Thursday, July 16, 2009

That Paying for Newspapers Online Meme: FT's Lionel Barber

From the Guardian - who have mentioned the "paying" thing before now themselves.
The Financial Times editor, Lionel Barber, has predicted that "almost all" news organisations will be charging for online content within a year.

Barber said building online platforms that could charge readers on an article-by-article or subscription basis was one of the key challenges facing news organisations.

"How these online payment models work and how much revenue they can generate is still up in the air," Barber said in a speech at at a Media Standards Trust event at the British Academy last night.

"But I confidently predict that within the next 12 months, almost all news organisations will be charging for content."

Let's say it happens: surely we will also see a huge growth in non-pay for news from new sources, and new kinds of news providers? And there's always the BBC...

The Cabinet Office: getting funky?

I was speaking recently to one of the academics working with Tim Berners-Lee on opening up UK government information. We both agreed that at Cabinet Office level some very interesting things were going on. Here's the latest CO review:
The report highlights more than 30 case studies from 15 countries. It emphasises that innovation and productivity come from forging stronger relationships with citizens and finds the most successful services have five distinguishing characteristics:

*Using entitlements to put power in the hands of users of services
*Transforming accountability of services through real time, highly local information
*Incentivising the creation of tailor made, integrated, personalised services which citizens can shape
*Answering people’s ambition for prevention rather than cure
*New professionalism in front-line staff and leaders, with new organisational structures which encourage this.

And the report, Power in People's Hands, is here.

Waterstones: sure we love the digital...for marketing

Missing the point, no? From Waterstone's Twitter feed:
WaterstonesUse #voucher code BG2298 at checkout for an extra 10% off when you spend £25. Excludes Reader, eBooks & accessories. Please RT!

Waterstones Twitter.

The People's Supermarket?

I co-wrote a book about the future of retail many years ago: didn't think we'd come this far, so soon.
Tesco has said it sees the future of its online offering as an open platform to which anyone can contribute.

From New Media Age. Interviewed Tesco and they were always ahead of the game but...
Tesco, along with its digital agency EMC Conchango, Microsoft and Nesta, is inviting developers to an open day, called T-Jam, in August to introduce them to the initiative.

Nick Lansley, head of research and development and head of special projects, told new media age, “We’re opening up our affiliate programme to allow people to develop for whatever device they want, whether it’s a website, mobile phone or set-top box, and make money for each new customer that comes to us as a result.

“The reason we’re doing this is that although we have lots of ideas we don’t necessarily have the resources to do them ourselves,” he added. “So the new API allows developers to write whatever they want, benefit us but also make money off the back of it.”

Great stuff.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What The Wire tells us about the NOTW story – or are we watching “All the President’s Men” in reverse negative?

Fans of the “greatest TV series of all time” (© just about everybody) will know that surveillance is the glue that holds together an urban palimpsest travelling across, down and through the mean and the murky streets of Baltimore. Created by David Simon, The Wire charts the labyrinthine interconnections of “place”, drugs, prostitution, police, politics, media, and money.

The Wire depicts Baltimore life from the bottom to the top; the street corner where the drugs are sold to the Masters of the Universe donor-parties for Senators and their flunkies. Sound familiar and decidedly non-fiction? It feels it. Re-watching series three of The Wire this week, courtesy of BBC2 and Sky Plus, I’ve also been struck by how much it echoes London now. And how many seeming parallels there are with the News of the World phone-hacking claims.

The Wire’s best moments of surveillance occur when a pay-phone, or bleeper, and then, later, pay-to-go mobile phones, are hacked. For the small surveillance team run by Cedric Daniels these are the key moments of progress in their story – and mission as “police”. The team tries to work up from the information they glean from the phone hacks – towards the street bosses, Barksdale or “Stringer” Bell – by connecting one drug drop, or one murder, to the person above. Meanwhile the “Street” is moving into property, laundering, and cleaning up, and is always ahead of "the Game". The “product” on the street corner is the fuel but very quickly not the endgame. Think along the lines of a NOTW newspaper front cover to the SKY Arts HD channel showing, say, Parsifal live from La Scala.

