want to write more than once a week. They had no interest in actually responding to comments. Although I didn’t see this as an appropriate use of blogging, usually, they got a blog because I wasn’t in a position to deny them one.

It’s important to understand that social media is only one tool in a journalist’s toolkit. It is powerful, but it is very important to understand when it is appropriate to use social media and when it isn’t.

As someone at Oxford also pointed out, as journalists we need to make sure that we don’t over-interpret opinion on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks as truly representative. I often use social networks and blogging to find expertise and first person experience of an event, not necessarily to canvas for opinion. The same student at Oxford also was concerned that journalists would rely solely on online social networks to source stories or generate story ideas. That’s the mark of either a lazy journalist or one who is so overburdened with work due to staffing cuts that social media becomes an all too easy shortcut. (I understand only too well the time pressures that journalists are under due to the hollowing out of newsrooms.)

Do location-based networks have staying power?

One of the students told me that she had asked a few questions via Twitter while I was talking, and here is one of her questions:

#AnOx10 Kevin Anderson @kevglobal– Social Media for Social Change: great talk today but do u really think Loc-base has staying power?

I’ve been working with location for a couple of years ago, starting with my coverage of the US elections in 2008. I’ve been testing location-based networks like BrightKite and the location features with Twitter since 2008, and I’ve been trying the newer networks such as FourSquare in preparation for a keynote that I’m giving at the SpotOn conference in Helsinki in September.

As I started saying in 2005, in this age of information-overload, two things are key to success: Relationship and relevance. Social media allows news organisations to much more directly build and maintain their relationships with both members of the public who simply want to consume their content and also with people who want to collaborate or contribute to news coverage. In a world with so many information choices, relevance is extremely valuable. This weekend, I spoke to the Gates Scholars at Cambridge, and many of the questions to the panel that I was on were about finding and filtering the vast ocean of information available. To me location is one filter for relevance.

There are two ways to interpret this question: Will the current generation of location-based networks have staying power? Will location itself have staying power?

In using FourSquare, I actually find the game element rather simplistic. Without a native app on my Nokia N82 (am considering buying Gravity, but its £8 is higher than my impulse threshold for buying a mobile app), the friction is too high for me. I am too aware that FourSquare is trying to trick me into surfacing my location. For Google’s Latitude, I set it and forget it, and I see my friends on my Google Map. That service hasn’t hit a critical mass of users in my offline social networks to be all that useful.

However, in convincing people to reveal their location, FourSquare is already beginning to partner with media and other companies to sell other location-based services. Frankly, I don’t need the psychological trickery of points and mayor-ships to get me to check-in, if I get a useful service from revealing my location.

That’s where I see location being interesting, not as an element of games like Gowalla or FourSquare, but as a fundamental enabling technology like RSS. Very few people use RSS directly in standalone readers as I do, but many more people use RSS without even knowing it. Location will be one of those underlying, enabling technologies.

The big difference between RSS and location is the issue of privacy and security connected to revealing one’s location. Lots of people follow me on Twitter who I don’t know. I have a category of contacts on Facebook “People I don’t know”. I am not going to let people I don’t know in the real world know where I am in the real world. I’m working through whether I want to be selective in my contacts on FourSquare or selective in checking in.

Location is going to be a powerful feature in new services. That has staying power. Part of me thinks that services like Gowalla and FourSquare are very first generation at this point. They have a certain Friendster feel about them. However, FourSquare is evolving very quickly, and its very clear business model means that it will have the space to experiment.

Those are the questions that I can think of off the top of my head. If people have more, leave a comment. I’ll try to answer them before Suw and I start our summer break on Thursday.

Battle for the Living Room: Apple TV shifting to app strategy?

The living room (lounge for UK readers) is one of the most interesting tech spaces right now, and it’s got nothing to do with 3-D TV. (Just for the record, I’ve been referring to this as the Battle for the Living Room for a while now, lest anyone think I’m just ripping off Mashable headlines.) The blurring of the lines between internet video and broadcast television and between computers and traditional televisions is bringing consumer electronics companies and computer companies into a new competitive space.

Nick Bilton at the New York Times’ Bits Blog looks at how Apple could be looking to re-invent its rather sleepy Apple TV line. One of the big changes is that a new Apple TV could be based on the iOS that powers Apple’s iPhone and iPad. Why is this important?

If Apple does use the iOS software, it would allow people to download applications like the Netflix app, which allows streaming movies and TV shows; ABC’s TV player; or Hulu’s latest video streaming application.

This space is getting very crowded. As both Mashable and Nick pointed out, Google and Sony are going to launch Google TV. It will be based on its Android operating system, and an Android marketplace for Google TV will launch in early 2011.

Alt media centre software maker Boxee has its own apps and has launched its own hardware, the first Boxee box is coming from D-Link. (It was supposed to be out in the second quarter of this year, but it has now been delayed until November.)

Here in the UK, the BBC has won approval to proceed with its own project to bring its iPlayer catch-up service to the living room with Project Canvas. What is Project Canvas? From a story on the BBC News website:

Project Canvas is a partnership between the BBC, ITV, BT, Five, Channel 4 and TalkTalk to develop a so-called Internet Protocol Television standard.

The technology will be built into a number of set-top boxes. However, Canvas is UK-only, and as Robert Andrews at paidContent points out, there is a pan-European standard that has beaten Canvas to market: HbbTV.

Of course, hyper-competitive also leaves the potential for consumer confusion, and this looks like it might make the VHS v Beta battle look like minor scrap. Right now, we’re in the gold rush period, with a mad dash by a lot of major players to dominate this space. It’s very early days, and a lot of the products are little more than announcements. What is very interesting is that we’ve got a lot of major companies coming from sectors that previously didn’t overlap that much apart from some of the major Japanese players. They will not back down without a fight. It will be very interesting to see what our living rooms look like in 2015.

BBC Backstage five year retrospective

The BBC’s developer community, Backstage, is swiftly approaching five years old and I have been asked by Ian Forrester if I would put together a retrospective. We are, of course, going to do some mash-ups, but we’re not just interested in collecting data, we want people to share with us their stories and memories too.

I’ve got two proto-mash-ups in progress that I’d love anyone who took part in Backstage, even if only briefly, to consider contributing to. The first is image-based: We are looking for your favourite photos and images of Backstage and the stories behind them. The images might be a photo from a Backstage event that you really enjoyed, or a screenshot of a prototype you developed or a visualisation of BBC data that you put together. We don’t mind what type of image it is, just so long as it’s online and you can tell us a bit about it.

Our second project is map-based: We’d like you to tell us what your favourite experiences of Backstage were. Perhaps a prototype you put together, an event you went to, or something else completely. We’d also like to know where you are based (at whatever level of detail you feel comfortable) so that we can see how far Backstage reached.

Both mash-ups are based on Google Docs so the two forms are embedded below. In both cases, if you add info to the spreadsheets we take that to mean that you’re happy for us to reuse your contribution.

Right, here are the forms!

Or go here for the Images mash-up form!

Or go here for the Mapping Backstage form!