So who are the street players in all this NOTW version of The Wire: we the consumers who want pure celebrity/political hits. We’re supplied on the street corners (and online) by the news sources who are reliant on the hacks and their “agents” and don’t (as long as we don’t know) care how we get our score. We become addicted (we get “Heat”) and soon enough demand outreaches supply. But there’s always more product, as long as someone can hack the mobile – or be given the CD – and of course some of the people whose phones are hacked are not totally immune to a hit of celebrity revelation themselves. The beat goes on and on: however often Jimmy McNulty, or Nick Davies, make a breakthrough there is the inevitable two steps back. Too many interests are at stake. And Premier League contracts. Or re-election campaigns.

And higher up the Jobian ladder beyond even The Wire’s Barksdale or “Stringer” Bell – or indeed – with the NOTW story, Andy Coulson, lurk even bigger figures; big enough and hard enough to reach, who might recall in the older of us another Colson (sic) – “Chuck”, special council to President Richard Nixon, and commonly named as one of “Watergate Seven” – a group involved, as I remember, in Wire tapping themselves. History: first as tragedy, then farce, and now a digital dance of revelation and newspaper wars and political cowardice. But this time it is a circular dance, and with no end until the file-shared music stops.

In fact a late night dose of Newsnight, followed by The Wire and topped off with a TCM rerun of All the President’s Men shows us how far we’ve come since 1972-4. The new Woodward and Bernstein edits celebrity news; the politicians hire ex-NOTW editors for their streetworthiness; and everyone wishes it was all like the West Wing. Instead we’re all hustling the street for news of – what? – Nigella Lawson’s texting skills? Elle McPherson’s views on the Economy? John Prescott’s latest DIY initiative?

And we worry about ID cards?

Modern media-political life, despite our need for West Wing simplicities, is surveillance-driven shallow and intrusion-thick heavy: it’s really like The Wire: bleak, Dickensian, filled with quick-fit sex, and very few happy endings. Except that few of us want to save it on Sky Plus to view at our leisure: it feels too rank.

Novel Debuts (about the French Revolution, or not) now(ish) on Twitter

Happy Bastille Day! Today I'm releasing my debut novel, The French Revolution, on Twitter. As far as I can tell... less than a minute ago

Now that's what I call disintermediation.
Matt Stewart. Read on here.

It is around three pm in the UK. Think there is an hour before launch. Blimey! Twitter.

Update: Matt Stewart in the Huff-Po.
My immediate reaction, were I in your shoes, would be incredulity. Who reads long-form literature on Twitter? Who reads long-form anything online?

The short answer is: nobody. The internet is a universe of abundance, overwhelming us with creative videos and fascinating articles and a Pandora's Box of endlessly entertaining distractions. With this reality in mind, I don't expect people to read my whole novel online.

What's next for the Book: Oxfam vs Waterstones

A short story of our times: I'm finding almost as many relevant research books for my new book in the Oxfam store (in Hampstead) as in the Waterstones opposite; and most certainly the (material) university library - which is good for Milton and Publishing History, and perhaps Orwell.

Today I bought books on contemporary economics, trust and truth, story writing and "authenticity"; recently The Future of the Internet. Today "fiction" was on a half-price offer. In Oxfam. What is this saying: the books are out of date almost as quickly as they are published; or that "books about now" are one-read discards? And what about that fiction offer? Is it the computer games, the death of the story, the failure to catch the "now" of life? Who knows - yet. Still, I snagged a Waterstones copy of The Junior Officers' Reading Club by Patrick Hennessey: now that holds promise.

Monday, July 13, 2009

So the elevator pitch goes: short story, unidentified objects, eBay, fiction, publicity - blogs will pick it up

And I have.
When authors Rob Walker ("Buying In") and Joshua Glenn ("Taking Things Seriously"), each of whom is curious about the meaning and value we assign to objects, met in Boston earlier this year, they came up with the idea for the fiction-auction project Significant Objects. Well-known literary authors - including Luc Sante and Lydia Millet - write a short story that serves the description for a basically worthless object that is then auctioned on EBay. The first set of auctions has closed, and while the ending prices were all less than $30, Walker points out that with listing prices beginning as low as 29 cents, the final value increased by as much 4,000%.

More here @ the LA Times.

Mama we're all writers now

Don't stop now a c-mon:
Our new forms of writing—blogs, Facebook, Twitter—all have precedents, analogue analogues: a notebook, a postcard, a jotting on the back of an envelope. They are exceedingly accessible. That it is easier to cultivate a wide audience for tossed off thoughts has meant a superfluity of mundane musings, to be sure. But it has also generated a democracy of ideas and quite a few rising stars, whose work we might never have been exposed to were we limited to conventional publishing channels.

Amateurs and experts share real estate on our screens. We scroll down to add our comments; we join the written fray. The rush of prose is intense, but also exhilirating. So many hats are in the ring.

From More Intelligent Life.

Better than Amazon recommendations?

Bookseer. Well, actually, it's Amazon Plus...

On building a new network

Just because you’ve started a network doesn’t mean everyone’s on the same page. “Networks are a new concept,” Van Slyke said. “You have to build those relationships. People still consider other organizations as competition for eyeballs or funds. You have to get over that into, ‘How do we work together for support of everyone?’”

Van Slyke said the Media Consortium members went through a long period of “dating” before they committed to making their collaboration official. Unlike the 30-plus investigative outlets who met at Pocantico last week and immediately inaugurated their network, the Media Consortium took several meetings to form, declaring its existence a year after their initial March 2005 meeting.

Tracy Van Slyke, who runs the Media Consortium. From an article in the Nieman Journalism lab.

Writing - it's going IM-y

Half (50%) of teens say they sometimes use informal writing styles in the writing they perform in school, 38% have used shortcuts from instant messaging or email, and 25% have used emoticons in their school writing. Overall, nearly two-thirds of teens (64%) incorporate some informal styles from their text-based communications into their writing at school.

From Pew.

The "new hard work" - attention span

A person who works six hours a day but with total focus has an enormous advantage over a 12-hour-per-day workaholic who's "multi-tasking" all day, answering every phone call, constantly checking Facebook and Twitter, and indulging every interruption. It's time we upgraded our work ethic for the age we're living in, not our grandparents' age. Hard work is still a virtue, but now takes a distant second place to the new determinant of success or failure in the age of Internet distractions: Control of attention. Hard work is dead. Are you paying attention?

From Lifehacker There must be some good research on this - will go look.

Teenagers and Media, by Morgan Stanley

Teenagers are consuming more media, but in entirely different ways and are almost certainly not prepared to pay for it. They resent intrusive advertising on billboards, TV and the Internet. They are happy to chase content and music across platforms and devices (iPods, mobiles, streaming sites). Print media (newspapers, directories) are viewed as irrelevant but events (cinema, concerts etc.) remain popular and one of the few beneficiaries of payment. The convergence of gaming, TV, mobile and Internet is accelerating with huge implications for pay-TV.

Much more here @ Morgan Stanley.

The Atlantic on the evolution (or is it slow suicide?) of the "news weekly"

In the digital age, with its overabundance of information, the modern newsweekly is in a particularly poignant position. Designed nearly a century ago to be all things to all people, it Chaplin-esquely tries to straddle thousands of rapidly fragmenting micro-niches, a mainframe in an iTouch world. The audience it was created to serve—middlebrow; curious, but not too curious; engaged, but only to a point—no longer exists. Newsweeklies were intended to be counterprogramming to newspapers, back when we were drowning in newsprint and needed a digest to redact that vast inflow of dead-tree objectivity. Now, in response to accelerating news cycles, the newspapers have effectively become newsweekly-style digests themselves, resorting to muddy “news analysis” now that the actual news has hit us on multiple platforms before we even open our front door in the morning.

The thing is this: enough people knew that this would happen, what's amazing is how slow "legacy" media has been in responding. More here

$15 - the price of the mobile phone for all, from Venezuela

More here:
The Venezuelan phone is being championed as the world’s cheapest mobile phone. It is a bold effort to create an affordable mobile phone packed with features: a camera, WAP internet access (wireless application protocol), FM radio, and MP3 and MP4 players for music and videos.

The phone uses inexpensive parts from China and is assembled in Venezuela. A quarter of the cost of manufacturing the phone is subsidized by the government. Venezuela often uses the profits from its oil industry to subsidize social goals.

Twitter: how to use it as a news source

From Media Helping Media
Social network research is about getting to know the people who are in the know, rather than searching online for archived documents that may be out of date.

More here with an emphasis on Baku' and 'Azerbaijan.

Stephen Glover: Lurcher eats Red Setter

They Shoot Horses, don't they?
The E.F Benson of media journalism with a typical sleight of hand: how could the Guardian and the BBC do this, newspapers need fans not critics.
Naturally I do not condone newspapers listening into the private conversations of celebrities, though I would have no problem in the case of a minister who was on the fiddle or betraying his country. I do know that the national press is weaker than it has been for more than a century, with most titles losing money, and I regret that, at such a time, The Guardian and the BBC should use largely old information to weaken it further.

If Glover were of the modern world you'd think he was trying to get a large online response. So far (10.27 am) there is one at the Independent online:
Man oh man, talk about missing the point!. Given the precision of the comment perhaps further are unnecessary.

Stephen Fry & copyright

At the Roundhouse, Stephen Fry was preaching to the converted, the generation that has got used to seeking out music and movies on the internet, and isn't entirely sure why you would pay to download.

As reported by the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones.
Sure, those who downloaded on an industrial scale for profit should be prosecuted - but if the price of downloads came down to a "fair" level, most people were pretty moral and would be happy to pay. He went on to compare the music industry to "big tobacco".

Meanwhile, more sterling reportage from Glynn Moody's Open blog:
If you still doubted that intellectual monopolies are in part a neo-colonialist plot to ensure the continuing dominance of Western nations, you could read this utterly extraordinary post, which begins:

The fourteenth session of the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC), convened in Geneva from June 29, 2009 to July 3, 2009, collapsed at the 11th hour on Friday evening as the culmination of nine years of work over fourteen sessions resulted in the following language; “[t]he Committee did not reach a decision on this agenda item” on future work. The WIPO General Assembly (September 2009) will have to untangle the intractable Gordian knot regarding the future direction of the Committee.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fred Wilson: giving up his data for a better set of recommendations

I like this: it goes to the core of the privacy/surveillance debate. And, as Fred Wilson says, it's not for everyone yet. However...
Imagine if you had a single data feed, fredsactivity.xml, that was hosted on the web and you could share with web services. I'd give it to Amazon to get better recommendations. I'd give it to Google Reader to find interesting blogs to read. I'd give it to Twitter to get better recommendations for people to follow. I'd give it to Netflix and Fandango to get better movie recommendations. I've give it to Goolge to get better search results.

I still believe this is going to happen. The burst of activity a few years ago may have stalled out, but I think that's a temporary pause, driven largely by the fact that the mainstream Internet user wasn't ready for this. Maybe they still aren't. But I am.

More here: Musings of a VC.

Wikileaks editorial: UK papers should have bugged more

The real scandal is not that some British papers used private investigators to find out what the public wants to know. It is that more did not. It is that the News' was extorted out of a million pounds because the relevant British legislation does not have an accessible public interest defense for the disclosure of telephone recordings. Until it does, despite the risks, journalists who take their fourth estate role seriously are obligated not to take the legislation seriously.

Journalism is a serious business. It starts wars and it topples kings. It does not care that Rupert Murdoch hired someone, who hired someone, who hired someone, who allegedly off their own bat, creatively went about their job of exposing Britain's pretenders by pressing 1234 into their voice mail.

The actions of major newspapers are "voted on" every day by their readers. Whatever their faults, popular newspapers remain the most visible and the most democratically accountable institutions in the country. Their mandate to inform the public vastly exceeds that granted to the unelected and the rarely elected at Westminister, who are nonetheless quick to grant themselves a blanket exemption from all censorship.

By Julian Assange, co-founder of Wikileaks. Full editorial here.